Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Cyril Wong's "Satori Blues"

Cyril's new chapbook-length poem records a yearning for spiritual truth and clarity. In less experienced hands, it could so easily turn hokey. It is, instead, a sensitive account of a whole-person response to Buddhist thinkers such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shunryu Suzuki, U. G. Krishnamurti and Alan Watts. I have only read Alan Watts, among these writers. He appears twice by name in Satori Blues, critical of the oversimplification of an Euclidean conception of the world, and critical of the hostile nihilism in Kerouac's version of Zen Buddhism. The poem tries to find its own open and gentle way.

The question driving it is, not surprisingly, that of love. Unable to possess the object of desire, love wounds itself by itself. The poem begins with lived truth, that "Love appears/ as nothing when we begin to know it,/ nothing that is not its opposite, or/ whatever opposites mean, in this case--/ coming and ebbing, a kiss and heartache." By the end, however, the poem arrives at a philosophical understanding of what "nothing" consists of. "Nothing prevents/ nothing from passing through./ Nothing, after all, to try; nothing,/ after all, to do." To understand that understanding, substitute "love" for "nothing." They have become interchangeable, without loss.

The poem not only orchestrates its meditation, but it also presents images of great power. The crack recurs throughout the poem, as the arse-crack and cracks "rocketing" up a wall. What is fault and fracture becomes the beginning of a break in ordinary, rational consciousness, the satori of the poem's title, as in my favorite passage of the book:

What we talk about when we talk about loss
are the catastrophes: walls collapsing
and the terrible flood. What we forget is what
we fail to detect: the line opening like an eye
from one end of a dam to another;
a startled look and the averted vision
at a wrong word at yet another wrong time.

And so the need to look steadily at what is easily overlooked. The universe is looking back at us through the crack.


Shropshirelad said...

Thanks for posting this review, Jee. I am very curious to read Cyril’s book and see how he develops his argument. The poetry excerpt sounds great.

I wonder about the interchangeability of ‘love’ and ‘nothing’ though. They are interchangeable to an extent, I think, if we regard them as words, pure abstractions, bums floating by our cocks in an erotic dream. But, to use a non-Euclidean, Einsteinian analogy, our frame of reference changes when we assign ‘love’ a four-dimensional identity: a physical existence external and equal to ourselves, a taste, a texture, a name.

Once we enter the world of people, places, individual faces, I think the interchangeability (or interoperability) of ‘love’ and ‘nothing’—perhaps even Buddhism—breaks down. We lose something. We lose something hard to define, perhaps, but for the sake of argument I will exercise my rights as a poet and call it ‘love’: that impulse that tosses a marine on a grenade to save his buddies. The one that levels cities.

I am reminded of something Nabokov wrote in Pale Fire.

…And yet
It missed the gist of the whole thing; it missed
What mostly interests the preterist;
For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighbones but on blood-ripe lives,
And our best yesterdays are now foul piles
Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files.
I'm ready to become a floweret.
Or a fat fly, but never, to forget.
And I'll turn down eternity unless
The melancholy and the tenderness
Of mortal life; the passion and the pain;
The claret taillight of that dwindling plane
Off Hesperus; your gesture of dismay
On running out of cigarettes; the way
You smile at dogs; the trail of silver slime
Snails leaves on flagstones; this good ink, this rhyme,
This index card, this slender rubber band
Which always form, when dropped, an ampersand,
Are found in Heaven by the newlydead
Stored in its strongholds through the years.

Guzmán. said...

Jiddu Krishnamurti telling a joke...

“There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation for many years amidst the Himalayan snow peaks, never speaking a word, in utter silence. One morning, one of the three suddenly speaks up and says, ‘What a lovely morning this is.’ And he falls silent again. Five years of silence pass, when all at once the second monk speaks up and says, ‘But we could do with some rain.’ There is silence among them for another five years, when suddenly the third monk says, ‘Why can’t you two stop chattering?”


Jee Leong Koh said...

The poem does not argue, it meditates. This may sound evasive, but it is not. Thanks for the Nabokov. I am a devotee of fat flies, but it was an interesting experience to immerse myself in a way of thought that I don't personally believe in. I can lend you the book when we have dinner again or something.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi Guzman,

I almost laughed. Thanks for the joke.

Shropshirelad said...

Hi Jee,

I have only read isolated poems by Cyril and I like his work, so I might buy a few of his books. (Over to you, Amazon...)

There is a difference between a meditation and an argument: one carefully advances its line of thinking in carpet slippers while the other clomps upstairs in combat boots. But, if you follow the direction of the feet, you will notice that they are both heading upstairs...

I am glad you like the Nabokov. Pale Fire is really a remarkable book. One of the weirdest and most wonderful tales I have ever read.

Dinner soon. I have a little present for you.

I would stay away from the fat flies. People might mistake you for Beelzebub.

It happens to me all of the time,

All of the best,

Squid Kid said...

Cyril sent me a copy of this along with 4 of his other books. I love Satori Blues. This is such a wonderful piece of art, as well as his You Cannot Smoke and Oneiros, my favorites. I love reviewing the books of my beloved friend Cyril, who is one of the greatest influences in my poetry.