Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Buddhism for poets (and vice-versa…) ~

I’ve written about becoming a Buddhist elsewhere, but as with most of our memories, I may have that wrong. I may have been born w/ Buddhist longings, but I also may have found my Buddhist mind through poetry.

Poetry is air and water, food and sleep to me. It has saved my life, paid karmic debts, shown me truths, and generally just made me happy. My vanity plate for my little blue car says POETIC. Get it? :)


So poetry is a big deal to me. It always has been. I wrote poems very young — I remember rhyming when I began to learn French, 8 years old. So apparently I already knew how, then. (Note to self: you never found anything to rhyme w/fenêtre) I made tiny books, wrote poems in them, and ‘published’ by giving them to family ~ my grandmother, my mother, the great-aunt who lived around the corner from my other grandmother. Of course I received rave reviews…:)

Very quickly I began to play with language. Young poets love language: they swim in it as if was a warm blue-green ocean. I wanted alliteration, assonance, consonance. There was rhythm and metre and form.

But eventually, I wanted precision. I wanted to do with words what a composer or a violinist can do with sound: make a music that produced vivid feelings and pictures. Buddhist poetry, grounded in the warp & woof of everyday life, does that.


I came to Buddhist poetry slant, as Emily would say. My ‘project’ was simply to try to learn how the old poets — and the contemporary ones who continue to invoke them — made the everyday numinous. How they managed that in the poetic equivalent of spandex: haiku, tanka, renga. The stark simplicity of image, and the interior blossoming of that minimalist language….wow. How do they do that?

What happened is what often happens with Buddhism — it snuck up on me. I began to read more & more Buddhist poets (and find that many poets I already loved were Buddhist, and/or deeply influenced by Buddhism): Charles Johnson, William Carlos Williams, Jane Hirshfield, Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, W.S. Merwin, Chase Twichell. It’s a long & illustrious list.


I ended up doing my doctoral dissertation — a collection of poetry and a lengthy critical introduction that talked about poetics, and my own work — on the ways in which the poetic breath is like the Buddhist contemplation of breath. It was one of the most difficult — and life-altering — pieces of work I’ve done to date.

So it’s fitting that this month — National Poetry Month and National Poetry Writing Month — I begin the month my usual way: with an original poem (still in draft form!). And one that owes its form and inspiration to so many  Buddhist poets I have loved and admired.


I’ll be publishing an original poem daily during April — or at least trying to publish. I’ll certainly be writing a poem a day :). Enjoy!


if there were daymoths,

they would nest in dogwood trees

pretending to be blossoms

flickering like light

white winged dogwood flowers

poised for flight

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