Abbot’s Journal Vol 61, August 30, 2007

by Norman Fischer | August 30, 2007 at 3:12 PM

Muir Beach

Reading Hank Lazer’s “Lyric & Spirit,” his critical volume (essays of last ten years) he’d asked me to blurb. It’s absorbing. A sort of pastiche of sources, quotations. He’s saying that the real juice of writing, what drives it, makes it real, important, is sound, that the lyric is sound, not the nostalgic yammering of the sensitive poet having an epiphany. (Though in arguing for this he pronounces the conventional lyric “dead,” in fact the conventional lyric is exactly what the public and a lot of the professional lit world think of as poetry). That through the true lyric’s fractured, stammered, sound “spirit” can be expressed. I’m inspired by the book, all the work he quotes and refers to. I more or less know what he’s taking about, his view and mine are pretty much the same (skimming ahead in the ms I see a long section on my work, though haven’t read it yet) but I don’t know the academic lingo, the sources, the attitudes in which it’s all couched. So I’m learning something.

Working on koans in Dharma seminar. Charlie Cagnon took over for me one week when I was gone and talked about his working with John Tarrant on koans – how it goes, what’s meaningful to him about it (I heard recording of his talk, it was quite good). He introduced the practice of sitting with the phrase for a few moments before and after the talk, a practice I have continued these several weeks. I see a new way of working koans, in our Soto style. To do it, as Dick (Baker) had presented it this summer at Johanneshof, as “working with phrases,” the way I’d learned and practiced it years ago with him. Where you’d sit with a phrase for a long time, bring it into daily life, and it’d color the life, become it, enliven it, take it out of the realm of the mundane expected view and into the intuitive – almost unspeakable so. And then eventually you’d see something. Then you could (as several people have been doing) bring it up in dokusan, and there could be an exchange of some significance – without the mechanical and programmatic notion of a koan “curriculum” in which one could “progress,” or any sense of “answering” koans correctly or not. This seems like a sensible approach (to be discussed in the koan book I want to write next) – and one that I’ve always used in my own practice – when I wasn’t in one of my periods of being bored with Zen literature.



Norman Fischer