ERIC PAUL SHAFFER: LIVING AT THE MONASTERY, WORKING IN THE KITCHEN
Leaping Dog Press
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ISBN 1 58775 004 X
ERIC PAUL SHAFFER: PORTABLE PLANET
Leaping Dog Press
ISBN 1 58775 000 7
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|ERIC PAUL SHAFFER: LIVING AT THE MONASTERY, WORKING IN THE KITCHEN|
Before embarking on this review I did a little research into 'koans'. Here are some of the definitions I found. One of them may be right.
To the review... Eric Paul Shaffer's LIVING AT THE MONASTERY, WORKING IN THE KITCHEN, is a collection of poems
written in the voice of Shih-te, resident cook and janitor at Kuo-ch'ing Temple in the T'ien-t'ai mountains of China during the T'ang Dynasty and companion to the renowned Han-shan.Han-shan has 307 works surviving. Shih-te 49. Eric Paul Shaffer set out to add to those 49 in the same 'reckless spirit'. The poems take the shape of a biography — from Shih-te's being found, adopted by the monastery, and put to work in its kitchens. From the very beginning, Shih-te has no high opinion of the monks.
These lazy monks raise robes to piss in streams draining to parched throats on the dusty yellow plains below. There is no teaching these grinning fools. They stare at my shouts and think me crazy. The Old Master was a buddha to undertake such a task. I'd rather talk to temple dogs and grow vegetables from excrement.(all the poems are without titles).
The years of research, which find poetic outlet here, are here for the reader's benefit, not to impress us with Shaffer's learning. Wholly unpretentious, a wonderful and joyous book, full of contradictory wisdom, the simplicity of its utterances belie the breadth of its author's knowledge, while being in perfect sympathy with his subject. Some pages here had me murmuring reflectively into my beard, others had me chuckling, and others had me saying, "What?" To this one on page 16 I said, "My sentiments entirely."
..."What we call poetry is only words, Let them not linger long in the air or on the page, Lest they grow great in some future eye or ear desperate for an imaginary golden age, and we become merely gods magnified by distance and the delusions of our descendants."...I rejoiced in his character's contempt for the unthinking monks he lived among....
...None need sit facing a wall in sunlight to see karma is dogma for fools and the fools who drive them.......and joined with him — so adroit a writer is Shaffer — in contemplation on his character's own orphaned existence, and on ours. Truly, this is poetry of our time.
|reviewer: Sam Smith.|
|ERIC PAUL SHAFFER: PORTABLE PLANET|
PORTABLE PLANET contains three separate stand-alone works; each is rooted in a particular geography, western America, Shuri Castle in Okinawa and the Far East region in general. The poet acts as custodian of history and environment, tour guide and ecologist. His poems are addressed to the reader, rather than being in themselves acts and objects of language.
I enjoyed ON THE OFTEN UNREMARKED ADVANTAGES OF BALDNESS with its humorous observations such as
Everyone sees the naked truth sparkling on the scalp.WHAT THE WORLD SAYS (jointly written by Kathryn Capels and Shaffer) reminded me of Roger McGough's work; it is an aphoristic poem that would be particularly suited for reading to schoolchildren:
Humans are fat carp feeding at the bottom.I liked the completeness and conciseness of HOW I READ POETRY:
When I finish reading the book I crumple the sales slip I used to mark my place and throw it away.Shaffer's work has a profoundly North American worldview; his poems set in Japan often convey a sense of shock at the otherness of Japan and its utter indifference to his own culture.
PORTABLE PLANET is a well-produced collection; it is worth a look if you are interested in a poet's reactions to different geographies.
|reviewer: L. Kiew.|