IT'S A ZEN THING: The poet Kit Robinson aptly writes, "If
Gertrude Stein were a Zen monk family man living on a farm by
the ocean at the tail end of the century, she would be Norman
Yet Gertrude Stein is nothing like a Zen monk, and about as far apart from Norman Fischer as we can imagine. So it's like saying, "If X were Y, it would be Z." There we have it, spinning alphabet and all. Spinning, perhaps, like clay on a wheel: a shape that's never predictable. Maurice Grossman, Tucson artist, spins such clay and says, "My current work is part of a continuing adventure into vessel making." Vessels are open points into which, or from which, something (words perhaps?) might flow.
On Saturday, February 6, at Las Artes Studio in South Tucson, Norman Fischer reads poetry and Maurice Grossman talks about his art as part of POG's Poets and Artists series. Though he resides in Tucson, Grossman can hardly be limited to "local." As a Fulbright scholar to Japan, world traveler and lover of clay, Grossman's work is infused by a meditative enthusiasm wrought from global perspectives. He brings a Buddhist consideration of not only what it means to sit and make art, but to sit and make art from that everyday stuff, clay. Grossman is also an inspiring clay art teacher.
Norman Fischer truly is "a Zen monk family man living on a farm by the ocean at the tail end of the century." He is the co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, and for years was the director of the Zen Center's Green Gulch Farm. What connects Zen to the making of poetry and art? Fischer's prose poem, "An Act," provides an enigmatic answer:
Hand flips out to meet world-object; eye locks in; mind grasps. Corduroy a pile of brush and twigs in layers so deep whatever is at the bottom is, a solid, maybe, statement, no, I don't think so. Here the joke catches in the throat because people do think and the pattern of thought makes a grammar and a syntax. Rain will fall and it will be a miracle because surely it can't fall, yet it does, and you do. Mere perception is: an act of deepest faith. The regular most extraordinary.
"Solid, maybe, statement, no, I don't think so"--always Fischer attends to the provisional, the flow, the inability to pin anything down. Often the flow makes for a humor caught in the ironic titles of his books: Precisely the Point Being Made, On Whether or Not To Believe In Your Mind, A Far and Permanent Lid, Like a Walk Through a Park, Why People Lack Confidence In Chairs, and Turn Left In Order To Go Right.
Fischer engages moments of being, as both Zen monk and committed family man (more than one of his books are dedicated to either his wife or his two sons or all three). He teaches the connections between Zen and Jewish practice and the relations of Buddhism to death and dying. He has participated in recent years with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conferences on Buddhist-Christian dialogue and on nonviolence.
At all times he is a poet committed to seeing what is in the world, but only believing it if it is, indeed, to be believed. In Precisely The Point Being Made (Chax Press, 1993) Fischer writes, "Above all we do need to allow ourselves to look squarely into the face of the gargantuan ugliness that is existence, to face this, digest it, and realize for all its shock value it is in fact only a product of our thought, speech, and imagination, the resolution of opposites. The red sweater that is in fact blue. The mountain that is a lake. The deeply held tolerance of this condition not as a joke trick or indignation but out of reverence. If we had not had a great deal of practice and instruction in putting on our shirt we would have had no idea how to do it."
Fischer sees the "regular," and knows it as "most extraordinary." Grossman takes the everyday (clay) and shapes vessels of wonder from it. Join them for an evening of inspired words beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, February 6, at Las Artes Studio, 23 W. 27th St. (one block west of South Sixth Avenue). A $5 contribution is suggested, but no one will be turned away. For information, call 620-1626; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fischer has a variety of local engagements this week, including giving the sermon at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, February 7, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4831 E. 22nd St. Call 748-1551 for more information. Admission is free and open to all.
Not Knowing is Most Intimate: A Talk On Zen Practice, a lecture and discussion, meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, February 7, at the Zen Desert Sangha Zendo, 3226 N. Martin Ave. A donation of $7 is requested, although as always, nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. For information, contact Richard J. Laue (email@example.com), at 327-8460.
And Do You Want to Make Something Out of It? Zen Meditation and Art Making is offered at 11 a.m. Monday, February 8, in the UA Student Union, Room 285. Admission is free. Call 621-1836 for more information.
By Charles Alexander
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