March 04, 2009

Joseph Stroud reads his poetry in Olympia

You folks in Europe most likely won't know Joseph Stroud or his poetry although you may have unknowingly crossed paths in your travels.  He read in Olympia last evening to promote his new book, OF THIS WORLD, NEW AND SELECTED POEMS published by Copper Canyon Press.  These poems are a wide landscape of the heart that loves all that it means to be alive, and to see and touch the world of suffering and the saving world of grace.

I'm going to call him Joe, as he signed my book, and not the journalistic Stroud, because you feel, after hearing him read, that you've always known him.  He embraces the best in us in his way of seeing and being in the space he inhabits which means he has stepped out of himself and does not require a small identity.  As you listen, he opens you into generous spaciousness, an endearing and healing quality of the Buddha.  In that space, there is no hurry, no time, no distance.

He said in his commentary about teaching at community college for 35 or so years, that it was sometimes difficult for students to understand that poetry serves the lives of human beings and not that human beings serve poetry.  He could have only said that much and I'd have been content, but every moment, every poem he read was life-giving.  He mingles his voice with everyone:  Han-Shan, Issa, The Buddha, Li Po, Tu Fu, every voice on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, every voice on the Inca Trail, Joyce, Pound, Hawthorne, Shakespeare......and on.....

I do not have permission to quote this poem, and it's a tad rude of me to put it here as it is protected by copyright.  Perhaps there's a fine involved for doing so.  Still, this blog is akin to a mini-review and I place it with apology and with the understanding that perhaps its presence here will entice others to buy the book.  It is one of many fine teachings and moments of insight.

Homage to Life
"Hommage a la vie"
Jules Supervielle
It is good to have chosen
a living home
and harbored time
in a constant heart,
to have seen one's hands
touch the world
as an apple
in a small garden,
to have loved the earth,
the moon and the sun,
like old friends
beyond any others,
and to have entrusted
the world to memory
like a luminous horseman
to his black steed,
to have given shape
to these words: wife, children,
and to have served as a shore
for roving continents,
to have come upon the soul
with little oarstrokes
for it is frightened
by a sudden approach.
It is good to have known
the shade under the leaves
and to have felt age
steal over the naked body
accompanying the grief
of dark blood in our veins
and glazing its silence
with the star, Patience,
to have all these words
stirring in the head,
to choose the least beautiful
and make a little feast for them,
to have felt life
rushed and ill-loved,
to have held it
in this poetry.
Joseph Stroud