Culture & Criticism Since 2003
UNHURRIED VISION. Michael Rothenberg. La Alameda Press. Michael Rothenberg was arguably Philip Whalen’s closest friend during the Zen Master’s last days on this earth. It was during those days that Rothenberg served as Whalen’s editor and care taker, his confidant and silent companion, the one who made sure the old poet was comfortable as the slow face of death came upon the day and gradually consumed him.
Unhurried Vision is pure poetry — a book comprised of skeleton-like verses that are actually journal “entries” which were written after Whalen’s condition had become terminal (when Rothenberg was tending the old poet on a daily basis). Immediately, the book draws us into its electric realm, reeling with a gentle energy, touching upon the silent wonders that separate the veils; as Rothenberg notes, it’s but the blink of an eye lash that separates the living world from time beyond the darkness:
McClure sleeping down the hall
Philip in jacket blurbs, bio
summaries & poems
I could be talking about strangers
This could be my family
Dead, sleeping, blind”
As I read this book of poems a second time, I started to realize the profound impact that Whalen had on Rothenberg’s life (and on many of the other Beats as well). Whalen — the supreme teacher in communication with the Dharma of the Beyond, was a spirit entrenched in the brilliant ambiguity of the moment. And rather then fighting that ambiguity, Whalen flowed into it. I imagine that if you were around him or inside his “circle,” you were forced to learn to flow into mindlessness as well, forced to separate these invisible threads of infinity into long fingertip-lips of heavenly awareness. And in the end, that’s just whatUnhurried Vision is about: recording the inner-workings of the moment as it is born, blooming softly on silent & toothless hooves — unrushed in the unhurried hour just before the dawn:
remember to breathe…
what you can’t remember
you write down
hurry, hurry, hungry”
This book hits us the way Kenneth Patchen’s “The Journal Of Albion Moonlight” hit us: a hammer straight through both sides of the heart, shouting at the moon, the record of a man trying to make sense of himself in between the breaths he breathes – there!: half hidden naked in sleep, bent around the jagged knife edges of dreams, looking through a smoke clouded window.
Here, Rothenberg begins his journey with a poem by the teacher, this poem written by Philip Whalen some 40 years ago beckons an answer:
“The End of the line.
Carefully try to remember what
it is that you are doing ‘How
do you do? How do you like
what you do?’ are you going
to continue in the same wasteful
and thoughtless fashion?”
And so begins the question in the mind of each man in the midst of his new born breath.
Read Rothenberg’s emagazine Big Bridge at bigbridge.org.