On Writing Poetry

I’ve spent most of the weekend reading a book titled “Sky Above, Great Wind”, the life and poetry of Zen Master Ryokan.  Out of the zen masters I have read, I am finding his teaching to be uncluttered, using only the words that are needed to show the path.  His poetry is sparse, honest, self-depracating, and beautiful in its approach and imagery.

This started a thought about the purpose of poetry and what works in a poem.  I think what is said and what is not said, are equally important in a poem.  Saying too much imbues the authors viewpoint on the reader, and leads them.  A poem should provide an idea or an image, and let each reader find their path, find their meaning.  A poem should be timeless and at the same time placeless, this allowing a poem to be enjoyed and understood regardless of where and when someone reads its words.

Zen Master Ryokan teaches zen, Buddhism, and what is a poem with these simple words:

You see the moon by pointing your finger.
You recognize the finger by the moon.
The moon and the finger
are not different, not the same.
In order to guide a beginner,
this analogy is temporarily used.
When you have realized this,
there is no moon, no finger.


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