Tag Archives: Maeve O’Sullivan

Sikkim (haiku) Sequence

(Written by Maeve O’Sullivan on the month long retreat with Donal Creedon and Ringu Tulku Rinpoche at the Bodhicharya Retreat Centre, January 2017)

waxing wolf moon lighting the road to our retreat 

***

less cloudy today first sight of Kanchenjunga 

***

thunderclap!

the new prayer flags

get their first blessing 

***

walking meditation…

the cream-coloured butterfly

circles me twice

***

sitting practice –

a gust of wind sets

the yellow curtains dancing 

***

mini prayer flags…

white stitching camouflaged 

by the syllable ‘ma’

***

 

lunchtime salad:

the spring onion turns out to be

a hot green chilli!

***

more complaints 

about the honey…

still the level goes down 

***

steep ascent to the gate – 

the only sounds the wind

and my beating heart

***

afternoon tea break…

strains of Bollywood music

floating uphill

***

sweeping steps –

her camera catches me

in a shaft of sunlight 

***

early morning song

of a Himalayan bird:

‘I’m over here. Here!’

Dubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s work has been widely published and anthologised for twenty years. Her collections  poetry (Vocal Chords, 2014), are from Alba Publishing. www.twitter.com/maeveos

haiku

Maeve O’Sullivan’s new collection of haiku poetry, A Train Hurtles West, is available from the publisher, Alba Publishing (info@albapublishing.com). 30% of profits go to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s charity Rigul Trust (www.rigultrust.org). You can find Maeve on Twitter (@maeveos). Her blog post Why Haiku? is available here: bogmanscannon

 

KEN JONES

Beyond Mindfulness 

[Alba Publishing, 2015, 236pp ISBN: 978-1-910185-15-5 5 ¾”x 8 ¼” paperback £10/US$15/€14]

I met Ken Jones, and his wife Noragh, on a number of occasions over the last fifteen years or so, at Haiku Ireland and other haiku-related events in Dublin. He was an acquaintance whose talent and wisdom I admired greatly, and, like many others, I miss not having both on stream anymore. However, we are fortunate that he did write and publish so prolifically and this final book, along with his posthumous collection of haibun, Gone Away (also from Alba), are his parting gifts to us.

gone-away

In some ways, Jones acts as devil’s advocate in the eleven talks and essays on Buddhism which comprise the majority of this volume, a number of which can be found on his website www.kenjoneszen.com. Starting with the book’s title, he challenges our preconceptions about Buddhism in a way that shows a typically fierce and independent intelligence. This sandal-on-the-cheek approach makes us sit up and listen. The first section, How to Do Everyday Buddhism, ‘provides a foundation and introduction for other essays and papers’ and summarises many of Jones’s thoughts on matters such as spiritual materialism, suchness, the practice of emotional awareness and kindness, also the sometimes controversial area of Buddhist ethics and morals. He expands on these topics (and more) in the eight talks which follow and which form the bulk of the book.

The effectiveness in Jones’s arguments partly lies in the fact that they are informed by a deep and wide knowledge of spiritual literature in general, and Buddhist texts and teachers in particular. Ample, relevant quotes punctuate and contextualise his observations in every chapter, from 13th Century Zen Master Dogen (about whose teachings the tenth section of the book is devoted) to contemporary Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön who has popularised dharma-related teachings in recent years. One of his key opinions, that mindfulness – while worthwhile as a practice is itself – is ‘Buddhism lite’, is well-argued and convincing. His assertion that mindfulness is ‘a technique, devoid of the profound ethical concerns of authentic Buddhism’ is hard to refute.

There are times, however, when Jones’s bias as a socially engaged Buddhist is evident, for example when he claims that Buddhism has ‘traditionally been confined to individual existential concerns’ rather than exercising itself in opposing authority (later in the book he describes himself as a ‘Buddhist Bolshevik’). While I admire his desire to marry life as a meditator with life as an activist in the pursuit of equality, I would argue that the latter is not necessarily the main role or function of a Buddhist. Furthermore, the former premise is suspect in that the Buddhist tradition of the sangha, or community of practitioners, is strong and ancient, as is the importance of its role in supporting individual dharma practice. Indeed, the Sangha is one of the ‘three jewels of refuge’ in Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. However, the valuable insights Jones provides throughout the book more than compensate for this inclination.

Of course the principles of impermanence and acceptance are also prominent in Buddhist philosophy. Jones embraces these with dignity and humour, no more so than in his writings about ageing (‘the supreme challenge of our life…it is our self-identity which is challenged’) and dying. And so he offers us Ageing, The Great AdventureA Buddhist Guide which forms the eleventh section of this book. What Jones describes as ‘the existential option’, the alternative to either railing against old age or wallowing in its vicissitudes, is to practise awareness, to examine all pains, thoughts and emotions as they arise, and to learn from them. This is best achieved, he argues, through meditation. He also encourages us to both embody and celebrate older age. In relation to death itself, Jones argues that how we have lived is more important than how we die, ‘over which we may very well have little or no control’.

And finally, the haibun. Jones became an early champion of this form, which combines prose and haiku, and he also put his own distinctive stamp on it, calling his haibun ‘haiku stories’. The selection here, in Literary Zen: Haiku and Haibun, the twelfth and final section of the book, includes nine in which Zen retreats are the subjects, and ten inspired by his experience of prostate cancer, the illness that eventually took his life in August 2015. These are mostly taken from five previous collections of haibun, with a few others previously unpublished. The retreat haibun are divided into those written on solitary retreats and those on group retreats, some of which were led by Jones. My own preference is for those from the solitary retreats. There is something pure about his engagement with the natural world, and with the everyday indoor tasks of washing, dining and, in this case, reading and meditating, all conducted alone. But the group retreats also yield clear and contemplative prose, haiku and senryu. And so, Jones gives us this:

Later, in fading light, I wander up onto the hill. Shoulders hunched, searching as usual for something too shy to show itself. Hands tighten on the rust of an iron gate.

Warmed by the setting sun

my skinny shadow

stretching across a field

from The Grey Stone (2002)

and

On this black robe

the dust of incense

silent thunder

from Here Now (2013)

From the group retreats, we get

Hazy moon

the rusty weathervane

clanks and groans

A brief, broken sleep, spilling vivid dreams, and leaving a metallic taste beneath the tongue. The hour before dawn, lit by one large candle. One by one the black robed figures file in.

from Putting Legs on a Snake (2004)

and

Thunder and lightning at dawn

the light within the dark

of the Great Way

from Hard Up (2014)

In the final ten poignant haibun, severally entitled Ageing towards Death, Jones writes with wry humour and a lack of sentimentality about his ‘long drawn out’ illness and approach to death. Though the initial diagnosis of cancer was made in 2001, it only becomes imminently terminal in early 2015. At the early diagnosis stage, Jones writes:

Home for more tests. The radiology unit has an air of carnival. What shall we play for you?

Bone scan

the length

of a Brandenburg Concerto

from The Spirit Level, 2001

Some years later and the disease is taking hold. Yet Jones takes time to immerse himself in the natural world, and to practise the general and emotional awareness that he has advocated in the earlier sections of the book.

Weeping

for the blackbird

singing his love

from Going Nowhere, 2006

His love for his wife is evident in some of the haibun:

‘A better place to die’, she says, turning her face away. And so, day by day and arm in arm, we promenade our love, as wave follows wave.

A red fishing boat

cutting its white wake

through our winter morning

and later:

Each in our so-called easy chair, we enjoy the magnificent sunsets.

Some day

I’ll await a sunset such as this

and share its graceful exit

from A Change of Address (2014)

In the haibun Ready to Cast Off (2014), Jones tackles the indisputable yet unpredictable end which lies ahead for all of us, and how lucky we are to have Jones to blaze such a trail for us:

My Death

my unfamiliar

feral beast

In this and other haikai in the final section of the book, he continues the time-honoured Asian tradition in which both haiku poets and Zen monks have penned their own jisei, or death poem. This provides an appropriate end to a volume which addresses the two components of Zen Buddhism and haibun.

This book is for Buddhists and non-Buddhists, haijin and non-haijin alike, any reader should be enriched by Jones’s erudition and literary talent.

 

IMG_0829

Maeve O’Sullivan (@writefromwithin)

 This review was first published in the quarterly (hard copy) journal of the British Haiku Society,

Blithe Spirit, Volume 26, No. 2 (May 2016).

In early August 2015, I got the news of Ken Jones’ death while sitting in the tea room of Casa da Campo, the Portuguese venue for the Bodhicharya Summercamp. He and I, though different in many ways, shared a publisher, a passion for haiku & its related forms and a commitment to the Dharma, quite a lot to have in common! I was naturally saddened by the news.

Later that year, the then editor of Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society, David  Serjeant, knowing of my interest in Buddhism, asked me to write an extended review of Ken’s last book, Beyond Mindfulness, which he had held in his hand and approved not long before his death. I agreed. It was a strange experience to critique a book whose author wouldn’t get to read the review! It appeared in the journal in May 2016.

Earlier this month, sitting at the same table in the same tea room at Casa da Campo at the start of this year’s Summercamp, Albert Harris told me that Many Roads might be moving towards being review-based. I mentioned the recent one I’d written and he expressed an interest in republishing it on the site. I emailed David Serjeant straight away to ask his permission and he granted it by return. Later I realised that these conversations, and the agreement to republish the review, had all taken place on the day before Ken’s first anniversary on Tuesday 2ndAugust 2016. Coincidence?  Perhaps but I prefer to think that the wily old pilgrim fox had a hand in it!

Maeve O’Sullivan, 12th August 2016

Leaving Vigo

railwaw

With sad and friendly eyes she answers yes

when I ask if Santiago trains are on.

Seventy-five fatalities, or more:

un accidente horrible – she nods.

A message wishes us a pleasant trip,

the carriage has an eerie muffled mood,

its notice says 130 km per hour,

we read our newspapers and phones, subdued.

I see Camino pilgrims stumbling,

their spirits springing up from bloody rails;

fresh donations from Gallegos streaming

through some survivors’ arteries and veins.

The train conductor doesn’t meet my gaze.

At journey’s end we disembark with haste.

© Maeve O’Sullivan

MaeveDubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s work has been widely published and anthologised for twenty years. Her collections  poetry (Vocal Chords, 2014), are from Alba Publishing. www.twitter.com/maeveos

Haiku Book Review and Author Interview

Outside my window is a sweet pea plant.  Today, suddenly it seems, there are only seven flowers, the rest having turned into pods.  Maeve expresses this process of change in one of her Summer haiku:

cloudy afternoon

my sweet pea flowers

becoming peas

In these few lines there is a dynamism that paradoxically captures a frozen moment, a reciprocal dance of time and motion.  Maeve explains it concisely in her blog:

Many haiku practitioners say that writing haiku helps to keep them anchored in the present moment…

In her latest edition of poetry, A Train Hurtles West, Maeve has captured moments in her life and with imagery invested with tenderness, painted a world consisting of the memories of her mother and father, the seasons and the power of inevitable change, intimate moments in her life and contrasting settings.

Maeve’s mastery of the Haiku form is evident in this collection of verse. Read the words slowly and mindfully; they are a gentle reminder that we are all on that train.
Yeshe

Q1:      What’s the significance of the title of your latest collection of poetry?

A1:       A Train Hurtles West comes from the title haiku which is also part of the title sequence of the book. The full haiku is a short one-liner: ‘mother dying   a train hurtles west’, and the sequence contains haiku I wrote in the few months before and after her death in October 2014. I live in Dublin, in an apartment over the train line heading south and west towards Cork, Limerick and Galway, so I can literally see and hear all the trains as they go by.

I also like the open-ness of the idea of heading west which could have as many interpretations as readers. Traditionally it means dying or being destroyed or lost, which chimes with my mother’s passing away, but in Ireland everyone loves heading west of the Shannon, so it’s probably got more positive connotations here, as I’m sure it has in other countries also. Of course the gold rush in the US also involved people heading west.

Q2:      How does “death” affect your writing?

I guess bereavement is an experience to draw from in relation to poems and haiku. Of course it is more intense (at times) than other experiences, so possibly more dramatic and more ‘inspirational’. I’ve heard quite a few stories about poets who only started to write after the death of a parent. I had been writing for fifteen years before the death of my father, the first person I lost who was very close to me. There is a sequence called Father’s Death Day in my first collection of haiku, Initial Response (2011, Alba Publishing) which has haiku written around the time of my Dad’s death in 2010. That book is out of print but now available to read or download free in the Haiku Foundation’s Digital Library.

 Q3:      What brought you to Buddhism?

I had an interest in Buddhism as a young woman, but it was many more years before I became one. I suppose, like lots of others, I was searching for answers. I liked the fact that Buddhism was a non-theistic faith, also the notion of Buddha-nature, which is pretty much the opposite of the Catholic doctrine of original sin (I was raised a Catholic).

I took refuge five years ago, in the Kagyu tradition. It coincided with my mother’s dementia diagnosis, and I found my dharma very helpful in dealing with that process, with its emphasis on impermanence and acceptance. I also like its stress on pacifism and welcome having an ethical code by which to live my life, one which values compassion above success or materialism.

I’ve aimed to explore the dharma gradually, at my own pace, and that has worked for me so far. I enjoy attending talks and pujas, and am a member of a dharma book club. I’m lucky enough to live near the Kagyu centre in Dublin. I’ve also attended Ringu Tulku’s Summercamp in Portugal for the last three summers, and love connecting with teachings, practices and other sangha members in that way. He is a very wise and inspiring teacher, with a great sense of humour.

Q4:      In your sequence Portugal and Galicia, as elsewhere, you have captured the essence of an experience.  Does meditation help you formulate ideas about experiences?

A2:       I would say that meditation and mindfulness practices help to keep me in the moment (or yank me back there). Haiku are more about sensations than ideas, so being in the moment helps you to increase awareness and concentrate on the senses, resulting in what we call ‘haiku moments’, some of which result in haiku. It’s no accident that the tradition of haiku poetry is partly rooted in Zen Buddhism, or that many of the old Japanese haiku masters were also Buddhist monks and nuns, or practitioners at least.

Q5:      Your haiku is not in the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic structure.  Does it matter?

Since English is a very different language to Japanese, the 5-7-5 structure does not have to be adhered to. I’m told the English syllable packs more in than the Japanese onji, or word section, so 10-14 syllables are considered the equivalent in English-language haiku to the Japanese 17.

Q6:      Does the Irish tradition of poetry – Yeats, Heaney, Colum – influence you at all?

It probably influences my longer-form poetry more than my shorter-form poetry (O’Sullivan’s first longer-form poetry collection, Vocal Chords, was published by Alba Publishing in 2014). No Irish poet can avoid the shadows of Yeats, Kavanagh, Hartnett, Heaney et al, or the influences of the living greats such as Longley, Mahon, Boland, Kinsella, Montague, Ní Dhomhnaill and others. We’re a nation of poets who have to find our own individual voices while embracing those wonderful influences.

haiku

Maeve O’Sullivan’s new collection of haiku poetry, A Train Hurtles West, is available from the publisher, Alba Publishing (info@albapublishing.com). 30% of profits go to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s charity Rigul Trust (www.rigultrust.org). You can find Maeve on Twitter (@maeveos). Her blog post Why Haiku? is available here: bogmanscannon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go of Ávila

IMG_0829I could have travelled there today,
could have walked its medieval walls
and lit a candle for the vulnerables
in the Basilica de San Vincente.

I am letting go of the eagle caves, the cathedral,
and the Monasterio de Santo Tómas,
but most of all, the Convento de Santa Teresa,
housing her ring finger, and her ring.

She let go of wealth, of marriage; encouraged
her sisters to leave off their shoes,
moved beyond pain, beyond words of prayer
to a place of ecstasy, then tears.

I am letting go of all of this
in the district of letters where brass
poems are set into the very ground.
it is love alone that gives worth to all things.

 

 

Dubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s work has been widely published and anthologised for twenty years. Her collections  poetry (Vocal Chords, 2014), are from Alba Publishing. 

Published in the 2014 collection Vocal Chords (from Alba Publishing).

      Twitter address @maeveos

Perspective

sphinx

PERSPECTIVE

Beneath this topography she sees:

sandstones shaped by wind and wave,

azurites blue and malachites green;

fossils, remnants of another age,

present her with an insight

to a record no longer extant:

the dinosaur, the trilobite

some footprints, an exotic plant.

These granites primordial –

crystalline intrusions –

now weathered to reveal

our igneous conclusions.

World-weary, she rests on pillow-basalt,

has paleo-dreams in the limestone vault

 

 

Dubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s work has been widely published and anthologised for twenty years. Her collections  poetry (Vocal Chords, 2014), are from Alba Publishing. www.twitter.com/maeveos – See more at: http://bodhicharya.org/manyroads/poetry-maeve-osullivan/#sthash.l4HX8bE6.dpuf

 

 

Maeve

POETRY BY MAEVE O’SULLIVAN

white star

White Star

the majestic steamer
slips into the sea-
first voyage

spinning his top…
the child who survived
to die three years later

she goes back in
for the hat from her mother-
makes the lifeboat

the pills in her pocket
eventually identifying
the lost Irishwoman

anchor, propeller
side-scuttle…
these rusticles
a hundred years
in the making

White Star is © Maeve O’Sullivan

drying hair

Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair

 
Bare-legged, in light, pale clothing,
three young women stand on an urban rooftop;
New York, probably, or some other big city.
They are letting the wind dry their hair
while white garments sway on a line behind them,
and the chimney beside them casts a long shadow.
 
It is 1912, and Sloan’s subjects could be sisters:
one redhead in a green skirt, one brunette, one blonde.
The brunette looks approvingly at the redhead,
while the blonde brushes her hair which hangs
like a curtain, her head titled to the right,
the left hand on her hip for balance.
 
I imagine they are chatting about the night before;
what they did, who they saw dancing, girl talk.
One of them could be softly humming
After The Ball or something jazzy;
no World War to bother them yet, and no Depression,
this year forever marked by a ship called the Titanic.
 
This is how I would like my three sisters to be;
close, relaxed, hanging out happily,
the brunette smiling at the redhead, the blonde
still long-haired and carefree, and me,
the youngest girl, looking on
from the gallery, taking it all in.
 
Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair is © Maeve O’Sullivan.

fire

Heartwood

West African proverb:’When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.’

Book by book, a library burns down
when someone dies in Africa; the fire
consumes the memory, the sensorium.

And when he lights his robes of orange-brown,
the monk rejects the puja, picks the pyre
as, book by book, his library burns down.

Three hundred people in a Midwest town
were burnt alive like blossoms on a briar,
with loss of all those memories,sensoriums.

Before he left,prognosis barely known,
my father trudged his way through the quagmire;
then, book by book, his library burned down.

The seeds of our dejectedness were sown
when that disease took hold and made a liar
of her clouding memory, her sensorium.

And when at last I’m put into the ground,
or else cremated, ashes back to Gaia,
book by book, my library will burn down,
consuming, then, my memory, my sensorium.

Heartwood is © Maeve O’Sullivan

Haiku 1

counting breaths…

a wheelbarrow rumbles
through five, six, seven

 

Haiku 2

resting in the empty sandal

a collapsible cane

 

 

me with rtr

 Maeve with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche at the Summer Camp in Portugal

Dubliner Maeve O’Sullivan’s work has been widely published and anthologised for twenty years. Her collections  poetry (Vocal Chords, 2014), are from Alba Publishing. www.twitter.com/maeveos