Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Edwin Denby

In the early seventies, Trungpa Rinpoche was newly arrived in the US and was anxious to explore as many cultural scenes as he could. One evening, accompanied by Vivian Kurz, he went to a party of poets and theater people. Robert Wilson, Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Meredith Monk were among the many guests, but when Rinpoche arrived, he immediately took an interest in Edwin Denby.

Denby was, at that time was in his 70’s, a distinguished poet and America’s foremost ballet critic. He was a tidy, fastidious man, and a little bemused to find himself being grilled by a vigorously intense hard-drinking Tibetan. The conversation went on for a half hour before they were swept apart.

Late in the evening, Rinpoche had drunk a good deal and his companions were ready to leave. But he insisted on seeing Denby before he left. Denby was slightly appalled to find this sweating Tibetan man now embracing him and kissing him on the mouth.

“You are a true living Boddhisattve.” Rinpoche told him over and over.

In remembering this story, I have often been moved that Trungpa Rinpoche not only paid such attention to Denby, but also felt it so important to speak to him in this way. The Buddhist term Boddhisattva, one who has vowed to put others before himself and postpone liberation from cyclical existence until all other sentient beings have attained liberation, would have meant little or nothing to Denby. And yet Rinpoche found it urgent for him to know himself in this particular way.

Because of this story and because I am not particularly taken by western classical ballet so would like to understand what eludes me here, I’ve often read, and re-read Denby’s essays on ballet. His writing is astonishing for it’s simplicity, open-heartedness, overall enthusiasm and genuine love, all of which inform a scrupulously detailed way of looking at dance and dancers and inform a lovely clarity of articulation.

For instance this, chosen almost at random:

“When you watch a girl moving about a room you sometimes guess what the quality of movement ‘means’. It I not that she expresses herself by making hand gestures, she does it by the rhythm of her actions. We often understand animals that way and they us. And in love we all know how dramatic such a moment of understanding is. It seems to tell more than any words and say it more irrevocably. And this is the natural phenomenon on which the art of ballet is built as a convincing human expression.” (Dance Writing, Ballet Theatre’s Season May 1945 Edwin Denby, Knopf1986 p.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009



"The waiter plays with his condition
in order to attain it." -J.P.Sartre

Without Place or Name
The Body is an object on loan.

Location then
Emergent in the forms of its movement:

Green ocean combed with flecks of white foam,
A sparkling line left on the shore
Where pinpoint holes from buried clams
Pop in the sand on waves’ retreat.

Seen then from the boardwalk
As the parched scent rises
Shimmering off the salt-baked planks

And the cool insouciant wave borne
Breeze tousles a lock of hair

A sparkle of air
That requires elegance,
White slacks, white shoes,
A straw hat
For its fulfillment.

So that you would appear.
Imagined further.


"Mind is absorbed into the desired object as oil is absorbed into cloth." -Geshe Gyatso on Shantideva

The skin of the bathers,
Shrimp pink and tender,
Encounters on its tightened surfaces
The cold sea.
Hairs in their puckered follicles
Stand on end.
The message of contraction,
Received with oooo and ssss.

The teased bathers leap
Take the plunge.

The float, sated and sustained
In rise and gentle fall
Aaaaah. Say

Is this returned
Or yearning?

From here,
Seen across the glassy curve,
The green arched back of the ingoing wave,
The brittle shore is so unimaginative,
So stolid and sad,
Its denizens so angular and conscious.

As for a time
Of wave-borne ease
The bathers yet
Do not renounce a common fate.

Love then innate in circumstance.



"In the unhappy realms of sickness, bondage and the shedding of blood..." - Shantideva

Gifts given
Are so difficult to receive
Wrapped in implication
Portents, messages.

From a distant radio
The splendid open voice
Of the great tenor
Long dead, glides on
Gilding the evening’s air

Inscribing pleasure’s promise
On the inner ear

And vanishment.

A flickering compromise
With what cannot be appeased
By the solo pure exhale.


"As though hypnotized by a spell, I shall reduce this mind to nothing. Even I do not know what is causing me confusion. What is there dwelling inside me?" - Shantideva

On the green and cool emergent,
The pliant,
The delightful
Givens in immediacy

Which seen
In the angled light of sunset

As a martyrology
Of those who must labor, walk and eat
In the sorrow of necessity,
Burned by the secret of absolution
Pouring from the heart
Of a reddening copper sun.

A pure yearning
Requiring the body to be destroyed
In the untouchable donation
Of a wounded mind
Whose love, though unabsolved
Attains a piercing moment
Of luminous splendor
In returning to silence.


"Then if my body blazes for a long time..." – Shantideva

But the Grasping Masters,
Rulers over earth and sea,
Eye, ear tongue and touch
Contrive to unify
In legal speech
A Roman Emperor’s feast:
A menu of minute discernments,
Base omnivorous intrigues
From an addicted lust,
Not to quality event or sense,
But to location sole,
Ultimate, continuous, complete.

And the globe so articulated
Under momentary single rule
Is glamorized in the lurid assertion
Of meaning fated realized.

Of this,
The ruin, the bleached wall
Stands with muted gleam
On the headland of the shore;

Does not witness rise and fall,
Remains a partial lustrous monument;
The implicate fragment.

O unappeased of incomplete continuing.

(For SN)


Claudia Muzio- Ombra di nube- Refice

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


(This is part of a letter I wrote to Peter Lieberson when we were considering re-writing our opera, Ashoka's Dream.)

Perhaps we could shape the piece as something seen as one travels along a great river; river here as inseparable life and death. One River, and different beings, or each being in its different states, sees it momentarily, differently.

This river, like the instinct to sing itself, flows with the songs and stories of all those who live by it: their loves, their battles, their leisure, their work, their gods, their desires, their losses, their endurance, their loneliness. The river is a song of transformations and endless re-forming (centered in the story of Ashoka the first true king to embrace all such things.)

What makes me think like this just now is a verse by the most renowned Indian poet, Kalidasa in which he describes an audience listening to a recital of the Ramayana:

And the people sat and listened.
Enraptured, they listened.
Tears ran down their faces like pearls,
Like dew dripping from the forest leaves
In the stillness of a windless dawn.

Of course, such circumstances were not this time available to us. But perhaps, perhaps for now, we could make Ashoka as an echo from the future when it will come to have reverberated in its full expanse.

He walked out from his palace.
He left his splendid home.
He walked deep into the forest shadows.
He walked through reeds and swamps.
He came to the great river,
Radiant, enticing, imperious, vast.

And he looked silently
Upon the Ganges flowing through the three times:
Clear, with cool waves loved by sages,
Giving life and dharma to teachers and the places where they teach.

Song rose in his heart from a distant mountain spring.
He joined his hands in prayer.
He sang, and his song was like a life giving river
He sang, and the sky shone with his melodious voice.

“O you who are love,
In your clear waters apsaras play.
O Ganges of the gods, asuras and ghandarvas
Meandering through the endless sky,

O river of celestial lotuses,
Sacred river, roaring, quivering, smiling
With sparkling teeth of white foam,
Flowing unimpeded,
Curling like a young girl’s wind-blown hair;

O river of swirling whirlpools and peaceful ponds,
Crying river, roiled and unsettling;
Holy river where goddesses bathe
Amid white lotus clouds
And the plangent calls of swans and cranes;

You are garlanded with dark trees,
Brocaded with green lily pads,
Aflame with red water lilies,
Jeweled with gold and silver dancing light,
Powdered with pink pollen dust,
Blushing like a longing lover,
Suddenly you draw near, you touch, your whirl away,
You strike the dry land
And ten thousand pearls spray in the air
Rising, rising up in iridescent clouds.

In every spinning droplet,
The moments of our history,
The moments of time, our life and death,
Shine in the sky,
O pearl pure Ganges.

O pearl pure Ganges,
O river of milk,
O life of all,
O river of blood,
O love,
O ever-flowing one,
You carry off all sin,
All sorrow, all regret.”

( adapted, p.36 condensed Ramayana- P.Lal; Tarang Paperbacks, 1989)


And then one might see this from the Kathakali

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


(This was written as part of an installation piece for work that Joan Anderson has made to invoke the vast, implacable and timeless world of fallen soldiers. Reading through section VII accompanies the installation of two large image/effigies. At that point alcohol and meat are shared with the audience. The reading resumes with the last verses of section VI.

In the first performance, Barbara Dilley choreographed the installation; Mark Miller played Soprano Saxophone; I and Robert Spellman were readers, all under Joan's overall direction)


Heaven divides the world:
In dark and light,
In night and day,
In the living and the dead.

Only in the movement of sun, moon and stars
Do we know ourselves.
We know ourselves only as movements of fleeting clouds.

Beneath the vast bright sky,
The living dwell in their villages and homes.

In fathomless shadow,
The dead inhabit their silent towns.

Now the living surround the Eastern capital.
Now the dead surround the Western hills.

Though inseparable,
The living and the dead
No longer know each other.
In moments of joy,
They do not remember the other,
In bitterness,
They do not long for one another. (1)


The cold passes reluctantly from the earth and the retreating mists reveal an army stretched out for miles on the hills, asleep. A watery sun rises slowly and the landscape changes from pale gray to green. The army stirs. It trembles at the whispers of rumor. It casts its eyes upon the roads. (2)


With a groan, I start from sleep.
All the earth is on the march to war.
The rulers have commanded it. (3)
Heaven is high and far away.
The king’s business never ends.
I cannot stay to plant my crops
How will my parents and my children live?
Heaven is high and far away.
The earth below must always march to war.

When will it end? (4)
We pray for a sovereign.
We pray the sacrifices he commands
Bring peace.

Yet we long for home.
In what month will we return? (6)
No breeze stirs.
We must wait.
I look down the highway
And my heart is blank. (7)

Oh bright Heaven high above,
Shining on the earth below,
How our westward march
Has brought us to the empty plains

We have suffered cold and heat.
Oh the aching of an empty heart
Oh the poisons of bitterness.
Thinking of the ones who raised us,
My tears fall like rain in the sadness of my heart.

Though I long for life and home,
I cannot turn back.
Warfare drags me on. (12)


The sweat of waiting, even in the silent cold, each frozen in his own thoughts, even those who make jokes and can’t stop talking, the rank smell of fear and dust, choking.

At the shout of command, there is no longer any time. Doubts dissolve in the sheer mass charge: arms taut, weapons held in front. legs pumping, screaming war cries. And then, charging, scrambling wildly down the hillside, amid the hail of arrows and bullets, there is a sudden moment where the clear bitter smell of crushed leaves, the exhilaration of running, and cold air pouring through nostrils is desperately alive, and it is impossible to imagine life will ever end. The enemies rise up like weeds before us. They are cut down. The work of killing begins.


Like a slowly moving flood gate,
Iron scraping iron,
The great hinge of battle opens.

A bow string snaps,
And there is silence.
Now time stops.

The white disc of a single cloud
Hovers in the pale sky.

Flocks of sparrows rise and wheel.

Red, yellow and black banners flutter.
Sunlight glitters
On steel blades and spear points.

Sword arms raised, mouths gaping,
Soldiers freeze.
An arrow stops in mid flight.


Shining like diamonds in the air
The gods of war
Descend in a circle of hard light:

Seated on their steeds of wind,
Indifferent to all obstacles and enemies.

They do not move.

Everything around them now erupts.

Soldiers forgetting all their names or home,
Charge forward as if there were no death.
They hurl themselves onto the iron teeth of war.

Wildly, they shout:
Seu Lhawang Damsang ride with me
Seu Thuchen Mongpa guide my arm
Tungsen Karma do not let me fall
Nyengen Deva deliver me.
Shinje Chogyal take me through the terrors of this world.

Now the living and the dead

The world of the dead falls into the black earth.
The world of the living bursts into flower.


Soon behind us,
They rest in the soft earth on the hills
They, in tens of thousands,
The victors and the vanquished.

They have entered the dark world.
They are cut off from the living,
The tomb is sealed.

In their joy, they do not remember one another,
In their bitterness they do not long for one another.
The war gods have returned to their abodes.
The earth is gray.

Climbing to the ridge of a high mountain
I now look down on the capital,
Now lonely, and how still.

Palaces and houses burnt to ash.
Walls and fences broken, fallen down,
The royal names effaced from looted tombs,
Family gravestones crumble
As thorns and brambles clamber towards the sky.
I do not see old men or youths.
I turn aside: no straight road to walk
Through wasted fields.

I have been away so long.
I do not recognize the paths
Amid abandoned pasture lands.
A thousand miles without chimney smoke.
Thinking of the house I lived in all my life
I turn inward.
Alive or dead,
I cannot speak.

In the torrent of existing,
The fires of endless war,
We have touched
The all- consuming heart.

The blazing sky touches this dark earth.

Our eyes are scorched.

Words have no meaning.

The living and the dead
Hold the secret of fleeting love.

They do not know peace.


Adaptations from:
(1) Mark Edward Lewis- The Creation of Space in Early China; SUNY 2007- p.123)(2) Stephen Crane- The Red Badge of Courage Chapter1, p.1)
(3)Arthur Waley tr. The Book of Songs:Grove Press:1301;(4)#152;(5)#151;(6)#150;(7)#149;(8)#139;(9)#133;(10)#148;(11)#146;(12)#143;(13)#141;(14)#130-1(15) Lewis- supra, p. 123(16) Cao Zhi, son of Cao Cao- Lewis, supra.-p.188


This fragment of Ariane Mnouchkine's splendor and intensity is part of the conscience of the above

Theatre du Sloeil- Les Atreides