issue 18 spring 02
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Living at the Monastery, Working in the Kitchen

Poems by Eric Paul Shaffer

Leaping Dog Press 2001; $12.95p/b (us only)

These 'textless translations' are Shaffer's own poetic evocation of the life of Shih-te - the T'ang Dynasty rogue poet, friend of Han-shan, and T'ien-t'ai monastery cook. Based on Shih-te's spirit and style, Shaffer offers a suitably irreverent sequence of poems that are at once playful and provocative. Both Han-shan and Shih-te are well known for their mockery of the monks, indeed of anyone displaying signs of artifice and pretension. These poems capture the cheeky challenges of those freed from the limitations of a formal structure yet still engaged with it. 'The solitary life of Cold Peak (Han-shan) proves /one may live long on the Edge of Heaven, /falling neither in /nor out.'

And self-mockery is never far away: 'I lie on steps before the kitchen door, / fart and scratch myself / like any Buddha.'