Black Moss Press, 2012
72 pages, $17
day moon rising
on the bodhisattva path
As a fellow haijin, I couldn't resist turning the title of Terry Ann Carter's new collection from Black Moss Press into a haiku. The cover illustration lends credence to my intuition that Terry IS on the Buddha path, or more particularly the path of the bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who return to aid humans with our enlightenments. The black & white photo of a stone female bodhisattva is overlaid with psychedelic floral and bird patterns - bright painted red lips identify the Buddha's sex.
The content further reveals Terry's Buddhist calling to our truest inner beings. There are tens of thousands of haiku poets worldwide now - possibly haiku is the most rapidly growing literary form on the planet. At its most basic level, writing three lines of imagistic poetry just isn't that hard to do. So it's the content, and the intent of the haijin/poet, which matters most. Otherwise, it's just three clever lines, or 'haikuish', with no heart or soul or wisdom (academic poseurs, and there are many hundreds of you cluttering and ego tripping in the haiku world now, please take note!)
This slim book documents Terry's recurring visits to a land of 'the Heart of Darkness', Cambodia. As a member of The Tabitha Foundation of Canada, Terry works with teams, including Cambodians, to build houses. I hadn't heard of this incredible program until I read her book, and miraculously, more than one and a half million Cambodians have been helped out of poverty and despair by this Canadian foundation.
As mentioned, Terry is a master haijin, and current President of Haiku Canada. But most of the poetry is longer in form, and truly heart wrenching. Amid heat and sweat stench she records eight-year-old girls forced into prostitution and infection with AIDS and other horrors. As a Buddhist, Terry doesn't flinch from acknowledging these truths of suffering, and yet somehow I came away from reading this collection feeling hopeful and inspired.
I have read this book twice, both times sitting on the deck of the shaman shack at my ZenRiver Gardens retreat. In a mild state of reverie before the initial reading, I was thinking of lotus flowers, as one is in the first stages of bloom across the river. So synchronicity greeted me with a wakening slap from the first poem:
(after Mary Oliver)
You do not have to be vigilant.
You do not have to be aware of every little sign.
You do not have to record the millions buried.
It is an insurmountable task.
You can't set down the facts.
You can't go ghost
hunting in the fields of mines.
You can't even say you have a stake
in this harvest.
Whoever you are
know that the wild lotus
that blossoms in the filth of ponds
There are moments of humour amid the horror and sweat-dripping labours, as in the poem "For the Tuk Tuk Drivers'
who know these roads like a crab
but the horror is always present:
in the glass case of skulls,
of my own face
and beauty will not be denied:
through the dragonflies' wings
At this historic juncture on planet Earth, we desperately need more poets and haijin of this calibre. Poets simultaneously able to live and lead and record the inward and outward journeys which all beings will eventually experience. Congratulations to Black Moss Press for publishing this unique book, and to Terry Ann Carter, who is showing us how to be fully and deeply human.
peace & poetry power!
Note: This review was published in the Haiku Canada e-Newsletter, Summer 2012 (part 2)