Monday, November 06, 2006

Afgani Poet, Nadja Anjoman Memorial

Which plunderer’s hand ransacked the pure gold statute of your dreams/In this horrendous storm?
--Nadia Anjuman, "Strands of Steel"
Dear writers, poets, and friends of literature around the world!
You receive this e-mail on 5th November 06:30 pm CET 2006.
On 5th November 06:30 pm CET 2005, exactly one year ago, we lost last life signsofourfriend and colleague Nadja Anjoman, the Grande Dame of Modern Afghan Poetry.

Few hours later she left us forever…We remind her with a minute of silence and ask you to join us by doing the same, when you receive this mail and read through her biography attached below.
We kindly ask you to forward this message to other poets and writers, and friends of literature, and friends of Afghanistan and ask them to forward this message to other poets and writers...

All of you and those who will receive this mail may send us all your comments and notes in response to this mail, we will collect them and publish on a memorial site and forward it also to her family in Herat.

In remembrance to Nadja Anjoman our friend and companion

Sincerely Yours,Dr. Sam Vaseghi

Audio link:

Poets Biography by Shafie Noorzaei and Ren Powell


The Poet’s Biography

Sub: The biography of Nadia Anjoman, the respected poet of Herat-Afghanistan
and a victim of family violence on 5th Nov., 2005

By:M. Shafie Noorzaei, her brother, lecturer at Herat University
(edited by Ren Powell) Date: Jan 23, 2006

On the 27th of December, 1980 my parents’ sixth child was born. They named her Nadia. As far back as I can remember my parents talked about how the birth of this baby girl enriched our lives. They said she was a harbinger of fortune for my father and his family.

Even as a child, Nadia was clever and intelligent. I remember how, when we were young, she would jump on the stairs at our house. She used to ask me to join her, but being two years her senior, I didn’t understand why she enjoyed it so much. Then again, maybe it wasn’t my age that was the problem—perhaps I didn’t share her unique sensitivity.

When we began elementary school, Nadia and I were in the same class. At that time Nadia was only five years old, but we were both good students. The two of us were classmates until we reached the fourth grade—when the boys and girls were separated for their continued studies. Our parents were very supportive when it came to our education; they were our most important teachers.

Once when she was in the fifth grade Nadia came home from school in tears. When my mother asked her what the matter was Nadia said, “It’s not fair. My history teacher lowered my grade because I’m younger than the rest of the students, even though I answered all the questions correctly! And then he raised the grade of one of the lazy boys in the class—the one who is his nephew.”

Until that day, I’d never seen Nadia’s serious side. My mother tried to cheer her up and promised to go to the school the next day to ask about the matter, but that night Nadia was filled with anxiety. That night marked the blossoming of her poetic nature.

At school the next day, in front the Headmaster, Nadia read aloud the first poem she’d ever written. The poem was about the grading incident of the day before. The Headmaster immediately recognized Nadia’s talent, and he also confronted her history teacher about the grading incident. This was all the motivation Nadia needed to write more poems. From then on Nadia read her poetry at all of the school’s ceremonies. Her classmates were proud of her, and her teachers were supportive and encouraging.

Nadia’s parents were also respectful and supportive of her talent. She was adored by her brothers and sisters—her mild temperament made her a beloved friend and companion. Our family was close and we solved our problems by always working together.

Nadia was in the 10th grade when the Taliban began governing the city of Herat. The officials sent her home and the gates of the girls’ schools were closed. Nadia, however, did not stop writing poetry. She studied independently. I remember her in the kitchen, cooking, but with an open book in front of her. The small radio my father bought for her was also always nearby. During the dark times of the Taliban, while all of the youth were caught up in Indian films and music, there being nothing else by way of entertainment or recreation, Nadia was listening to the BBC. She especially liked the midday and cultural programs. And at midnight, when we were all
sleeping, she would perform a private ceremony with paper and pen: composing her thoughts and ideas within the new and old frameworks of Dari poetry.

And yet, even during this time of hopelessness and isolation for the girls, Nadia’s greatest wish had been fulfilled when she was introduced to the head of the literature faculty at Herat University Mr. M. Naser Rahyab. At that time, women and girls were not allowed to leave their homes and Nadia had been very brave to go to Mr. Rahyab’s house for his tutelage. His mentoring helped her to give her poems more meaning, color and strength. Even during the six years of the Taliban state, Nadia had never been far from sources of knowledge and art.

When I speak of art, I am referring the Nadia’s ability to sew. She was an excellent seamstress and sewed clothing for herself, our mother, her sisters and other relatives, too. She did this while studying Hafiz Shirazi, Saadi, Mehdi Sohaily, Parvin Eitasami, Forough Faokhzad, Bidil Dehlawi, Mowlana e Balkhi and other traditional and contemporary writers of Dari literature, the poet and the novelists. Nadia also wrote criticism and helped students revise their work through the Herat Authors Association. I should also mention that, during those years, Nadia had also traveled once to Pakistan with my father and brother.

When the Taliban rule ended in 2001, the doors of the girls’ schools were opened once again and Nadia was found a new life. At that time she was registered for the entrance examination for the university, thanks to an order from the Ministry of Education. After passing the examination she was admitted as a student of her preferred subject—she was admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, in Dari. This accomplishment empowered Nadia. I remember that time as being the happiest of Nadia’s life; it seemed as though she’d been handed the whole world.

Although Nadia was too young to marry, many families came to our house with proposals. Through my mother, Nadia refused them all. She said that she never wanted to marry, that marriage would be a barrier to her career and to her development as a writer.
In Nadia’s first year of university studies, Mr. Farid Ahmad Maiid Neia, one of the administrators in the department of Literature sent our mother a branch of flowers to announce his intentions as Nadia’s suitor. As was her pattern, she refused his proposal, too.More flowers were sent, but Nadia had made her decision.

During the last seven semesters of her university studies, Nadia was top of her class—just as it had been in the girls’ school. Although I was already teaching at the university and Nadia was only a student, I was very proud of her. She steadily accumulated successes and honors like university scholarships and fellowships.

During her third year as an undergraduate Nadia traveled with ten teachers and other female students to visit the cultural centers, historic sites and universities in Iran. There Nadia met many Iranian poets, writers and authors, and she exchanged ideas and experiences with them. In Iran, Nadia had been able to visit the world renown professor and philosopher Dr. Hosain Elahi Qomshaei, who praised and encouraged her. Nadia brought back many good memories from the trip.

Nadia’s manners and temperament were outstanding, and her smile, always on her lips, was irresistible. Nadia got along well with everyone; she was a child with children, youthful with teenagers, and mature with her elders. She respected her elders and they appreciated her humility and selflessness, her lack of envy—all traits they found lacking in Nadia’s contemporaries. If Nadia called attention to a person’s faults, she did so with good intentions and she did so kindly. Nadia was not a woman to wear expensive clothes or jewelry. She was a true advocate for children and was always kind. When the children would bombard her at the markets and bazaars, she would always buy something from them, not out of need, but out of a desire to make the children happy. Although there were no children in our home, the neighbor
children came to the house every day to visit Nadia. These visits were a testimony to her loving nature.

It was during Nadia’s third year of university study that Mr. Majid Neia began a second round of proposals. He had been suppressing his feelings for Nadia for three years and would no longer keep them to himself. He refused to give up this time. Though Nadia tried to avoid an obligation to him, when sent the Holy Quran to her she could not refuse. He’d used the Holy Quran to place a barrier before her.

Nadia had no choice to but to give in and accept the marriage proposal. I will never forget the day we gave them their answer: Yes. Tears never left her innocent eyes and Nadia kept repeating, “It’s a pity. I will waste away for his sake. I do not deserve this.” But we tried to help her keep up her courage.

From that day on, Nadia often appeared to be happy, but it was only an appearance. The engagement lasted six months, after which they were married in a simple wedding ceremony. After that Nadia found herself looking at life from a completely different position. She smiled, but whether we knew it or not, her smile was false.

Nadia had always been a girl with an enormous amount of patience and a great heart. She was always optimistic woman who would not let her husband or her mother-in-law’s faults discourage her. Sometimes Nadia would confide in our mother, telling her about the name-calling and ill treatment she received from her mother-in-law. But Nadia didn’t tell our father; our father was old and ill and Nadia didn’t want to distress him.

Nadia’s mother-in-law was a selfish, old woman who told her, just two days after the wedding, “I will never love you”. Nadia was never allowed to make decision in the household. “This house is my property. Farid is the one who has brought you here and he’s the one who will have to find a different place for you.” But Farid refused to intercede on Nadia’s behalf. He thought, “This is my mother and she will only be around for a few more days.”

My mother advised Nadia to be patient, “Every marriage has problems at the beginning. They will pass soon. Your mother-in-law only has one son, you understand.” Nadia had no choice but to be patient. There were only three people in that house: Farid, his mother and Nadia. Then Nadia gave birth to the innocent child Bahram Saeid. Nadia was in the middle of her finale year of studies when he was born. Bahram Saeid was good natured and naughty—a noisy, wonderful boy who was very much loved by his mother.

Bahram Saeid’s paternal grandmother never touched him, nor would she allow Farid to pick him up. Although the woman never showed any kindness or love toward Nadia’s child, Nadia tried not to let it bother her. She often left her son in our mother’s care during the days when she went to the university. When I talked to her about the seriousness of the situation with her mother-in-law, she would silence me by saying things like, “It’s not a problem.”; “It’s nothing to worry about.”; “I am used to it.”; or “Life is a struggle.” Nadia was afraid of causing sorrow or grief for our parents. She didn’t want to worry the family. Whenever Nadia would visit our home she
showered everyone with praise, sharing her vivacity and happiness with us.

It wasn’t long ago that Nadia spent a great deal of time talking to me about my own marriage. She had selected several young women from among the university students, our relatives, our neighbors and her friends as possible wives. The last time I saw her was the 5th of November, the third day of Eid; it was the day of her death.

I surprised her at her house at 2:05 p.m. I rarely went to her house and she was very happy to see me. She was alone, waiting for her husband to arrive. Farid was going to take her to a relative’s house and then to the house of a close friend who had recently lost her father. It is a custom in Afghanistan, when someone dies, for people to gather at his or her house on the third day of Eid following the death.

Nadia served me a piece of the cake she had made for the Eid celebration. It was delicious. We talked for an hour—one of the most pleasant talks I think we ever had. And we watched part of an Iranian documentary on Iran TV. While we were talking she told me about two of the young women she wanted me to consider marrying. She showed me their pictures from her album. Then we watched the film of her own wedding so she could point them out. We talked a lot about her friends.

During the entire visit Bahram Saeid was by my side. He was five months old and had just learned to sit up. As I was leaving, he reached for me as I stood in the doorway. Nadia told me that her son understood that I was his family, his uncle, and that he was reaching out to me so I’d take him with me on the motorcycle. I said goodbye and was leaving for my friend’s house to celebrate Eid when I saw Farid heading home.

At 00:05 that night, when we were sleeping, the phone rang. Someone was calling from the hospital’s emergency room: “Do you know Nadia? She has died. Please come to the hospital as soon as possible.”

It was the bitterest news we had ever received. No one could believe it. That night was a hundred times darker than other nights. The moon had been veiled and Nadia’s life had been extinguished! We rushed the hospital. We were crying. We saw Nadia lying dead on a bed in the emergency room! Farid was restless and weeping. When we asked him how Nadia had died, he said, “We argued while on the way to Nadia’s friend’s house and, finally, I slapped her.”

By the next day, the sixth of December, everyone in the city of Herat had heard the terrible news. People came to our house in tears, offering their condolences—there were university professors, teachers, students, colleagues, prominent people in the arts milieu, scholars, authors, journalists, relatives and friends.

Nadia was buried amidst an aura of tragedy; the light rain fell like tears in the holy cemetery in north-east Herat. In the days that followed tributes appeared in all the publications. Nadia’s poetry, talent, character and personality were praised. Interviews appeared in the media, round table discussions and scholarly dissections of her tragic fate. Many people still come to our house to bless Nadia, but to what end? Nadia has left this horrible world forever.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Past Green Woods

Yesterday, I traveled up north to St. Johnsbury with Bill Morgan and Peter Hale to visit Peter Orlovsky whom I hadn't seen in over a decade. Peter O whose health is fragile was lucid and sweet tempered. We were all impressed how well he is doing under the circumstances and the great support system he has within the Shambhala community around Karma Choling. Peter lives in a pleasant house down the street from St. Johnsbury's historic district and the Athenaeum; America's oldest unaltered gallery space that we visited before meeting Peter and his attendant, Michael, for lunch. Prayer flags were fluttering on the porch and the house had great light and simplicity. You can see from the photo that Peter (right) enjoyed the visit. That's Bill Morgan in the background and Peter Hale, on the left.

Bill brought along and gave me his newest publication, a literary biography on Allen called, "I Celebrate Myself, The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg." He also brought to give to Peter O, the gorgeous publication of Allen's earliest journals he edited with Juanita Lieberman, an old girlfriend of Peter Orlovsky. As the Allen Ginsberg Trust archivist, Bill probably knows more than anyone about the details of Allen's life having meticulously catalogued every piece of paper and artifact for decades. One interesting aspect about the biography is that he annotates the external events with poems and journal entries next to the narrative of events in the text body, which will prove invaluable to future scholars. I had forgotten about the huge fight between Peter and Ronnie Laing and how Allen and I had cleaned up the Naropa townhouse afterwards, an event Bill mentions in the book. All those Naropa summers seem to merge into another life. It usually takes some kind of trigger for me to remember the rich display of those years.

But I do remember a funny dinner party at Anne Waldman's after the Orlovsky/Laing confrontation with Bill Burroughs, Philip Whalen, a Japanese scholar, Soiku Shigematsu, (Allen for some reason not there) and Reed Bye where Burroughs was really interested in the story about Peter and Ronnie Laing-- grilling me intensely about it. Burroughs seemed to take great delight that Laing was wildly out of control. In the middle of that dinner, Philip fell backwards in his chair tipping over his wine glass that, in turn, triggered a domino effect of chaos all landing in the lap of Mr. Shigimatsu. It was the strangest thing, as though in slow motion. Anne then supplied the gentleman with a pair of her colorful Japanese pants since he was drenched whereupon we all resumed our dinner. For sometime afterwards, Anne and I always had a good laugh over that dinner hoping Mr. Shigimatsu recovered from the ordeal and Philip's mind-stopping behavior that undercut the conversation about Peter and Ronnie Laing.

On the way back from St. Johnsbury, we stopped at Karme Choling briefly which Peter Hale hadn't visited since Trungpa's cremation twenty years ago when he traveled as a young man with Allen and Peter O in the blue Volvo to Vermont from NYC. During that drive home, Allen wrote his wonderful poem about Trungpa's cremation that Peter Hale ( the young man in the poem) recited a bit of...

"...I noticed the path downhill, noticed the crowd moving toward buses
I noticed food, lettuce salad, I noticed the Teacher was absent,
I noticed my friends, noticed our car the blue Volvo, a young boy
held my hand
our key in the motel door, noticed a dark room, noticed a dream
and forgot, noticed oranges lemons & caviar at breakfast,
I noticed the highway, sleepiness, homework thoughts, the boy's
nippled chest in the breeze
as the car rolled down hillsides past green woods to the water,
I noticed the houses, balconies overlooking a misted horizon,
shore & old worn rocks in the sand
I noticed the sea, I noticed the music, I wanted to dance."

--from AG, "On Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa, Vidyadhara"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Few Missives from Allen Ginsberg

Here's another note written in haste at 4:00 AM or tiredness since it doesn't have a characteristic date. It's probably circa spring/summer of 1994 when I lived next door in Peter Orlovsky's apartment as Allen mentions picking up mail and a "missive" to Paul Bowles on his kitchen sideboard at Apt. 23. I lived there for about six months before moving back to Vermont. Every morning, I would find a bunch of notes slipped under the door.The whole thing reads:


The Blake discourse is great, but only 3/4edited-- But it is really good-

There's a few small items on the sideboard Apt 23
a letter to mail + also a missive to send to Paul Bowles


I remember the Blake piece as he later sent me
a copy of the publication after I was back in
Vermont. I've used it many times for either classes,
papers or lectures on Blake.

It was not unusual for him to leave an opinion/commentary
about someone or something.

Here's such an example dated 5/26/91 asking me to print a photo he took of Alice Denney whom he affectionately refers to as "older lady goofy looking in a big hat w/my photos on wall background." Allen often sent people photos he had taken of them. One of my duties in his office was to organize the photo collection, arrange for printing negatives with either Sid Kaplan or Brian Graham, be the point person for photos in publications, and assist with curating shows. I worked on several large projects such as huge FNAC show that traveled France for a year or so, and many of the stills used in Jerry Aronson's film, Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg. I loved his photos that document for decades both the unknown and known denizens of his world. He had a clear eye for detail and respect for his subjects. My meeting him coincided with his self-consciousness as a photographer in the early 1980's under the tutelage of Robert Frank, Bernice Abbot, and others. He had by then become, a real shutterbug, according to Bernice Abbot, snapping thousands of photos.

Here's another fairly typical request I used to get from Allen asking me to deal with some domestic crisis--this time on behalf of Marie Orlovsky, Peter Orlvosky's sister. I remember this one well as it took a lot of logistics to get her bathtub drained.

Allen took care of many people on a regular basis such as Gregory Corso, Herbert Hunke, the wonderful poet--Jimmy Schyler, Orlvosky & family, and anyone among his friends who had a basic need. Allen's non-profit, The Committee on Poetry issued modest weekly checks for some who often stopped by the office to collect. Hunke had a funny ingratiating style. Always impeccably dressed, he annoyed me with his complements on what I was wearing--totally phoney, as in those years it was all GAP T-shirts and jeans. Gregory was, well Gregory--mostly rude and ranting or really subdued if he was hurting. As much as he could be so obnoxious, I had a soft spot for Gregory who had a streak of almost Turretsian honesty. He would say the most wounding things. For years he refused actually to say my name because once in Boulder I refused to drive him to Denver to score drugs. He used to refer to me to Allen as the girl with the strange eyes.

Here's a snapshot I took of Gregory and Allen in my office at Naropa circa 1985 with Gregory's last born son. I was then assistant director of the summer programs with Jane Fiagao who, sadly, died a few years ago from breast cancer. We had fun in that office where a steady stream of faculty and students settled into the ugly black naugahyde couch opposite our desks. Once when two phones rang simultaneously on my desk, Phil Whalen sitting on that couch told me to "breathe" before I picked up the phones.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Classical Plastic

Looking for some transcripts for my thesis, came upon my stash of hundreds of notes from Allen saved from 1984-1994 beginning at Naropa and then for the five years I worked for him in his NYC office. Some like this one are funny in their office domesticity. This note is refering to the faux plastic marble sink in the Union Square office hidden away in a closet. My cat's water dish is made of a similar material and often feels slimy. I like his reference to classical plastic,ever the poet speaking.

Once in Boulder, Allen stayed at my house (actually Martha Bonzi's house where I lived) for one of his Spring Naropa visits. One day he took a message for me on the phone leaving a note. When I got home from work, I found the note and threw it away crumbled up in the nearby bathroom waste basket. Allen must have retrieved it because later it resurfaced when he told me that I might want to save anything with his handwriting. From then on, I saved everything he ever wrote me with direct address. I have close to 400 Dear Jacqueline notes. I thought of selling them but that doesn't really agree with me. Will probably send them to Stanford with all his other material. But it's fun to look them over as a triger for recollection.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Love

Old Dog Contemplating the Sky


One held the knife
another the sword
and I held your hand
to warm my hand.

My love, my love, I'll speak to you now
about the time of joy, about freedom.
My love, my love, in the bitter country
the north wind will stop blowing, the sky will clear.

The moon is blood-stained
the sun is dark
and in the night I wait
for the sky to open again.

My love, my love, I'll speak to you now
about the time of joy, about freedom.
My love, my love, in the bitter country
the north wind will stop blowing, the sky will clear.

Sung by Maria Farantouri

Greek composer, Mikos Theodorakis, once said that a song is more powerful than any tank. Throughout his career, he has continued to uplift the world of sorrow with his musical compositions, often sung by Maria Farandouri.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Poetrymind Podcast #1

This is my first podcast so a bit rough and done without a script. I'm looking forward to interviews and more podcasts.

Heaven was Pitiless

A few days ago, friend and poet, Lousie Landes Levi, sent me some poems from her collection Banana Baby. I was taken by her evocative poem, "Herat," as the prelude. Herat is a city located in Afganistan Louise visited on her many travels. Once the center of the Persian civilization, Herat is a city of poets renowned for its long lineage of poetry and music. During the Taliban era, poets met secretly including a women's "Sewing Circle." One of the members of this clandistine writing group was the young poet, Nadia Anjuman, an emerging talent whose first book, Dark Flower,promised a distinguished career. Shortly after the publication of her book, at the age of 25, she was reputedly murdered by her husband after an argument.

Which plunderer’s hand ransacked the pure gold statute of your dreams/In this horrendous storm?
--Nadia Anjuman, "Strands of Steel"

Louise's poem, "Herat" instilled in me a longing to look more closely at some contemporary poetry from the Middle East. Today bearing a heavy heart, with the growing escalation of violence in the Middle East, the only thing of personal solace I could think of was to connect to these disembodied voices. As this state of mind happens to coincide with an assignment this week at Marlboro's Grad Center to create a podcast, I'll be reading some poems I located on the internet by Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine), Ahmad Shamlu (Iran), Wadih Sa'adeh (Lebanon) and a few other pieces. Somehow, they are all interconencted in their intense yearning for a paradise that all of us can never return to except in our imaginations.

The reality of war hasn't changed much over the centuries, has it? I first heard the following poem set to music by Anne Waldman.

Heaven was pitiless.
It sent down confusion and separation.
Earth was pitiless.
It brought me to birth in such a time.
War was everywhere. Every road was dangerous.
Soldiers and civilians everywhere
Fleeing death and suffering.
Smoke and dust clouds obscured the land
Overrun by the ruthless Tatar bands.
Our people lost their will power and integrity.
I can never learn the ways of the barbarians.
I am daily subject to violence and insult.
I sing one stanza to my lute and a Tatar horn.
But no one knows my agony and grief.

TS’AI YEN (ca. 200)

From Kenneth Rexroth's translations from the Chinese

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Harry Smith on Native American Cosmologies

I took this snapshot of Harry in October of 1987 while I was either visiting or staying in Allen Ginsberg's East 12th St Apartment. That year I visited often as my mother, Olga was dying of liver cancer. Every other month I would fly into La Guardia from Boulder to visit her staying one or two nights on Allen's living room futon on my way to and from Vermont.
Here Harry is with two young friends showing them something with a microphone in the same room.

Click on the link above to hear Harry lecturing on Native American Cosmologies, a highly ranked presentation from the Naropa Archive available on the site.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Allen Ginsberg's 80th Birthday Today!

Allen Ginsberg would have been 80 years old today. Nearly a decade after his death (the same day his teacher Chogyam Trungpa died), Allen continues to inspire and irritate with his signature combination of candor and wholehearted compassion through his enduring legacy. Poet, teacher, friend, Buddhist practitioner, political avatar, Ginsberg remains one of the great American minds in promoting a saner world.

Today by coincidence is also the birth of the Buddha celebrated universally as a day when one's actions and thoughts are multiplied millions of times. So, think positive thoughts, write a poem, reflect kindly on the bard who inspired so many of us.

Five A.M.

Elan that lifts me above the clouds
into pure space, timeless, yea eternal
Breath transmuted into words
Transmuted back to breath
in one hundred two hundred years
nearly Immortal, Sappho's 26 centuries
of cadenced breathing -- beyond time, clocks, empires, bodies, cars,
chariots, rocket ships skyscrapers, Nation empires
brass walls, polished marble, Inca Artwork
of the mind -- but where's it come from?
Inspiration? The muses drawing breath for you? God?
Nah, don't believe it, you'll get entangled in Heaven or Hell --
Guilt power, that makes the heart beat wake all night
flooding mind with space, echoing through future cities, Megalopolis or
Cretan village, Zeus' birth cave Lassithi Plains -- Otsego County
farmhouse, Kansas front porch?
Buddha's a help, promises ordinary mind no nirvana --
coffee, alcohol, cocaine, mushrooms, marijuana, laughing gas?
Nope, too heavy for this lightness lifts the brain into blue sky
at May dawn when birds start singing on East 12th street --
Where does it come from, where does it go forever?

Allen Ginsberg from Death and Fame

In this BBC interview, Ginsberg sings "Father Death Blues" which he says is the work he wants to be remembered for.

Friday, May 05, 2006

from Hoppinjohn to East 12th Street, NYC

Hoppinjohn is a classic Southern dish made with black-eyed peas, rice, and ham or ham hock. It was served as a complete protein meal in poorer households and eventually as a celebratory dish on New Year’s Day. There must be hundreds of Hoppinjohn recipes. Most recipe books indicate Hoppinjohn refers to imaginary little Johnny hoppin' his way to the dinner table. But there are other etymological origins such as its Caribbean derivation or that the combination of ingredients had African roots. Hearing Muddy Waters, the other day on Dylan's theme time radio show got me thinking about Hoppinjohn and the Mississippi delta of his origins.

As a child my mother and I drove through Mississippi with my older half-brother, Charles, in the early 1950's where we heard cotton pickers singing in the fields. That road trip is among my earliest memories. Going over the Mississippi River, we were involved in an accident. That's the first time I tasted a life-saver when a policeman handed me one through the car window.

Great Culinary classics almost always derive from ordinary people. You even see this in classic French cuisine. The renowned chef, Henri Charpentier for whom my father, Alexander Pierre Gens worked at the Cafe de Paris in Chicago circa 1930's in his classic Food & Finesse: The Bride's Bible, the first French culinary book widely distributed in America, must have had dozens of recipes for scrambled eggs naming them after famous Americans.

I was first introduced to Hoppinjohn by Marty Brennan-Sawyer at the Putney School where I cooked from 1996-98. Putney School is where I met my colleague who is also a poet, Chard deNiord, with whom I now co-direct the New England College MFA Program in Poetry. On and off over the years, I've cooked professionally or to supplement my income.

For awhile, Chard and I, ran some poetry programs for the Great River Arts Institute in Patzcuaro, Mexico called "The Spirit & the Letter" with Tom Lux, Heather McHugh, Jerry Stern, Ellen Bryant Voight, Joanne Kyger, Jane Miller and Anne Waldman, who all visited at one time or another. Every morning, I made breakfast for all the poets after shopping in the colorful market and local bakery around the corner from 17 Ibarra Street, the address of our hacienda in Patzcuaro. Jerry Stern still mentions the scrambled eggs I made each morning. You’d think that was the only thing I knew how to cook! After breakfast, everyone would convene for writing workshops followed by the daily comida prepared by Esperanza, the housekeeper at Casa Don Miguel. Here Anne Waldman is with Alexandro and her mother. Lupe, one of the Puerepecha staff employed in running the house.

Casa Don Miguel is a huge hacienda, the length of a football field with four inner courtyards surrounded by rooms on one side. Built in the late 18th century, it was originally a nunnery. Casa Don Miquel was owned by Michael and Vladina Pavlik whose sons went to Putney School. At one point, they approached Chard asking if he would be interested in making an artists colony in Casa Don Miguel. Once I got involved, I was amazed to realize that the town of Patzcuaro was the place where the late Tibetan master, Chogyam Trungpa, my first Buddhist teacher, received many of his terma teachings for Shambhala, particularly his Werma sadhana practiced within the Shambhala Community. Today, Casa Don Miguel is owned by the Catholic school next door to 17 Ibarra Street. But for a couple of years I traveled several times each year to run programs. In the photo above, Ellen Bryant Voight is teaching a workshop in front of the fireplace, where by night, she entertained us with great stories and poetry gossip. She and her husband, Fran, were delightful guests.

During our first Spirit and the Letter Conference in 1999, I made a point of visiting Casa Werma, the house Trungpa’s family still owned in Patzcuaro. Close to the market, it is a small casa surrounded by an astonishing five acres of gardens. Deep into the property there were several smaller structures including a traditional Tarascan house on stilts. I stayed at Casa Werma several days prior to the conference and was appalled at the weird vibes and general strangeness of the place. Later, I discovered that the caretaker was running a brothal out of the house. As a testimony to its partying heritage, there was a huge glass heap of liquor bottles in the backyard. Another quality of Casa Werma was the almost incessant radio station playing 24 hours a day at the garage next door. hardly the contemplative environment I had envisioned. There was also a strange housekeeper who gave us the creeps, whom we later learned from the gardener was a local currandero. The movie, "Rough Magic” was filmed in the town of Patzcuaro and around Lake Patzcuaro which somewhat gives the flavor of the place as both a traditional colonial town but also a powerspot--a corridor into other dimensions, one senses on the subtle level.

All the years I worked at Naropa in the 1980's, I moonlighted cooking part time at a sorority and catered a lot of poetry events for the Jack Kerouac School. My first job at Naropa was cooking for the Kappa Sigma residence during the 1984 Summer session. That was the year Allen broke up with Peter Orlovsky who moved back to New York with his girlfriend, Juanita Lieberman. Allen feeling a bit forlorn used to walk over to the Kappa Sigma and eat dinner with the poetry students. Sometimes Bob Creeley joined him. Here's a photo Allen took of Creeley at the Kappa Sigma dining table.

That's really where I got to know Allen. I don't think he figured out until much later that I was part of the Naropa scene--then a student in the Buddhist Studies department. Every night after his meal, he would bring his dishes into the kitchen and wash them chatting, asking me questions thinking I was just a local girl working in the kitchen. One of the Naropa faculty, Fiz Harwood, told me that he was astonished when she told him I had a degree in Classics from Smith. I have to say that this sense of inquisitiveness was one of Allen's most endearing qualities. Some people feel that he was a misoginist but, in fact, he was immensely curious about all sorts of people--both women and men. I was always so impressed by his good manners. I guess, in my book, after long years working in bars and restaurants, you come to size up people's character quickly based on how they treat the hired help. Well, Allen got my OK early on from those initial contacts in the Kappa
Sigma kitchen. In my experience, the only other person, of note, who matched his good manners and depth of connection was the Benedictine monk, David Stendl-Rast who stayed that same season at KS for Naropa's annual Christian/Buddhist Conference prior to the poets.

Here's a photo of three ilustrious beat authors chowing down on a lunch I made in honor of William Burroughs at the 1000 Mapleton Avenue house lent to Naropa for the summer of 1985 by Allen's old Columbia friend, David Padua. I spent eight weeks in the house living with a vairety of poetry faculty including Allen, Philip Whalen, and Nanao Sakaki. My favorite was Philip Whalen, a marvelous man with a totally interesting mind. I was very sorry when he died in 2002. He used to occasionally scare me creeeping up behind me and yelling some mantric sounding syllable tha tmade me jump. Later, after I had more training in Vajrayana Buddhism, I understood that he was creating an experience, the Tibetan's call "hedewa," a kind of shock that introduces one to primordial mind free from concepts. I also had a really strong connection with Philip dharmically. once when he was about to undergo open heart surgery, I had some powerful experiences while doing long-life practices for him. Some years later, after he had died and I was having a very difficult time with lots of obstacles in my life, I dreamt that Philip came to my aid reciting protective mantras and dispelled the negativity. I always felt that he was reciprocating my good intentions for him while ill. I only mention all this because it is possible to have an internal connection with someone with whom there is little actual contact. In retrospect, I'm very sorry I didn't pay him more attention although he made a number of overtures. He had a great mind, nor did he repress his emotions which sometimes ran from childish to downright tempermental. To read what it was like to be around him towards the end of his life, Randy Roark wrote a great essay. Michael Rothenberg also wrote about Philip's last year in his collection of poems,

During that summer of 1985, Philip had an attendant stay with him at the Mapleton house. Each evening they cooked up huge meals with pieces of beef the size of the BBQ surface. I read somewhere that Philip said the only thing his friends could not forgive was that he was "fat." But it was always fun to be around him as you never knew what he was going to say or do.

Later, once I got to know Allen and started working for him, it was amazing to see how he connected with people. Cab drivers were especially prone to his inquisitive inquiries. I was with him on that ride Bob Rosenthal writes about somewhere when he yelled, "Fuck Allah" to a Muslim cab driver only to engage the fellow in interesting conversation after getting a rise from him.

Once at Naropa around 1988, several prominent Indian poets came to visit as part of their tour organized by the Committee on Poetry, Allen’s non-profit organization to support poets. They represented a number of different language and religious groups. All of them gave long testimonials to Allen whom they credited for revitalizing Indian poetics by introducing a modernism and a more cosmopolitan aesthetic. One of the poets told a story about how Allen at a coctail party in the early 1960's while in conversation with the Minister of Finance or Economy, said he really liked his native Indian garb suggesting that American young people might like it too—thus, in a sense, planning a seed for revitalizing India’s economy as well through exporting Indian clothing catering to the hippie culture of the times.

As many people experienced, being a guest at Allen's table could be charming. Until he got the office on Union Square around 1991, for a couple of years, every day I picked up his mail at Stuyvesant Station and then delivered it to his 437 East 12th Street apartment around the corner to sort through it with him. Allen, still inhis pajamas ( the yellow pair) would be getting up around 10-11: 00 AM when he would put out breakfast often inviting me to join him.

There were almost always guests—poets, translators, journalists, old friends. A typical spread would include low-fat Alpine cheese, olives, good bread, sometimes boiled eggs, or kanji, iceberg lettuce with his family’s salad dressing recipe made with sugar in a white vinaigrette, fresh fruit-- like mango, papaya, or melon, and herb tea.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Harry Smith (1923-1991) OLD WEIRD AMERICA

Harry Smith was among the most interesting people I met while working for Allen Ginsberg, but a royal pain. Around 1986/87, Allen brought him out to Naropa in Boulder, Colorado to live where I was then working as a director of marketing and publications overseeing five departments. Previously, I had worked for the summer institute especially the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics that ran a 4-week program each summer. The college had just purchased a property adjacent to the school which had several small cottages subdivided into two apartments each. Harry was given one of these apartments for his residence. His health was already deteriorated due to many years of abuse. Somehow, I ended up as the official go between managing Harry's affairs and Allen who funded him from NY during the school year. Eventually Rani Singh, a Naropa student rose to the occasion, and took over, much to my relief. Later, Rani would develop the Harry Smith Archives and devote herself entirely to him for the last few years of his life. There was a period of overlap where we both were involved. I have one vivid memory of the two of us checking out Harry's freezer one day and finding some frozen underpants among other non-edible items ( I think they were Allen's, maybe Rani would remember). Rani had an infectious laugh, I can still hear.

Harry was rather difficult to maneuver for even the simplest activity such as getting him to doctors or helping him file for his ssi benefits and very very bad with money--often spending his last dime on some extravagant book purchase. The pose he's striking in this photo is typical of his stubborn 'dig-in-my-heels' streak. At the time, my job was very demanding while at the same time 1986-87 was the period my mother was dying so I made about 5 trips to New England when I couldn't be there for Harry. I lost my temper with him a few times over his more childish behaviors and eventually Allen had to read (write) him the riot act. I still have a copy of the long letter Allen sent to him from NY which in retrospect, reading it now, seems pretty funny and uncharacteristic of Allen--outlining all Harry's faults accompanied with a precise itemization of every penny he had spent on Harry. Harry, of course, was just another one of Allen's 'dependent' charges--the others being Corso, Huncke, and poet, James Schyler. Fortunately, Rani adored being around Harry. Bringing Harry out to Naropa was a great gesture and worked for a number of years as it allowed Harry to connect with lots of young people who paid him court and learned from him. Many of his lectures were recorded and are available online at in the Naropa collection.

When he was lucid, Harry had an incredible mind and was knowledgeable about many things. I tended toward his anthropological studies and vast knowledge of American folklore but he collected all sorts of amazing things nobody ever thought of--like the string art of little girls, paper airplanes, barn door keys. He was always making recordings that he donated to the Helen Keller Institute. Some of these recordings were around particular sound themes, such as a hammer, or the sound of different fans or some everyday activity to serve as educational tools for the blind. I haven't really read or heard what became of these recordings so that might be interesting research project. He was very curious about people and their ethnic backgrounds. There was one former Naropa student, Lee Ann Brown, later Steve Taylor's girlfriend, who had grown up in North Carolina. He used to ask her and her sister to sing traditional songs he recorded. Lee Ann went on to become a fine poet, publisher, and film maker. He tried to engage me hopelessly in complex conversations about Allester Cook but by that time I had already done many studies of gnostism and alchemy while a student at Smith and was more into the American Buddhist scene. His spirituality seemed intellectual rather than integrated in any practical way into his daily life. Still, considering what a rascal he could be, sometimes he was exceptionally compassionate and sensitive too. The day my mother died, I left a note on his cottage door saying that I couldn't pick him up for some appointment. Later, several times, he told me he had saved that note and cherished it.

Sometime in 1989 or 1990, Harry moved back to NYC. Rani was in NY too, so she resumed her caretaking of him.I'm not all that good with dates. The Harry Smith Archive probably has an accurate chronology. All during 1989, I lived on McDougal Street with Anne Waldman's dad, John Waldman, cooking his evening meal in exchange for a room in their brownstone (Anne's childhood room). I also started working for Allen around that time as Bob Rosenthal was immersed in a building renovation with his neighborhood association who were gutting an abandoned building and then restoring it. My working for Allen coincided with his first outside office on 14th Street where we rented a suite of rooms from Alene Lee, the inspiration for Kerouac's novel, "The Subterranians." Lots of people came and went through the 47 McDougal Street house then for dinner. Each week, John invited Bernadette Mayer and her family. Harry came lots of times. For Allen's 63 birthday, I made a big dinner at the house where Harry, Robert Frank and his wife June Leif whom I admired very much for their art, and some other younger people too came. I remember sitting around the table after dinner and everyone saying they were on some kind of meds except Allen and me. While I was still at 47 McDougal, Harry asked me out on several 'dates' to see his films at the Film Forum picking me up in a taxi and delivering me home--an unusual departure frm his previous neediness. In retrospect, I think he might have wanted to show me that out there in the world he was respected and not just the wreck I had experienced in doctor's offices or other intimate activities. It was amazing how he cleaned himself up for these excursions wearing a snazzy new trench coat. Gregory Corso also had that capacity--to transform himself to a respectable degree when called for.

It was a great moment when Harry received a grammy for his lifetime achievment award. Allen describes the scene. More to come...

Photo credit: Harry in the Naropa classroom tent July 16, 1988 by Allen GInsberg

Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash Singing "A Thousand Miles Behind" Together : Click Here

Circa 1964 in Casitas Springs, CA, riding the bus to St. Catherine's by the Sea in Ventura with the Cash girls. Once sitting next to Roseanne around the time of "Just Like a Rolling Stone", I asked her if her father knew Bob Dylan. It was interesting to see a small segment in the film, "Walk the Line," devoted to Casitas Springs with mention of Bob Dylan. Casitas Springs was about as backwater a California dust bowl holdover you could find. My mother had the first thrift store there. My parents for a brief time owned "The Purple Wagon Restaurant" in nearby Oak View, another spit as you drive through small California town. Whenever any of the Cash family came in (Mama & Papa Cash owned a trailer park in Oak View), my baby brother would play "Ring of Fire" on the jukebox. The restaurant was one of many ill-fated ventures my parents tried their hand at. It must have been so strange, my father, a famous French Chef, who had once run the Garden of Allah, the Ben Blue Night club and famed Malibu, Holiday House, trying to dish up French culinary classics in a diner setting, a diner painted purple out in nowhere!

Quansit huts lined both sides of the highway in and around Casitas Springs where lots of down and out elderly people lived. leftover from the dust bowl diaspora to California. One of them, Minnie, used to help my mother in her shop. She always seemed breathless with excitement whenever she worked in the store where I sometimes helped out after school. In those days, a high end thrift store was rare, about as rare as a purple diner. The local clients really appreciated my mother's stylish window displays. Later in 1965, when my family moved to New York City, travelling by train accross country, the sale of that store funded our move and a lot more too. I remember my mother, Olga, standing in our kitchen saying that if she failed at the store, her life would be meaningless, or something like that. From then on, she always had some kind of antique or second hand store until her death in 1987.

Not much happened in Casitas Springs. Some days, Mrs. Cash would drive down to the country store & post office next door to pick her girls up from the bus. She was always dressed up--I remember once I saw her in a silver lame pants suit, her hair done in a beehive. Another time, I remember, seeing Johnny slumped over in the front seat while she went inside the post office store. They lived on a hill overlooking the town as a respite from Nashville. The video clip of Dylan and Johnny Cash singing together a few years later that I found on another blogspot this morning reminded me of the connection between them and my rocollections of Casitas Springs. That period must have been really a rough time for those girls who semed so serious and self-possessed--especially Roseanne, the oldest. I had my own family problems too that emerged around then compounded by normal teen age angst.

It was in Oak View a year earlier when I was thirteen, I first learned about Allen Ginsberg. One night getting up to go to the bathroom, I noticed the TV was on, my father asleep on the couch. As I went to turn the TV off, a wildly bearded man with a distinct voice magnetized me. It was Allen Ginsberg on the Les Crane Show. At that moment, my hand still on the dial, I heard the sirens of poetrymnd beckon. Here was the epiphanious moment when I told myself that I wanted to know people like him. Odd how that eventually happened years later. I guess one should be careful what you wish for. The power of Allen's voice just grabbed me out of the blue TV haze. Those years in Oak View/Casitas Springs had their own magic. I wasn't born there but my cultural mind was--my ear glued to the transistor radio my grandmother had gaven me one Christmas, tuning into kindred mindsets out there in the world. The Southern pacifc railway tracks were not too far off and every night I was filled with a longing for something greater. It all begins in the hinterlands, the swamp, among the lost and forgotten, the wasteland, outsiders of no import, the diamond in the rough, the "old weird America" of blues and raw vocals--where one hears the true range of duende soul found in American poetics. Listening to Dylan's radio show brought it all back.

By November of 1965, my family would be living in NYC where my father landed a job as the head chef for the Hilton Hotel and at age 15 I was let loose into the cosmopolitan energies I longed for so much. But I never really forgot those years in Southern California. I'm reminded of C.D. Wright's poem, "Lake Return."

Lake Return
by C.D. Wright

Maybe you have to be from there to hear it sing:
Give me your waterweeds, your nipples,
your shoehorn and your four-year letterhorn jacket,
the molded leftovers from the singed pot.
Now let me see your underside, white as fishes.
I lower my gaze against your clitoral light.

Yeah--that's where the bliss is--white not as in race but in naked mind infused with light. What a line, "I lower my gaze against your clitoral light." Maybe it is about sex but to me it resonates more about body and mind consciousness coming together in the first awareness of greater forces at play.

I'm on a roll here using up my vacation time. Nobody really out there but stay tuned anyway. Next time more on Harry Smith, my karmic debt to Allen.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hey, Allen--The Sun is Shining: Bob Dylan on Xm Radio

It’s already been a month since Glen died. On April 4th, the previous night, I had visited the local Shambhala Center in Brattleboro a few blocks from my house to celebrate the 'parinirvana' of Chogyam Trungpa, also the day Allen died nearly ten years ago. He’s been on my mind lately so decided to include “Visitation” in my forthcoming chapbook I've been working on:

For Allen

A few days later I saw you
seated at a dusty crossroad
looking toward a vista of waterways
reminiscent of a cranberry bog or saltwater marsh
I once visited, maybe the river Styx.
A geography of immensity without habitation

where you sat on an old wooden stool,
pored over books and papers, focused intently.
One air of familiarity—your Calvin Klein
Goodwill navy blazer, my favorite;
your pens poking out from the pocket.
I stood quietly to your side waiting to assist you
yet not disturb your concentration.
Finished, you handed me a sheaf of papers,
Here, these are for you—for translation.

Then, you got up and walked slowly down the left-hand road.
I followed but you turned to me and said,
"This is as far as you are allowed to go, I don’t have the water rights
for your passage" —
a hitch of sadness in your voice, your face mostly
impassive, Bell’s Palsy, making one eye bigger, your face a bit cock-eyed,
but looking straight on as we finished our business together once again
in clarity and respect, our natural elegance hanging there a second
as we stared at one another.
I watched you walk off and knew that you were finally gone
on some other journey, to some other place.

Dylan's theme-time radio show debut yesterday morning on XM radio's Deep Tracks station delivered the kind of smarts, warmth, and expansive presence so absent in current media. We're not talking here about a quaint ole time radio show like "Prairie Home Companion" but a magnanimous reach for the underbelly of American music-- Harry Smith at Allen's kitchen table circa 1988

"Old Weird America," folk scholar, Harry Smith called it. Don't let Dylan's folksy accent kid you. He's erudite and comfortable with it too. His consonants sounded as crisp as ever. Dylan, if nothing else, is a master of elocution. Listening on that dank and rainy spring day in Brattleboro to Dylan's show on "Weather" with him asking the audience if it was raining here too was a bit of magical synchronicity.

I'm sorry Allen isn't around to experience Dylan's graceful shift into old age--the "Chronicles", "Masked and Anonymous", "No Direction Home", now his theme-time weekly radio show on XM. Seeing Dylan at last coming to terms with his fame would have eased his mind as he worried that Dylan found it all too concrete unlike himself. During the years I worked for Allen, there were many precious moments but one of the two times I wished I had a tape recorder was on my 40th birthday when Allen made dinner for me (or rather Jack Shiu did) inviting friends Ellen Pearlman and her Tibetan husband, Tsonam, to join us squeezing us all around his four-sqaure kitchen table in the East 12th Street apartment. That night, he played host bearing books to the dinner table to introduce Tsonam to Cezanne. Later after the guests left, Allen started playing Dylan records--all of them for hours, commenting on phrases here or there he thought especially exquisite. Here's where I wish I had the tape recorder or took notes. [the other time was driving with Edith Ginsberg, Allen and Bob Rosenthal around Patterson]. He loved Dylan, I think more than anyone--for his brilliance. In "No Direction Home", Allen's commentary is heart breaking. Seeing him already so ill-looking was a shock. His comments about Dylan as a "receiver" were faithful to his long recognition of Dylan's literary genius which he perceived as amounting to a quintiessential archytype for poetrymind.

In the office, we were always a bit amused how unusually "ga-ga" Allen would get when talking with Dylan on the phone.As far as I know, Dylan was the only one who commanded such reverence. For our pleasure, Allen would put their calls on speakerphone. Late in 1994, after work one night he took me with him to a concert at the Beacon Theater where we went back stage. In previous years, Bob Rosenthal and Peter Hale had the privilege. One of the telling signs about Dylan is that his staff has worked with him for years. Diane Lapson, one of the co-producers of the radio show, brought us back stage where that particular show Dylan wasn't seeing many people. That might have been the last time they saw each other, I'm not sure. Bob Rosenthal woould know as I left NYC about two years before Allen died. Somehow that event made it into Barry Miles revised bio from a journal entry Allen made later that night....they had bantered back and forth about—Gregory Corso, Blake, the room was dark and lit with a candle with Dylan sitting on the floor and Allen in the only chair. Did I imagine this? The first thing you notice about Dylan is just how smart he is. At one point, Allen said to Dylan something like, "“If you want to know about Buddhism, ask her" which embarrassed me. Dylan laughed harshly saying something about a laughing Buddha bar in Kansas City. I must have jumped or reacted in some way because then Dylan flashed his dazzling smile, the same one his audience would get a momentary glimpse of at the end of his set later that night at the Beacon--—a few seconds of blazing sunshine, a gift from the poetry muses or devas and dakinis we mortals can only take in small increments. Yes, the sun is shinning these days...Thanks, Bob & Company. Hope Harry, Allen, Gregory and all our departed are taking a break to tune in!

See You Later, Allen Ginsberg

Photo credit copyright by Dale Smith, 1965 at TEXT
Photo creditof Harry Smith by Allen Ginsberg circa 1988

Friday, April 07, 2006

Glen Eddy (1941-2006)

On April 5, 2006, Glen Roger Eddy, a long time student of Chogyal Namkai Norbu and member of the International Dzogchen community died of a stroke in Cordoba, Argentina.
Born in San Francisco, California on May 17, 1941, Glen was among the first wave of Westerners to become engaged by Tibetan Buddhism in the early 1970’s. His formal training as an artist began at the San Francisco Art Institute. Later, he was introduced to Tibetan art at Pema Ling under the direction of Tarthang Tulku, eventually studying Tibetan art with several lineage masters including Tarthang Tulku, Dudjom Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche and Gyaltrul Rinpoche—all who contributed to his knowledge of traditional methods. In 1974, he attended the Naropa Institute’s first summer along with other thanka painters of his generation. Considered by many, a foremost master of Tikse or proportional drawing, his elegant line drawings of yidams were highly regarded and adorned such early publications of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche’s as, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” “The Myth of Freedom,” “The Dawn of Tantra,” and internally published images for practitioners within the Shambhala community. Images survive of a thanka painted with Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche as the central figure that was lost in the mail.

In 1974, he married Terri Parkin with whom he had two sons, Glen in 1977 and Austin in 1981. They lived together for 14 years in Berkeley and Oakland, California. Glen first met Choegyal Namkhai Norbu with his family in 1983 when they attended an early retreat at a private home in Berkeley.

From 1994-2000 Glen resided in the vicinity of Tsegyalgar in Conway, Massachusetts where he initiated the Golden Vajra Guild at the newly inaugurated Shang Shung Institute founded by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu for the preservation of Tibetan culture. For several years, he served as Gekod living in the schoolhouse with his then wife, Natasha. During that time he was commissioned by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu to create a number of large scales thankas representing Rinpoche’s Dzogchen lineage. These include a refuge thanka with Padmasambhava; the Primordial Masters; Ekajati, protector of the Dzogchen teachings; and Goma Devi, one of the ancient 21 Semde masters from whom Choegyal Namkhai Norbu received his Longsel terma cycle of teachings. All of these works remain at the Gar and can be viewed on the Shang Shung website. Among many other private commissions is a large thanka with the central figure of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, as a yogin giving pointing out instructions that was commissioned by John Shane. All these works are available as reproductions through Tsegyalgar’s bookstore.

In recent years, Glen experimented and produced hundreds of mixed-media small scale watercolors for community members-- mostly of Tara, Mandarava, and Goma Devi.
Initially reluctant to create non-traditional works, Glen’s new work was deeply appreciated as it was affordable yet masterful. While at Tsegyalgar he created dozens of line drawings that were reproduced in the Mirror and Shang Shung Editions publications for practice booklets and in publications by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu. Many community members and gakyils over the years were enthusiastic patrons of his works financially supporting his efforts, so that he could paint fulltime.

An uncompromising artist, Glen focused daily on his work, making his own paints using minerals he collected and ground himself according to the centuries old traditional recipes, as well as executing line drawings and preliminary studies with exacting precision, often consulting Choegyal Namkhai Norbu for accuracy. Over the past thirty years, numerous individuals studied thanka painting with him including Cynthia Moku, Greg Smith and other prominent Western thanka painters. At Shang Shung Institue in America, the Golden Vajra Guild, Glen had three main apprentices-- Susan Handlen, Nanji Davison, and Martha Braun.

His thanka works display a radiantly transparent quality as they depict the luminous realms of their central figures rendered in the Rimed non-sectarian style (Karma Gardri) Glen favored that is characterized by a simplicity and spare clarity. Suspended in an ocean of space, the central figures are displayed against a background with minimal rainbows, mountains and streams uncluttered by details typical of other Tibetan thanka styles. The use of hand prepared mineral paints in these works create an unusual palate of subdued color that contribute to the sense of shimmering transparency found in Glen’s work. No one painted like Glen. His mastery of style, palate, and form as a thanka painter reveals a brilliant technique leading to works infused with light befitting the subjects he painted. His line drawings were considered by such masters as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, an artist himself, to be “very special and beautiful.” At the time of his death Glen was working on a step-by-step primer to thanka painting, “The Treasury of Luminous Manifestation,” for what he said, would be the thanka painter of the future a hundred years from now.

It was Glen’s dream that the Golden Vajra Guild become a center for teaching Tibetan art, especially in Tashigar Sur, Argentina, where Glen had retired to build a home and studio for himself that he bequeathed to his eldest son, Hala, also a gifted artist and practitioner in the community who plans to catalog his father’s complete works as a master thanka artist. Austin too is a successful artist in the film industry and along with their mother, Terri Antony, the entire family is knowledgeable about aspects of Glen’s artistic works and processes that we have yet to learn more about.

Glen will long be remembered by his family, many friends and dharma practitioners as a generous and insightful friend leaving behind an important legacy of work for future generations. As a practitioner, he exemplified a deep devotion to Choegyal Namkhai Norbu integrating the profound essence of the Dzogchen teachings in an authentic manner.

Jacqueline Gens
April 12, 2006

* * *

A Celebration for Glen Eddy in his own words

Personally, I will miss Glen Eddy a great deal as I consider him one of my dearest dharma brothers—someone with whom I could always discuss in depth the meaning and application of the teachings in relation to one’s life. He is someone who proved an insightful ally and friend in difficult times. I tried to reciprocate this gesture in return whenever possible, as such friends are rare.

After being out of touch for many months, we recently engaged in a brisk correspondence between January-March 2006 about a variety of topics—the bureaucratic difficulties of assisting him with the paperwork to receive his social security benefits in Argentine, his enthusiastic response to my offer to put together a web site for him and all that he needed to do around this project, and of course, an ongoing conversation about his recent troubled state of mind.

When a friend dies, it is as though a piece of one’s own history incinerates too. Whom now will I share a few unique circumstances of common history-- a bohemian upbringing in Southern California circa 1950’s by difficult European mothers—his Portuguese, mine Russian; our mutual love for poet friend, Allen Ginsberg and appreciation for Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche; our shared devotion to Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, the great and kind but sometimes unpredictable master whom we both owed our lives to, finding at last what we were seeking for years.

Glen had a warm domestic side to him. During the time he was gekod at Tsegyalgar living there with his wife, Natasha, I was secretary of the gar for a couple of years. For many months, nearly every night, they graciously invited me to dinner which allowed me then to go back to work for another couple of hours. He communicated a real family atmosphere to whoever was present. Glen made great soups, the true mark of a fine chef. I still remember a bean soup he made as one of the all time culinary events of my life, only to find out later he made it from a box. Sometimes, he would come into the office and chat a few minutes, little gems of humor or odd gossip. But, mostly it was the bond of practice and insights I so appreciated about Glen. Once, when I had gone to Tashigar traveling in the dark with him after some practice back to the little casitas I stayed in across from his own, he mentioned that he had passed a beautiful woman on the pathway earlier in the day but couldn’t tell if she was a real woman or just an apparition. I appreciated this aspect of Glen’s mind—his ability to manage multiple realities with a childlike and open simplicity. On the other hand, he could be quite bilious. So, I am not surprised that in the months before his death he did “not go gentle into that good night," but raged against the dying of the light.

Early in March 2006, hearing through the grapevine that Glen was having emotional and financial troubles at Tashigar in Argentina, I wrote him asking him if he had filed for his social security benefits at the recommendation of some community members who thought it might help his financial burdens. On Mar 9, he wrote back:

“I'm having some kind of mid-life crisis, and I'm in therapy, and
Rinpoche has allowed me to remain in Tashigar, so I'm painting
everyday inspite of my crazies. Sometime I can relate how it is for me, but not this time. I'm feeling good and getting clearer everyday. Now when the tapes start I realize it and can just relax and notice, and it calms down. Sometimes I get carried away for a while. But mostly my days are not too bad…. I’m out of gas, Much love, Glen”

I then responded with a reminder of the co-emergent aspect to his emotional upheavals—that behind every great yogin was a similar experience of shedding baggage. I talked about how it’s never too late for therapy; how courageous he was to face his demons and go into the cellar, very atypical of most men at his age. Having beaten his serious drug addiction once, maybe this was an opportunity to clear up the last vestiges of unfinished business. In previous conversations, we had discussed how to dissolve intense emotions in the moment. Glen understood things well in his bones, not just in words. It seemed that he was handling his state of mind when on March 17, 2006, he wrote back, his last email to me:

“Dear J.
Thanks for the inspiring words.
I am doing really well, I saw my therapist again last night, and she’s really good. I feel great. She also has transmission from Norbu and has been to see Pema Chodron, etc. So she knows pretty much where I 'm at in terms of the Dharma. And she speaks English. And Rinpoche is allowing me to stay in Tashigar. So my balance is coming back. But I have to get to the bottom of this anger thing that I have. It's coming, and my presence and clarity are manifesting like never before. So I feel as you were intimating that this is a good thing. Today I'm actually happy!”

I have no doubt that Glen died an appropriate death and will navigate his way to some purer dimension. A couple of years ago, after I posted a poem on Norbunet, I received a cryptic but stunning poem in return from him that I later incorporated into a long poem I’m still working on. Today, on the day of his death, these words of his seem to me to say everything about the beauty of his mind and his life’s work as a thangka painter that will continue to give so much inspiration to all of us and to future generations of practitioners.

In dreams, they come with out-stretched
hands the color of malachite
giving, magnetizing
palms formed by leaf and wind,
torrential waters--
As they pass to me the white lotus bud
grown up from mud, its stainless bloom

Jacqueline Gens
Midnight, April 6, 2006
Brattleboro, Vermont, USA

[Photo credit: Ellen Pearlman at Tashigar Sur, Argentina]