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‘To let the noise of thinking subside’: An Interview with Chase Twichell
Chapter 16: Much has been written about your study of Zen Buddhism and its influences on your poetry. Sometimes, as in the collection The Snow Watcher, the poems’ topics focus on your apprenticeship with Zen Buddhism. But certain poetic techniques—such as your sparse language and focused pacing—also suggest a sense of meditation, or what is called zazen. How do you see the two practices as working together?
Twichell: At first, zazen and the writing of poetry might seem to come from different planets, since one is languageless and the other expressive. But in fact, both are primarily concerned with the quality of attention one pays to the world. In zazen, we sit without moving and study, without judgment, what the mind does. The mind is very, very busy! It dislikes silence and stillness. It thinks, and thinking gets in the way of seeing things as they actually are, free of all of our associations and distractions. To me, writing poems requires the same kind of concentration, and the same patience, to let the noise of thinking subside.
Of course there are poets who are great intellectual adventurers, but I’m not one of them. I’m much more interested in how language can direct our attention toward what Suzuki-Roshi used to call things-as-it-is. That is, perception so stripped of our imaginative and associative detritus that it eludes words. Isn’t that a wonderful irony?
Chapter 16: Are there ever times when you have trouble merging the two?
Twichell: The practice of Zen and the practice of poetry are both, if taken seriously, ongoing and never-ending. In my experience of writing, the mind becomes a sort of scanner, always on the alert for things that might be seeds or ingredients for poems. I always carry paper and a pen. When I’m sitting zazen, though, of course I can’t write anything down. I can’t even follow the trail of whatever it was that struck me as possibly valuable. So the trouble isn’t with merging the two; it’s with temporarily turning off the poetry channel. If something really urgent is happening, like a suddenly-opening window into a stuck poem, I do sometimes (rarely) let myself “write” until I’ve fixed the perception solidly enough to be sure I can recall it later. Then I go back to zazen, simply observing my antic mind’s ongoing and never-ending attempts to distract itself.
Full interview here.