I posted this book review for my (five) readers at Goodreads and thought I’d share it with my (four) readers at the University of WordPress.
T’was only a week ago I read David Budbill’s Moment to Moment. I didn’t want the moment to end, so I inter-library loaned a few more, reading While We’ve Still Got Feet in two days.
It’s very similar to the first. Short poems. Simple style. Constant allusions to ancient Chinese (Han Shan, especially) and Japanese (Ryōkan, especially) poets. Bud almost acts like he’s a reincarnation of these guys, due to his heading out for the mountains (in this case, Judevine Mt. in Vermont’s Green Mtn. chain) for a life of seclusion. Um, with his wife. And plenty of visitors. With the occasional visit to New York City.
OK, so there’s a touch of Thoreau’s Walden to it in that respect. Ole Henry David’s shack on the pond was only a mile or so from home, and he could visit Mums and Dad any day of the week. But I digress. Back to the reincarnation thing. Here’s a poem that visits the theme:
Different Names, the Same Person
More than a thousand years ago when I lived in China,
my name was Han Shan. And there were more of me
And plenty after also. Two hundred years ago,
in Japan, I called myself Ryōkan.
All of us:
independent, hating literary artifice and arrogance,
yet neither misanthropic nor taciturn,
friendly and talkative rather, but
preferring to live alone, in solitude, removed
and in the wilderness, keeping to that kind
We’ve always been around, in lots of different places,
in every age. It’s just, only some of us
There’s one of us, I’m sure,
in your neighborhood
For a touch of his naturalistic bent, there’s this:
Winter: Tonight: Sunset
Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first
through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop
and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.
I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening
a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.
Very nice. As Mark Twain said of classics: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.” I feel this away about Budbill’s poetry. They hydrate the body poetic. No nonsense. And his poignant flair for lamenting old age and impending death hits a sweet spot, too. Who wants to give it up?
Finally, to hammer home the Chinese connection, Budbill writes poems where he references the “Emperor,” just as Han Shan and friends did so many years ago. Only in Bud’s case, the “Emperor” is the President (of the Disunited States of America), and the bad reputations of both are not far apart:
What We Need
terrorize the world
which is why
a little poem
a small song
a brief moment
Hear, hear! I say. Time for more moments and more Budbill….