On Poetry

April 13, 2009 by     Print This Post Print This Post

Initiative and Poem by John Tischer

My critics are those that want me to learn to write poetry their way, and I say there are as many ways to make art as there are to make love… someone gets off on Van Gogh, someone else on Norman Rockwell… It’s not so much that some art is intrinsically better…. it’s the art’s ability to communicate that measures its worth. Poetry uses language as its palette, but it is an art of communication, not of language, just as music is not an art of sounds and painting is not an art of paints.

I could be a “better” poet, and I am from years back, but my goal is not to be a better poet. It’s to write poetry. For many years I rarely shared my writing, but now that I’ve achieved a certain level of mediocrity,  I’ve found that some people like some of my poems, so, my ambition has found its natural limit. If I become a better writer, it’s merely a side effect.

Allen Ginsberg was a brave man, and one attitude he had towards poetry that I loved, was that everyone should write poems to each other, that it was amenable to community and sharing and fun and why not? There’s always the effete faction that considers whatever art there is to be subject to their sublime judgment, but that’s a lot of horse manure.

I think Ginsberg’s Howl and either The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or else The Wasteland, by Eliot, are at least two of the greatest English language poems of the Twentieth century. Their subjects are exactly the same, and they each are eloquent in their own style.  The effect they each had was vastly different. The intelligentsia ga-gaed over Eliot in part because of the intricate weaving of classical references in his poems. You didn’t have to know Greek and Latin and a dozen other languages to appreciate his poems, but it didn’t hurt. Meanwhile, he was addressing a world societal upheaval and change that would be echoed down the line by Aldous Huxley, Orwell and others…the death of the soul in modern society.  Eliot was one of the documentarians of this zeitgeist.

Howl was not the logical death knell one would expect would be the pronouncement on what had been happening historically over the previous forty years.  It was a call to life, a battle cry of the sacred tender heart that would not die, and it arose precisely at a time when there were a multitude of ears ready to hear just that. Howl was a bombshell that helped waken the children of the fifties from the engineered stupor that was the legacy of the process that Eliot saw.

And what does this have to do with the subject?  Ginsberg and the Beats were vilified by a writing establishment that worshipped the style of Eliot, but not the substance. Truman Capote called On the Road “typing,” not writing.  As the world changes, art changes, because art is “now.” Ginsberg and Burroughs were given establishment honors in later years, Mother Columbia clinging the world renowned successful artists to her ample and fetid bosom.

I only had one professor in college that said anything that made a lick of sense. He was one of my English professors, and he said: “If you want to be a writer, write!”

I suggest a stream here on Radio Free Shambhala were each post is in the form of a poem.  Why not?  It would certainly tend to make one consider one’s words.

Here’s how:

  • a Post starts off a poetry / doha thread / mala
  • each person responding continues the poem, adding to it through comments
  • one (1) comment only per person!
  • pay attention to the content and style suggested by the initial post
  • the person who started the poem ends it with a final comment: after that further comments are disabled

Here’s the startoff stanza:


Swimming towards the other shore
worried about drowning…sometimes floating
in the current



John Tischer has been a student of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche since 1972. Now Living in Tepoztlan, Mexico, John divides his time between meditation practice, writing, and doing nothing.


7 Responses to “On Poetry”

  1. Suzanne Duarte on April 13th, 2009 9:49 pm

    Swimming towards the other shore
    worried about drowning…sometimes floating
    in the current

    I notice others in various stages
    between vigorous swimming
    and being swept by the current, flaiing

  2. Will Ryken on April 13th, 2009 11:27 pm

    letting go and drowning in the ocean of compassion
    having drifted on the surface for so long
    so good to just relax

  3. tsondru garma on April 14th, 2009 12:44 pm

    “but it is an art of communication. ”
    “There are a million stories in the naked city”
    …May each one find its voice.

  4. Will Ryken on April 17th, 2009 12:10 am

    Naked in the city is a story in itself
    naked are or naked is
    dressed in primordial sacred slime
    So sweet still to dance together
    smile if you have to!

  5. Michael Sullivan on April 17th, 2009 10:23 am

    smile if you want to!
    smile though your cheeks
    are whitened by the salt of your tears.

  6. Travis May on April 17th, 2009 1:23 pm

    The tears that soak the Earth are of the suffering of samsara,
    Dharma, like art, is the clothing of revelation,
    Buddha is naked shunyata, Shambhala its manifest expression

  7. John Tischer on April 19th, 2009 2:36 pm

    The tears of suffering, the ocean we swim across,
    mapped by the explorers of the mind,
    at least we know some have landed