Louise Landes Levi
• PD: 11/10/2010 • ISBN: 978-1-887276-55-9 •
THE BOOK L, Louise Landes Levi’s second full length poetry book from Cool Grove consists of journal entries, poems, photos & l essay – for the most part written on Isla Margarita, Vermont. while on retreat with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Recalling predecessors Philip Whalen and Joanne Kyger, it develops themes of impermanence, romance and the dangers of elitism in (so called) “third world” as its author inwardly explores the relation between “community” (skt – sanga) and the private communion which is the poet´s or this poet’s domain.
The title is taken from the ground breaking work of Dutch Dadaist, Bert Schierbeck (HET BOEK IK) whose Zen Gardens, published in Amsterdam (and translated into English by Charles McGeehan) in the 1960´s was an early introductions of Buddhist thought and practice to the European Avant Guarde.
The Book L is volume one of a trilogy and will be followed by – Hotel Gaia – a collection of retreat & other poems, written primarily in Toscana, IT.(1985-1995) and dedicated to poet visive Franco Beltrametti and finally – A Spiritual Autobiography – (W. Palm beach – NYC 2001), a short autobiographical essay.
Louise Landis-Levi’s pure intentions, and her uncompromising, heroic effort to realize the true nature of mind, makes her poems a continuous stream of wisdom. — John Giorno
At last, a full-scale collection of LLL’s under-the-radar poetry. An essential gathering of her work. Visionary, musician, translator, L’s work is sui generis, true to her keen & keening mind & deep soul flashes. No recent American poet has so consistently been in the light & shadows, so restless yet so centered. Resistant & resilient in her certainties & questions. Diamond flashes of light in the world & beyond it. I’ve been reading her small books & fascicles & translations for – at last some sense of her work’s range is now available.—David Meltzer
One of the marvels of Louise Landes Levi’s poems is that they exist at all. She somehow conjures eternity out of ephemera, and seems to breathe out these poems more than write them. Following the beat of the ever-wandering seeker-bard and musician-dancer, adhering to her spiritual guide with total devotion, Louise evokes a Mirabai-like poet, whom she’s translated gorgeously, with a kind of Ezra Pound’s Cantos (of all things!) scattered and obscurely referential poetry that may suddenly burst into the most heart-rending lyricism, as focused as a fossil in amber or a flamingo in midflight. Arcane, profane and sublime all at once, more in the mode of Joanne Kyger than Denise Levertov, her fully voiced poems addict you to their movement from poem to poem as if they were being written before you in the actual moment of your reading. And these are only a few of their marvels (just as these are apparently only a few of her thousands of poems). As with our mutually beloved P. Lamantia, the search for the “touch of the Marvelous” never ceases, and here lie open to the sky its flowing results in all their golden glow
|Louise Landes Levi —poet & translator, musician & traveler. Born on Manhattan Island, she now lives in Bagnore, GR. Italy & on an island to the East of Caracas, Isla Margarita.A founding member of Daniel Moor’s Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company. Instrumental recordings: Kinnari, Padma & Kyerang, Music for Meditation & Spoken Art Recordings: Kunst is die Liefde in Elke Daad w. Simon Vinkenoog & Oasis, w. J. Bishop O’Brien.|
NOTES AND INTERVIEW
1. THE BOOK L, LLL’s second full length poetry book fr. Cool Grove consists of journal entries, poems, photos & l essay – for the most part written on Isla Margarita, Venezuela, while on retreat w. NN Rimpoche. Recalling predecessors Philip Whalen & Joanne Kyger, it develops themes of impermanence, romance & the dangers of elitism in the (so-called) 3rd. world as its author inwardly explores the relationship between ‘community’ (skt – *sanga*) & the private communion which is the poet’s domain.
2. The title is taken fr. the ground breaking work of Dutch Dadaist, Bert Schierbeck (HET BOEK IK) whose Zen Gardens, published in Amsterdam (& translated into English by Charles McGeehan) in the 1960´s was a seminal introduction of Buddhist thought & practice to the European Avant Guard.
• The Book L, 2006 selections of which are available online at Otoliths, Tin Luster Mobile & unlikelystories.org:
It will be followed, in this generous offering, by excerpts fr. Hotel Gaia, an earlier collection of retreat & other poems, written primarily in Toscana, IT.(1985-1995) & dedicated to poet visive Franco Beltrametti & A Spiritual Autobiography (W.Palm beach – NYC 2000), a short autobiographical essay,
My journals travel w. me & are sometimes handwritten & sometimes not. When the situation is supportive I use my laptop to ‘keep notes’ & to record important statements, for examples, of others. The classically educated see my napkins w. Tibetan or Sanskrit or Hebrew calligraphy & say O do not throw that away. My habit of not throwing away invites the universe to do so. Countless manuscripts, papers, matchboxes, envelops, discarded. & so many unsung songs or unscripted poems. But some persist & are rendered in speech or script.
Being a musician, I carry the melodies internally. Sometimes the lines manifest as symphonic-like compositions/ but they are still part of my peripatetic perspective/ they are written in motion. Being a poet (or someone who will. like one day to be one, as Daumal said) the word is my refuge & in some way my destination. So, on my travels, I am always returning/ to it. I am on the look out for sign, message & signifier. You can find your entire life story in the emblem of a truck on the road (‘mystic’ said the truck), in a road sign, in the headline of a newspaper. Disinformation can become signal & signifier for you.
Much of my life is spent in the company of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche/old language systems inform my perspective in a certain way which goes way beyond scholarship. I lived as a ‘nun’ (or solitary ‘practitioner)’ for many years/ the mantras/ became (almost) ‘embodied’/ which is of course the object of their experiment.
My journals are illegible for others/ I go through them & try to extract the valuable. Preparing them, I see an internal map/ an internal film begins to emerge, one I have not seen in my daily ‘pilgrimage’ . If you ask me where I am going, I can’t really reply. I can only say that preparing a journal for a’ publication’ brings a new dynamic to the process. I perceive myself as the object (of the spiritual inquiry) & dissolve in the larger equanimity. For this, I thank you.
A KEY: I live in a tower in Italy. Most people think I am homeless. You can see a picture of the tower at http://www.coolgrove.com/book_module/gurupunk_module.html. A beautiful forest grew on the same property but the trees have been cut down now. When the owner (behind whose villa the tower rises like a lingam) mercilessly cut the forest down I knew she would. get cancer. But I couldn’t tell her. She did get cancer Trees are alive. The spirits of trees are very powerful. I once dreamt the tower fell down but it is still standing. When I am in NYC I have no special place to stay. Special places didn’t manifest there but many rooms/ & other places did. New Yorkers have been generous w. me. NN is giving his final teachings in Pedro Gonzales, Margarita, VE. I go there when I can. The most impressive things abt. the place are 1) the hermaphrodite & local madman enjoy the respect or at least the tolerance, w. reference to the mad man, of all 2) when the most dilapidated place in the town finally fell completely, the local hermaphrodite who is the hairdresser of course, & her friends had a beautiful tea party in front of the ruin. Now that’s Buddhism, at least for me
Margarita Island is considered to be a refuge for the Al Qaeda by the American Embassy. For students of Namkhai Norbu Rimpoche, it is a refuge of an entirely different nature. He is told, in a dream, that this island is ‘perfect; for the dissemination of the Longsal – The Inner Most Essence of the Dakini – his ter
or treasure teaching( see glossary).
Until 2002, the island is peaceful, at least as far as this poet/traveler is concerned. After the failed coup, considered by some to have been a CIA initiative (in Venezuela), a familiar scenario goes down (a la Avenue D & 3rd street/ NYC). Crack Cocaine invades the island, a silent, unknown enemy consumes the village life. Some suspect the DEA of deploying techniques used in other parts of the world, to divide & thus ‘subdue’ its inhabitants, especially the young.
Chavez is in office. He remains in office despite he above ‘coup’ & other techniques used, even by the media of the country, to destabilize his agendas. He gradually implements certain programs for the benefit of the village, Pedro Gonzales—one of the poorest on the island, which is also hosting the Buddhist retreat center, Tashigar No. In the space of a few years, formerly destitute &/or poverty stricken families have certain advantages, for them, new clothes, bicycles, other means of transportation – motor scooters – suddenly in use.
In such places—below the equator—it is painfully obvious that planetary finances are manipulated to the great disadvantage of the general population & especially the poor & very poor. A 20 dollar bill provides food for a week, or more.
The Buddhist community has constructed a State of the Art ‘center’ opposite the poorest community in the Pedro Gonzales Valley, many of the families without water. For some years this is tolerated but, right fr. the beginning, the person writing this felt distressed about the situation / the constrast in life styles, so to speak.
As an individual, she endeavors to buy medicines for those who are ailing in the neighboring community, to give a young girl, fr. the village, a bicycle, sold, finally by the local pharmacy, 2nd.hand & to organize a book project.
Chavez has made a ‘cultural center’ in the town. There is a small library. A book project is undertaken, over a period of a few years, text books (of which the children are in dire need) are given to the library or cultural center, as it is called.
I was thinking Moby Dick or Call of The Wild, but no, the village children need school books, study manuals. They are given, through the Chavez programs, the opportunity, for the first time, to go through school & then to the university FOR FREE. Money is scarce for the parents of these children—this writer goes to buy these books w. the librarian, or one of the 5 women who take the job, in alternate shifts—for many, their only & first means of income.The Buddhists give some cash to this initiative.
Books are uncovered in stores otherwsie stocked full w. ribbons, paper & barrettes . There are no ‘book stores’ on Margarita Island, at least this writer didn’t see any. Maybe that’s why the people are so nice. Every once in a while, furtively, there is a reader. Except at Esther’s, my place, Casa di Ester. A restaurant/ cum office for me. Esher’s mother is a writer, Esther is a reader.The local poet, the first translator of Allen Ginsberg into a Latin American language, now retired, is often dining there.
The author goes around w. the librarians to the towns. Books are the rarity, no bookstores on the island but there are depots where school books can be purchased along side, as stated above, newspapers, colored ribbons, wrapping papers of all sorts, cakes, note books, some very beautiful, etc. Over 2 year period, we are able to contribute more than 20, even 30 books to the library.
Chavez has established a program that allows all citizens to go to school for free, until post university—the villagers can not afford study materials—they eat for a week or more for the price of one of the books their children need. We do not buy Moby Dick or The Call of the Wild, in Spanish, no we are buy, Chemistry, 101, Join the Military, A History of Venezuela.
The Librarian is ecstatic. when it is not possible to find books, she buys a large supply of meat. The village children who have come along for the adventure have to help her carry her supply. The Multi nationals have come to Isla Margarita. Cheap food wrapped in plastic, all the rage, for some at least. I wonder, why doesn’t the GAR buy the LOCAL produce, delicious vegtables & fruits for their puja. I later learn I am not the only one getting sick fr. the terrible food wrapped in plastic, industrial poisons.
The cleaning lady, at the gar, the Buddhist center ( see glossary) & I are friends, I’m awake very early & chat w. her for an hour in the morning as she works. It becomes clear she can not go home & wash her hands. there is no water. She cleans our toilets but has no water of her own, INACCEPTABLE. Discussions follow, with Jasmil. w. Alicia, the secretary, w. Hugo, one of the guards yes, in the dharma pure land there are armed guards (PHOTO) .I was once caught in cross fire, at the very beginning, a battle ,emerged, not even sure over what, an armed battle. But like the thief who enters an empty room, there was nothing for the intruders. Just some incense in the old cow shed The disappointed thieves watched the endless stream of rented vehicles & thought some kind of palace was beyond the gate. Yes, the dharma palace, but it was formless to their probable dismay.
A Russian girl had $50,000 hidden under her tent but who thinks to look under tents, who speaks Russian? She had a lame daughter The robbers disappeared & the guards appeared. It was later discovered that the Russian woman was pimping out her lame child to the village hungry for affection-she had to leave & never come back, said the master, not unpredictably. But the robbers weren’t interested in what the lame child had to offer.
Many a discussion ensues. We decide that one tank, for Jasmil, the cleaning lady is not enough, no we will get enough money to buy each of the families, living opposite the GAR, a tank of water. Families w. one get one more, families without any, get one. The collection takes many weeks. A poetry sponsor fr. Ukiah Ca. is glad to help. $200. buys a water tank, white money, the same amount black money buys 1 tank & 1/2. The first shipment is a joyous event, a big truck filled w. water tanks takes over the road. They are bright blue. Jasmil is in charge, distributing the tanks. The shipment when complete will double the amount of water which the village can consume per shipment of water (see p. 69 ). Chavez delivers free water to such villages, but the water can not be stored without containers, & the containers are expensive, by local standards, onemonth’s salery, at least..
The skeptics among Lord Buddha’s followers are won over. I have neglected to say.-before embarking on this new endeavor, I am overwhelmed w. fear. How can I organize such an undertaking? ?
That night I dream I am in bed w. Jack Hirschman, a well known socialist poet. City Lights insisted on writing a disclaimer to his book. I wonder why? Now he’s poet Laureate of San Francisco.. I dream of Jack & awake w. the sure feeling tthat this project can be accomplished .
At least some of these Buddhists practitioners must be dreaming of Buddhist saints “The Buddhist saints are the perfect saints” ….( I think I’ve met Jack Kerouac there in the village on a visionary morning, in the rain – looked just like him & I had just had a vision of a word in the book he gave me ‘elohim’ – wondering abt the spelling the night before) .I only dream of poets, I dream, in Italy of Gregroy, William, Simon Vinkenoog even Franco, here in Venezuela I dream of Jack Hirschman..
In all 15 tanks are purchased. A large lady tells me ‘Lord Buddha gave me a tank’. The people here worship The Virgin of the Vale, a local female deity, the Madonna morphed into a childless female, white & luminous . NN remarks that her crown is an exact half dorje (see p. 7), For the villages NN is a Buddha ( see p.13), at least for the one in question in the first sentence of this paragraph.
Later I go to a Puja, I notice a local girl at the gate the daughter of the local polygamist, 19 children in all, w. 2 sisters. It’s a scandal, of course. The village loves such scandals & enthusiastically invents them when they are seasonally lacking—but for the daughter, it’s no scandal, it’s her life.
She recognized NN young in life, she’s been his disciple for years. She met him on the beach, selling shells. She became his w/o really knowing it—she spread sun tan lotion on his large body but was forced, by the locals, at the beach, to stop. More scandal or potential scandal. The guards won’t let her in. I turn around, remember that in the Mahabharata, Dhurva, one of the Pandava brothers refuses to enter the svarga loka, or heaven, w/o his dog, actually a secret form ( of course) of Lord shiva. I tell the guards she’s my friend, she’s a friend of the master & escort her to the teaching room.
Why has she, come. Namkhai Norbu & his wife are giving her a dress, not just any old dress. She’s the departing beauty Queen (of the village) & they are giving her a dress * * not just any dress, to appear before the village, dressed to kill.
The Tantric Buddhist tradition postulates the possibility to receive text through dream or through the visionary apparition of a letter or series of letters. The receptor is called a tertan & the text a ter. Namkhai Norbu is such a being. It is said that the tertan manifests his clarity through the activity of his sang yum or consort, indeed the absence of the consort can result in a failure to produce the ter or to receive it. Likewise in the West the poets & their muses. When the ‘tantra’ moved north, to Tibet in the 12th century it may also have moved East to Dante & his preceptors who cherished love as the conduit of bliss & its divine milieu, the poem.
Nb. Obviously the grey bird wld. fly away & circumstances wld. change & I cld. not dedicate myself to music as before. When I returned it was all about compassion—about organizing a water delivery to the village, about helping the villagers, about avoiding model of indifferent clerical hierarchy.
I was very nervous about this project, never having attempted anything like it. When I dreamt about poet activist Jack Hirschman I was in bed w. him. I often dream abt. the beds I share w. poets & this is not about. fucking. We are sharing space in the intimate dimension of the bed & the poem. After I woke I realized I most certainly cld. do this job. Tashigar finally gave 16 water tanks to the village across fr. The GAR, increasing their water supply by 2, at least.
I felt we shldl. help w. the roads too. When they flooded, it was disastrous for the villagers. But most of the Buddhist, the ones in charges said, No ‘we’re not involved’ even tho we used indeed depended on the road.
The next time NN taught there, he began his teaching by stating that helping w. roads is a very meritorious thing to do, the most meritorious (in the whole canon). The teacher didn’t even need a bed to know how to reach me. These poems are from my sojourn on the Isla Margarita (& certain related territory, by way of muses & musical scenrios).
The above Essay – ‘ The Tank Project’ was written at request of poet/activist Janine Pommy Vega & is dedicated to her – Bard Owl 1942-2010 – thank you.