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Manoa 15.2 (2003) 211-212
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Wild Form, Savage Grammar: Poetry, Ecology, Asia by Andrew Schelling. Albuquerque: La Alameda Press, 2003. 192 pages, paper $16.
For a decade, through collections such as Dropping the Bow (1991) and For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai (1993), we've recognized Andrew Schelling as a sparkling translator of Sanskrit and a fine poet in his own right. In Old Growth (1995), for example, he imbued American-grain poetry with Himalayan aesthetics, adding journal-entry poetics to reflect his keen interests in natural science, eros, and the vernacular. [End Page 211]
With Wild Form, Savage Grammar, Schelling works a fresh literary turf—what I might call a hybrid new-world eco-dharma. Echoing voices like Snyder, Rexroth, and Thoreau while speculating on neolithic dreamtime shamanism, it's exciting, intercultural stuff. Schelling writes that he began the twenty or so essays "in response to current debates around ecology, wilderness, and wildlife, with an eye out for directives from some vivid old poetries." Grouped around themes of poetry, ecology, and Asia, his prose lines are crisp as new bank notes and establish diverse connections among contemporary nature writing, the lineage of Pound onward in America's highly regarded school of Asian-influenced arts and letters, and current bioregional scholarship and activism.
Schelling looks deeply into nature, seeing in its patterns and transformations, its flora and fauna, "a far-reaching grammar." "Might excavations in poetry," he asks, "turn up traces of an intellectual lineage capable of augmenting—or at least lending companionship to—the efforts of ecological resistance groups in the West, groups which have gratifyingly come to mix professional and blue collar members, as well as anarchists, bohemians, and Greens?" Can roots be traced to "an ecology movement in the metaphysics (or literature) of some other cultures—India or China"? These are compelling questions.
If, like me, you've pondered what precise linkages exist among "plain taste" T'ang poetry, the ethical implications of Buddhism's Bodhisattva vow with its "unqualified recognition of the interdependence of creatures," and eco-intelligence of the Gary Snyder-Wendell Berry-Wes Jackson variety, then Schelling's eponymously titled essay proposing that the resurgent contract of inter-species kinship across the planet be formally named Jataka Mind—as well as the profoundly articulate insights of "Wandering Clouds," which looks at Buddho-Taoist China's monkish bards—will come as pure illumination.
Affiliated essays on poet and master printer William Everson and on the continuing relevance of the small-press tradition reveal that Schelling has lost none of his zest for the architecture of books. Indeed, with their homage to haiku, the value of journals, paleo-psychotropics, Sanskrit poetry, and the wonders of the Colorado Front Range country, these essays are like meadows, made for wandering through without a wristwatch. It's not rash optimism to expect to see this book alongside Snyder's The Practice of the Wild, Maxine Hong Kingston's Hawai'i One Summer, William Irwin Thompson's Pacific Shift, and Bill Porter's Road to Heaven as a formative text in the evolving East-West cultural equation.
Trevor Carolan has taught English and Asian religion at University College of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, among other places. His books include the memoirs Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg at Hollyhock and Return to Stillness: Twenty Years with a Tai Chi Master; a travel novel, The Pillow Book of Dr. Jazz; and a book of poetry, Celtic Highway.