I felt on call with my poem Extinction Aria, as I wanted to create a kind of sutra for the times, a prayer, an incantation of urgency, a romp through the six realms in Buddhist philosophy. Printer and designer, David Sellers of Pied Oxen, had suggested the idea of a Tibetan stye book—with “pecha,” unbound pages. Pages bound in yellow or red cloth. Images from rubbings of Buddhist imagery. A cover of metal. Extraordinary fantasy of activating what I would write to such heights of complex design and printing! I looked at some examples at the Rubin Museum. I was thrilled as the poem arose with force and purpose. I had worked on meditations of the realms in a book inspired by a pilgrimage to the Borobudur Stupa in Java, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble (published by Penguin). I would create a more direct performance and invocation in this sense of “extinction” which is a goal in Buddhist practice, as in extinction of ego, but also a double entendre to issues of global warming, nuclear war, etcetera.
I think I read aloud a few parts to David to give the kind of emphasis I wanted in the sense of a journey through these radical states of mind that are so keyed to the conditions of our world, and are always relevant. There’s a ferocity in this poem. We had some back and forth, meeting over the details, corrections and the like. I felt attuned to the particular nuances of such a project, and David has created a very “living” embodiment of the process through his own research and his archive of rubbings and printerly devices, the visual sense of invocation to the transformative power of the six realms: hot and cold hell, animal, hungry ghost, human, warring god, and realm of the gods. They are all here in us at all times in all dimensions of space. That’s the feeling I get with this project. He and are were a kind of skillful means making this unique kind of book.
Perhaps it has something to offer the world. It is a like a treasure and costs dearly as a rarity in book-making and printing, but I also think this poem and project will have a more available use to readers. I hope we will have an audience for its presentation May 10.
Anne Waldman is a poet, teacher, performer and cultural activist who has been a student of Tibetan Buddhism since 1970. Her newest book project is Extinction Aria, from Pied Oxen Printers.
Images courtesy of David Sellers