Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Gleaning some words from old masters
I make my own poems.


Poetry is not about language.
It's about something.

Joel Oppenheimer

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
Once you know my poems are not poems
Then we can talk poetry.


Each of these quotes appears on one of 
the opening pages of While We've Still Got Feet
a 2005 collection of poems by David Budbill.

In the past few days, I've been reading some of the work of poet David Budbill. Inspired by the hermit-poets of ancient China, Budbill left the cities more than four decades ago and moved to a remote hermitage on the top of Judevine Mountain in Vermont.  For the next thirty-five years, he spent most of his time there, reading poetry, writing poetry, playing his flute, and tending to his land.  Having read some of his poetry, it's clear that he was also seeking to live a simple, uncomplicated life that was in harmony with the ancient wisdom of his Asian mentors.  

In the collection of poems referenced above — While We've Still Got Feet — Budbill mentions the work of more than a dozen Asian poets or philosophers, including Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Ryokan, and Han Shan.  There is also a poem which celebrates the Tao Te Ching:

                                              The Way is Like Language

                               The Way is like language.  The more you use it, 
                               the more it responds, becomes resilient, pliable,
                               lithe, liquid, smooth, supple, available, eager.

                               Go ahead, do anything you want to it.  You can't 
                               hurt it.  It is far more powerful than you are.
                               It's there to serve and dominate you all at once.

                               Surrender to it and it will be your servant.
                               It is your tool, your toy, your master.

I find the Tao or "The Way" running through many of Budbill's poems.  He is clearly a poet who has given most of his life to learning how to live simply and mindfully, how to live beyond the win-lose conventions of American culture, and how to live more in the body and less in the chatterbox arena of the mind.  On this latter point — body versus mind — I especially like this poem:

                                 This Shining Moment in the Now

               When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall
               getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
               gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
               bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of
               the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
               putting up the storm windows, banking the house — all these things,
               as preparation for the coming cold . . .

               when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am

               physically , wholly and completely in this world with the birds,
               the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees . . .

               when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is,

               when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw,
               to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am
               all body and no mind . . .

               when I am only here and now and nowhere else — then, and only

               then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought,
               and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find
               this shining moment in the now.

                  From While We've Still Got Feet, Copper Canyon Press, 2023.

Here's to the shining moment of the now.  To quote a line which lends itself to the title of this Budbill collection, "let's go dancing/while we've still/got feet."


  1. At the risk of sounding flippant,that poem has reminded me of all the stuff I've got to do before Winter! I think I need to go and lie down for a bit... :)

    1. Yes, I know what you mean, Dominic. Believe me, the poem resonated with me on several different level, including the work demands I'm facing myself as we prepare for winter.

  2. Seriously, I'm reminded of Thomas Merton and what he said about Trappists, how he was surprised at the intensity and energy they put into their work.

    1. I think many of the monastic traditions essentially believe in what the Buddhists refer to as working meditation. This is essentially an understanding, much like Budbill's, that physical work is an effective form of meditation because it takes us our of our minds and focuses on the demands of the present moment, whether it's chopping wood, washing dishes, or something else.

  3. Hello George, Once again you've introduced me to someone new. I never read anything by Budbill. I lose the "shining moment in the now" so often because my mind just won't be still. Today I took a wonderful 10 mile hike under canopies of golden aspen. I try to stay very alert as I walk the trails, both watching for obstacles like rocks and roots and scanning the forest for animals. I try to engage all my senses as I move along the trail. Near the beginning of today's hike, my mind was wandering, and I was not focused on what I was doing physically. I tripped, falling hard on my side and face. I now have a black eye and fat lip. There are always lessons life tries to teach us about staying focused on the moment. The physical and the mental are both important, but we must know that trying to mix the two often doesn't work!

    1. So sorry to hear about your fall and injuries, Barb. I think it's fair to say, however, that living in the shining moment of now is no assurance that we won't get distracted by something unexpected. You had a great hike before the fall, and you will surely recover from your fall soon. Five stars for your valor. You're a risk-taker, and I admire you for that.

  4. I do like the idea of living in the now George - at my age it is somehow much easier and does make life less complicated.

    1. As a reader of your blog, Pat, I think it's fair to say that you always appear to be living in the now. And, yes, when we stay out of both the past and the future, life is indeed less complicated.

  5. These are wonderful, George. I drank them in.
    I think we all, many at least, have a poet somewhere deep within us, wanting, but too hidden to hear.
    I'm one of them.
    Love your posts!

    1. Thank you so much, Laura, for your kind and generous comments. If you have a poet deep within you, let her speak fearlessly, just as you allow your photography to speak. In my experience, the rewards of creative expression always exceed the fears that usually precede it.

  6. Thanks for the introduction to a new poet. Having returned to this page a number of times and sadly found that he died this year I feel I too am on an adventure of imagination.

  7. Glad to see you've found something in Budbill's poetry that resonates with you, John — and I think we are all on an adventure of imagination. Life wouldn't be tolerable otherwise.