Thursday, March 31, 2011



The Chained Hay(na)ku Project Curated by Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego and Eileen Tabios
(Meritage Press and xPress(ed), San Francisco & St. Helena as well as Puhos, Finland, 2010)

The Word: An Analysis of The Chained Hay(na)ku Project

“Too much knowledge had hindered him.”
                                    Herman Hesse

Inspirational speaker Bo Lozoff once stated that the spiritual seeker tends to take an educational approach into her spiritual development, which has the opposite, adverse effect of obstructing her path rather than paving it. Curated by Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego and Eileen Tabios, The Chained Hay(na)ku Project is the collaborative effort of sixty poets and artists, imparting elemental vehicles such as quietude and stillness of the mind and body for tapping into one’s inner Self as well as the hindrances, notably, the written and spoken word, that impede transcendence. Metaphorical words and phrases are succinctly and eloquently employed, illustrating these provisions and encumbrances. Cultural theologies and philosophies not necessarily mutually exclusive, the lyrics can be appreciated by both Westerners and Easterners alike.

Eastern theology parables one’s surface existence to a mere part in a play, the stage providing properties that the misinformed ego misinterprets as reality. “All the world’s a stage”; thus, the same holds true of our individual misguided purposes in life, symbolically depicted as “book[s]” from whose unreality the ordinary mind cannot transcend:
fallen I’ve
fallen into the

I’ve fallen
into the book

my body.
[…] I can’t get

(Alvarez et al., “Four Skin Confessions,” pt. 1a. st. 17. lines 1-3 - 1a. 20. 1)

Repetition of “I’ve fallen” emphasizes the figurative plunge befalling us who lose touch with the “Great Silent Calm” (1a. 2. 3), to wit, universal mind or the blissful true nature of spiritual realization (1a. 2. 3). Thus, the playwright cannot embrace universality with a script laced with “misspelled” “letters” (1a. 38. 3).

“I read books / looking for You” (1a. 35. 1-3). The speakers block case the Y in “You,” indicating reference to a Higher Power. This Higher Source, however, cannot be accessed through theological or philosophical text but by paradoxically liberating one’s Self from the quagmire of literary complexity that only serves to obscure it. Who are we in the absence of our surface identities? It is only through transcendence of the ego that one’s true nature becomes apparent whether it is “know[ing] thyself” or others, antithetically versed in ‘Broken Speech” and “Fractures,” two of a series of chain poems by Jean Vengua, Michael Fink and Margo Ponce:

know you

but do i


know you?
(lines 1-5)

In Eastern philosophy the ego is personified as an impostor: “Another self / translates another truth” (Breslin, Dutta, and Morris, “Transplant,” lines 32-33). Our ego-manifested need for “painted cakes” (Ram Dass), such as identity, recognition and acquisition, are no more valid than the impostors who “provide” them: “the / sweet caress / of a Judas” (Duthie, Carte, and Jettplace, “Violets Are Blue,” lines 10-12). Who is it that seeks an identity, a who? Earthly necessities? Knowledge? “[W]ho / [c]ares who” recognizes, “[loves]” and “protects” the imposturous ego we have spawned over the course of a lifetime—Majena Mafe, Natasha Narain and Mela Fitzgibbons literally and figuratively employ textual obscurity and ambiguity to deter the reader from paradoxically obstructing his “vision” through earnest analysis of the printed word, literarily exemplary of the sage who enigmatically deters the student from ideological acquisition and analysis, more intellectual turbulence that the mind must transcend (lines 1-3). Thus it is we who are actually “digest[ed]” by “[b]ooks,” “bodies” and “words” (Alvarez et al., pt. 1b. st. 13. lines 1-3).

Inordinate philosophical scholarship and discourse are but additional impediments to true spiritual enlightenment, the lyricists repetitively emphasizing quietude: “Nothing / is said… // [n]othing is / said…” (2. 9. 2-3 - 2. 10. 2-3). Words are ultimately impotent, as Amy Bernier’s, Bloomberg-Rissman’s and Priego’s “The things words” graphically-textually reveals.

“All of mankind’s struggles stem from being unable to sit still and quiet in a room alone” (Pascal), thus equally distracting is idle, senseless chatter, which correspondingly makes opaque one’s inner transparency:
            [W]atch smoke rise

the tongue,
words like snakes.


golden age,
no smoky page.
(Alvarez et al., “Four Skin Confessions,” pt. 2. st. 10. line 3 – 2. 11. 1-3, 2. 13. 1-3)

Veritable unity or cessation of duality is quintessential in experiencing one’s Higher Source. Employing seemingly endless day-to-day occurrences, it has been implied in Jeff Harrison’s “Green, and Still, the Three Graces” and Holly Anderson’s “*Marine Acid Air*” that words and distractions in fact “eclipse” (pt. 2/3x3. st. 8. line 2) transcendence (48-58; 37-44). This is symbolically synonymous to “[a] / white page / full of sand” (Bloomberg-Rissman and Priego, lines 1-3). The body does indeed “judge[ ]” better than the mind,” and transcending the ego’s metacognitive tendency can inversely be attained not through oral and written verbiage but through physical embracement of “[m]usic, images / [and] loveable skin” (Alvarez et al., “Four Skin Confessions,” pt. 2. st. 18. lines 2-3). Who has not experienced a profound and astounding falling out of the body from a symphonic composition, natural wonder, spiritual healing or deep meditation (2. 19. 1-3)?

“Breathe / through anything / and everything thrown // at you…” (4. 28. 1-3 – 4. 29. 1): a still mind free of continuous distractive thoughts and emotions lends itself to controlled, harmonious responses to adverse exterior stimuli, mitigating one’s inclination toward uncontrolled, negative and destructive emotional or physical reaction to such antagonism. We respond with poise, that is, “grace inside grief” (Anderson, Beasley-Baker, and Burns, “*Marine Acid Air*,” pt. 1/3x3. st. 4. line 3). “Thoughts pollute [the] mind” (Duhamel et al., “Visiting Therapist,” lines 26-27). John Bloomberg-Rissman’s “And Then” graphically depicts the emotional torment with which the human psyche is compelled to endure in everyday life from the inexorable verbosity to which it is subjected.

Verbal and literary locutions are, conversely, distractions to the fundamental and simple principles of realizing inner Self. The body is veritable authority over the mind, which Eastern philosophy likens to a “monkey,” unceasingly distracted and forever in motion. The collaborative insights of the writers who contributed to Ivy Alvarez’s, John Bloomberg-Rissman’s, Ernesto Priego’s and Eileen Tabios’ The Chained Hay(na)ku Project provide a gentle reminder of the importance of inner and outer cessation of words and the moment-to-moment path of tranquility.


Works Cited

Alvarez, Ivy, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego, and Eileen R. Tabios, curators. The Chained Hay(na)ku Project. San Francisco: Meritage Press, 2010. Print.

---. “Four Skin Confessions.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 5-29. Print.

Anderson, Holly, Caroline Beasley-Baker, and Lisa B. Burns. “*Marine Acid Air*.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 37-44. Print.

Bernier, Amy, illus. “The things words.” By John Bloomberg-Rissman (sampling and layout by Ernesto Priego). Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 96. Print.

Bloomberg-Rissman, Sam, illus. “A white page.” By Ernesto Priego and John Bloomberg-Rissman (sampling and layout by Ernesto Priego). Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 59. Print.

Breslin, Liz, Kunal Dutta, and Lucy Morris. “Transplant.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 94. Print.

Castillo, Horacio, illus. “And then….” By John Bloomberg-Rissman (sampling and layout by Ernesto Priego). Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 36. Print.

Duhamel, Denise, Ariana Mason, Maya Mason, Thomas Fink, Burt Kimelman, Molly Diablo Mason, and Sandy McIntosh. “Visiting Therapist.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 31-33. Print.

Duthie, Peg, Donna Carter, and Neal Jettplace. “Violets Are Blue.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 76. Print.

Harrison, Jeff, Allen Bramhall, and Anny Ballardini. “Green, and Still, the Three Graces.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 48-58. Print.

Mafe, Majena, Natasha Narain, and Mela Fitzgibbon. ”Who / cares who.” Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 75. Print.

Vengua, Jean, Michael Fink, and Margo Ponce. “Broken Speech” (from “Daisy Chain Poems”). Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 68-74. Print.

---. “Fractures” (from “Daisy Chain Poems”). Alvarez, Bloomberg-Rissman, Priego, and Tabios 68-74. Print.


Nicholas T. Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. He is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems,” “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy,” “Kingdom by the Harbor” and “Allen Bramhall’s Days Poem: A Critical Analysis of a Dying Art,” featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects. Spatafora and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.

1 comment:

EILEEN said...

Another view is offered in GR #15 by Aileen Ibardaloza at