Kendra Steiner Editions

May 27, 2008

QUARTET: IMPROVISATIONS ON THE MANDUKYA UPANISHAD (KSE #95) now available

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 10:14 am

One of the jobs of the poet is to express the inexpressible. If we’re not consistently trying to do this, then we should be writing prose (and indeed, so many poets today are writing prose broken into lines). In my own humble offerings, I try to find that unique combination of particulars and spacing and juxtaposition and allusion and tone and rhythm that will break the reader through to the universal and the transcendent. That’s a tall order, I’ll admit, but if we are not trying to achieve the seemingly impossible in our works, if each of our pages, each of our lines is not charged, then we should not be imposing on others by asking them to read our work.

I have always had the greatest respect for the American colonial poet Edward Taylor (1642-1729). A physician and minister from Western Massachusetts, Taylor was disconnected from much of the larger world, but he had a fine library, a creative mind, a friendly demeanor, and a passion as a writer such as I described above. He would often write what he called “meditations”, where he basically took a scriptural text (often, one he was going to use in the next week’s sermon), and did a poetic “improvisation” on it, the way a jazz player can take a standard or show tune and use it as a springboard for musical investigation, extending it, re-thinking it, taking it into the stratosphere, but never forgetting the original melodic line and chord progression…and in the long run, finding new meaning within the original, and applying it and embodying it on a new and different level.

For about six months, I have been studying and taking notes and meditating upon The Mandukya Upanishad in preparation for a poetic work that would do to it what Taylor did to Biblical texts. The MU is the shortest Upanishad, and many Vedantic scholars have observed that if one could only have access to ONE of the Upanishads, this would be the one because it contains the entire system in miniature. So I offer to you my Texas-based improvisations upon the Mandukya Upanishad.

Too much spiritual writing tends to wade in platitudes or jargon or abstractions. Perhaps this represents many people’s inability to integrate the spiritual into the everyday, or to APPLY spiritual concepts to life as it is lived hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. Taylor’s meditations used plain, home-spun images such as spinning wheels, dinner plates, and change purses; similarly, in this new work you’ll find references to trendy dope combinations used by the idle rich, tacky bank buildings, Brill Building 45 rpm records, stepmothers with denture breath, after-school jobs at Burger King, and Chinese bureaucrats.

The piece begins with a meditation upon the concept of OM/A-U-M (and the original Upanishad is essentially an explanation of OM/A-U-M), and then treats each of the four levels of consciousness: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and the fourth and final transcedent level, turiya. Four levels, four sections= quartet.

KSE #95. Available NOW.

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