Poetry. A long poem that's an essay but not, a work of philosophy but not, a gently stated argument that seems to have multiple points heading in multiple directions; a text about nature but also about thinking, language, identity, consciousness, science, idealism, economics, religion, and, in general, about the unsettling (in case you haven't noticed) paradox of being human in a human, non-human world, Norman Fischer's NATURE (a fractured re-do of Emerson) is a rare pleasure. While what exactly—if anything—is being proposed isn't so clear, the writing proceeds serenely in straightforwardly luminous fashion, constantly skirting the edge of the irony that it seems to indicate is built into all language acts (which is perhaps the point behind the point?). The catastrophe of climate change and blind human cruelty (contemporary disasters Emerson would have had little appreciation of) is present in every line of the text, yet there's a lightness and cheer throughout that seems not a cover up or a denial but a way of looking differently into the face of the facts without despair or anguish. Maybe this comes from the Buddhist perspective that's been buried (never explicit) in Fischer's writing since he first began publishing in the 1970's (some thirty books ago). Without soapbox, crying-rag, prescriptions or proscriptions, NATURE speaks from the middle of it all through mirror rather than megaphone words, whose passion and caring opens out onto a vast vista. No one can doubt our epoch presents an unprecedentedly perilous predicament, with everything—humanity itself—at stake. But there's a way of confronting it, this text seems to say, that keeps courage and kindness alive, strengthens them even.
Norman Fischer has published twenty-one books of poetry and six books on Buddhism. His poetry has been anthologized in The Wisdom Anthology of North American Poetry, Basta Azzez enough, What Book? and many literary magazines. He holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop and a Masters in Buddhism from the Graduate Theological Union at the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a Zen Buddhist priest for more than 40 years, serving as co- abbot for the San Francisco Zen Center from 1995-2000. Founder and teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation, he is one of the most highly respected Zen teachers in America, regularly leading Zen Buddhist retreats and events around the world. His essays have appeared in such notable collections as Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture (University of Alabama Press, 2010) and are frequently included in Best Buddhist Writing (Shambhala). His collections of essays on writing, Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language and Religion (University of Alabama Press) and on Buddhism, When You Greet Me I Bow (Shambhala) are widely read, as is his translation of the Hebrew psalms, Opening to You.