On days when it seems the food for the journey
is clay, not bread, and the spirit famished,
as dusk transfigures everything
I pause, near silence: listening.
Barry Spacks, from “Whitewater Vision”
Before I even opened Food for the Journey (Cherry Grove Collections, 2008), the photograph on the cover of the Tiger’s Nest monastery, Bhutan, had already elevated my consciousness. Even more so did the poems, pulsing with Spacks’s signature Buddhist sensibilities, compassion, wisdom leavened with humor, and elegance of language that leaves you wanting more of his words and less of all that is disappearing from our lives with mind-boggling speed. Like a wholesome meal, his poems are nourishing and worthy of savoring:
Time is a thirst that drinks itself.
We are the ringing and the bell
as we fall away
as we fall away
from “Fall Away”
Poet Laureate Emeritus of Santa Barbara, Spacks has published poems, stories, and essays in every conceivable journal, and 10 poetry collections. He is winner of the Commonwealth Club of California’s Poetry Medal and a greatly admired teacher. He was once called “the hummingbird of American poetry,” and Richard Wilbur praises him as “the most companionable of poets,” who speaks with “a kind of wisdom having to do with release from the importunate self : reflected everywhere in the blitheness and freedom of his delightful style.”
When the warmth-bloom widens out
from the chakra-wheel at the heart
you’re a lute that plays without strings,
a breath undistinguished from air.
Soon the brain clicks its lights back on
and the mouth sales-talks itself,
but here’s what the teachers claim:
happiness could be easy,
all you’d need is to fall in love
with everything, everyone,
gnats and the boss and weeds-
shameless, and what prevents?
Where is it written to warn us
“only treasure your few”?
What harm if billions, billions bathed
in the warm springs of your heart?
There is a wide variety of subject matter in this new collection: poignant poems of his childhood and relationship with his father, early loves, and sleepless nights. In “Father & Son” he writes, The sons of laborers struggle for A’s,/ urged on at school to strive for their lives,/ rejecting the butchers’ salesmens’ grocers’/ trades for inkstained fingers, dwelling/ alone at the last, shivering guests/ in frail houses made of words. His words, however, are never frail, but generously give sustenance as we forge ahead.
Spacks will read at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28, at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Lounge, along with American Book Award-winning author and poet Shirley Lim. Lim will read from her first fiction book for young adults, Princess Shawl (Maya Press, 2008), the story of a nine-year-old Malaysian girl who inherits a magic shawl from a great-aunt, enabling her to travel back to the Ming Dynasty to rescue a princess while also learning about her culture’s history. Maxine Hong Kingston praises it as “a powerful book : enchanting and realistic.”
Also, on Thursday, October 23, at 6:30 p.m., Spacks and Lim will be joined by eight other poets for a reading with the theme On the EDGE, inspired by the exhibition on display at the County Administration Building’s Channing Peake Gallery. Other poets include Michelle Detorie, Gabriella Lindsey Klein, Enid Osborn, Maythe Rueda, Tom Schmidt, David Starkey, Chryss Yost, and me, as host.