Maitreyabandhu

Maitreyabandhu


Maitreyabandhu won the Keats-Shelley Prize, the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and the Basil Bunting Award. His first pamphlet, The Bond was the winner of the Poetry Book & Pamphlet Competition, judged by Simon Armitage (2010). The Bond was subsequently shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award. His second pamphlet Vita Brevis was a Poetry Book Society Choice. His debut collection, The Crumb Road (Bloodaxe, 2013) is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Sean O'Brien in The Guardian praised it for its "rich, melancholy modesty... to spend time with it enriches our attention." Yarn, also with Bloodaxe, was published in 2015. His book-length sequence, After Cézanne, is forthcoming from Bloodaxe (2019). Maitreyabandhu is the founder of PoetryEast and has interviewed poets such as Jorie Graham, Michael Longley and Robert Hass. He lives at the London Buddhist Centre and has been ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order for 28 years. He has written three books on Buddhism.

 

Read an interview with Maitreyabandhu in The Guardian here.

 

 

Maitreyabandhu – On Writing

 

How did you start writing?

 

I’d been reading poetry seriously for many years – all of Shelley, then Keats, then Coleridge and Dante. After that, it seemed preposterous to think of myself as writing poetry. Of course I’d scribbled little miserable jottings in notebooks – birdsong and unhappiness – but it was only on a 7-month sabbatical in Spain in 2007 that I started taking them seriously enough to type up. Reading poetry (and I still read a lot) has given me a deeper sense of what a poem is or could be. I’m very inspired by that.

 

Do you have a poet you keep going back to?

 

Elizabeth Bishop has been a constant source of value to me, as has Robert Frost. I find myself almost obsessed with Wallace Stevens, who’s work seems to get better and better every time I read it. I’ve recently read and re-read Derek Walcott. I plan to re-read Auden again soon and then go back to Edward Thomas. Probably if I had to choose a single major influence it would be Frost. But Stevens is catching up.

 

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

 

Most of my life is given to living a Buddhist life. I live in a residential spiritual community, I meditate, I teach at the London Buddhist Centre (where I live), I go on retreat, and I lead retreats.

 

How does a poem make it to the page?

 

Poems usually start with a certain atmosphere, a sense of meaning, or of being struck by something. Sometimes it’s not even that clear, sometimes it’s vaguer, like a hunch, or something (I don’t know what) wanting to be said. Most of the poems begin on retreat, which is always where I write best. The retreat atmosphere of concentrated-calm is ideal for poetry. I never edit on poems on retreat, however, that would be too obsessive.

 

What advice would you give to other poets?

 

Read lots of poetry! Read the major poets of the past. That’s much more important than reading contemporary poets (the fiercest critic is time). Then, if you do write poems, work on each of them very hard. Don’t be soft on yourself. And learn poetic form – pentameter, rhyme, etc – even if you don’t end up using it. Then get a very knowable and fierce critic to look at your best work and tear it to shreds!

 

Please tell us a little about your new pamphlet, A Cézanne Haibun.

 

The Haibun is a Quest poem, a Journey poem (literal, metaphorical, or both), which alternates prose with haiku or haiku-like poems. It can combine memoir, anecdote, travel journal, prose poem, diary and essay. The term ‘Haibun’ was coined in 17th Century by Matsuo Bashō – the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. 

This form is of the seemingly causal suggesting something more, even if it is not openly written about. It’s as though by attending deeply to the ordinary, something profound is discovered, even something ‘spiritual’ (a word I am not very fond of). The writing needs to appear spontaneous but be in fact very beautiful. Every sentence wants to be the causal-perfect.

 

I can truthfully say that Cézanne has been one of the key inspirations of my life, both as an artist and a man.

 

A Cézanne Haibun records a month spent alone in the Sierra Aitana mountains meditating on Paul Cézanne’s letters and paintings. I first discovered the work of Cézanne whilst studying at Goldsmith’s Art College (London) more than thirty years ago. Though at first underwhelmed by Cézanne’s paintings, during a visit to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I had one of the most important aesthetic experiences of my life on seeing Cézanne’s work again. 

Since then I have spent many hours looking at Cézanne’s paintings, reading and re-reading his letters, and reading biographies and critical studies. A Cézanne Haibun is an account of a Buddhist solitary retreat in which my appreciation of the Spanish landscape around me connects with Cézanne’s love of the landscape around Aix-en-Provence, as well as Cézanne’s “experiments” with finding a pictorial language to describe it.

 

 


Reviews

On A Cézanne Haibun

 

Maitreyabandhu’s work beautifully, and seriously, contains the possibilities of what other traditions might call insight. – Fiona Sampson, Poetry Review

 

… a rich, melancholy modesty. – Sean O’Brien, The Guardian

 

In this profound meditation, Maitreyabandhu uses Basho's poem-prose structure in a Wordsworthian journal of a retreat to familiar countryside, in a series of what the poems call 'good studies / in nature's presence'. The challenge for the painter, as for the writer, is to catch the light and half-light and colour of reality, and to represent, as Cézanne does incomparably, the complicated depth of nature that underlies its surfaces. The same apparently disordered intricacy informs the love within our personal encounters; art is the attempt both to express them and to resolve them. – Bernard O’Donoghue

 

Other

 

'Nostalgic, but not sentimental or wistful, the poems have a real sense of the here and now. They strike home.' — Simon Armitage

 

'Maitreyabandhu’s writing is tactile, sensual, and often elegiac in tone. In poems such as ‘The Dam’, he captures the secrecy and excitement of the lovers who ‘found a fallen willow’ and then ‘lay down on our coats’, whilst simultaneously creating a sense of lost adolescence. This idea runs throughout the collection, whether that be in the form of the secret embraces of poems such as ‘The Dam’ or ‘Sestina’, or in the wish to rediscover a family history at the opening of the collection. In these poems, the poetic voice moves between the reflective and the childlike, as the small objects of a family history become a window onto the past.' — The Stand 

 

'The poems in The Bond are tactile, sensual, and often elegiac in tone, though never sentimental or wistful. Many of the poems are occupied by events in the poet's past, particularly youth and adolescence. They lovingly recreate a world of small pleasure, discoveries and terrors.' the judges of the 2011 Michael Marks Award (Alan Jenkins, Carola Luther, Tanya Kirk)

 

'An ordained member of the Tritatna Buddhist Order and a poet and teacher of some distinction, Maitreyabandhu has spoken of the connection between his artistic and his spiritual vocations. Quoting Auden — "The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us" — he noted in a 2009 Guardian interview that poetry had become "another strand of my spiritual practice". The poems in this slim but satisfying pamphlet are certainly characterised by a quiet lucidity of vision; and if the poet's contemplative gaze seems more strongly focused on past events than on the present moment generally recommended in Buddhist meditative practice, this can be taken to imply a complication rather than a contradiction.

It's the poet's own past that preoccupies him, in particular the events of his childhood and youth. Poems such as 'The Chest of Drawers' and 'Copper Wire' lovingly recreate a world of small pleasures, discoveries and terrors: a polish tin given to the child to hold while his mother gets on with the ironing, a discarded strand of wire wrested from the earth by a father who lets nothing go to waste, the nightmare not quite held at bay by maternal love. Even where adolescent sexuality enters the frame, the vision itself remains essentially childlike, though a more knowing adult perspective is implied in a recurrent questioning of the authenticity of memory.

The ordinariness of the remembered events doesn't preclude a sense of mystery, and in one poem, 'The Small Boy and the Mouse', the childhood experience is an overtly visionary one. The poem concludes with an image of all-encompassing light and the suggestion that the everyday world — or the boy's perception of it — has been subtly but importantly transformed by what he has seen or imagined: "He opened his eyes. All the furniture / looked strange, as if someone had rearranged it."' — Jem Poster, Poetry Review

 

'The Bond by Maitreyabandhu consists largely of fragments of blank verse autobiography, full of sharply registered sense impressions from which other meanings gradually loosen and lift. More self-conscious notes can occasionally be heard. In “Markings”, for example, the sudden, surprising triumph of an achieved likeness reveals the makings of a poet, although this Promethean fire is lambent flame that plays with characteristic gentleness over a lovingly recollected face: “you were altering / the jaw-line very slightly, with the tip of a filbert brush, when there he was”. The instruments of Maitreyabandhu’s art are as sharp and precise as his father’s tools, of which a piano recital reminds him. In “Uchida from the Choir Stalls” he dignifies his father’s manual precision by comparing it to virtuoso pianism. But he also insists that a simple, resonant rightness is the hallmark of all true art.'— The TLS

 

Most of the poems in The Bond test out more oblique links with bookmaking: they detail a succession of quotidian objects, tools and implements. The poet’s instruments are linked with objects that keep demanding second and third viewings. Memories resonate in old objects and in one’s ways of verbally and physically handling them. The ‘hammers’ of the poet’s father are in abundance (‘claw hammer, tack hammer’, ‘toffee hammer’, ‘hammers in a post’), as are such objects as: a ‘long handled spade’, ‘a chisel’, ‘tools from car boot sales’. If the materials of the poet’s craft structure his world, this is also the case for those he describes and recalls; for instance, the carpenters for whom everything becomes ‘wood’, ‘all the houses’, their ‘speech/ … large and deliberate like the writing desks they build;/even their breakfast bowls are teak’. The craftsman’s and the artist’s worlds are oriented by the objects they create.

In The Bond generous margins surround concise poems. This roomy architecture is integral to the pamphlet’s mood of quiet recollection. By contrast, in Bentley’s Largo the eye is urgent and the margins narrow. Busy with footnotes and epigraphs, the three long poems of the volume intersperse historical and modern voices, allusions, football commentary and political broadcast. Largo itself is larger than Doorstop’s usual A5 format, and its wide-ranging, cacophonous pages are filled with a succession of interwoven printed voices, from Margaret Thatcher to Arthur Scargill, Ian McMillan to ‘the commentator on BBC local radio’, the sound of ‘Mozart’s piano Concerto No. 21/in C Major’ to that of the ‘Tannoy … /Here they come, beautiful ones, the beautiful ones, la la la la – ’. — Natalie Pollard, London Magazine

 

 

Maitreyabandhu reads his poem 'The Cutting' — winner of the 2010 Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition.

 

 

Prelude to A Cézanne Haibun (Smith|Doorstop, March 19)

 

As was instructed, I lifted up my eyes

to shadowed gorse and patchy-shadowed pine,

wild grasses, flowers without a Latin name,

that I might purify myself again.

 

That horse chestnut, the heart’s meandering,

the rancid mess of it while songbirds sing

a song that I have talked about too much,

as if I really cared for them enough.

 

I’d hoped the dappled gorse and thistle flower

might be enough to fill the limping hour

with limpid thought or with a crystal heart,

instead of being where all the ladders start.

 

 

 

THE VIEWING

from The Bond

 

Her hairbrush rested on a green-glass dish 
among empty jars with metal screw-on lids. 
It felt like being in church or having to wear 
a tie when it was hot; but the room was cold 
and too clean. It smelt of iodine and tin.
My parents had got taller and further away, 
they stood unusually close. My father’s voice 
was the voice he kept for solemn things. 

Someone said ‘peaceful’ but I wouldn’t say that. 
And if there was a special quiet, it made 
the air peel off us like a skin – her nose 
suddenly eagle-like and high, her eyes
sunk back. It was her but it was someone else 
as well: it might have been the wolf.

Titles by this author

  The Bond
The Bond
£5

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