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A rose amongst the thorns

A rose amongst the thorns

Steve Brooks is a prolific artist, poet and writer who has lived in Asheville for 10 years now, having moved to the mountains of western North Carolina from San Francisco via Seattle, Washington. Having been privy to and enjoyed several of his recent books, his latest collection of prose poems “Joy Among the Catastrophe” (Amazon/Kindle Editions, 2021) written in the past two years during the pandemic lockdown took me by surprise and really got my attention. 

In his short introduction to the book, he describes his vision and experience of composing the prose poems that make up this volume. “I began this book of poems just before the stay-at-home order was put in place. I realized, soon after, that the focus of my writing was the experience of being sheltered in place during a worldwide pandemic. Writing exposed me to the experience of joy in a time of crisis, both personal and public, living with the threat of death and disease, a climate emergency, systemic racism, and the threat of autocracy in the world’s oldest democracy. These poems reveal the source of joy that is ever present, even in troubling times.”

Entering this doorway into the remarkable room that is this collection, we possibly see Brooks at his all-time best. He has been writing a kind of Eastern poetry he calls Zenku (a term he has coined taken from the Chinese and Japanese Zen Buddhist haiku traditions founded in China during the Tang Dynasty from 618 to 906 A.D. focusing on meditation and intuition) that pretty much follows all the form rules of the ancient Haiku tradition. But in “Joy Among the Catastrophe,” he breaks free from those restrictive stylistic rules and writes poems in short paragraphs that are more expansive, and sing. 

Not only are these poems reminiscent of well-known poets from the Orient such as Ryokan, Issa, Basho, Wang Wei and Han-Shan, but move in on the terriotry of Zen masters such as Lao Tsu, author of the “Tao Te Ching” and founder of Taoism; or 2,500 years later to the writing of French philosopher-scientist and Buddist monk Matthieu Ricard and his book “Happiness ”published in 2003. 

In short, what we have here in Brooks’s book is a volume of present-day wisdom from someone who has put in time and effort over the course of a lifetime and has “opened the doors of his own perception” as Aldous Huxley would say, and is showing us how to not only best perceive a higher perspective on life on planet Earth and amongst all its brands and breeds of humans, but how to act and interact with oneself and with others within a contemporary framework that we all, during a period of climate change and a covid pandemic, can relate to. This, then, as an example: 

“Tiny bundles, like pine cones, bristly pods beneath a tree on the path, each pod, a future tree, no fertile ground to be found, they become work for birds. Resting becomes capture, then flight, then release, then the unknown. I am unseen, until I’m seen, and even then I don’t know my fate.”

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Perhaps my favorite poem from Brooks’s new book comes right out of the gate in a poem titled “Waiting For Love” that in my mind is the signature piece in the collection. 

“Waiting for love to surface, knowing it lies beneath this exquisite pause. Looking for love beyond oneself depends on its origin within. It’s a sunny day, after winter has just begun to fade. Love knows no season, it blossoms in the snow, it floats on the spring tide. Love is everywhere when I recognize its presence in the nowhere. I used to chase love, away from home, seeing its face pass my window. I am the gardener of love, I harvest what populates its traces. I’m swamped by love, my boat goes under, until I become its craft. If you see me, do not save me, I am found in the awakening dream. Alive in its peace, I come out of love into love’s expression.” 

 In a more physical/political vein there is this short poem entitled “Years From Now.” 

“Years from now, everyone on earth will have been through this crisis. We are all connected, we always have been, this isn’t somewhere else. Vulnerability is our core, usually hidden, now exposed, and, years from now, as it is true now, this simple truth will still be true: We’re all in this together.”

You get the picture. Or do you? To get the full picture of the nature of true nature and what might be called “higher love,” “Joy Among the Catastrophe ” has a lot more to offer and insights to share. That said, and in summing up, let me share with you just one final poem from Steve Brooks’s collection. A kind of exclamation point at the end of a remarkable and must-read book. 

“If cherry trees can blossom during this dark spring, why can’t we, as well? Those out running, walking, those in their yards, blossom with smiles, good words. Good nature takes root, along with the bad, flowers accompany weeds, apple shelters in place, magnolia stays at home, showing their colors. If cherry trees can blossom during this dark spring, may we be as bright.”

(Thomas Crowe contributes regularly to The Smoky Mountain News and is the author of the multi-award-winning non-fiction nature memoir “Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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