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Volume 33.1
Winter Spring

book review

monk & i
by vincent tripi


reviewed by John Martone

monk & i by vincent tripi. Preface by Cid Corman. Illustrations by David Kopitzke. Hummingbird Press. (PO Box 96, Richland Center WI 53581) 64 pages. $12 ppd.

From his first major work Haiku Pond with its reference/homage to Thoreau, vincent tripi has written as a “left-home person. Snow Falling on Snow is a collection of poems about the Buddha. between God and the pine, somewhere among the clouds/poems from a year of solitude; and the day i find/poems from a desert hermitage, among his other books, all bespeak the monastic theme in their titles. What these books collectively suggest is that being a “left-home” person is not a place one easily arrives at, but rather a constant occupation—a task to be pursued an entire life. monk & i advances another step: the left-home person is older now, 60. Impermanence is something known first hand, and clear-sightedness more of a challenge. But tripi is nothing if not clear-sighted:

My later years . . .
     tossing pebbles from the stream
          up to the wooden bridge

for Vincent Tirelli

The Ryokan-like playfulness evoked here makes the poem a little unsettling, especially when we read a page later that, “the bridge is always a tiny bit shorter than our life.” If tripi’s earlier work is full of celebratory shouts, the death poems here are equally stark and exclamatory. One sees how the poet has evolved—continuously, without stiff postures:

i want the end to come
     swift & all at once
          o great blue heron!

From beginning to end, reiteration is an important trope in this collection. tripi’s work recalls Creeley’s sense of the poem as a “uni-verse,” or single turn. The slight, Derridean difference a repetition makes, the little space/silence/nothing that separates a word uttered once from its repetition is a great vessel. We have poems like these:

the shell i take
      the shell it takes
          ebb tide


My tracks
     the tracks of the deer
          going nowhere

No morning fog
     no i
          the redwood


     someplace in this galaxy
          first cricket song

The repetition brackets a silence within which a world appears. Here, perhaps, is tripi’s take on the Japanese cutting-word. The poems present worlds within worlds, and this poet doesn’t need anything more. He is not only at home in the universe; he is at home in countless universes.

Repetition is only one way of creating these worlds within worlds. tripi also allows the image to suggest this kind of patterning:

An ant
     from the cougar’s track
          something in its mouth

There are natural analogies enough here to please Emerson or Jonathan Edwards, but there’s no groping after significance. The poet doesn’t appear, except by virtue of the track he leaves, what leaves his mouth.

In fact, although he uses that lower-case “i” more often than in his previous books, tripi manages to be more see-through than ever. Even when he appears in the poem, he acts without acting—as Lao Tzu would like—seems nothing more than another natural process:

Carrying me
     safely through the thistles
          love-of goldfinches

Cid Corman’s preface gives as true a sense of tripi’s poems as can be: “You have to see i to his i.” David Kopitzke’s illustrations take their own space, good companions to the poems. Ed Rayher is one of an endangered species of artist/artisans, and the volumes he has produced of tripi’s work have all been stunning. monk & i is no exception. It will take your breath away when you first look at it. And tripi will give you back your breath when you look inside. Behind the scenes, where she seems to like it, Phyllis Walsh should be smiling at what her Hummingbird press has hatched.




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