Tuesday

Poet of the Week-Maitreyabandhu

Poet of the Week-Maitreyabandhu 

Maitreyabandhu has won the Keats-Shelley Prize, The Basil Bunting Award, the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and Ledbury Festival Competition which was judged by Billy Collins. His pamphlet, The Bond won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition (2010) and has been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award (2011); Vita Brevis won the iOTA Shots Award and will be published in June 2012. Maitreyabandhu has written articles for Poetry Review, Agenda and Magma; and his poems have been accepted in many UK publications, including The Guardian, The Spectator, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, Agenda, Iota, Magma, The Rialto, and Stand. Maitreyabandhu has been a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order for 22 years. He is the author of two books on Buddhism, and lives and works at the London Buddhist Centre, UK.

Poet on Poetry’s Questions for Maitreyabandhu


Where were you born?

I was born in a small town in Warwickshire, called Henley-in-Arden. It's just down the road from Shakespeare's birthplace, Statford-upon-Avon. My parents owned a small, and at the time, not very successful coach hire and taxi business. So my early years were spent in a house crowded with coach drivers and mechanics (our kitchen was their work mess) not to mention my three brothers, my sister, two alsatians, a cat, a few rabbits, a gerbil and a tank of tropical fish.  

What inspires you as a poet?

WH Auden said “The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us”. In this sense Buddhism and poetry overlap. My poetry comes out of my Buddhist practice – I’ve been a Buddhist now for 25 years and ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order for 22 years.

Sometimes Buddhism directly inspires my poems, but more often they arise out of my Buddhist practice, especially my practice of mindfulness and meditation. Most of my poems are written on retreat. I write about my childhood quite a lot (despite my intention not to!) and I often write about nature. I trained as a painter (I went to the same art school as Damien Hirst) so I sometimes write about art. I’d like to write urban poems (I’ve lived in London for over 25 years) but I rarely manage it.

I think of poetry as a certain mood that occasionally arises, especially on retreat. In that mood, I feel calmer, more open, and more directly in touch with the natural world. When I am in that ‘mood’ everything seems to be a poem, or has the potential to partake in poetry.

 What advice do you have for other poets?

Oh dear, I don’t know…observe a lot, work hard at re-drafting, read a lot of both great poetry and contemporary poetry, be receptive to those with more experience than yourself. I’ve been very lucky to be mentored by the Mimi Khalvati – a wonderful poet – so if you can get a mentor all the better. But don’t expect to be inspired. Mostly writing is just hard work. I’d also urge people to meditate and cultivate mindfulness. Imagination – genuine imagination rather than fantasy – grows out of a vivid engagement with direct experience, and with a developed capacity for concentration and emotional engagement. You need to train your mind if you want to be a poet. 

What prompted you to start writing poetry?

I’ve written poetry all my life, although I never took it very seriously. I didn’t even type my poems up. When I got involved in the Triratna Buddhist Order, I started writing poems on retreat. But it wasn’t till my sabbatical in 2005 that I started writing seriously. Looking back it was reading poems that eventually got me to write them. I’d been reading poems intensively since I was ordained. I started with Shelley and then went on to Keats and Dante, Coleridge and Auden. I read and re-read them. I memorized Ode to the West Wind and the first 108 lines or so of Hyperion. I read biographies and Helen Vendler. Eventually I felt I wanted to participate in poetry – not just read it. I was lucky enough to get some encouragement and I won some prizes, so all that inspired me to keep writing. Of course my own writing has led me to discover wonderful poets such as Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop; it also got me to read much more contemporary poetry. 

Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet? 

Well, I want to write better poems. I still feel I have a lot to learn and in many ways writing has got harder. I’d like to use rhyme more for instance. Really it all comes down to writing better stuff. You read someone like Heaney or Bishop or Larkin and, well, you wish you could do that, you wish you could write half-way as good as them! Really you write poems because you love poems, because they’ve opened up life to you.

I want to do all that while resisting the urge to get overly involved in the ‘poetry world’ – with publications and networking and so forth. I have to make sure most of my energy goes into practicing and communicating Buddhism directly, especially through teaching. I need to be a Buddhist Poet not a Poet who happens to be a Buddhist. But of course I’d like lots of people to read my poems and hopefully be moved by them. I’m not writing for myself. So I’d like to publish a few collections.

How do you balance the rather competitive side of publishing poetry and competitions with your practice as a monk? 

They don’t go together: spiritual life and worldly life (success and so forth) are mutually incompatible. One of the worse things about writing is that it has re-awoken my ambition, and there is always something point-missing and ugly about ambition. I am a very ambitious person and I can sense there is something compensatory about that. I try to guard against my ambition by making sure I give my time primarily to Buddhism – to teaching and going on retreat and so forth; trying to help others a little. I don’t seem to be able not to be ambitious, I can’t get rid of it, but I can make sure I don’t focus on it at the expense of my spiritual life.

Can you tell us a little about the poems your chose to present today? What inspired them maybe, or anything else you’d like to say about them. 

 This was written on an intensive meditation retreat. I was sitting outside listening to a thrush singing after my morning meditation. Firstly, it’s about the importance of simple, innocent pleasures. But then it’s also an argument for the kind of poetry I write – poems set in the natural world, etc. It also expresses my rejection of ‘miserablism’, where the darker side of life is assumed to be in some sense more real. But really it comes out of that ‘mood’ I talked about earlier – as I hope all my poems do.

Umbrian Summer was likewise written on retreat (though, as with all my poems, I have to do an awful lot of re-drafting outside of the retreat). It’s a more directly Buddhist poem about change and impermanence, about how even in the midst of summer you can feel a touch of autumn, a whiff of death. I also hope it communicates something of the state of mind that meditation evokes – emotionally integrated, aware, vividly alive to the meaning of things.

Retrospect is the concluding poem in a sequence of 21 poems I’ve been writing for 6 years now. It’s a blank verse sonnet and reflects my growing interest in form – iambic pentameter in particular. The sequence is about a boy I had a relationship with from the ages of 8 to 16. He died in a motorbike accident. I found that he kept on appearing in my poems without me intending to write about him, so eventually it was obvious I was writing a sequence.

 Maitreyabandhu’s Poetry 

This

There’s no law against my listening
to this thrush behind the barn,
the song so loud it echoes like a bell,
then it’s further off beyond the lawn.
Whatever else there is, there’s this as well.

There’s no law against this singing –
nesting I suppose – up in the silver birch,
even though we build a common hell,
have done, and will make it worse.
Whatever else there is, there’s this as well.


First published in Poetry Review and  in Maitreyabandhu's pamphlet The Bond - Smith/Doorstop Books


Umbrian Summer

Even though the wind
was warm and we slept
with the window open,

next day
there were beech leaves
on the swimming pool –

chrome yellow
on a zone of blue,
like something Japanese.

The sun
had seemed to shine
through lemonade –

it lingered
on the other hill and made
the shadows gentler.

Flagstones kept their heat
but evening shook
the dying leaves.

Night fell slowly
on the drive.
The full moon drifted

high above a ridge,
half-covered
in a shawl of cloud –

she seemed so
pale and cold,
pronouncing Om and Autumn.

First published in Poetry Review  and will be in Maitreyabandhu's forthcoming pamphlet Vita Brevis - Templar Poetry 

Retrospect

In my story, you walked to school that day,
left the moped in the garage with your
gauntlets on the seat, caught up with me,
suggested we should meet back at your house,
your brother still at work. I tell myself
we carry on from there, off and on
until I move away. Now you’re twenty-five
and have learnt the art of smiling. We talk
about that time you waited in the bath
next to your parents’ kitchen after school.
But the story won’t make sense, the facts
you left too small to be given consequence.
I can’t put explanations in your mouth.
You just stand there in the kitchen doorway,
pencil-slim and pale and carrying a helmet.


First published in The North and in Maitreyabandhu's pamphlet The Bond - Smith/Doorstop Books



Interview with me about Mairtreyabandhu's poetry

Interview in The Guardian about Maitreyabandhu winning the Keats-Shelley

Prize Reading ‘Visitation’ at the London Buddhist centre


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