Rereading Basho at the End of the Narrow Road

Published : Thursday, December 09, 2010

I fly to Taipei next Wednesday to talk about Basho and the art of renunciation, the way of poetry, and the end of the world as we know it at the Fifth International Conference on Ecological Discourse at Tamkang University.


I’m delighted to be an invited guest of the conference, and although I’ll be talking more as a poet than as an ecocritic, the gig takes me back to the doctoral work I did, culminating inThe Land’s Wild Music (2005), on the literature of abnegation and the spiritual and literary practices of belonging. If I strike an apocalyptic note in my title, I make no apologies. My sense is we need to get very real very fast about the end of the wold as we have known it. Though poetry makes nothing happen, it can still I think make a difference; it can model and practise the disciplines of selflessness, mindfulness, and beauty, upon which the future may well depend. I want to talk fairly freely, rather than reading a paper, but I’m working up a lyric essay in the style of Bahso’s haibun: the mixed media, prose-poetry travlogues, including The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi), which I’ll be focusing on.

This will be my first visit to Taiwan—my first to this part of Asia. As ever, the research is giving rise to ideas that are already seeping into my poems. It’s been a delight, at long last, to study Basho closely.