Issue 115 |
Fall 2011

Introduction to Lindsay Stuart Hill

Lindsay Stuart Hill’s two poems were written after a stay at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. Zen texts and the practice of meditation have influenced many of Hill’s recent poems. In a letter to me, she wrote: “As I reread these monastery poems, for me they are centered on the fundamental tension that I feel between the Buddhist teachings of (compassionate) detachment, space-making, and solitude, and the basic human need to ‘attach’ to others and love them deeply, perhaps beyond the limits of what is emotionally healthy for us.”

“Nanquan Kills a Cat” tells the story of a woman who leaves a passionate love affair to spend her life in a Buddhist monastery. The poem hauntingly details the woman’s severing of ties to the outside world and her slow spiritual transformation:

              Now you are the moon in a cloud,
    the monks said.
                Now you are the pearl
    in the mouth of the dragon.

The ritualistic gesture of mourning that concludes the poem is profound yet inexplicable; like a koan, it must be understood intuitively rather than rationally.

In “The Widow and the Pinecone,” Hill achieves her effects through the visual and spatial arrangement of the words on the page. The poem works much as a tone poem might, a combination of sound and silence, musical phrasing and caesura. The use of white space creates a feeling of timeless suspension, suggesting the silent, isolate space the widow inhabits. In striking contrast is the widow’s “ladybug mind: one pure black dot,” an image of single-minded meditative focus.

Both poems force me to experience them on an unparaphrasable, intuitive level. There is a remarkable purity of intention here and yet something important has been left unsaid. Good poems, great poems, often resist the reader. I have read these poems many times and continue to feel I have not yet penetrated to their heart or core. I know I will keep coming back to them.