Without Dragons Even the Emperor Would Be Lonely;
Ensos, Parables & Koans
Ninso John High
I confess that I am no expert on the fine points of Zen, and until we reconnected over his recent work, I had no idea that poet John High, in addition to his wonderful collaboration with Matvei Yankelevitch in translating Osip Mandelstam,'s The Voronezh Notebooks , that High was also a Zen practitioner. His zen monk name, which appears, in part in the byline, is Ninso Shin Non; it means “Enduring Monk, Deep Sound.” All that aside, I was amused by the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement in High's Without Dragons regarding his stunning brush stroke "ensos,"* * that are integral with the text:
After doing a workshop with the great Japanese calligrapher, Kazuaki Tanahashi, I asked if he would paint an enso for my book. He stared at me for a long time. Then, he said—No, do it yourself. Thank you, Kaz
Essentially the beautiful brush strokes are not precisely "illustrations" but stand in their own right as "ensos," or as the author himself explains it,
Enso practice is one stroke ink practice fulfilling the circle. For me, personally, it’s the moment manifesting and completing itself in the circle of life—no beginning, no end, continuous moment by moment.
All text is hand-printed‑for example, at the right. The overall effect is an impressive experience of the visual, of handprinted text, and what blossoms in the reader's mind as he or she is reading/ traveling through the book. I am reminded of the aesthetic, intellectual and—dare I say it?—spiritual experience of orature, or, even theatre, and of synesthesia, the experiencing through one sense of yet another, or as I originally learned it, "multi-sensory simultaneous sensing. "
With Ninso John High Wet Cement Press has produced a wonderful book, to which one can return, again and again rather than going lockstep from beginning to end—there! I'm done!—and then stowing the book on the shelf. The press has certainly lived up to its logo: "handheld books of fiction, poetry and hybrid genius." Bravo!
* untitled, as they are not to be confusing with something one hangs on a wall