Book of Equanimity Verses Richard von Sturmer (Puriri Press, 2013)
Richard von Strumer‘s latest poetry collection is an utter treat. Inspired by Wang Wei’s Zen text, The Book of Equanimities (100 koans), Richard has assembled his own set of miniatures. He has used the tanka form but added a few lines to expand upon each moment. And this new collection is indeed a celebration of moments – billowing, shimmering, luminous moments in time and place. Through the act of writing, Richard stops still and opens his senses to the world and its splendid detail, and in that loving attentiveness reproduces astonishing movement.
In the introduction, Richard cites translator Yoel Hoffman’s observation that a tanka poet observes nature and in that observation observes himself (the tanka is thus a two-way mirror). It is an interesting entry point to Richard’s poems. The pleasure of reading this collection is the pleasure of contemplation, but it is not as one might expect, solely a regard of the sublime. Instead you navigate fablesque and pocket narrative, alongside the ordinary profound. Everyday detail sparks and reverberates. The poetic moment might be a transcendental landscape, but it might also be a trembling morsel of anecdote.
The physical details are glorious: a field of violets, kings, strong fingers, Jean Cocteau, weeds, an iron raincoat, the muddy waves, fishhooks, spades and shovels. Yet what elevates these miniature poems is the movement within the poem itself. There is always a shift — a tremor, a sense of humour, a wry wit, a cartwheel or tumble, an oxymoron, a doubling, a subtle difference. In the midst of the rolling of the blinds and the ebbing tide, there is a paddock ‘nothing to add/ nothing to take away.’ Alongside ‘salmon swimming upstream’ we read ‘somehow we’ve drifted away/ from our original home.’ Or to read of the ‘cough’ alongside the ‘toast popping.’ Or the person ‘who drinks/ excessive amounts of water/ is denied access/ to the swimming pool.’ Or ‘I divide my time/ between High Street/ and the Tang Dysnasty.’
This delightful book is a book of sweet harmonies, unexpected, enthralling. Like Dinah Hawken and Bernadette Hall, Richard’s poetry is aglow with wisdom, empathy and a love of poetry. I urge you to add this book to your shelves.
Richard von Sturmer is a poet with four previous publications.
New Zealand Book Council page
Richard’s Auckland Zen centre website
Puriri Press page
An interview on YouTube