David Budbill

3 posts

Nature, the Present Moment, and Other Gifts to Poets

marsh marigold

We’ve been told more than once that we’re dying. Living, the learn’d astronomer tells us, is nothing but a long and inevitable walk toward our deaths, after all.

Bummer. And do you mind stepping aside, Sir Astronomer, so I can enjoy that starlight, maybe?

Sometimes a poem is a capital-R Romantic chance to strike back at logic and the gloom that leavens it, compliments of the capital-R Realists who take their jobs too seriously. The poet David Budbill took such an opportunity in the following poem.


The First Green of Spring
David Budbill

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,

harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
on this message from the dawn which says we and the world
are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And

even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.


I’ve always enjoyed Budbill’s poetry, chiefly because he is so attuned to nature. The tide has turned against nature poetry (as my rejection inbox attests), but I still think celebrations of simplicity (or should I say, of complex simplicities) are a key reason for poetry.

In the words of the Buddha, focus on today and the world around you. Tomorrow and the much-ado’s about human interactions will take care of themselves.

If you are interested in reading more about David Budbill’s (1940-2016) work, you can leap down this rabbit hole.

Poetry That Fits the (Bud)Bill

chinese poets

I posted this book review for my (five) readers at Goodreads and thought I’d share it with my (four) readers at the University of WordPress.

T’was only a week ago I read David Budbill’s Moment to Moment. I didn’t want the moment to end, so I inter-library loaned a few more, reading While We’ve Still Got Feet in two days.

It’s very similar to the first. Short poems. Simple style. Constant allusions to ancient Chinese (Han Shan, especially) and Japanese (Ryōkan, especially) poets. Bud almost acts like he’s a reincarnation of these guys, due to his heading out for the mountains (in this case, Judevine Mt. in Vermont’s Green Mtn. chain) for a life of seclusion. Um, with his wife. And plenty of visitors. With the occasional visit to New York City.

OK, so there’s a touch of Thoreau’s Walden to it in that respect. Ole Henry David’s shack on the pond was only a mile or so from home, and he could visit Mums and Dad any day of the week. But I digress. Back to the reincarnation thing. Here’s a poem that visits the theme:

Different Names, the Same Person

More than a thousand years ago when I lived in China,
my name was Han Shan. And there were more of me
before that.

And plenty after also. Two hundred years ago,
in Japan, I called myself Ryōkan.
All of us:

independent, hating literary artifice and arrogance,
yet neither misanthropic nor taciturn,
friendly and talkative rather, but

preferring to live alone, in solitude, removed
and in the wilderness, keeping to that kind
of emptiness.

We’ve always been around, in lots of different places,
in every age. It’s just, only some of us
get known.

There’s one of us, I’m sure,
in your neighborhood
right now.


For a touch of his naturalistic bent, there’s this:


Winter: Tonight: Sunset 

Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.


Very nice. As Mark Twain said of classics: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.” I feel this away about Budbill’s poetry. They hydrate the body poetic. No nonsense. And his poignant flair for lamenting old age and impending death hits a sweet spot, too. Who wants to give it up?

Finally, to hammer home the Chinese connection, Budbill writes poems where he references the “Emperor,” just as Han Shan and friends did so many years ago. Only in Bud’s case, the “Emperor” is the President (of the Disunited States of America), and the bad reputations of both are not far apart:


What We Need

The Emperor,
his bullies
and henchmen
terrorize the world
every day,

which is why
every day

we need

a little poem
of kindness,

a small song
of peace

a brief moment
of joy.


Hear, hear! I say. Time for more moments and more Budbill….

Where Pretentious Poetry Need Not Apply


It’s always a good day when you stumble upon a book of poetry you love, a day that introduces you to a new poet who has written plenty of other books you can now explore, a day that time forgets but you won’t soon because, well, it was so fun being lost in the thicket of its hours and minutes.

Such was yesterday morning when I waded into David Budbill’s Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse. Budbill, a Vermont poet, appeals to me for a few reasons. Let me enumerate a few:

  • His poems frequently allude to the ancient poets of China and Japan.
  • His poems are grounded in nature. There’s a Walden-esque air to his work, though he’d much prefer I say a T’ang Dynasty air to his work, maybe.
  • His poems can be self-deprecating.
  • His poems have a sense of humor.
  • His poetry comes alive on the page due to its strong sense of voice.
  • He pulls no punches when it comes to the Poohbahs of Poetry, people who write obscure poetry, the New Yorker type poets and, of course, the ubiquitous, inbred MFA-machine types.
  • His poems are simple, much like me.

Good enough reason to celebrate a day and a poet, to not only line up more Budbill books to read, but seek more of the humble poetry he admires from a distant Chinese and Japanese past. When books lead to books, a bibliophile is a happy being!

Here is a taste of Budbill’s straightforward poems, most of them short, many of them demonstrating traits shared above:

“When I Came to  Judevine Mountain”

When I came to Judevine Mountain
I thought
all my troubles would cease,
but I brought
books and papers–my ambition–
so now, still,
all I know is grief.

“In the Ancient Tradition”

I live within the ancient tradition:
the poet as mountain recluse,
withdrawn and hidden,
a life of genteel poverty,
a quiet life of meditation,

which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!

“Like the Clouds”

Our lives are like the clouds.

We come from out of nowhere,
take some shape a little while,
then disappear.

No wonder we all want
money, power, prestige,
immortality from poetry.

“The Three Goals”

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.

No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.

In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,

Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

“Another Lie”

This silence, this emptiness,
this freedom to listen and dream
are all I’ve ever wanted.

And if that were true my
ambition, bitterness, and envy
would have left me years ago.

“Be Glad”

Why become wise

when you can be stupid?

Why become sophisticated

when you can be simple and original?

If you are artless and ordinary,

the literati, who recognize only

artifice and self-consciousness,

will ignore you.

Be glad with just a cup of tea,

a bird’s song,

a small book of plain poems,

and your anonymity.


I want to be


so I can be


about being


What good is my


when I am


in this


“The Cycle of the Seasons”

The cycle of the seasons is to teach us to prepare

for our own deaths.

We get to practice every year, especially in the fall.

I’ve had fifty-eight practice sessions now.

But I’m not getting anywhere.

I can’t seem to get it.

The more I practice, the older I get,

the less I want to die.

“An Age of Academic Mandarins”

This is an age of academic mandarins
who manufacture secret vocabularies
so they can keep their verses to themselves
and away from ordinary people
who could never understand the erudition
of their obtuse allusions, or the quirky twists
of their self-indulgent minds.

Ah, Po Chü-i, how they would laugh at you,
My Friend, standing there in your kitchen
testing your poem on your illiterate cook to see
if it is plain enough so that she and people like her
will be able to comprehend what you have to say.

And when she says she doesn’t know what you
are talking about, you go back to your study
to make it plainer, more easily accessible–
pure, clean, simple: so anyone can understand.

–all poems from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse by David Budbill, Copper Canyon Press, 1999.