Lucien Stryk Essay - Critical Essays


Lucien Stryk’s devotion to place grows naturally out of his dedication to Zen principles, and as he suggests in the introduction to his second edited collection of midwestern poetry, Heartland II, if one is to find peace as a poet or philosopher or human, then one must, as the Zen master Qingyuan explains, see “mountains as mountains, waters as waters.” For Stryk then, there can be no richer place on earth than the Midwest for the creation of poetry. There, he finds the vast sprawl of cities connected by rail and commerce; the dark, furrowed fields undulating with growth to the farthest horizon; and towns rising up out of nowhere, their quiet streets offering passage into what is most human and telling about the human condition. As an editor of two landmark collections of midwestern poetry—Heartland and Heartland II—and as the author of such poems as “Farmer” and “Scarecrow” (both from Taproot), “Return to DeKalb” (from The Pit, and Other Poems), and“Fishing with My Daughter in Miller’s Meadow” (from Awakening), Stryk searches the midwestern landscape, not for spectacle but for daily life. It is in daily living that Stryk moves, capturing in minimalist lines the wonder of a father holding his daughter’s hand, walking through a meadow filled with fresh manure and grazing horses, or, in “Farmer,” magnifying the farmer’s eyes that are “bound tight as wheat, packed/ hard as dirt.” Stryk, in an essay titled “Making Poems,” which is collected in Encounter with Zen, explains that the writing of poetry demands that one engage in “pure seeing,” and from such seeing, he creates a poetry of simple midwestern images that illustrate clearly the beauty, diversity, and breadth of life in the heartland.

And Still Birds Sing

Although all the works included in And Still Birds Sing are not set exclusively in the Midwest, the vision of life found in this collection is shaped by Stryk’s long life as a resident of the Midwest. He explains in the introduction to Heartland II:As one who has worked for a number of years, in Asia and the United States on the translation and interpretation of Zen poetry, I am sometimes asked why in the face of such “exotic” pursuits I have an interest in the poetry of my region—or, worse, why my own poetry is set for the most part in small-town...

(The entire section is 987 words.)