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What?

My wife's been bugging me. Ok, I can see that she has a point. Readers invariably ask me who I read or who is my favorite author or who is my biggest influence.Readers invariably ask me who I read or who is my favorite author or who is my biggest influence. As the most regular witness to this, she noticed that I seem to dodge the question.

I usually say something like, "How long have you got?" or I'll say "Oh, there are hundreds." It doesn't matter that I'm not trying to be funny, it happens to be true. I know readers would like to know some real answers.

My wife seems to think that what moves me or attracts me or makes me spend my money would surprise readers. So, she made me think about what I did at Powell's tonight. I came all the way across the country knowing that Powell's was the one place I would find the book I was looking for. I walked straight to the Blue Room, straight to the poetry section, straight to the shelf marked with a K and found the book. Not Stephen King, not Jack Kerouac, but What?: 108 Zen Poems by Ko Un.

I had to smile when she pointed this out because most readers' response to What? by Ko Un would be "What?"

Ko Un, the greatest living poet of Korea, brought me thousands of miles to his shelf. I'm always surprised that Asian poetry and Zen poetry are hidden factors in my prose. It seems so plain to me.

So, here's the answer to that question. I first seek haiku poets, then seek Zen poets, then seek Taoist poets. Every single time I go to a bookstore, I go to poetry and look for them. I don't mean to; I don't plan to; I don't care if anybody notices. It's what my soul drags me to. Sure, I might follow that with a hard-boiled detective novel or a UFO magazine. In fact, I guarantee it. But I will always begin in the same place.

Awake?
If awake, joy.
Sorrow nowhere.
Looking out after downing three cups of liquor
in an inn by a road junction,
that's what I heard the rain swept road say.

—Ko Un

÷ ÷ ÷

Luis Alberto Urrea is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award, an American Book Award, a Western States Book Award, and a Colorado Book Award, and has been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. He lives in Chicago.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Queen of America
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  2. What?: 108 Zen Poems Used Trade Paper $5.95


Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of Queen of America

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