Sutra as poem again thoughts

Am just writing the notes section to my first published collection of poems, I’m a Pretty Circler, and having worked out with my editor Colin Waters which of the poems would benefit from notes, am now treading that line between explaining and overexplaining.

A happy diversion for the moment is that I was writing a note for my poem Birthday Sutra, which is one of two poems with Sutra in the title that’ll be in the collection. I knew that I’d gotten the title from Ginsberg (there are two Sutras in his complete works, Sunflower Sutra is the most famous I think) but I thought I’d just doublecheck again whether there was any sort of googleably recognised poetic form definition, and I found this from a school-essay-help website that I liked so much I thought I’d share it here:

‘Ginsberg titles the poem as a “Sutra,” a Buddhist form of literature in which a string of aphorisms compose a body of work. An aphorism is a kind of quick line – spoken or written – that uses wit or humor to state a deep seeded truth. Ginsberg’s poem is more complex than a simple Sutra, however, though by titling the poem as such he means to suggest that the message of the poem is really quite simple.’

Not sure about that last sentence with its heavy handed didacticism, but I find the the chaining of aphorisms idea helpful, and happily in tune with the loose forming of the two poem structures I gave the ‘sutra’ name to.

Then again, I also offer my own definition of a sutra poem halfway through my Sunny Sutra, the second sutra poem in my collection. So I’ll leave that here too:

‘Sutras: poems occasional, read at times which are propitiate
Sunny Sutra: the long poem about the sun in which I know how to say things and
think like a fire poet.’

…wondering now about the word ‘propitiate’ too, which I realise is officially a verb, but I use it here as an adjective. Maybe I liked the sound better than propitious, but I think there’s a ghost word that’s a real, although old-fashioned, adjective lurking behind my use of it somewhere. Maybe it’ll pop up in my consciousness now I’m thinking about it. The phrase ‘this initiate May’ is coming into my head, but that doesn’t seem to mean anything previously…


Ben Kopel – a sutra!

Love this poem tonight: The page shows weird on my browser and hides the title: Iscariot Rising Sutra

I guess I went looking for other poems called something or other Sutra in the wake of writing and performing one (Birthday Sutra) at a really beautifully hosted and satisfying reading at The Sutton Gallery in Edinburgh the other night. It was today’s diversionary exercise, seeing whether there was a recognisable ‘sutra form’ coalescing in or deducible from poems so-titled by various authors. I kind of feel that there is. I come back to the wikipedia article sentence on sutras as a religious text, involving a sequence of aphorisms intended for teaching. The ones that I have dipped into, seems to be loose, long (although Ben Kopel’s isn’t) and following a sort of free-wheeling journey of good advice/aspiration/vision ranging through different specific subjects. The context is the moment they’re addressing. A tentative thought, this, I admit.

Anyway, I also, literally just now and this is quite embarrassing, realised that the sutra in ‘Kama Sutra’ is the same meaning of sutra, of course. I didn’t really think of the Kama Sutra as two separate words consciously before now, and I might have been thrown by thinking about it while writing my poem. But of course, the association totally fits, it’s there, and I’m glad for that and whatever mechanics of brains allow these subconscious sleights of meaning to get into the poem before you second-guess yourself and change your mind.

Here’s a wee excerpt from mine, from my Birthday Sutra:


love love love

the elisions of you

the slow boilings of your clouds.

Not not not like

Sochi Sochi Sochi.

More of a creeper than a rhodeddendron

Sochi where Brodsky visited the Cascade Restaurant on new year 1969, ten years before I was born

Osho Osho Osho

A bad Jazz musician with jazzed bad skin

It’s an old school

an old school

sutra sutra sutra

tantric Male power and stalk energy

suture suture suture

self second-guessing always makes me wrong in the

Future Future Future

bewhiles I have time

hoopla hoopla hoopla

for good ideas to come in the bath

youthlike like youth you thlike

Aren’t I an idea now, having an idea? Aren’t we all so

Sufi Sufi Sufi


Reuben Sutton's photograph of Sutton Gallery, Edinburgh reading by Iain Morrison 21/5/14


Hope you enjoyed that excerpt. Now I’m turning my attentions to focus on Berlin, and my Emily Dickinson readings at SOUNDOUT! festival… Heading there on Tuesday. Whee!

Inspiration from Allen Ginsberg: Sutras

Hello one and all, well, at least one.

I’m writing at the moment, working on a new poem called Birthday Sutra for a reading on the eve of my 35th birthday (which seems a good time to sum) at the Sutton Gallery in Edinburgh. The event is listed here, and starts at 7pm on 21st May, 2014.

Here’s the first para of current Wikipedia article on Sutra, to give an idea of what my poem form might be:
‘A sutra (Sanskritसूत्रPālisuttaArdhamagadhisūya) is an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a text in Hinduismor Buddhism. Literally it means a thread or line that holds things together and is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew’

The inspiration for my poem is loosely Allen Ginsberg and his oracular ‘sutra’ poems.  Here’s his Wichita Vortex Sutra text, and also a composition version of it with Philip Glass at the piano. May it fire up my imagination to similarly visionary heights!