Hot Tea! has been written mostly after the birth of the first of my children although, Who Shall Sing, When Man is Gone contains a few poems from this period as well. They were also written as my life has become somewhat more meditative, as I have become increasingly interested in Zen and the fundamental basis of knowledge. Quite lot of the philosophical influences that are coming to fruition are expressed in some of the in-progress essays under my philosophy pages. In these, especially in the aforementioned book Axioms I attempt to articulate in simple prose some of the insights that are probably better captured in poetry.
At any rate, a number of the poems in Hot Tea! are generally Buddhist in nature, although I perceive of the Buddha as a philosopher and not as a religous figure and especially not as a god - an avatar of Vishnu as he is held to be even by many who should know better. According to Buddha's own words, and the words of many other Buddhas and Bhodisattvas that both preceded and followed him in cultures all around the world, he is neither more nor less an avatar of God than any of us are that share in our hearts a spark of fire, a holy spirit, an Atman. Every instant of awareness is a direct contradiction to the idea that nothing ever could be, if the terms themselves are sufficiently self-contradictory to demonstrate this directly as ``the'' fundamental empirical observation/tautology upon which knowledge of things can be based.
This collection also contains some of what I now view as my best poems, ones that I really do think can stand the test of time. Not to toot my own horn, but ``An Open Letter to Humankind'' and ``Planting Season'' are really good poems, as are quite a few of the shorter ones. ``Hot Tea!'', for example (which has been selected for republication on a number of websites interested in - tea - imagine that!)
There are a few irreverent poems as well - I poke a bit of fun at W. B. Yeats in ``Driving to Byzantium'', a more-or-less perfect translation of ``Sailing to Byzantium'' for modern times. I couldn't do this if I didn't love and even revere Yeats - when my kids were babies I used to put them to sleep by reciting a variety of Yeats and Tennyson (Ulysses) to them from memory. Even now, if I start in with ``It little profits that an idle king...'' I can make my eldest son start to nod.
Recently I've turned again to political poetry, poetry designed to make people think about the way the world works and in particular ways that the world might be changed to become a better place. The twentieth century was the end of the Age of Kings; at its beginning most of the world's population was ruled by kings, by dictators, by emperors, and in nearly all cases these individuals and their military, cultural, and economic support structure were ``greedy'' and aspired to bigger kingdoms, bigger empires, bigger domains of subjugation. The century was one absolutely dominated by wars, and each and every war, every revolution, hot or cold as the case may be, ended with the defeat of the King and a step toward personal and economic freedom.
Today only a handful of rag-tag remnants of royalty remain: England has its silly Queen, Saudi Arabia and Jordan their Kings and Queens and Princes. A few Sultanates persist, and there are unfortunately quite a few countries where there are Presidents-for-Life, Dictators, unelected Generals, and one-party Oligarchies, with all the evils of nepotism, incompetence, unearned rank and power and wealth, surpression of freedom, and the appalling lack of accountability that are the hallmarks of the Feudal age. This topic is tackled in several new poems, notably ``The Age of Kings is Over'', and ``I Do Not Own the Land''. There will likely be more - I have minor fantasies that one day somebody out there on the Internet will read my poetry and discover that a lot of it can serve as a banner for righteous causes and perhaps make an actual difference in the world.
The one final comment to make about this collection is that it is incomplete in that I'm still writing and adding poetry to it, and I'm also still editing and changing the poetry that is there. I do not rule out the possibility that a future Lulu version of this book will contain new poems, or that the poems in it will be slightly different. This is one of the benefits (or perhaps curses) of web-based publication and word processors - it is so easy to correct errors, to make improvements, to treat every document as a living thing, never quite brought to an end in the lifetime of the writer. I work on poems for years, fixing a misspelling, altering a line to it scans better, sometimes rewriting whole stanzas. A poem you read today might be a different poem in five years - perhaps better, perhaps not, but different nevertheless. Only my Subversion tree (my current revisioning system, after CVS before it and RCS before that) contains the full revision history of my poetry, and even my revision history only stretches back so far. Some of the poems were written on paper and kept for years before making it into Wordstar on my original 64K motherboard IBM PC, back in 1982 or thereabouts.
Feel free to let me know what you think of these poems. You can send me email at rgb at phy duke edu (regrettably obfuscated to try to foil spambots), or send me paper mail at:
Robert G. Brown
Duke University Physics Department
Durham, NC, 27708-0305