Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain

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9781571313492: Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain
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Born and raised with the kind of expectations that often accompany privilege, Jim Lenfestey approached his thirtieth birthday in a state of acute anxiety. A young family and a demanding work life on one hand, and a burgeoning love for poetry on the other.

When an independent bookseller discerns Lenfestey’s difficulties, and prescribes for a remedy the poems of a Chinese hermit named Han Shan, Lenfestey’s life is changed forever. After swallowing the poems like aspirin” for the next thirty years, a spirited embrace of this ancient poet called Cold Mountain the poet he has come to see as a guiding light in his life prompts Lenfestey to travel to China on a pilgrim’s search for his cave. Along the way, this quest takes our author first to Tokyo, where he visits with the foremost translator and scholar of eastern poetry, Burton Watson, and from there across China, from the enormous chanting hall of ten thousand Buddhas in Bailin Temple to the birthplace of Confucius.

A singular combination of travel writing, memoir, translation, and poetry, Seeking the Cave is both deeply personal and universally illuminating. Uniting our brief literary life with the ancient richness of Chinese culture" (Robert Bly), this extraordinary book evokes the transformative power of poetry, and the way it breathes meaning into our lives.

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About the Author:

An award-winning academic, advertising executive, and journalist, James P. Lenfestey has published four poetry collections and a book of personal essays. The chair of the Literary Witnesses poetry series, he lives in Minneapolis.

Review:

Praise for Seeking the Cave

"A lively account of Lenfestey's trip to China, which includes a visit to the cave where Han-shan actually lived, a number of Chinese poems written 1,200 years ago, and poems of his own written on the trail to Cold Mountain. It unites our brief literary life with the ancient richness of Chinese
culture." Robert Bly

"A profound, and profoundly personal book. It's very captivating, warm and friendly, personal, unguarded, idiosyncratic, pointed but also finally apolitical, and eminently charming." Gary Snyder

"Jim Lenfestey’s ranging, big-hearted book of pilgrimage and quest recounts the meeting of two poets, one a twentieth-century American, the other a surprisingly gregarious T'ang Dynasty hermit known for both his poems of deep solitude and the warmth of his friendships. The story of Lenfestey’s late-life search for his own self’s unfolding portrait is, in happy sympathy, replete with deft portraits of others, from the translator-scholars Burton Watson and Bill Porter to the sincere and enterprising Buddhist nuns opening a new shrine and its accompanying gift shop. Seeking the Cave intertwines landscape and language, poetry and prose, foodstuffs and culture, and above all, the explorations of inner life made outward, step by step, on the steep paths of China’s cities and mountains." Jane Hirshfield

"Seeking the Cave is part travelogue, part literary history, and part spiritual journey. James Lenfestey is a lively and entertaining tour guide. Modest, funny, curious, and wide open to the world, he gives us perceptive glimpses of Chinese culture, ancient to contemporary, and into what it means to be a poet, both now and twelve centuries ago. The account of his quest to find Han Shan’s cave is a delight from beginning to end." Chase Twichell

"Ah, this is 'yuan' destiny. No Chinese would say: this is a mere coincidence, a chance encounter, that this American man received Han Shan’s poems in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1974, and his life was no longer the same. From the Cold Mountain, Han Shan released the vibration that traveled a thousand and three hundred years to reach Greenfield, and it sprouted, grew, bloomed, now fruited into poetry through the hands, feet, and mouth of an equally wild American poet, James Lenfestey, who chased that echo across the Pacific, over the Cold Mountain, into the cave. Is it 'yuan' or coincidence that the mountain both Han Shan and James Lenfestey reached is called Tiantai: a heavenly landing, stage, abode, home, reachable only through poetry? We should all read, or rather, experience James Lenfestey’s Seeking the Cave, a journey wild, magical, quantum-leaping a pilgrimage we must take if we want to know who we are, why we are here, where our home is." Wang Ping

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