Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Poems by Lucien Stryk

For the December Red Eft video, our first guest writer is Dan’s own father, poet Lucien Stryk, who became a spiritual father to me.

I have a special feeling for “Memo to the Builder,” the first poem in this video. When I was still a teen, my mother snipped it out of 
the Chicago Tribune for me — she knew I’d love it.  And I still do.  In it, Lucien metaphorically imagines an architectural space with 
no enclosures to shut out the living world.  In the second poem, “You Must Change Your Life,” nature becomes the protagonist in 
the parable of a backyard squirrel (undistracted while fulfilling its vital needs). I find it remarkable that Lucien is able to say so much, 
so powerfully — yet in so few words — about the essence of the natural world, which, if grasped, might truly change the way 
we see it  . . .  
                                                                                                                                                                               — Suzanne

[For more about Lucien Stryk, see the bio and links below.]

"Memo to the Builder" and "You Must Change Your Life"


    Memo to the Builder

. . . and then
After the roof goes up
Remember to lay the eave trough
Wide and deep.  A run
For squirrels and a river
For my birds.  You know, I’d rather

You made the trough
So, than have the rooftop
Tarred and shingled.  Keep
It in mind, the trough.
Also I’m not so sure of glass
In every window.  But let that pass.

Still—and there are
Reasons enough, believe me—
It would please no end to be
In and out together.
And how it would thrill me should a bird,
Learning our secret, make a whir-

ring thoroughfare
Of a room or two.
Forget the weather.  To
Have the wild, the rare
Not only happen, mind, but
Be the normal is exactly what

I’m after.  Now
You know.  Perhaps you
Think I’ve made your job too
Light?  Good.  Throw
Caution to the beams.  Build me a home
The living day can enter, not a tomb.

   You Must Change Your Life

Of all things one might be:
a squirrel lopes by

busy at being himself
in a tough nutless world,

cats at his young, rain
slanting in his nest,

night falling, winter
not provided for—

no question to ask
of himself or anyone.

  “Memo to the Builder” and “You Must Change Your Life” were published in And Still Birds Sing: New and Collected Poems by Lucien Stryk (Swallow/Ohio University  Press, 1998).

Lucien Stryk (1924-2013) published more than thirty books over his career, both of original poetry and Far Eastern translations, including Collected Poems (Swallow / Ohio University Press), The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry (Penguin Books, London), and Of Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho (Penguin).  He also won numerous awards and honors, such as a Ford Foundation Fellowship, Illinois Author of the Year, and a Rockefeller Foundation award.  In 2009, the American Literary Translators Association announced the inaugural Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, in honor of his admired collections of Zen Buddhist literature. 

For more about the Lucien Stryk, visit Dan’s article about his father at: http://www.connotationpress.com/featured-artist/november-2010/628-emeritus-artist-lucien-stryk


  1. Beautiful! I was Lucien Stryk's student in the 1960s. Listening to his voice on the video brought back so many great memories --- he was a brilliant, inspiring teacher and poet.
    Carol Jansen

  2. These poems, these paintings, embody YĆ«gen, or a mysterious grace!
    Lee Uchida


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