Adam Clark is a photographer and poet based in Yokohama, Japan. This collection, entitled Mountain Poetry, explores the relationships between Japanese aesthetics, imagery, and a variety of poetic forms.
Mountain Poetry is named after some of the ancient Zen poets of Japan and China. The pieces you find here are written in haiku (traditionally 5,7,5 but often shorter), senryu (haiku about human nature), tanka (5,7,5,7,7 or some close variation thereof), haibun (free form poetry capped with a haiku), and other forms that I have broadly entitled “mountain poems”. Many mountain poems follow a repeated syllable structure emulating the “songs” of the Chinese Zen hermits.
These original poems along with images reflect the haiga tradition of sumi painting and the work of a wide variety of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese philosophers and poets. The combination of photography and poetry found here is commonly known as “shahai” derived from the first syllable of the Japanese “shashin” (sha 写 – photograph) along with the first syllable of “haiku” (hai 俳 – playful).
My approach has been influenced by DT Suzuki, Soiku Shigematsu, R.H. Blyth, Robert Aitken, Gary Snyder and, among others, Alan Watts as he explored Eastern religious and philosophical ideologies including Hinduism, Taoism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism. Thomas Merton’s reflections and writings in response to his encounters with Chuang-Tsu are perhaps the closest parallels to this journey but most recently I have been working with a number of these poems as capping phrases (jakugo) for koan practice.
When I was a philosophy student as an undergraduate the coursework most available to me in my first year of formal study was in Eastern Philosophy and religious thought. While I came from a western Judeo-Christian tradition with Quakerism, I found the ideas within those early courses also resonated very closely with my personal relationship with nature and the outdoors. Now having lived in Japan for the majority of my adult life, I am publishing Mountain Poetry as a, perhaps inevitable, result of this environmental and cultural context. I would be happy if some of them turned out to be meaningful for you as well.
About the Name “Yugen”
Pen names and names taken from places and experiences have likely been around as long as humanity. Cold Mountain and Stone House and Red Pine (Bill Porter) who, among others, so skillfully translates the works of those ancient masters. Yugen is a term from Japanese aesthetics that approximates a sense of mystery and can be metaphorically described as “cranes disappearing into the clouds behind a mountain”. Both the processes of writing mountain poetry and creating images feels equal parts elusive and gratifying thus the name. Thank you for tolerating this small indulgence as part of a long tradition. It is not to be taken too seriously. – Adam Clark