I left last year’s performance of Coleman Barks and David Darling enchanted, felling like I had just walked on hallowed ground. The friendship the two shared and exchanged on stage was so sweet that it made me want to kiss all of my friends and smother them with love after it was over. This time around on February 7 was not much different, as I left the performance at Libby Gardner Hall feeling that same sentiment.
I think I was sort of banking on the program being completely different this year, and was a little surprised at first at how many of the poems were re-read at this event. Looking back on it now, though, I realize that the repetition was important, and the things that were performed again were things I need to drill into my head, such as “The longing you express is the return message,” from “Love Dogs,” or “Let the beauty we love be what we do,” from “Great Wagon,” “Whoever is calm and sensible is insane,” or “This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival,” from “Guest House.” And, to be honest, there were still a lot of new things that were performed this time around that felt fresh in their readings.
The theme Barks chose to stick with for the evening was the mystery of the beloved. To establish this, Barks started with the second part of the poem “Dissolver of Sugar,” repeating the last stanza: “I need more grace than I thought.” This poem, Barks explained, is about losing contact with the beloved, whether the beloved be our friend, teacher or someone else. He further explained that it’s impossible to talk about the beloved, so despite that being the theme of the evening, he admitted that him and Darling would fail at tapping the mystery. However, Barks explained, “It helps to have music nearby,” doting on his friend and cellist, David Darling.
The pairing of the two friends was really interesting to watch again, as it seems they balance each other in their friendship much like Shams did with his student Rumi. Darling’s passionate whirlwind of songs was further impressive once I realized that the duo is pretty much winging it—everything is being performed on a more or less impromptu basis. From waltzes, to Bach, to Irish folk music, to traditional African music and to deep Southern blues, Darling can easily venture to any realm Barks wants to travel to and is happy to contribute to the rhythm of the poem. As Barks reads a translation of Shams by William Chittick, Shams says of Rumi, “God has given me this friendship, I was so bored with myself.” From what was taught, Rumi seemed to be the one going out drinking and dancing and getting “lost in that love ecstasy,” while Shams seemed pretty studious and serious, but happy to have a friend in this human incarnation.
Throughout the night, Barks kept emphasizing that the beloved is in everything. He talked about watching Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in 1955 and that he’s “Seen the greatest minds prowling the street for a fix, and that’s the beloved, too.” On the plane over to Utah he watched Louis CK for the first time, and Louis CK is the beloved, too. What we do with the beloved is put them in stories, and it’s important to understand the power of those. As Barks said, “[Stories] are to human growth as facts are to science.”
For the most part, Barks read poems that were Rumi translations, but he did read one from his latest book of poems, “Hummingbird Sleep.” Although the style of Barks’ personal poems is pretty closely intertwined with the poems he translates, the subjects are much less abstract and feel a lot more grounded than Rumi, so it’s nice to get that contrast. Before exiting the stage, Barks went up behind Darling, still seated, to give him a kiss on the forehead, honoring the beloved in their friendship and sharing that warmth with everyone in the audience. Thank you to the organizers and sponsors, Two Arrows Zen and the Jung Society of Utah, for another lovely evening!