Terrance Keenan is a prolific writer whose contributions to poetry, non-fiction and other genres embodies his Zen Buddhist practice.
Terrance is a former rare books and manuscripts librarian, and is also a poet, artist and Zen Buddhist monk.
His books and essays include:
If Our Lives Be Spared, Syracuse University Press, 2007
If Our Lives Be Spared is a nonfiction history of the Collin family, from 1816 to 1895.
The family settled in the wilderness of Central New York. The book uses selections from the huge family archives of diaries, correspondence, maps, farm records at the Onondaga Historical Association to tell, not only the story of rural life in the 19th century, but the private one involving courage, Lear-like betrayal, tragedy and extraordinary love seasoned with unexpectedly profound wisdom.
Carefully edited diaries, letters, and journals show how greed and betrayal, trial and triumph, and star-crossed romance informed the emotional and material fortunes of the Collin/Knapp families. Here are true stories of generational conflict, human relations, and accomplishment shaped by time, place, custom, and kinship.
Keenan employs a unique and fresh approach to historical narrative, and his prudent use of a rich collection of family documents elevates the genre to new levels of interest, reflection, and scholarship. The result is a remarkably palpable, highly accessible, and intellectually provocative reconstruction of lives lived in epochs past.
St. Nadie in Winter: Zen Encounters with Loneliness, Charles Tuttle, 2001
St. Nadie in Winter, later republished as Zen Encounters with Loneliness was a finalist for the national NAPRA Nautilus Award.
In the book, Terrance Keenan weaves together poetry, memoir, and raw insight to give voice to the lonely “nobody” in everyone.
From his memories of early childhood to his struggles with addiction, writer’s block, and human relationship, Keenan delivers a heart-rending portrayal of the human hunger for selfhood and connection.
Through his beautifully crafted literary reflections, he finds that Zen does not comfort our dream of being somebody, rather, it reveals connection only when we face who we really are—nobody. Zen Encounters intimately calls us to recognize that the well of emptiness is also a well of potential—to grow, learn, and overcome adversity.
The book was republished in a second edition as Zen Encounters with Loneliness, Wisdom Publications, 2014.
The Blue Cliff Record
The Blue Cliff Record, or the Hekiganroku, has been used as a teaching tool for students of Zen Buddhism for a thousand years. Its one hundred koans were originally compiled by Setcho (980 -1052), a poet and scholar, in early eleventh-century China. This present book is an iconoclastic version of The Blue Cliff Record, a book that was in its time also deeply iconoclastic.
It contains all the original koans but with fresh variations on the introductory statements and commentary. It is also, I believe, the first time since its creation that the book has ever been fully illuminated.
In the ancient tradition of those early Irish monks. I have chosen to illuminate what cannot be illumined with a piece of artwork to accompany each case in the collection.
Cambios: Daily Readings from the I Ching
Zen Buddhism, the I Ching, an ancient Chinese system for the structure of the universe, chance, chaos theory, the routine sorrow and joy of daily life, passion and anger, love and grief, and the simple things of snow in the morning and food on the table – are all part of this extraordinary daybook called Cambios. Cambios was first published in 1979 in a limited edition of 100 copies.
It has become a very rare and special book of poems — a daybook; that is, poems written over one year from daily readings in the I Ching. The word cambios is Spanish for changes, which refers back to the I Ching, the Book of Changes. But cambios also means change in your pocket, highway interchange, money exchange at the bank or airport or ATM, mutations, variations, changes of mind, shifting fractals, changes of circumstances or feelings, or any number of other nuanced connotations for change. And so these poems respond accordingly, opening doors to just those moments when the ordinary becomes the extraordinary
What the Wind Said: Selected Poems
A dynamic collection of poetry by this prolific writer, spanning his entire career and drawing especially from the early books, written before there were computers.
These poems are filled with passion, pain, and wonder. Taking hold of love, the grand cosmic visions of Buddhism, and the little things that make up our lives, these poems sing with a music that lifts words to a new dimension.
Early poems explore all the possibilities of what language can do to express our place in the universe, while later ones delve deeply into the personal and the shadowlands that make us human.
Black Honey: Women Speak of Longing, Lust and Love
Black Honey is about longing, lust, loss, and love. The poems are all in the voices of women, some ordinary, some extraordinary, but all in the language of their humanity and, particularly, their woman’s view of their own world.
The voices range from the mythical Penelope, who wove and unwove the tapestry of her life to keep her suitors at bay while awaiting to return of her long lost love Odysseus, to Etty Hillesum, an Amsterdam Jew trapped in a Nazi death camp who can nevertheless remember and long for the love of her life and the first experiences of her passionate awakening. The poems in her voice are drawn from her diaries which were almost miraculously preserved after her death in the gas chambers. From these poems we learn to never forget love is all there is.
One Morning: Poems by Terrance Keenan
This extraordinary and large collection of poems examines the fundamental truths, The Four Noble Truths, of Buddhism.
These Truths are central to all forms of Buddhist practice throughout history and across the world today. These are not poems “influenced” by Buddhism, but are modern Buddhist poems for our time written by a Zen Buddhist monk, who is, as well, an accomplished artist. This work avoids the clichéd echoes of ancient Buddhist styles of expression, with their echoes of “the mysterious East”, so common among modern writings reflecting on the past as our only authority. This work makes clear that today we are also capable of insight and profound awakening.
The poems, drawing on the immediacy of plain modern language, address the realities of our moment, the truth of suffering in our time, the causes of why we hurt so much, the discoveries of the impermanence of suffering, and how suffering can end if we change our way of being in the world and turn to compassion and love.
Master of Nothing
Master of Nothing, answers the questions about what an awakened person is like in the 21st century. Our usual sentimental image of a so-called “enlightened” person is of a bald monk in meditation or a scraggly haired guru posing as the “Fool on the Hill”. Delightful? Perhaps, and wise, maybe, but somehow not quite real.
This is a book about a real person who had managed to “wake up” in this confusing and often ugly, painful world, and about the real people who come to know him. We learn about him through them and their experiences of his presence in their lives, personally, and, even more so, through his work as an artist and poet. And how all of them together changed the world through this experience.
Poetry: Practicing Eternity, BASFAL Books, 1996.
Other books: Herbal, Great Elm Press, 1986; Where My Feet Meet My Footsteps, Tamarack Editions, 1986; Cambios, Zephyr Press, 1979.
Anthologies: Atomic Ghosts, Coffeehouse Press; Nuke Rebuke, S.T.M.U. Press; On Turtles Back, White Pine Press; Ardis Anthology of New American Poetry, Ardis Publishers; Serpent’s Egg, Moonlight Publications; The Apple Anthology, State Street Press; River2, River Press.
Poems, essays, and reviews in journals including: The Georgia Review, Ironwood, Poetry Now, Blue Line, Caesura, Epoch, Contact II, Dacotah Territory, White Pine, Allegheny Poetry, River, Crabgrass, Athanor, and The Spirit That Moves Us.