Go with the Flow: A Tribute to Clyde Sanborn
As one cannot truly categorize poet Clyde Sanborn (1948-1996), neither can one neatly classify this text about his life and writing. A “compilation,” a “composite,” a “do-it-yourself biography,” come close. And yet editor Allen Frost has found an organic form to fit his subject. Just as he had in his 2016 A Flutter of Birds Passing Through Heaven: A Tribute to Robert Sund. One should not be put off by this open and evolving form, for it captures the spirit of Clyde Sanborn’s free and intuitive life and work. Both Sund and Sanborn, friends by the way, offer an adventure in their very openness to life and the poem.
Because Clyde Sanborn has been relatively unknown beyond the Pacific Northwest, we are provided this summary of his life by contributor, Jim Smith:
“Born and raised in Stockton, California, Clyde served in the Navy in Japan, where he was introduced to Zen Buddhism. In 1977 he settled down on the banks of the Skagit River, living quietly and simply in houseboats, sheds, tents, floatshacks. He painted and wrote poems, observed nature and visited with his many friends, but riverrats and townfolk. On March 15, at the age of 47, while rowing, he drowned near his home on the river.
“No poet could have lived his poetry more faithfully and naturally than Clyde. His natural spirit made us mindful of the failings of the modern age.”
One of the analogies made repeatedly by the editor and those who knew Sanborn is with the ancient poet Li Po. Both are known for their bare bones Zen writing, and for a lifestyle of chosen poverty and heavy drinking. And both ended their life by drowning off a small boat—Li Po supposedly by reaching to gather the moon from the water. Author Tom Robbins points this out in his quote: “Clyde Sanborn rolled downstream like a tsunami of moon beams, leaving in his wake (before he returned to the Source) these floating islands of luminous mud-monk, jug-monk poesy.”
Now all of the memories gathered here would suffice as a memorial tribute of a book, but the content is so much more. Countless poems and paintings are reproduced here. In one case there is a reproduction of a whole chapbook of his work, Flash Flood & Other Poems.
Editor Frost has gathered from friends a hundred other poems that Sanborn sent on scraps of paper or letters or postings around La Conner, WA. Wisely and colorfully most of these are reproduced in their original as are the vibrantly colored impressionistic paintings. Also in this treasure trove are the photographs of Clyde’s life from boyhood to his military years on to his days of shack living on nature’s shores. These and memories have been gathered from his family and his many friends.
The rewards are many, as in these poem samples of this American Zen poet:
“Spring / Sitting”
The barn swallows and wild roses
arrived together this year.
Watching the river today. Water inside
water; clear to dense, fast to still—
Hey! My minds the same! I go in
and make tea.
“Ode to Spring”
be in love—
when the skunk cabbages
are in bloom.
There is this spontaneity and clarity in his writing, as though he is travelling light and not letting things clutter the mind. This is strikingly clear in this poem asserting values of freedom and simplicity against those of the mass conformity:
“Poem to Allen’s Relatives”
Hey! This boy knows the stars.
When you all are concerned about
new half-assed Buicks
he is singing his best song!
Whey you all ae struggling thru a
diaper, or how the lawn might
be mowed, this boy falls upsidedown to heaven!
You all must be trying to fool me.
But if you’re not, let us simply go to sleep,
and then wake up.
Oh, it is so difficult to keep up with
the Jones’—or ourselves,
for that matter.
Writing in good spirit with Zen wit and Buddhist compassion, Sanborn is an original and a challenge to our American values. While Go with the Flow: A Tribute of Clyde Sanborn preserves a lost poet and artist, it also honors a way of living and a way of writing that reminds us to be true to ourselves. One thanks editor Allen Frost and Good Deed Rain Press for this gift.