How do we wake up to the intimacy of meeting the moment at hand? How do we practice compassion in the face of cruelty and the unknown? Where does our imagination come from? Who is thinking? These are some of the questions that are alive in poet and writer Nick Flynn’s work and life. Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell, Zen Buddhist teachers and cofounders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, invited Flynn to the Zen Center for an afternoon of conversation. They spent a few hours talking about poetry, bees, his time with the Abu Ghraib detainees, and letting our hearts break to open wide.

Robert Chodo Campbell: It is lovely to be here with you. We want to explore three of your poems with you, and how they may relate to stillness, attention, and diving in. If you were to submit pieces of your work to a Buddhist magazine—say, Tricycle—which would you choose and why? 

Nick Flynn: The first one that comes to mind is one from my book Blind Huber, “Inside Nothing.” Blind Huber is a series of linked poems, some of which are seemingly in the voice of the beekeeper Huber and the bees themselves. But it could very well be that Huber is making up these voices in his own head and then attributing them to the bees, because he studies them. 

Huber is a real historical figure. During the research and writing of the book, I did a lot of reading about bees, I talked to beekeepers, and whenever I traveled I would see bees everywhere. I was traveling a lot, and I wanted to buy a jar of honey from every place I went to. The colors were so different from one another— the Vietnamese honey was very different than the Mexican honey, for instance—and I thought the colors were so gorgeous that I wanted to build a wall of honey jars. But after I’d buy the jar of honey I’d eat it. Maybe one day I’ll build my wall of honey.

Koshin Paley Ellison: What captured your imagination with the bees and the beekeeper? 

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