Dick Allen (“After a heavy, clinging snow”) is the current poet laureate of Connecticut, a position he’ll hold until 2015. Allen has studied Buddhism for over 50 years, since meeting Alan Watts one quiet autumn afternoon at Syracuse University, where Allen took the country’s first undergraduate credit course in Zen Buddhism in 1960. Allen is most drawn to “crazy Zen,” and many of his Buddhist poems are written, he says, to “Americanize Buddhism and Zen Buddhism through the use of American landscapes, American icons like Coca-Cola, and Apple computers placed alongside cloudy mountains and brooms sweeping Buddhist temple floors.”
Heavily influenced by the Cold Mountain poems of Han Shan, Allen is currently completing a 300-poem collection to be titled The Zen Master Poems, as well as a book- length epic poem, The Neykhor, based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
He lives with his wife, Lori, near “a quiet Zen lake, its surface sometimes broken by a gray boulder. The lake’s shores are particularly suited for walking meditation.”
Mary Talbot, who edited and curated the special section “Dying and Death," is a contributing editor and former executive editor at Tricycle. She works as a public elementary school administrator and Spanish teacher, freelance journalist, and hospice volunteer. She lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with her son and daughter.
Talbot first connected with Zen Buddhism as a teenager. “I started having anxiety attacks whenever I would envision my own death, which was a lot,” she says. “I couldn’t fathom where my mind would go, how it would cope, and that not knowing made it run away to an awful place. Finding my breath was the only thing that offered any relief or glimmer of a way out.” In 1995, she met Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. She has studied with him and edited his writings ever since.
As a hospice volunteer, Talbot has been privileged to spend time with individuals and their families as they pass through the stages of dying. “Being with people near death and meditating on death both point up the urgency of mind training if we want to face our own deaths well,” says Talbot. “The Thai forest ajahns talk about how the same obstacles we allow to get in the way of our meditation—pain and internal distraction—confuse us at death. Developing concentration is the key to getting prepared.”