Seeking The Cave

October 6, 2014

ows_141107890591901Jim Lenfestey is a poet.

The evidence is sprinkled generously throughout his remarkable new book, “Seeking the Cave,” which is a deeply personal and gorgeously written account of Lenfestey’s decades-long pursuit of his muse, who also happens to be a poet — albeit one who has been dead for 1,200 years, and may never have even lived at all.

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of a muse, which has its roots in Greek mythology. Zeus’s daughters, it is said, inspired artists, poets, musicians and other creatives. The painter Andrew Wyeth had Helga Testorf. Andy Warhol had Edie Sedgwick. Jack Kerouac had Neal Cassady. Lenfestey’s muse is Han-Shan, or Cold Mountain, the aforementioned Chinese poet.

Lenfestey fell in love with Cold Mountain’s work when a bookstore owner whom he had befriended pressed a copy of the poet’s work into his hand and insisted: “Try these.” That was 40 years ago, and Lenfestey has been chasing that poetic muse ever since.

I’ve known Jim for years, and have always found him to be one of the most passionate, genuine and interesting people I’ve ever met. He’s been a teacher, school administrator, marketing communications guy, editorial writer at the Star Tribune and always a champion of the literary arts. In fact, I can’t name anyone who has done more for the literary arts in the Twin Cities than Jim Lenfestey. And with all he’s done to help build and support our vibrant literary scene, his finest contribution may be this lovely book, which is published by the exquisite nonprofit literary press (and Fast Horse neighbor at Open Book), Milkweed Editions.

Lenfestey’s descriptions of the people and places he encounters on his pilgrimage to the cave in China where Cold Mountain lived, are, on their own, lively and perfectly rendered. His lyrical writing transports the reader to places far away and centuries long ago, serving as context for dozens of lovingly crafted, often moving poems, his and other poets’. Make no mistake: “Seeking the Cave” is not book of poems. Think of it instead as a literary nonfiction parfait with swirls of rich poetry. Here’s a taste:

RYOKAN WROTE NO POEMS

Ryokan wrote his poems like Han-shan.
Who says I cannot do the same?
He asks only that the reader understand
that his “poems are not poems.”
After forty years of practice,
I’m beginning to understand.
Now if I can only locate my heart. Is it inside
my head, my chest, my spine, or my pen?

All of the above, my friend! For years you have tirelessly supported writers and the literary arts. “Seeking the Cave” confirms you stand shoulder to shoulder with those you have championed. You inspire, and I can’t thank you enough for so generously sharing your story, talents and that enormous heart.

Hit your local independent bookstore of a copy of Jim Lenfestey’s “Seeking the Cave,” or find it here if that’s not an option.