Tag Archives: Spring 2020

Reflections on The Book of Tea
by Okakura Kakuzo, 1906

by James P. Lenfestey

While removing books from shelves to repaint our family living room a few weeks ago, I rediscovered what was my mother’s copy of a 1956 edition of The Book of Tea. Mother was a skilled gardener and flower arranger; I saved the book from her collection for its beautiful design and feel, but had never read it. I decided I would mail it to a new friend to give to his friend, a traveling tea master—but first I sat down to glance at its contents. I slid the book from its sleeve wrapped with Japanese paper, a light moss green. My fingertips glanced along the woven silk binding to the wrapped Japanese paperboard covers, the creamy endpapers, the almost stiff pages, the inkbrush illustrations. All these drew me slowly into Kakuzo’s succinct descriptions of a two-tradition/two-continent history of philosophy, poetry, art, botany, religion, architecture, tea ceremony practice and flower arranging art, which ended only with the satisfying sadness of completion after several mornings alone with his thoughts.

The book’s stillness and understanding, useful in 1906 and after two World Wars, seem to me helpful now in coping with the unfolding dimensions of our Age of Climate Crisis and now of COVID-19. The quotations below were especially arresting to me, texts I have set beneath each chapter heading centered in boldface, as in the original. Enjoy—best perhaps with seven cups of tea.


Teaism is a cult founded upon the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.

. . . when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs of our quenchless search for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup. Mankind has done worse.

Why not consecrate us to the queen of the Camelias, and revel in the warm steam of sympathy that flows from her altar? In the liquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotze, the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself.

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others.

Let us stop the continents from hurling epigrams at each other, and be sadder if not wiser by the mutual gain of half a hemisphere. We have developed along different lines, but there is no reason why one should not supplement the other.

The East and West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of life . . . Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.


Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities.

With Luwuh in the middle of the eighth century we have the first apostle of tea. He was born in an age when Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism were seeking mutual synthesis. The pantheistic symbolism of the time was urging one to mirror the Universal in the Particular. Luwuh, a poet, saw in the tea service the same harmony and order which reigned through all things.

Lotung, a T’ang poet, wrote of the 7 cups . . . The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness; the third searches my barren entrails but finds therein five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration – all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realm of the immortals. The seventh cup—ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves.

Among the Buddhists, the southern Zen sect, which incorporated so much of Taoist doctrines, formulated an elaborate ritual of tea. . . . It was this Zen ritual which finally developed into the Tea-ceremony of Japan in the 15th century.

The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink from the common spring of art appreciation.


Teaism was Taoism in disguise.

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observed, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade — all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of color or design. But after all, what great doctrine is there which is easy to expound? The ancient sages . . . spoke in paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering half-truths. They began by talking like fools, and ended by making the hearer wise.

The Tao is in the passage rather than the Path. It is the spirit of cosmic change. . . . It recoils upon itself like the dragon, the beloved symbol of the Taoists. It folds and unfolds as do the clouds.

Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as “the art of being in the world,” for It deals with the present . . . The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

Taoism accepts the mundane as it is and, unlike the Confucians and the Buddhists, tries to find beauty in our world of worry and woe.

In art the importance of the same [Taoist] principle is illustrated by the value of suggestion. In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up to the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.

One Zen master defined Zen as the art of feeling the polar star in the southern sky.

To the transcendental insight of the Zen, words were but an incumbrance to thought . . . . the whole idea of Teaism is the result of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life. Taoism furnished the basis of aesthetic ideals, Zennism made them practical.


The Abode of Fancy. The Abode of Vacancy. The Abode of the Unsymmetrical.

The simplicity and purity of the tea-room resulted from emulation of the Zen monastery. . . .

. . . the roji, the garden path that leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of illumination – the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and to produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself.

What Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural too.

Zennism, with the Buddhist theory of evanescence and its demands of the mastery of spirit over matter, recognized the house only as a temporary refuge for the body. The body itself was but a hut in the wilderness, a flimsy shelter made by tying together the grasses that grew around – when these ceased to be bound together they again became resolved into the original waste.

Art, to be fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life. It is not that we should ignore the claims of posterity, but that we should try to assimilate them into our consciousness.

In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence.

The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity make it truly a sanctuary against the vexations of the outer world.

The Red Parrot by Ito Jakuchu


Our mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their colours; the pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the light of joy, the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves, as we are of the masterpiece.

The masters are immortal because their love and fears live in us over and over. It is rather the soul, than the hand, the man than the technique, which appeals to us, – the more human the call the deeper our response.

Nothing is more hallowing that the union of kindred spirits in art. At the moment of meeting the art lover transcends himself. At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity but words cannot voice his delight, for his eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art is akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred.

It is much to be regretted that so much of the apparent enthusiasm of art in the present day has no foundation in real feeling.

We are destroying art in destroying the beautiful in life. Would that some great wizard might from the stem of society shape a mighty harp whose strings would resound to the touch of genius.


In joy or in sadness, flowers are our constant friends. . . . We have even attempted to speak in the language of flowers . . . It frightens one to conceive of a world bereft of their presence.

When we are laid low in the dust it is they who linger in sorrow over our graves.

. . . the supreme idol, ourselves! Our god is great, and money is his Prophet! We devastate nature in order to make sacrifice to him. We boast that we have conquered Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us. What atrocities do we not perpetrate in the name of culture and refinement!

Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars standing in the garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dew and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that awaits you?

Why were the flowers born so beautiful yet so hapless? . . . The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer.

The ideal lover of flowers is he who visits them in their native haunts, like Taoyuen-ming who sat before a broken bamboo fence in converse with the wild Chrysanthemum.

Change is the only Eternal – why not as welcome Death as Life?

The tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the flowers, and leaves them to tell their own story.


In religion the Future is behind us. In art the Present is eternal.

He only who has lived with beauty can die beautifully.

THE BOOK OF TEA, by Okakura Kakuzo, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont–Tokyo, Japan, ©1956. Originally published in 1906. Illustrations at head of each chapter taken from ink drawings of Sesshu (1420-1506), the greatest of Japanese painters in the same Zen tradition that inspired the tea ceremony. Typography and book design by Kaoru Ogimi. Printed in Japan.

Click here to purchase this book
at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2020 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020


Michael Blumlein
Tor ($15.99)

by Ryder W. Miller

Longer, by the late San Francisco Bay Area writer Michael Blumlein, offers a fantastic journey to both the stars and to places in the heart. An award-winning writer, Blumlein also worked in the medical field, and though there is medical terminology and some SF jargon in Longer, this last work is filled with the wonder many have come to expect from classic science fiction.

Cav and his wife Gunjita work for a large pharmaceutical company and are on assignment in space. They both have “juved,” which gives them the opportunity to grow young again—back to their twenties—but there is a limit to how many times they are allowed to do this. Meanwhile, something very old and alien has been discovered, an extraterrestrial object that just might tell us something about our place in the universe.

The book is a fun read for those who like stories set in space; it is also replete with social themes. Cav and Gunjita’s interracial marriage provides Blumlein an opportunity to explore many subjects, but Longer is not a diatribe about race or class or injustice. Instead it is about love, science, and wonder, which in fact may be a welcome change for some readers. Not being able to journey to the stars is one of the biggest disappointments of modern times, though it is overshadowed by humanity’s continuing propensity for war and misdistribution of wealth and resources—which has kept some contemporary science fiction writers more earthbound than in days past.

Despite its big and classic themes, Longer is relevant and at times even lyrical, as when Blumlein writes, “He stood in the cupola, gazing at the Milky Way, observing in himself the balance between what he saw and what he felt, between the sensation of cold and his perception of the sensation, and in the latter the balance between awe and terror, which shifted as all things shifted, and which he had experienced his whole life when gazing at the stars and the infinity of space.” Sadly there will be no more from this award-winning writer, but there is a lot he has left that will take us to the future.

Click here to purchase this book
at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2020 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020

Spring 2020


Money is a Country: An Interview with Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel discusses her new novel, The Glass Hotel, which is partly based on the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Interviewed by Allan Vorda.

All and Always Balance
Kyle Harvey and Jeff Alessandrelli in Conversation

Two poets discuss their work, their community, integrity of self, and the challenges of being a creator in this world.


Ongoing Arguments with Sarah Manguso
by Scott F. Parker
The river of narrative time isn’t the water but the movement: Sarah Manguso delves into the value of the diary in the final installment of Stories of Self.

Twilight of the Selves: A Walk with David Shields
by Scott F. Parker
Take a walk with the polyvocal David Shields in this, the second in a three-part author conversation series called Stories of Self.

Skepticism and Charitability: A Coffee with Dessa
by Scott F. Parker
We are pleased to present a three-part author conversation series, Stories of Self. Today’s subject is "the Bertrand Russell of hip-hop" herself, Dessa.


The Riches of Kazakh Literature, Part Two: Poetry
by Timothy Walsh
Kazakh poetry is not something new on the world stage; even though it has not gotten the recognition it deserves in the West, it is a poetry with deep roots that predates the founding of the United States by a millennium or so.

The Riches of Kazakh Literature, Part One: Fiction
by Timothy Walsh
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a few Kazakh writers were “discovered” by the West—but this only scratched the surface of the deep literary ore running through this storied crossroads of the world.

Reflections on The Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo, 1906
by James P. Lenfestey
As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, James P. Lenfestey finds wisdom in a 1906 work dedicated to tea.


About Repulsion
Annelyse Gelman and Jason Grier
About Repulsion, an EP by Annelyse Gelman and Jason Grier, is a diaphanous six-track exploration of power dynamics, the intersection of the quotidian and the profound, and the way in which technology creates a fragmented existence with edges of clarity and isolation. Reviewed by Ellen Boyette


In Her Feminine Sign
Dunya Mikhail
Written both in Arabic and English, Dunya Mikhail’s In Her Feminine Sign creates a dialogue between East and West and a reflection of the Iraqi poet's exile. Reviewed by Julia Stein

Frayed Light
Yonatan Berg
Berg’s poems presents a personal story beyond and behind the news: the experiences of a young man who grew up in a West Bank settlement and served as a combat soldier before becoming a poet and bibliotherapist. Reviewed by Gwen Ackerman

Utopia Pipe Dream Memory
Anna Gurton-Wachter
Gurton-Wachter’s debut collection, Utopia Pipe Dream Memory, is a feminist affirmation of the multivocality of writing, the force of artistic communities, and the visionary as aesthetic principle. Reviewed by Isabel Sobral Campos

Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman
Bob Kaufman
Edited by Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, and Tate Swindell
Kaufman’s work is lush, romantic, and surreal, informed by jazz and by love and by the gritty milieu of a post-World War II San Francisco. Reviewed by Christopher Luna

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra: Selected Poems and Translations
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
One of the most celebrated Indian poets gets a coveted NYRB volume which includes not only his own poetry, but essential translations of ancient Indian verse. Reviewed by Graziano Krätli


Maria Popova
Astonishing in heft (almost 600 pages), in scope (lives, works, and milieu of selected European and American scientists, artists, and public intellectuals), and in articulation (attending as much to language and imaginative association as biographical fact), Maria Popova's Figuring is an ode to the quality of astonishment itself. Reviewed by Cindra Halm

Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions
David Stephen Calonne
This academic study highlights the poetic work of an important literary figure, one who found her own voice and path and serves as an admirable model for all artists. Reviewed by Patrick James Dunagan

The Beautiful Ones
Culled from the late musician’s vast archive, The Beautiful Ones is a testament to Prince’s talent and vulnerability. Reviewed by Tatiana Ryckman

Love, Icebox: Letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham
Edited by Laura Kuhn
A handsomely produced book, Love, Icebox consists of unashamedly personal letters that Cage posted to his future life partner, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, in the early 1940s. Reviewed by Richard Kostelanetz

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry
Selected with an Introduction by Paul Kingsnorth
Wendell Berry
Culled from more than a dozen books, The World-Ending Fire has been thoughtfully assembled by Paul Kingsnorth, and serves as an excellent introduction to Berry’s thought. Reviewed by Robert Zaller


His Father’s Disease: Stories
Aruni Kashyap
The ten stories in Aruni Kashyap’s His Father’s Disease discuss the struggles of finding community and acceptance, whether as a result of sexuality, relocation, or cultural misunderstandings. Reviewed by Michael MacBride

Kristen Millares Young
In this debut novel, Kristen Millares Young explores the layers of community encountered by her cipher of a protagonist, who views the society of Neah Bay with the eye of a detached anthropologist. Reviewed by Douglas Cole

Michael Blumlein
Longer, by the late San Francisco Bay Area writer Michael Blumlein, offers a fantastic journey to both the stars and to places in the heart. Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2020 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020