ZENspeak publication intro

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Poetry, Prose

A Brief Word


Whenever someone asks you to have a brief word with them, it usually ends up anything but. I suppose this will be another one of those times. I’m wrapping a prelude, a preface, and an introduction page all into one ball. But I promise to make this as tight as possible.

But first, a warning to some of the potential readers out there. If you think everything is fine in America today, that the media always tells us the truth, that the governing body always looks out for the best interests of all people, that drug addiction hasn’t become an orchestrated pandemic, that there aren’t any starving children here in the United States, that the inner cities are doing fine, suicide rates aren‘t at record highs, and children aren’t being abused; well, this may not be the book you want to snuggle up with on a cold day. I appreciate your purchase and I apologize that it will not be what you had hoped it to be. But hey, use the pages to stoke a cozy fire for that day you do find the right book.


The ZENspeak project has been something swirling around for some time now. This particular vision is not what was originally intended, but it is definitely an evolution. To concisely define the project, I’d sum it up with one word: recovery. A recovery from abuse, addiction, guilt, regret, incarceration, and a lifetime of lies. There are too many people suffering in this unnatural world. Souls paralyzed by a dire state of despondency. Those that believe it doesn’t matter which way they take from that point on.

It’s like going so far down a path that it doesn’t make any sense to reroute. You know you will never be able to make the journey back to that fork in the road to take the better path. It’s sad, but often true. If you have no opportunity –squandered the opportunities you did have, have no one to help you along until you find another opportunity, or have nobody willing to stick their neck out for you because you may screw it up– you may never be able to regain the position you were in before the destruction ensued. Yes, you may never drive again or own a house or have good credit or be in good health or land a job better than washing dishes. But this is all material, the corporeal, and as crazy as it may seem, everyone will be in that state eventually. Some just get there a little quicker than others. But what can’t be taken away from you are your dreams. No matter how far gone you are. What you can always regain, despite your sociological status, is your spirituality. Abstract ideals that can’t be properly defined by a material world: love, trust, courage, dignity, true freedom, benevolence, and a myriad of others I’m sure I’m leaving out. This is the spiritual recovery that this poetry is attempting to illustrate.

I am you, just laying there staring, thinking it makes no difference in the world if you fade out. That you think you’re alone. But this just isn’t true. There are millions of us; so many it is unthinkable. We are legion. But we must be fearlessly honest with ourselves if we hope to make any kind of change.

Our lives are consumed by addictions, economics, institutions, and industrial complexes. We barely have enough room left to breathe our own breath. We’ve traded our dreams for a fry basket and a stupid hat. We were not intended to be what we are. We’re supposed to be saving each other; not selling each other out. Wake up and start dreaming.

So here I am dreaming.

Here I am shouting; trying to wake up others.

But we don’t have much time.

The powerful tides of this material world are crashing in all around us. But we may have just enough time to wake somebody up. You never know.


Before this journey begins, allow me to shed a little light on the convoluted aesthetics of ZENspeak. In most narratives it is more accepted at an academic level to keep a linear style throughout the work. It keeps the flow cohesive. But with this one, I think the confused multitude of varying techniques actually helps illustrate the chaotic minds one passes through in this lifestyle. In a not-so-strict sense, ZENspeak is an epic. In that, it follows a single protagonist through a perilous journey that will yield great glory if the hero can find the strength to overcome the peril. This particular protagonist is about as far from the traditional hero as you’re going to find. A postmodern hero. An anti-hero. But he is the hero of this narrative nonetheless. His antagonist is a mindless machine. A machine whose every purpose is programmed to limit individuality, maximize profits, and to control human behavior through proactive criminal profiling. The hero, or anti-hero, is as most good heroes are, the last person you’d expect to be taking a stand.

But it’s not just wrestling with those two ideas. It’s about everything in between. Those who play their parts in such designs; both knowingly and unaware. ZENspeak is broken into three sections with nine poems per section. Each section has it own emotional theme. The first section, The Ninth Circle, is more political-sociological. The second section, ReDintegration, is how the designs, poetically illustrated in the first section, personally affected the main character. The third section, An American Phoenix Rising, is the spiritual ascent to break free from the chains placed on the main character in the first two sections.

There are many forms that flow throughout this book. The references to Dante, Milton, Rimbaud, Plath, and Eliot are obvious. But that’s just it, they influenced me. As in influenced me to do something new, not just regurgitate what had come before me. Art is an expression from YOU not THEM. To me, movement was the seminal art from which all others branched. So, I shall use dancing as an analogy to express what ZENspeak means to me. It’s like being told to dance. But you can only stand right here, and you can only move your arms. That’s how it feels to write with such a rigid structure. Sometimes it works for what I’m trying to express and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I may just abandon it midway through the poem. To me expression trumps everything. ZENspeak is about getting in touch with that expression. The real you. The person at the core of your being, freed from all the pollutants of this world swimming around in your head. If anything can be taken away from this crazy endeavor let it be: do what you want to do; not what other people want you to do.


Buddhism got me thinking about suffering a lot. When I first got into Zen Buddhism, I would stop after every rain and pick up every worm I walked across that had washed from the ground and been left on the pavement. I would then set these rescued worms back in the dirt. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the misery that would befall the poor things once the sun would come back and fry them right there on the scorching pavement. As you can imagine, this was a time-consuming task, and it eventually drove me to madness. One day I freaked out and decided not to bother myself with the lot of those damn worms. The other day I heard a poem about a son and his father driving down a road that becomes covered with frogs. The father stops the car and starts collecting the frogs individually and setting them off the road. It went a little like this:

“What the hell you doing you crazy bastard? You can’t save all of them!” said the son to the father.

“Yeah… but I can save some of them,” said the father to his son.

Next rainfall, I’m going to start saving those worms again.

It’s about damage control these daze.

That is why I wrote this book.

Art saves

Carl Paul Henneman



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