Thursday, June 2, 2011


... one small stone at a time.

I don't remember exactly how I happened upon this delightful initiative, but I'm glad I did. Am I the last person in the world to find out about it? In case you hadn't, either...

What is a small stone? It's "a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment"--and heaven knows, we could use more of those in our contemporary world. It's the brainchild of the British writer Fiona Robyn--who has been writing them since 2005--and her husband-to-be (June 18th!) the Buddhist priest and fellow blogger Kaspalita. It's all a little complicated. Together, they have a blog called A River of Stones; their other site, Writing Our Way Home is a kind of parent company/website/blog they have created "to help people connect with the world through writing"; and "Pay Attention: A River of Stones" is a book-length collection of small stones by numerous writers which they have put together and published in order, in part, to make their work and intentions better known to the world. This, I assure you, is not by any means an exhaustive list of their efforts, online, in print and, apparently, in live workshop sessions too.

It's all about paying attention, and using the vehicle of language to sharpen the attention and pin down its object. There is no set form: "Pay Attention" includes everything from haiku to longer, mostly free-form poems and prose poems. Many of them have the jewel-like quality of lovingly polished stones, something you can weigh in the palm of your hand, feel its shape and texture, almost taste it in your mouth. Robyn and Kaspa insist on the object-directed gaze. It's not primarily about the author's insights or feelings, it's about the object--though of course the insights and feelings follow from the object. Was it William Carlos Williams said, "No ideas but in things"? He might have written, "No ideas or feelings..."

A few samples, pretty much at random:

another morning

strands of hair
in the washbasin

--- Chong Lee San

Peel rolls with ginger in the marmalade boil

---Jan Friend

The sapling's
papery bark
peels in strips
like the velvet
from a stag's

---Margo Roby

Exalt the one,
unfairly belittle the rest.
Each moment a beach stone,
"Pick me! Pick me!"


Throughout, some of the small stone writers talk about their attraction to the project. Here's a fine example. Dharmavidya David Brazier writes:
Darshan is a Sanskrit word that means 'to see.' In the Dharmic regions, one might go to a teacher for darshan; to be seen by the teacher as much as to see him or her. In this use of the word there is often a sense that what one is seen by is the divine, or the part of the teacher that is enlightened, and that through this act of seeing and being seen the devotee is transformed.
In this high-speed, high-energy, high-tension world, it's wonderful to be reminded of what can happen when we slow down for long enough to really look at what's out there; and to recognize to what extent it mirrors what's going on within. This possibility for moments of pure presence too often goes unnoticed and unrealized. Good for Robyn and Kaspa, for their effort to save the world, one small stone at a time!


kara rane said...

wonderful idea* & ~enjoy the term for this writing style as small stones...true.profound.

Craig said...

massage therapy
my calves like hard brittle stone
elbows, pain in june

mandt said...

small stones
heart rocks
In the mind

Fiona Robyn said...

Thank you for this piece, and thank you for sharing your small stones! Hope to see some of you in the river...

Anonymous said...

First waking breath skips over the infinite pond of timelessness