Reviews, Vol. 2.3, Sept. 2008
Sunnyoutside Press, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-934513-04-0; ISBN-10: 1-934513-04-0
Paperback, 48 pp., $10
Review by Cynthia Reeser
In Chambers: The Bodhisattva of the Public Defender’s Office, by Richard Krech, takes its title from two poems, one literal and the other figurative. “In Chambers” opens the book with
Advocates and adversaries
sitting in a circle
as they have for years.
The black robe at the center
of attention, the center of power
The reader is immediately launched into the world of the judicial system, which is often competitive and always at odds with itself. “Bodhisattva of the Public Defender’s Office” seeks to strike a balance in typically moderate Buddhist fashion, where the “squeezing tongues/ and hungry ghosts” enter the dharma of a world governed by those who ideally hold “a mindful & concentrated intellect.”
Krech informs his experience of the legal system with Buddhist thought. Interestingly, Krech indicates in the press release how it was that this unique book of poems came about. “I had written ‘The Bodhisattva of the Public Defender’s Office’ after hearing a dharma talk at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery regarding right action,” he is quoted as saying. The talk that had so influenced Krech was compounded by the subsequent events of 9/11, and ultimately led to his completion of the works that comprise the volume. In Chambers, in keeping with the ideals of right action, implies those within the legal system as having the potential to act as liberators and keepers of the peace. In “Ghandi Also Spun,” lawyers and poets are “semantic warrior[s] spinning yarn” with intent toward freedom and the public good.
Some of the strongest moments in the book arise from issues of conflict. There are those who take advantage of the elderly, but who nonetheless still must be provided with representation; police implied in a crime rather than their accused; and there are problems of translation inherent in the very act of translating, which ultimately boils down to issues of communication in general. “Laotian Music” itself is melodic:
“It looks like music,”
he said, talking about
my interpreter’s letter
typewritten into Lao
on onion skin paper
ten years ago.
“Have Gun Will Travel” raises similar concerns, where although “The language spoken in court is English,/ the laws and nomenclature/ still the same,” it is often the communication of legal terms to lay persons that poses the problem: “but the interpretation…”
Poems like “Pocket Buddha Passes Thru Metal Detector” provide a humorous balance against the weightier issues and are joyful additions to the volume. In “Pocket Buddha,” the speaker smuggles a Buddha figure “thru the/ walk-thru metal detector” and enters “the Hall of Justice.” Other works, like “Honor” and “A Single Step,” three and four lines long respectively, are mantras that serve to unite the works in the volume into a whole, as they delineate the importance of the choices an individual makes. “Honor” reads,
You live w/ yrself.
Yr actions carry yr being
In Chambers is an unexpected surprise, successfully uniting the legal realm with Buddhist thought, with often poignant results.