The Birth of Zen: Zen & Zen Poets, with Henry Shukman

The Birth of Zen: Zen & Zen Poets in the ‘Glorious Period’ of Chinese Civilization and what they can teach the modern novelist


Henry Skukman, prize-winning poet and novelist, whose work is acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, will be talking about some of the great early Zen Buddhist Poets of China, and the background to their work, in particular the Zen of Tang Dynasty China, generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization, when Zen had its first great flourishing.

These poets were highly influential in the 20th century, inspiring not only the early free-verse experimenters like the Imagists (Pound and Eliot among them) and later the Beats of 1950's America, but also the contemporary ecology movement. Their works continue to be extraordinarily relevant.

The talk will also explore the ineffable, paradoxical world of the Zen masters, and Henry will talk about some of his experiences in Zen training, and how that has affected his own work as a poet and writer.


Henry Shukman

As a poet Henry Shukman has won the Arvon and Jerwood Aldeburgh prizes, and his first collection, In Dr No’s Garden, was a Book of the Year in the Times and Guardian.

His poems have appeared in the New Republic, Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, Guardian, Times, Daily Telegraph and Independent on Sunday.

As a fiction-writer, he has won the Author’s Club First Novel Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award, and was a finalist for the O.Henry Prize. His novel, The Lost City, a Guardian Book of the Year, was described by Beryl Bainbridge as “not just a book of the year but of many years to come.”

Henry is also the author of Mortimer of the Maghreb ( 'A very gifted and haunting new writer and his work is a great pleasure' - Vikram Seth. "Fearless, brilliantly realized, and richly rewarding" Los Angeles Times Book Review), Darien Dogs, and Savage Pilgrims: On the Road to Santa Fe.

Henry has taught many courses in creative writing at the Arvon Foundation, and currently teaches fiction and poetry at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, where he lives with his wife and two sons, and [writes for the New York Times and Guardian. He has been in Zen training for many years, and was recently appointed an Assistant Zen Teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan Zen lineage.


Reviews for The Lost City

"Extraordinary in that every sentence rouses pictures in the mind and every paragraph is faultless in its structure... not just a book of the year, but of many to come" Beryl Bainbridge, Guardian

"An unsettling tour de force, a pungent and ambiguous kind of novel — 321 pages of insidious uncertainty." The New York Times Book Review

Read the First Chapter of Lost City in the New York Times

“A gripping story of adventure, casual treachery and intrigue, and the redemption of an emotionally and morally ruined soul" . . . John Burnside, Guardian

“Shukman has a phenomenally well-developed sense of place . . . But what’s perhaps most impressive here is the way that he seems able to make everything symbolise something larger than itself.” — Independent on Sunday

Daily Mail: "Shukman skillfully blends his genres: political intrigue, drug lords, and South American militia . . . while the poetic prose harks back to Conrad’s original jungle quest, Heart of Darkness.”

Scotland on Sunday: “Exquisite... The Lost City is a big, hearty work that is both gripping and intensely moving . . . Shukman’s breathtaking, lyrical prose propels a pacy plot which, at its most visceral, becomes cinematic in its scope. On the strength of the writing alone, this is a contender for book of the year.”

2018, 2011Martin Keeley