Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Near Perfect Book of Poems

In a past post, I talked about the fact that most collections of poetry contain about 3 to 5 good poems; anything over that I consider to be a good book of poems, a success if you will. It is so rare that an entire book of poetry, poem by poem, is engaging, with perhaps the exception of a selected poems (and even then ...).

Here's a comment on that thought:

I was quite intrigued with your idea of the poetry book that a particular reader might find nearly perfect from beginning to end. Readers choices would certainly be subjective and very interesting! I've thought of four. They were published in 1609, 1923, 1928 and 1962.



I, too, was intrigued and was also curious as to what were Jeffrey's 4 choices; for that matter, I, too, am curious if anyone else has any thoughts about what they consider to be a perfect or near perfect book of poems. So, my reply:

I think you have a great idea about asking for readers' choices of poetry books that are consistently good throughout. Maybe I'll see if folks would be interested in sharing which books they feel are nearly perfect in a future post.

Since you obviously have 4 in mind, would you like to begin by sharing which ones they are?


Here are Jeffrey's 4 volumes of near perfect poems:

1. The Sonnets (William Shakespeare/1609)

2. Harmonium (Wallace Stevens/1923)

3. The Tower (W.B. Yeats/1928)

4. Silence In The Snowy Fields (Robert Bly/1962)

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Is there one (or more) book(s) of poems you think is near perfect, including selected poems? Small press, big press, classic, contemporary, and everything in between, it doesn't matter - it just needs to fit the bill.

Honestly, I'm not sure if there are any that I can think of myself offhand that fit the definition, so obviously I need to go back and think this through a bit more thoroughly. I can think of a lot of my favorite books of poetry but I'm not sure they would make the cut. If you are so inclined, send responses (including if you think there is no such thing) via the comment link and I'll post them as I get them.

To add some incentive to all this expended brain power, for the next week anyone responding to this question will receive a 6 issue gift subscription to Lilliput Review. If you are already a subscriber, I'll extend your current subscription by 6 issues.

Deadline: May 6th.

Till tomorrow,


PS If you are completely stumped, how about sending along the name of your favorite (if imperfect) book of poems? If you do before the deadline, the subscription offer applies. Please do however let me know if it's just a fav or if it really is near perfect. I'll continue to encourage people to send in their thoughts after the deadline; just no gift subscriptions after the 6th.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cherry Blossoms by Issa

Issa Self-Portrait

This morning's Issa poem from David Lanoue's Issa Archive hits the perfect seasonal note as the cherry blossoms here in Western Pennsylvania begin to wane:

cherry blossoms--
under every tree
a Buddha on display

Ah, yes, a reminder of everything at once, all in three short lines. I subscribe to a service from David's site that delivers a Issa poem every morning. It can be a very pleasant way to begin the day.

I've got an extra post planned this week to supplement the regular Thursday morning post, which already has quite a bit of interesting news queued to go. The extra post will be about near perfect volume's of poems, in response to Jeffrey's comments on the last two posts here at the Hut. More about that soon.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Comic Interlude (plus Issa)

Some things, of course, are just too good not to share. Above was Friday's clever Pearls Before Swine newspaper strip. For more clarity, since it is small, just click on the image.

Which brought to mind another daily comics crossover from a few years back:

The Family Circus crew, particularly Jeffy, has made a number of appearances in Zippy, but this one of Zippy in Family Circus takes the cake.

Now, you say, back to the poetry? Well, we never left ...


A PS from the Issa archive, to perfectly capture the season and the vision of cherry blossoms this week (everywhere) ... and in case everywhere doesn't include you, check out the photos at f/k/a of cherry blossoms and other flowering trees. And grab a couple of haiku to go while you're there.

a corrupt world
in its later days...
but cherry blossoms!

- translated by David G. Lanoue

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kooser's Valentines, Franz Wright, and Charles Simic

Had email from a local friend recommending some recent work by some of my current favorite poets. There is a new poem in the current New Yorker by the always interesting, deeply resonant Franz Wright, entitled The World of the Senses. The current Virginia Quarterly Review has 4 poems by Charles Simic featured, as well as an archive of things they have published by him, 3 of which grabbed me: An Address With Exclamation Points, Meditation in the Gutter, and House of Cards. All of them are well worth a look.

Someone I haven't connected with yet, until this month, is Ted Kooser. I'm not sure why; perhaps I had typecast him as a typical Midwestern poet, someone whose subjects and sensibilities are not things that often show up on my radar. In some recent reviews, I read about his latest collection, Valentines, and was intrigued. So when a copy came in for our "International Poetry Collection" at the library, I grabbed it. As he explains in his author's note, Kooser tells how he began sending out annual Valentine poems in 1986 to at first a select group of 50 women, the poems being printed on standard postcards. 21 years later, his list had burgeoned to 2600 and, he implies, all the printing and postage was getting to be a bit much. So the last card went out in 2007 and this book collects all the poems together, with one last one written especially for his wife.

The work in Valentines at once celebrates and transcends the genre of occasional verse. The poems are, of course, all relatively short since they were originally published on postcards and I have the feeling that different poems here will appeal to different people. I thought these two were quite good:

For You, Friend

this Valentine's Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel
in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smiles. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:
how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.

A Map Of The World

One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pointing in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.

Needless to say, my sensibilities have been duly corrected and expanded. This delightful volume from the University of Nebraska Press is marvelously illustrated by Robert Hanna. If you are a Kooser fan, it is a must. If not, check it out and you might soon be.

Once again congratulations, go out to Jay Leeming; this morning The Writer's Almanac featured a wonderful reading of one of Jay's poems, Man Writes Poem. As noted previously, Jay has had 3 poems published in past issues of Lilliput Review.

Seems there is lot of poetry info this week, so here's one last note. Well worth reading is Robert Pinsky's column in Slate entitled Why Don't Modern Poems Rhyme Etc., in which he tersely answers typical questions about poetry with poems by William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Edgar Guest, Allen Ginsberg and more: no clunky exegesis for Robert! This will definitely strike a chord with (and perhaps provide a few ideas for) anyone who has taught a poetry appreciation class.

On to our tour of back issues of Lilliput. I've been struggling all morning with Blogger to get this post done and, at the moment, I can't seem to upload images so I'll eschew posting the cover right now (ah, finally got it: covers may be seen below) and go right to the featured issue, #95. #96 is a broadside by Albert Huffstickler entitled Pre-Dawn Cycle and, as such, not excerpt-able, hence the need to skip back to #95. This issue was originally published in April 1998, ten years ago this month. Here's a little taste of what was happening then:

from Poems to Eat and Say (from Octavio Paz)

Glowing butterflies:
one dreaming, one awake; all
of us tossed by wind.

Leonard Cirino

when the treetop sways
a thousand butterflies
stampede in me

William Hart


This moth fluttering against
the window screen. I could go on
killing 'til the end of time
and never be satisfied.

Greg Watson

And this final note from the incomparable Albert Huffstickler:

from Interim Notes

Those beautiful moments
I've sculpted from the past,
chiseling away the rubble
of conflict and sorrow.

best till next Thursday,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mingus ...

Just a quick note until Thursday's posting: today is the birthday of one of the single most innovative composers of jazz music (and my personal favorite), Charles Mingus.

In celebration, I've posted an entry to the Eleventh Stack blog at my day job. So here's a cross-posting of sorts, for those who enjoy music with (and in) their poetry.

Till Thursday,

Friday, April 18, 2008

Derek Walcott & Robert Lowell

A quick Friday lunchtime post - ran across two poems today in separate sources that came together nicely. The first is Robert Lowell's The Public Garden, a meticulous poem, with finely detailed descriptions. Right smack in the middle, the following leapt out:

"And now the moon, earth's friend, that cared so much
For us, and cared so little, comes again -
Always a stranger!"

Now I generally hate personification in a poem, anthropromophizing in a Disneyesque way, so as I hit the end of the first line (fyi - it's in the middle of the poem), I was unimpressed to the point of putting the book aside and, then, boom, line two somehow straightens it all out and here is a little Eastern-like gem of wisdom that makes me thing of Basho.

How's that for a turnaround?

Here's an audio clip of Lowell reading The Public Garden and here's the text of the poem.

And then, via a blog feed, I ran into Derek Walcott's In Italy, published in the recent New Yorker, that, if anything, is even more precise than Lowell's fine delineation of autumn in a city park. Although there is no Eastern feel, the imagery and beauty share a kinship with Lowell's fine poem. Also, I was reminded of James Wright's beautiful poems of his experience of Italy.

Just one of those synchronistic seques of the mind (in time) that was too good not to share.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jean Cocteau, Harlan Ellison, & Cid Corman

This past weekend , I fell in love with Jean Cocteau.

I've always been infatuated with him, frankly. His film Orpheus (1949) is one of my all-time favorites; Beauty and the Beast, too, is a wondrous achievement.
I had the opportunity to go back and take a look see at the other two films in the Orphic Trilogy (The Blood of a Poet (1930) and The Testament of Orpheus (1959)) and they are truly amazing and should be of great interest to poets as well as film buffs. The dvd versions I took out of the library had some first-class extras; in the case of The Blood of a Poet, the biographical documentary Autobiography of an Unknown, directed by Edgardo Cozarinsky, accompanying the main feature was every bit as entertaining, putting Cocteau's life and career in perspective with heavy doses of the lyric surrealism that infuses all his work. I actually enjoyed it more, it has a polished feel as a documentary that somehow Blood does not have as a film. In many ways, The Blood of a Poet is an early rehearsal for Orpheus; I would actually recommend watching the later first, though it comes "second" in the trilogy. This is not to detract from Blood: it is excellent.

Similarly, The Testament of Orpheus is something of an anomaly as a film. It might stand alone without Orpheus yet it is greatly enhanced by it. It is Cocteau's farewell to film and he gathers together his previous motifs, characters and even actors who played various roles to make his final artistic statement in the medium. There is much humor here; Cocteau himself becomes the main character in the film, a sort of time traveling Orpheus, stuck in modern times. It is nearly as good as Orpheus and a beautiful chronicle of the poet's journey. Another interesting extra is Villa Santo Sospir, which is a 16mm color film shot by Cocteau at the summer home of a friend. It has the feel of a combination home movie and travelogue and focuses almost entirely on the house, which Cocteau painted inside and out with his unique artistic creations,
making it a work of art in and of itself. It must be seen to be believed. Here's a brief glimpse to get the flavor:

Sticking with the theme of the artist, a clip of the always provocative, incredibly original Harlan Ellison is making the rounds about the need for a writer to be paid for her/his work. Check it out:

There is, of course, no small irony that the circ
ulation of this clip, an excerpt of the film Dreams With Sharp Teeth, is, perhaps, violating the very principle he so passionately (& profanely, bless him) espouses. So, that being said, the above is being passed along in the interest of the greater good, if there be such a thing.

And, yes, Lilliput being the micropress mag that it is, can only pay in the bane of the poet's existence, contributor copies. Sigh. The layers are thick.

Let the beatings begin.

Before getting to the Lilliput samples, one final bit of news. Longhouse Publishers of Vermont has issued a number of Cid Corman related items, including a new selected poems, The Next One Thousand Years, which I can't wait to see. Bob Arnold of Longhouse has sent along two of his delightful slip card productions of works by Cid: a Rumi translation ("What can I do - friends?) and a work entitled New Proverbs. Here are two from the master, resonating as his work always does:

Any moment
yields as much.

Don't ask more of yourself
than the mirror does.

Cover by Wayne Hogan

Continuing with the theme of the artist's plight and segueing from Wayne Hogan's beautiful cover above, here is the man himself, this time wielding the written word to speak, as always, directly to the point. From #97:

How To Be An Artist

Save all your
string. Save all your
empty paper cups.
Save all your missing socks.
Save all your wasted
words. Save all your Indianhead
nickels. Yes, especially
your Indianhead nickels.

Wayne Hogan

Regarding This Poem

The idea was to put
together as one compelling
composite all those parts you
said you particularly liked from
poems of mine you rejected over
the years but on second thought
would the conglomeration work as a
whole and besides you have a ten
line limit but don't think
that I haven't noticed
the exceptions.

Kenneth Leonhardt

Returning home

after long work
two corbies
and a dove
cut a pale sky.

A second dove
nowhere in sight,
the world is still
too dark. We must

begin again.

Jim Tolan


cigar box
(shaken like a rattle):
shoehorn, stubby pencil,

James Magorian

Till next Thursday,


PS Don't miss Alicia Ostriker's devastating poetic observation of the American psyche, Fix, on today's The Writer's Almanac.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

William the Silent

Had enough with National Poetry Month, already? For a different type of resonant, lyrical, soul-glimpsing writing, try this post on Ideolect from William the Silent.

Oh, do prose poems count?

Till Thursday,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Good News: Jay Leeming

This morning, congratulations go out to Jay Leeming, whose poem, "The Light Above Cities," was read this morning by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. Jay's work has been featured twice previously on The Writer's Almanac : on April 10th and April 24th, 2006.

Seems there is just something about April besides National Poetry Month, eh, Jay?

Jay has also appeared a number of times in Lilliput, most recently with two haikus about his father in #149. His most current book Dynamite on a China Plate is published by The Backwaters Press.

Back again on Thursday,

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sad News: Rochelle Ratner

Unfortunately, I've learned from the blog One Poet's Notes of the death of Rochelle Ratner. Ms. Ratner was known throughout the poetry world, small press and large. Many of her poems may be found at her homepage. In addition, she was a prolific critic, one I often counted on for insightful reviews in trade publications such as Library Journal when working my day job. She contributed a poem to Lilliput Review, #128.

That poem, which follows, chronicles a visit to Vad Vashem in Jerusalem. There is a great sadness, a powerful emotion conveyed in this short little poem of an American poet in Jerusalem, visiting a remembrance museum of her people. The poem speaks for itself and her discerning talent.

On Walking Away From Yad Vashem

In the eyes of those I'm with
this land can't be home to me:

I don't plant trees,
I don't lay stones down.
I have not come to visit the dead.

We, too, now share her sadness, but today it is for a very different reason.

Rochelle Ratner, Dec. 2, 1948 - March 31, 2008

- Don

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lilliput Review in Your Pocket Day

Art by the incomparable Wayne Hogan

Poets. org, from the Academy of American Poets, has some interesting ideas, actually 30 of them, for celebrating National Poetry month. Two are of particular interest, I think. The first is something that Lillie has been promoting, by its very nature, since its inception: Poem in Your Pocket Day. And so AAP is advocating for April 17th to be Poem in Your Pocket Day and, if your at a loss of which poem to choose (there is a nice selection at the Poem in Your Pocket page that you can actually print out to fit in your pocket), why not choose an issue of Lilliput Review, which fits neatly in the pocket and, on average, has around 25 to 30 poems per issue.

Shameless self-promotion or national celebration? You decide.

It's always a pleasure to pass along new information concerning the work of Albert Huffstickler and there are two bits. First, at her librarian blog Speed of Light, Keddy Ann Outlaw has published a lovely collage entitled Retablo of Huff, along with the beautiful Huff poem entitled "Nostrum." This Huff post is a beauty, folded in as it is into an ongoing library project dealing with things Web 2.0.

In addition, on the Lillie homepage there are two new mp3 related Huff items. One is to a link at to Huff reading "Intimacy", the other of Huff reading a poem entitled "Education". Hope you enjoy them.

There are two fine short poems worth a peak in the April 14th issue of the New Yorker : Michael Longley's powerfully ambivalent "In the New York Public Library" and Emily Moore's raucous "Auld Lang Syne." Great work if you can get it ... where to send can be found here.

This week's Lilliput poems come from issue #98, July 1998, pictured above. Let's start out with one of M. Kettner's always fresh and startling highkus:


toenails with yellow polish
only buoy on the lake.

M. Kettner

What is Silence that I Fear It

When sound darkens into silence
I am drawn inward,
until trapped
as if between two mirrors.
Bruce Miller

is the haunting
voice of father,

what he didn't say,
how I keep hearing it.
Louis McKee

And this little nugget of wisdom, which perhaps might just as soon have seen its subjects switch places; though that most certainly would have been a different poem, different, too, is good:

Apologies to Mr. Shelton

Meditation will get you through
times of no bebop
better than bebop
will get you through
times of no meditation

W. T. Ranney

Until next week,

Thursday, April 3, 2008

National Poetry Month and the Nature of Argument

As part of the celebration known as National Poetry Month, I think it's time to let the poems speak for themselves. So here are a few of my favorite poets, in no particular order. Reading a poem or two by each of them should help combat the persistent rumor that poetry is dead. Or will it? Of course, not many people know who Bruce Wexler is, but if Martin Amis says it's dead, who can argue? Or, really, who would want to?

William Wordsworth

Louise Glück


Mary Oliver

Gerald Stern

Amy Lowell

Allen Ginsberg

Audre Lorde

e.e. cummings

Langston Hughes

Sharon Olds

Yehuda Amichai

Emily Dickinson

Walt Whitman


James Wright

Charles Baudelaire - in sidebar

Li Po

Anne Sexton

D. H. Lawrence

Franz Wright

Cover by Bob Zark

Since starting a Lilliput blog back in July 2007, samples of most issues from #100 through #150 have been posted, with the exception of some broadside issues it would be a disservice to excerpt. Beginning with this posting, we're going to step into the way back machine and begin posting poems from #99 (October 1998) down. Here's a couple of tiny gems from #99:

I'm getting old now
I think I'll marry
the rain
and settle down
Albert Huffstickler

the flowering morning
broken away.
John J. McDonald

An Imitation of Hsü Kan (171-218 A.D.)
Since you, sir, went away,
my tiny trellis shakes with grief.
Red Chinese poppies you planted last fall
grow like tears --- immeasurable.
Linda Joan Zeiser

Before the ride ends she wants to go again
Patrick Sweeney

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the one line poem? Till next week,