Friday, October 31, 2008

Lyrics for a Friday Afternoon

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

Courtesy once again of Ed Markowski, here's a little something to perk up a draggy Friday afternoon.

Thanks, Ed. Always great to go back to the source.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Basho: The Complete Haiku

The unofficial two month Basho push came to end this week when I finished Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated with intro, bio and notes by Jane Reichhold. All this began some time back when I was contacted by Tomoe Sumi of Kodansha America in response to postings I'd been doing about various editions of Basho I'd been reading (in preparation for a future Modest Proposal Chapbook). At the time, she offered me a reading copy of Basho: The Complete Haiku. Because I already had it, I declined but Tomoe suggested she could send a copy along in any case and I could give it away to a reader.

And the Basho Haiku Challenge was born. The to-be-published anthology from challenge submissions would never have happened without her generosity and I want to thank her again.

I'm happy to say that Basho: The Complete Haiku is everything one would anticipate and more. For the dedicated reader and fan of Basho, it's all here: 1011 haiku, the complete output of a relatively taciturn haiku master (in comparison, Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku), all with accompanying notes, from a few words to paragraph length explications. The presentation method is chronological, as it should be, and divided up into 7 phases (as opposed to the standard 5 phases: see Makoto Ueda's Matsuo Basho) and each section is preceded by biographical info important to the given period. I found this method extremely helpful. To have presented the entire biography in the forward matter would have removed an immediacy that deepens understanding and necessitated much flipping back and forth. The appendices and back matter are a real bonus, including sections on haiku techniques, a chronology of Basho's life, a glossary of literary terms and a selected, succinct bibliography. For biographical detail, Reichhold seems to lean heavily on Makoto Ueda's seminal biography (which I'm reading now - ok, so the push isn't entirely over) but that's to be expected.

Down to the crux, however: the poems themselves. These translations veer away from the often disasterous academic all-inclusive approach. The translations are unique, lyrical, and eminently readable without dumbing down for the English reader. In general, there is a stripped down, less is more approach, somewhat reminiscent of the translation work of Lucien Styrk and Robert Hass. One thing this collection solidified for me, the non-academic reader as opposed to Japanese literary scholar, is how much I don't know and never really will about the original intent of what I feel to be a majority of these poems (and by extension, any translations from any of the haiku masters, including beloved Issa). The notes of both this Reichhold edition and of the Landis Barnhill edition I reviewed previously are what really brought this important point home and made me think long and hard about myself as reader.

The conclusion I've drawn from all this "thunking" is simply that the poems that connect, the ones that get through to a novice like myself, are those that have a universal appeal that transcends translation, technique, and cultural idiosyncrasies. I'm talking the spirit of haiku here and perhaps the universal impetus to write haiku in the first place. A speaking to the human condition, who we are, and what we do (oh, Gauguin, bless you for your question mark). But wait, aren't haiku supposed to be objective not subjective, speaking to nature and leaving out the personal? Well, yes, this transcendent spirit I'm speaking of includes that and more. This concentration on nature is the where of the who and what we do: our place in the world, who we are being defined by what we are.

Ah, but enough of my personal revelation. On to the poems or, to paraphrase the incandescently beautiful Joe Strummer, how about some music now, eh?

Of the 1000 plus haiku, I marked 45 or so that grabbed me, held me down, and said, ok, what (or, more precisely, how) do you think now? Previously, I'd selected 35 for further review from the 700 plus Barnhill Landis edition, so the proportion is consistent, realizing that he was being selective (i.e. picking the best). The Reichhold edition confirms for me that the later work was the finest, Basho getting better and better with time. Here are a few of those 45. When possible, I've tried to select haiku not highlighted in previous postings from other editions in order to give a fuller portrait of the poet.


autumn night
dashed into bits
in conversation

pine and cedar
to admire the wind
smell the sound

pine wind
needles falling on the water's
cool sound

already bent
the bamboo waits for snow
what a sight

glistening dew
not spilling from bush clover
still it sways

a morning glory
this also is not
my friend

a traveler's heart
it also should look like
chinquapin flowers

leave aside
literary talents
tree peony

year after year
the cherry tree nourished by
fallen blossoms

path of the sun
the hollyhock leans into
early summer rain


A couple of other things of note this week, via the always informative, encyclopedic Ron Silliman blog: first, Bill Knott's take on a lesser known Wordsworth sonnet (a distinctly un-haiku like experience, actually very different for Wordsworth, who sometimes has a very Eastern flavor and remains my favorite of Romantic poets) and, second, the fact that a huge chunk of the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry is available via google books (don't tell anybody, pass it on). If you wish your wherewithal tested or your game raised to another level (without the pain of academia), I highly recommend Bill Knott's not poetry blog. Bill also offers almost all of his poetry for free pdf download, an amazingly generous and prescient idea.

Cover by Peter Magliocco

Today's Lilliput issue from the back archives is #69 from June, 1995. The further back we go in time, the, er, odder the experience for me. Perhaps more on this later. For now, enjoy.


After rum and cola

While walking inconspicuously
through this shabby cliché,
I am brushed back
by a long
that splashed mud
onto my haptic shoes
and chases me back to Technicolor.
Thomas Brand


Now, at break of day,
A cliché coldly peers out
From behind mountains.
Travis Gray


Midnight Footnote to Lovemaking

The snail's path across
our bedroom windowpane wakes
us with its shrieking.
Michael Newell



Sleep happens outside
this window where
white groping fingers
of a dream grasp
and are as still as
frozen beaks of birds
pinned to earth,
tugging at words
beneath the worms
Alan Catlin


in the mortar
of the city's
flute & whips
sing their song
Norman Schiffman


Crucifixion Revision

Father, forgive them
even though they know exactly
what they damn well do.
David Denny


¶no matter how many prayer flags
-they go out and hang upon the face of it
-it still be the beast.


¶a friend hands me a book
-more shit to carry when we go into exile.


Finally, contributor copies of the new issues, #'s 165 and 166, went out the beginning of this week. Subscriber copies will begin to go out in two weeks and will take about 6 weeks all in all to get to everyone. There is a new Modest Proposal Chapbook to talk about also, so, no fear, I have yet to run out of things to blab about.

till next time,

Monday, October 27, 2008

Review: Corso: The Last Beat

As a follow to yesterday's posting about the new Corso: The Last Beat documentary by
Gustave Reininger, here is a link to a solid review by Ron Silliman of an early cut of the film:

And a classic piece from the man himself:

The Mad Yak

I am watching them churn the last milk they'll ever get from me.
They are waiting for me to die;
They want to make buttons out of my bones.
Where are my sisters and brothers?
That tall monk there, loading my uncle, he has a new cap.
And that idiot student of his--
I never saw that muffler before.
Poor uncle, he lets them load him.
How sad he is, how tired!
I wonder what they'll do with his bones?
And that beautiful tail!
How many shoelaces will they make of that!

Gregory Corso


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trailer: Corso - The Last Beat

For Beat fans, the latest news is a film about Gregory Corso, entitled "Corso - The Last Beat." If you thought you knew everything there was to know about the enigmatic, mercurial, conflicted Corso, think again. Here's the trailer:

"Corso - The Last Beat" Preview from Damien LeVeck on Vimeo

Contributor copies for issues #165 and 166 of Lillie will go out this week.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Kind of Poetry (for a Friday Afternoon)

Here's a little something sent my way by Ed Markowski that I just could not resist sharing for a lazy Friday afternoon. It's a slow burn and really kicks in around the 3:50 mark, right about the time Jack picks up that half full pint of beer I was totally fixated on for the first 3 minutes.

Thanks, Ed!


PS You might recognize a person or two in the front you ...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

E. E. Cummings vs. e. e. cummings vs. the universe (The Universe)

Cover by Harland Ristau

Michael Dylan Welch, a fine haiku poet and contributing editor to Spring, the journal of the E. E. Cummings Society, has appended a comment to a recent post on E. E. Cummings' birthday that seemed both interesting and important enough to pass along.

Just a quick note to suggest that E. E. Cummings' name be treated with the normal capitals. The lowercasing of his name was just something that his book designers did -- not Cummings himself. The policy and practice of the E. E. Cummings Society (I'm a longtime contributing editor to its journal
Spring), Liveright (Cummings' publisher), and George Firmage (Cummings' literary executor, although recently deceased himself) is to treat the poet's name with initial capitals. Despite popular practice and perception, lowercasing his name is simply incorrect. For more information, please visit the definitive articles on the subject at and

The myth of lowercasing E. E. Cummings' name is not unlike the myth of 5-7-5 syllables for English-language haiku. Too many people, even well-meaning poets and textbooks, have borrowed the number without thinking about what the number is counting. Yet people cling to their beliefs in odd ways, and perhaps lowercasing Cummings' name is similar. Or in some cases, they simply have heard anything to counter their beliefs. Please give the two essays I linked to a good read and give them a chance to shift your world just a little bit.

Michael Dylan Welch

I'd like to thank Michael for sending this along. Cummings was one of the first poets that "spoke to me" as a teen, one of the first that motivated me to make a life of reading and writing (and editing) poetry. This is the first I've heard this, though that is not surprising since I'm hardly a scholar and have never read a full-length biography. The fact that this misnomer is so culturally all pervasive is truly amazing. I've followed and read Michael's links in their entirety and would urge others to do so if you need convincing.

It should be mentioned that probably what added to the confusion is that Cummings occasionally did use the lower case spelling but I think it is very clear that, overall, it was his desire that his name be capped in standard fashion.

The intrepid Ed Baker has followed Michael's comments with a link he sent along to a Wikipedia article, that has some interesting links of it's own, and links to the articles Michael cites above. Ed also posits the opinion that Cummings probably just went along with the publisher's whim when the lower case spelling was used and that's how the whole thing got legs.

This week I read a slim volume of poems from the Chinese Tang dynasty entitled In Love With the Way and ran across a poem that reminded me of what is becoming my favorite Basho haiku (after reading it in so many different translations over the last few months). First, the Tang poem:


Grasses of the Ancient Plain

Tender grasses across the plain
Every year wither and grow back.
The wildfires fail to put an end to them,
With the breath of spring, they are reborn.

With their fragrances, they perfume the ancient way,
Emerald sheaves in the ancient ruins.
Agitated and quivering with nostalgia,

they bid farewell to the departing lord.
Bo Juyi


Here's Lucien Stryk's take on the Basho poem that came to mind:


Summer grasses,
all that remains
of soldiers' dreams.


I've linked up to some more Bo Juyi (or Bai Juyi) poems above, but here's another I ran across in a Witter Bynner translation:

A Suggestion to My Friend Liu

There's a gleam of green in an old bottle,
There's a stir of red in the quiet stove,
There's a feeling of snow in the dusk outside -
What about a cup of wine inside?

I've been busy this past week getting over a nasty cold and contacting folks about the Basho Haiku Challenge. Because I lost some time to the former, I'm still busy with the later but hope to be getting to it over the next 10 or so days.

Here's a bit of interesting news from the Japanese paper The Mainichi Daily News for those with a fondness for ancient Japanese poetry, specifically the Manyoshu. Also a great notice from the New York Times on a new film by one my favorite counterculture heroes, Patti Smith. And finally, for fans of Albert Huffstickler, Nerve Cowboy has posted the poems Huff published there from 1996 to 2002.

Johnny Baranski's Pencil Flowers is one of the books from the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list and tiny words (if you click their link, you'll see a fine haiku by the Basho Challenge winner, Roberta Beary) has posted a couple of his haiku. Here's one:

New Year's morning--
old haiku linked together
with cobwebs

I hope to be regularly posting samples from books selected for the Near Perfect list in the regular Thursday postings when time and space allow (almost slipped into a Star Trek episode there), sometimes with samples from the Back Issue archive and sometimes alone.

This week's back issue is #71, from August 1995. Full of many flights of fancy, we are all brought down to earth from lyrically ethereal realms by the ever insightful (balloon: here, pin: here) Wayne Hogan. Enjoy.


your body

each piece a shining eye
the rest of the explosion.


Air served at room temperature reverberates until we snow.
Sheila E. Murphy


late summer rain
one droplet among many
catches my eye, trickles down the glass
thoughts of you
so different from all the rest
Cathy Drinkwater Better


the dead spider's web
holds the morning catch --
opaque beads of dew
Dorothy McLaughlin


New And Collected Poems

Sun's branches leap
from the fingers across town
a one-way sign.

Talk Walks on
the wild side, spokes spin
too fast to be.

Silence squiggles and
creeps upstream, history
Wayne Hogan


Perhaps, we should end it all with the man himself, EEC, having the last word in a poem ya just don't see everyday:

----Seeker of Truth
seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here

Till next time,


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ichigyoshi and Falling Off The Mountain

Been dragging a bit on this end of things with the cold that everyone seems to have. Actually lost the entire weekend's work to bed rest, soup, Thomas Hardy, and Conan the Barbarian.

I've had worse weekends; unfortunately, contributor copies of the new issues, #165 and 166, were slated to go out and, so will be delayed a week.

A. Scott Britton of Ichigyoshi has asked me to post his call for submissions, which I'm happy to do. Here it is:



Ichigyoshi is a web-based journal designed to foster a

discourse that is both academic and colloquial in nature.
In addition to essays, manifestos, and the general writer's
statement, Ichigyoshi will pursue this goal through the
publication of three types of literature: 1. experimental
literature, 2. translation, and 3. [very] short poetry.

To see what we're all about and to find out how to submit
your work, please make your way to the Ichigyoshi website:


Speaking of the very short poem, one of the best kept secrets around (ed markowski knows!) is Grant Hackett and his simply marvelous Falling Off the Mountain blog. Grant is a purveyor of what he calls the monostitch, the one-line poem. He is, to put it simply, tapped directly into the source; his work is magical nearly beyond measure, which is saying something considering it never goes beyond one-line (define infinity now). Grant's work will be appearing in future issues of Lilliput (in fact, he'll be in one of the two new issues), but I felt it was time to let the cat out of the bag and share his work with those who find brevity a guiding principle.

Read a dozen. See if you don't get hooked.

Finally, head on over to f/k/a where David recounts the growing tragedy of SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome). His informative post is accompanied by some heartrending verse by Issa, George Swede and Michael Dylan Welch.

Michael's recent comments on Issa's Untidy Hut re: the e. e. cummings vs. E. E. Cummings controversy will be covered in Thursday's regular post.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Basho Haiku Challenge Winner

Cover art by Wayne Hogan

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Roberta Beary is the winner of the 1st annual Basho Haiku Challenge for her poem:


on the church steps
a mourning dove
with mother's eyes


I'd like to thank Roberta and everyone for their enthusiastic participation in the challenge. The level and quality of work in the nearly 200 poems I received was so outstanding that I will be publishing a chapbook of the best 24 poems received sometime after the 1st of the year. 19 poets will be featured. As mentioned in my last post on the challenge, all poets included will receive two copies of the chapbook plus a six issue subscription to Lilliput Review (or a six issue extension of their current subscription). Roberta will receive Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated and edited by Jane Reichhold, contributor copies of the anthology, and a 15 issue subscription to Lillie. I will be informing the other 18 poets included sometime over the next week via email.

In addition, did you notice I said 1st annual?

I've decided that this was so successful, that the 2nd Basho Haiku Challenge will be taking place the same time, next year.

Finally for the poets who participated but did not have their work included, I will be thanking them with free copies of the two current issues of Lillie (or a two issue extension etc.).

My most sincere thanks to one and all for making what could have been a formidable task a real pleasure.


There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week on how an Amercian poet has never won the Nobel Prize. It's worth a look-see.

Curtis Dunlap, over at Blogging Along Tobacco Road, has sent along a notice that the Australian Haiku Society has created a webpage for tributes to William J. Higginson. If you have been moved by his work and legacy, you may want to contribute. The deadline is October 27th.

Last night, I gave a talk at the local library school on things librarianish (ok, collection development, if you're curious). I decided things needed to be put in the proper perspective and so opened up with a poem by Gerald Stern:

Stepping Out of Poetry

What would you give for one of the old yellow streetcars
rocking toward you again through the thick snow?

What would give for the feeling of joy as you climbed

up the three iron steps and took your place by the cold window?

Oh, what would you give to pick up your stack of books

and walk down the icy path in front of the library?

What would you give for your dream

to be as clear and simple as it was then

in the dark afternoons, at the old scarred tables?

It just so happens that Stern grew up in Pittsburgh and chances are that he is speaking of the Main Library where I work and many of the students come. Though the fact resonates it isn't necessary to remain relevant. I suggested to them this wasn't so much of a geographic shout-out to the Burg, nor a poem about nostalgia per se, but a poem about what happens to dreams. And that I wanted them to not think about their dreams but those of the people who have come and continue to come to the library through all these many years.

I can report, despite many a renovation and reinvention (& for the sake of a little resonance), that those old scarred tables remain, as do those occasionally recaptured dreams.

On the way out in the elevator, a student from the class asked me if I was the publisher of Lilliput Review. When I said yes, she told me a delightful story of the poet Peggy Garrison coming to the bookstore where she worked in Manhattan and telling her proudly of her publication in the mag.

As we rode down in that tiny moving room, the small world of the small press expanded very briefly for a moment.

Featured this week from the Lillie archive is issue #72, from August 1995. Enjoy.


Multiple Choice: Erotica
As condom
is to skin

so poetry
is to:

a) the act
b) the art
c) the ought
Ken Waldman


A Study

One thousand views of Backbone Mountain.
One hundred black-hair brushes.
Seven stylistic changes.
One or two regrets.
Two hundred details.
Ten thousand things forgotten.
Leslie Carroll



In a Renaissance painting
whose title I've forgotten
completely as a stronger man
would have forgotten you,
Lucifer holds a seat
in the heavenly councils back benches,

the way you might think of me
when I call,
untangling the telephone cord
from my horns.
J. D. Smith


Apple Blossom

My first bar in Dixie--
all the usual beers but
Brueghel would've loved it
painting freightyard
royalty displaced
by urban renewal, bean soup,
like ambrosia, 50¢ a bowl
Walt Franklin



every word they write
another earring melted down
into the golden calf
of American poetry.


¶ i will not drown
--rather i will raise the level of the ocean


best till next time,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

e. e. cummings scorning the pomp of must and shall

For e. e. cummings, on his birthday:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
--i say though hate were why men breathe--
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

And here is a performance piece, by Lila Sakura,
of cummings "Pity this busy monster, manunkind",
that perfectly captures, um, today.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bill Higginson

A giant of the haiku world, Bill Higginson, has died. I received word from Curtis Dunlap at Blogging Along Tobacco Road and could not put it any better than he does in his most recent post:

We have lost a friend and pioneer in English language haiku and Japanese poetic forms. Please join me in expressing our sincere condolences to Penny, family, and friends of William J. Higginson.

Perhaps the best form of tribute I can offer is a link to Butterfly Dreams: The Seasons Through Haiku and Photographs, with 25 examples of translations by Bill of the haiku masters, photographs by Michael Lustbader.

Here is Bill's translation of a haiku I've read at least five different versions of in recent weeks, none anywhere even near satisfactory, until I read this gem by Bill this morning:


you a butterfly?
and I Chuang-tzu?
my dreaming heart


Thank you, Bill, literally for everything.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Basho Haiku Challenge Chapbook, John Lennon, and the Beginning of the World (As We Know It)

Cover by Peter Magliocco

In next Thursday's post, I'll announce the winner of the Basho Haiku Challenge. The response was so encouraging that my intent is to issue a mini-chapbook of a selection of about 20 of the poems (plus the winner) of the nearly 200 poems submitted. Since this was not part of the original Challenge, I will be upping the prize ante. The winner will receive a brand new copy of Basho: the Complete Haiku, translated and annotated by Jane Reichhold, plus two copies of the anthology collection and a 15 issue subscription to Lilliput Review. Other poets featured in the anthology collection will also receive 2 copies of the mini-chapbook and a 6 issue subscription (or a 6 issue extension of their current subscription).

I expect the anthology collection will appear after the 1st of the year. If all goes well, I can see this possibly becoming an annual event. Stay tuned for further details.

Tonight is the first meeting of the new poetry group I will be co-moderating with my colleague and formidable poet, William the Silent. The discussion group, 3 Poems By ..., tonight will be looking at three Emily Dickinson poems:

The more I immerse myself in these 3 little gems, the more I feel out to sea. They seem as infinite in depth and resonance as the deepest, darkest ocean. My amazement and awe is total and absolute. Simply put, she was a genius beyond par.

If anyone shows up tonight, it should be an interesting discussion. I'm not sure an hour could begin to cover it.

I've finished up David Landis Barnhill's Basho's Haiku, a selection of over 700 haiku translated into English. There are a number of comprehensive reviews out there: one at Hokku and another at Modern Haiku, both of which make interesting points and feature a number of haiku from the collection. In addition, a generous selection of the poems may be previewed at google books. I've also learned from google books that Landis Barnhill has translated Basho's prose, in a collection entitled Basho's Journey: the Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho. A nice selection of Basho's haibun may be viewed there.

Looking over my notes, I see that I marked 35 haiku in this collection for further review. The collection itself is very readable, the notes are somewhat cursory and overall there is a minimal amount awkwardness in the translations. As I've alluded to in previous posts, my inability to feel a more substantial connection to these poems seems to be the result of my own cultural and historical shortcomings. For me, many of the ideas behind the poems are either untranslatable or strictly period pieces, ephemeral in that sense. Here's a selection from the 35 that did grab me:

on the scales—
----Kyoto and Edo balanced
--------in this spring of a thousand years

the bell fades
----the blossoms' fragrance ringing:
-----------early evening

this mallet
----long ago was it a camellia?
--------a plum tree?

I've hit the bottom
----of my bag of discretion:
--------year's end

misty rain,
----a day with Mt. Fuji unseen:
--------so enchanting

an orchid's scent—
----its incense perfuming
--------a butterfly's wings

The above is a selection from Basho's early work. These are undeniably beautiful, imagistic pieces. Here are some from the later part of his life:

may the hokku that come
----be unlike our faces:
--------first cherry blossoms

on a journey through the word,
----tilling a small field,
---------back and forth

in the plum's fragrance
----the single term "the past"
---------holds such pathos

know my heart:
----with a blossom,
--------a begging bowl

so very precious:
----are they tinting my tears?
---------falling crimson leaves

----dangling from a nail,
--------a cricket

Of the poems I've chosen to highlight, the later poems seem to me to be more personal, more human. More Issa-like, if you will. I don't want to misrepresent: some of the early haiku are more personal, some of the later haiku, more workman-like. In general, however, it felt to me that this generous selection of work truly captures Basho's real journey, the journey to self. When I finished, I felt I knew more about the poet than any briefer collection featuring his famous work allowed me to. Of course, many of those briefer collections have excellent translations, surpassing many contained here. But oddly enough, the ones I was attracted to tended to be the ones not featured in any of the "greatest hits" type collections I've read previously. In fact, I don't believe that any of the above have been highlighted in previous posts, which really accents how special this substantial selection by David Landis Barnhill really is.

Though I've talked about highlighting some of the books from the
Near Perfect Books of Poetry list, I can't resist dipping back into the Lilliput archive for another issue. Since the last posting, the season has turned to autumn. Temps have dropped, there is a chill in the air and the house, and a general dampness that signals the end of the finest summer I've spent in Pittsburgh in my 17 plus years here. Issue #73, from November 1995, has a nice selection of poems that just happen to fit the season nicely, starting off with some nods to the beauty of the wind. Enjoy.

Philip Miller


Before Winter
generous maples!
dropping these crimson haiku
for just anyone
James Owens


wind - photographs
linger oh so briefly
before blowing on past
Gary Jurechka


Weeping In Autumn
Tears from the eyes
of the paralyzed Sibyl:
all those leaves wasted?
Tom Riley


each footfall
thinking lovingly
of all lives lost
---------------John Perlman


About Man
Some head.
Two feet.
From water.
Through mother.
Into mountain.
Ken Waldman


Finally in celebration of John Lennon's birthday, here's a little something that just seems to dovetail nicely with our contentious election atmosphere:

Till next time,

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Greg Watson on The Writer's Almanac

Congratulations go out this morning to Greg Watson whose poem "Now" is featured on this morning's
Writer's Almanac. Greg's work has appeared a number of times in Lilliput Review over the years, two examples of which may be found in these posts.

Wood fire--
oh happy age!
on every face
translated by David Lanoue

Till Thursday,

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tapping the Barometer, Why Buddha Sat Under the Tree, and Joe Pesci in Pittsburgh

The sad news of recent days is that the death of Hayden Carruth is reverberating through various poetic communities (no, I don't think there is only one, in practice or theory). Ed Baker was kind enough to send along notice, and point to a poem well worth sharing.

Agenda At 74
Tap barometer, burn trash,
put out seed for birds, tap
barometer, go to market
for doughnuts and Dutch
Masters, feed cat, write
President, tap barometer,
take baby aspirin, write
congressman, nap, watch
Bills vs. Patriots, tap
barometer, go to post
office and ask Diane if
it's cold enough for her,
go to diner and say "hi,
babe" to Mazie, go to
barber shop and read

Sports Illustrated, go
home, take a load off,
tap barometer, go to
liquor store for jug
(Gallo chablis), go
home, pee, etc., sweep
cellar stairs (be careful!),
write letter to editor,
count dimes, count quarters,
tap the fucking barometer ...
Hayden Carruth

This so perfectly captures a day in the life of an aging poet that it almost takes the breathe away with its understated quality and matter-of-fact resonance.


Yesterday's poetry appreciation session went well, though not quite as I expected. Part of an overall package of programs for lifelong learners, the general attendance had been between 15 and 17; yesterday, there were 9. So it was cozy and comfortable. After a half hour intro, we got into the poems and folks didn't quite respond to the questions I'd prepared to stimulate discussion, so the session transmuted into more traditional class, with me riding herd all the way. Folks were much more comfortable with this and, as I pointed out various aspects of the poems (in a declarative rather than inquisitive manner), they began to respond and responded very well. Since I noticed three faces from last year, I didn't want to repeat poems I'd covered then so asked them where to start. One person wanted to hear the Ted Kooser poem ("For You, Friend"), so I told them I had two poems to lead into it and proceeded to show them how one poem directly and indirectly influenced the other. They were taken with the similarity of imagery (which the relationships are built on) and we just took off from there. They were enthused enough with the three poems ("Donal Og - Broken Vows," "Funeral Blues" by Auden, and "For You, Friend), that I decided to stretch it and go for the Shakespeare "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"), which really spun out well from the Kooser. They loved it, particularly when I read Howard Moss's poem of the same name:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Who says you're like one of the dog days?
You're nicer. And better.
Even in May, the weather can be gray,
And a summer sub-let doesn't last forever.
Sometimes the suns too hot;
Sometime it is not.
Who can stay young forever?
People break their necks or just drop dead!
But you? Never!
If there's just one condensed reader left
Who can figure out the abridged alphabet,
-----After you're dead and gone,
-----In this poem you'll live on!

I did this in my best "drop dead" Jersey accent and they loved it - when I heard the unrestrained laughter, I knew they were enjoying poetry and, so, I'd accomplished what I came for.

One of the more enlightening moments for me came during the questions that were asked as we were wrapping things up. One person in particular asked why is it that many times when she hears poets read, on places like the NewsHour, they just sound so flat and they drone on and on. As I paused to answer, everyone in the room was either vocally assenting or nodding their heads at this observation and I realized poets are very often their own worst enemies. My response was that I'd chosen works I love and greatly admire and those kinds of works for me contain a great deal of emotion that needs to be conveyed. They are works I believe in.

Everyone seems to lament the fact that no one reads poetry anymore and yet, when we have the opportunity to put our best faces forward, we drone on and on and on. And it is not just a matter of entertainment, though this too is a factor. A woman I ran into at the library an hour after class stopped me to say how much she enjoyed the session and how moved she always is by Auden's "Funeral Blues," to the point she has difficulty listening to it, yet finds it immensely powerful even in the extreme emotion it invokes. She noted how she could never have expressed those emotions in words yet the poet had gotten it perfectly. I told her the old adage was true: we look to our poets to speak for us, they give us our own voice.

That, friends, is poetry, to be touched deeply, to be moved permanently.

If you write something, you better believe in it. And if you believe in it, when you read it spin it like the bottle you want to land on just the right spot ...

In other news, the Basho Haiku Challenge entries will be accepted up until midnight this evening. The response has been quite amazing and I'm very pleased. I finished up David Landis Barnhill's translations, Bashō's Haiku, and had intended to report on that today but am running out of space and time, so I'll postpone it until next week. Suffice to say that of the over 700 haiku, I marked 35 that grabbed me.

Eventually, when I run out of back issues to feature, I've got a couple of ideas about featuring different work here on a weekly basis. One of the ideas I mentioned previously is to showcase work from the books on the Near Perfect list (157 and counting). Though I'm not going to begin that now, I ran across a video of one of the poets on the list, the amazing and powerful and moving Etheridge Knight. Here is a video rendition of his poem, "The Idea of Ancestry."

This week's featured back issue is a special one, issue #75, from January 1996. As a milestone number, I came up with the idea to solicit poems, all to be entitled "Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree." I received lots of work and featured 14 poems in the issue, 13 entitled "Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree" (the 14th was called "The Joke" - and that's another story). So, here's a handful of the best, including the "Winner":

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
there is no tree
no Buddha
& no contest.

please go home.
C Ra McGuirt

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
Because he is.
Because he is waiting.
Because he is waiting for you.
Evans Burn

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
To learn that
the words of
the prophets are
written on
subway walls.
Alan Catlin

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
When you read Nazi books
why do you always turn
straight to the pictures?
Noelle Kocot

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
Buddha did not sit
under the tree.
The tree stood
next to Buddha.
Laura Kim

Why Did Buddha Sit Under the Tree
When two or more are gathered in my name
Marty Campbell

Best of luck and thanks to everyone participating in the Basho Haiku Contest,