Friday, January 30, 2009

Richard Brautigan: A Galilee Hitchhiker

Well Worn Back Cover

Today is Richard Brautigan's birthday and he is a sentimental favorite around here, as many of you know. I thought to celebrate, I'd highlight some poems from his collection Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt.

It appears that I've already posted "Feasting and Drinking Went on Far into the Night," not once but twice, so I'll just give you the link and leave sparing the redundancy up to you (of course reading a good poem over and over, in this case spaced months apart, is highly recommended, as you'll find it's changed - or was that you?). Let's see what else I can roust up:


Always spend a penny
as if you were spending
and always spend a dollar
as if you were spending
a wounded eagle and always
spend a wounded eagle as if
you were spending the very
-----sky itself.

A Lyrical Want, an Endocrine Gland Fantasy

A lyrical want, an endocrine gland fantasy,
a telescope that I thought had no thorns
have lead me to a pain that I cannot pronounce.
It gathers around me like a convention of translators
for a language that does not exist with all those meetings
-----to attend.

All Secrets of Past Tense Have Just Come My Way

All secrets of past tense have just come my way,
but I still don't know what I'm going to do

Snow Makes Me Sad

Flying East today first to Chicago,
then North Carolina snow makes me sad
below in the mountains of the West.
It is a white sadness that rises
from California, Nevada, Utah
and Colorado to visit the airplane,
to sit here beside me like a snowy 1943
-----map of my childhood.

At first, it was Mr. B's playfulness with a medium that was always so Serious that appealed to the flower generation (Auden and Lowell in the rear view, by the side of the road, each with a battered bag and a bemused expression), followed so very closely by his sadness. And, yes, tragedy.

Messy, indeed.

It is that sadness that lingers for those of us who loved him. Still it is the subtle blend of whimsy, sadness, and, yes, seriousness (for can there be sadness without the serious) that made him truly great.

What say we swing on back and pick up those those two old geezers, lonely, sad, serious and, if truth be told, even a bit playful, shuffling along there, by the side of the road?

Nice to see you smiling, Mr. B.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good News and Good News

James Wright

Well, there is good news and then there is good news. The primary good news appears to be that, for now, the computer troubles I was having are in the rear view. The other good news, which is really bad news that I choose to view as good news, is I've fallen considerably behind in putting together cogent thoughts for posts and so today I'm going to simply post a poem from one of the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list.

This is the well I've gone to perhaps the most from that list and I do intend to move on but it's time for one last poem. This, from James Wright's The Branch Will Not Break:

I Was Afraid of Dying

I was afraid of dying
In a field of dry weeds.
But now,
All day long I have been walking among damp fields,
Trying to keep still, listening
To insects that move patiently.
Perhaps they are sampling the fresh dew that gathers slowly
In empty snail shells
And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the
James Wright

More soon,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lafcadio Hearn: a Geographic Biography

Today, Lafcadio Hearn is probably best remembered for his artful adaptation of Japanese folktales and ghost stories, including the collection Kwaidan (full text from google books), subtitled "Stories and Studies of Strange Things." He certainly was instrumental in the introduction of Japanese culture to the West in the late 19th century. He lived an amazing, storied life which is captured skeletally in a Wikipedia article. Coincidentally, two versions of his life have been done as geographic biographies, tracing it via the places he lived and went (giving that storied part of his life a different sort of multi-dimensional spin). The website Exploring Lafcadio Hearn is one. Another is the following video presentation, entitled Lafcadio Hearn's footprint in Matsue (notice how in every picture of him, he looks away from the camera: he was blind in one eye from an early age):

His range and diversity was astounding; he was a translator, journalist, lecturer, fiction writer (primarily long short stories), literary adapter, essayist, and prolific letter writer. Prolific is the buzzword; in A Lafcadio Hearn Companion, author Robert Gale posits that the 12 volume American edition of his Selected Works contains about 90% of his best work. An 18 volume edition (over 11,000 pages) was published by the Japanese, still not complete. Many supplemental volumes of newspaper collections, letters and other uncollected works have been published. Gale predicts a complete edition of his works will never be published.

There are quite a few volumes of his work available in full view online, including his poetic studies of the Pre-Raphelites. The Online Books Page has even more. Back in the 1890's Hearn wrote articles for the Atlantic Monthly. Some of these are up online, centered around an article on Hearn, Almost as Japanese as Haiku. There is also an article available on Hearn and Japanese Buddhism by the famed poet, translator, critic and Japanese studies scholar Kenneth Rexroth. A hyper-text concordance of 4 of his books may be found at the Victorian Literary Studies Archive.

Here is a small excerpt from the conclusion of "Yuki-Onna," a ghost tale from Kwaidan. It is the story of a man who has a strange, supernatural experience in his youth, who later meets a beautiful woman who becomes his "perfect" wife, helping him nurse his ailing mother and bearing him many children. One evening, as they sit talking in their hut ...

---One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her said:
---"To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a stange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now - indeed, she was very like you."...
---Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded:
---"Tell me about her . . . . Where did you see her?"
---Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman's hut - and about the White Woman that had stooped over him, smiling and whispering - and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said:
---"Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her - very much afraid - but she was so white! . . . Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw or the Woman of the Snow." . . .
---O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face:
---"It was I - I - I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it! . . . But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!" . . .
---Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind; - then melted into a bright white mist that spired to the roofbeams and shuddered away through the smoke-hole. . . . . Never again to be seen.

Kwaidan remains his most remembered work, I believe, because the supernatural and horror elements make a universal (and shocking) impression that other genres sometimes do not. This trailer for Kwaidan, a movie adaptation I highly recommend, comes from YouTube. Check it out; there are no subtitles but fear is, indeed, a universal language. No translation necessary (it is, of course, available with subtitles, just not on YouTube). "Yuki-Onna" is briefly seen ...

scarecrows at dusk
human faces
Daniel Lanoue


*** A note. This post was prepared before my recent computer problems, hence the images. I'm trying any number of possibilities to address the issue. Stay tuned. ***

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big Glitch and a Few Poems

Cover, w/tea stain, by Albert Huffstickler

* The above image was added afterwards, making some of what follows obsolete. *

Well, the year is starting out with a different kind of bang, not exactly one I'd hoped for or anticipated. With one issue in the rear view, another popped up immediately before I could get out of the way: computer problems.

I can't really figure out what is going on at the moment. I've been running all kind of diagnostics but the best I can sort out is that it must be some kind of virus. I can surf at the moment and minimally check email and blogger, but I don't seem to be able to upload images and when posting occasionally get broken connection messages. This may take awhile to sort out and things could be intermittent at best for the next little while.

Since today is Archive Tuesday, I'm going to try to post a few poems without the cover image. This week's trip into the past arrives at April 1994, issue #55. The further we go back in time, the wordier the work, if still limited to 10 lines. My evolution, as editor and just plain folk, is evident, at least to me. Enjoy.

Inside Spring

A robin walks across
a quiet street, as if
there's a choice.

K. Shabee


shining shining
black crow strutting
across the dried crumbling

Michael Estabrook

a new eden

time to chase god
out of the garden, restore
forests, listen again
to a wisdom of serpents
to voices of trees,
time to take on
all that terrible

Will Inman


The feeling
from deep
your gut
to canvas
in a lump
of red
which will be
someone else's

Suzanne Bowers

Cafe Poem

The woman in
the corner,
white on black,
white skin,
black hair,
black dress,
lights a
long, white
the orange flame
against her cheek.

Albert Huffstickler

Looking these over, I notice I chose the most minimal, so it doesn't appear much different than usual. You'll have to trust me on the wordiness part.

I'll keep plugging away at this end, but this computer thing doesn't have a good feel. I've got all the files for Lilliput saved to a separate portable hard drive so, if I've got clean the whole disk and start from scratch, it is doable, if painful.

More soon ...



PS If the print size is minuscule, I apologize. See aforementioned glitch. This is my second shot at posting this; the first put an early, incomplete draft up.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bill Murray on Billy Collins

The next poet to be covered in the 3 Poems Discussion group will be Billy Collins, who will be doing a reading at the Drue Heinz lecture series here in Pittsburgh. While doing the background readings and research, I ran into an introduction by Bill Murray of Billy Collins for a 2005 reading that is available to purchase and which I highly recommend.

Good ol' Bill says it all. Plus the Cheeze Whiz haiku. Oh, yeah.

In addition, you can find free downloads of Collins reading his work via his website and at the Internet archive: The Best Cigarette by Billy Collins. Gotta love Open Source.

Finally, here's a site that has gathered together a bunch of Collins poems set to video, including a couple of him reading. Folks have nearly as much fun with his work as he does.

The following is the first of the 12 videos in order to tempt you to click through:




PS Here's a link to one of the videos that is missing from the above page, here's a link to the other missing video.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts on Morning Glories

a long day--
my tears of joy
rolling down
translated by David Lanoue

A bit of a bumpy ride this week, but I'll be up and posting again Monday. Just needed to get my mind around a couple of things and folks out there helped me do just that. The schedule will be Monday through Friday, with an occasional lapse when under the gun. Tuesday will be the day I post from the Back Issue Archive of Lilliput. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

A nice little post mentioning Issa's Untidy Hut from fellow librarian/poet Keddy Ann Outlaw, on her Lone Star Librarian, helped put me over the top. Thanks, Keddy.

Back to the regularly scheduled program ...


Friday, January 23, 2009

Charcoal Stains ...

how shameful--
with my charcoal-stained
translated by David G. Lanoue


Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Apology to Franz Wright

Yesterday, I posted a poem by Franz Wright from a recent New Yorker in which I completely botched the formatting. There is no excuse for this. I've offended someone whose work I treasure. The formatting has been corrected and I apologize to Franz Wright and to all the readers of this blog.

This is the 20th year of publication of Lilliput Review and I have made many errors along the way. This is the most egregious.

Right now, I'm having trouble seeing my way forward.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Franz Wright: A Poem and Interview

Click image to read interview (& poem)

Those of you who follow The Hut regularly know that Franz Wright is a personal fav of mine among contemporary poets. Here's a new poem by him, published recently in the New Yorker.

Learning To Read

If I had to look up every fifth or sixth word,

so what. I looked them up.

I had nowhere important to be.

My father was unavailable, and my mother

looked like she was about to break,

and not into blossom, every time I spoke.

My favorite was the Iliad. True,

I had trouble pronouncing the names,

but when was I going to pronounce them, and

to whom?

My stepfather maybe?

Number one, he could barely speak English;

two, he had sufficient intent

to smirk or knock me down

without any prompting from me.

Loneliness, boredom and terror

my motivation

fiercely fuelled.

I get down on my knees and thank God for them.

Du Fu, the Psalms, Whitman, Rilke.

Life has taught me

to understand books.

Franz Wright

And a short NPR segment on Wright, with him reading some poems. And some more poems. And, oh yeah, some more.

And a fine, insightful, sensitive piece on Franz Wright by Justin Marks entitled In My Father's House There Are Many Rooms.

'Nuff said.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Basho Haiku Chapbook Update and One From the Archive

Cover by Harland Ristau

I've begun simultaneously working on the forthcoming Basho Haiku Challenge Chapbook and the new issues of Lilliput Review. As with all the other things I try to do in tandem, they've become mixed together and so as a result work on both has slowed considerably (and, of course, there are also the small matters of this daily blog and all those snail mail poems - about 1,000 batches per year - to deal with). I originally hoped to get the new issues out by February first and had projected a January publication for the BHC Chapbook, but realistically I'm looking at a March 1st date for both. One and a half issues and the entire chapbook are in the preliminary layout stages - poems done, no artwork or covers - so slow and steady progress dictates the March 1st date. If I can get the chaps out sooner I will, but the issues won't begin to go out until the 1st.

Of note this morning, The Writer's Almanac has posted a fine poem by Elizabeth Alexander, who will be presenting a new poem today at the inaugural.

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry, I tell my students
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves.
(though Sterling Brown said
"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'")
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overheard on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love
and I'm sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice
and are we not of interest to each other?
Elizabeth Alexander

Tuesday being the new Lilliput archive day and this being Tuesday, it's that time. This week's highlights come from issue #56, April 2004.

Stars Fading Over A Red Trace

light pierces
lacework of trees
the flame of day

his presence, always closest
in this defenseless hour

Theatre Piece

You have only to put a pinhole
in the backdrop to create a star.
Of course, you won't see it
that way, but someone out front,
someone in the seventh row
on the aisle or high in the balcony
where the music and lines
seldom reach, will see it
for what it is, a star,
something to dream on.
Louis McKee


Iris spins
wide to light,
pushes against
the pull to
cautious pinhole focus,
seeks out the word
blurring to flesh inside
the snow blind cave
in the skull.
Mary Schooler Rooney

The Way It Is

You languish in Gaia's apron pocket
chewing on the strings.

Winds are blowing through your oven
flattening your bread.

You herd with sheep in city streets,
followed by barking dogs.

Language is your Nemesis
Indian gift of the Gods.
Jane McCray

Poetry Begins

with the road gang on Route 6
repairing the pole smashed
on a Saturday night drag race
and a stray dog pissing
on the perimeters.
Ruth Daigon

Harley Time

Writing a poem
is like driving a motorcycle,
baby pigs in the side car,
while you try to keep
their little helmets on straight.
George Monagan

Finally, Ed Markowski sent this along in homage to this historic day. Enjoy.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Poe: The Conqueror Worm - On Movies Adapted From Poems

In this day before the beginning of a new era for the US, a solemn tip of the hat in memory of Dr. King, some of whose vision is finally coming to fruition.


Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the poet and short story master of the macabre, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about a movie category that is very small, indeed: the adaptation of a poem into a movie.

On the face of things, Poe has the distinction of having had three poems adapted into motion pictures. But, as with many things relating to the world of cinema, it's not quite that simple, so let me start from the beginning

Back in the halcyon days of 50's and 60's horror films, a sure ticket to box office success for Roger Corman and other B-movie purveyors was adapting a work of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen. After taking on the obvious (Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, Premature Burial, Murders in Rue Morgue, The Mask of the Red Death), Hollywood and all seemed to have lost their collective way. Though there was still plenty of excellent source material to adapt, folks started to get extremely liberal with what they called "based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe." One prime example was the film The Haunted Palace, the title of a Poe poem but which in fact was an adaptation of the H. P. Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Another "loose adaptation" was the film The Conqueror Worm, the content of which also had absolutely nothing to do with Poe.

Sort of.

The movie was made by the young auteur, Michael Reeves, filmed in Britain and originally titled Edgar Allan Poe's Witchfinder General, starring the horror genre's premier actor, Vincent Price. When brought to the US, the powers that be didn't like the title (despite the Poe reference) and so made a decision that only a Hollywood studio could come up: they decided to retitle the film Edgar Allan Poe's The Conqueror Worm and had Price read the Poe poem over the re-dubbed credits. Since the poem is something of a generic homage to the Grim Reaper, the strategy pretty much would have worked with any horror film.

That strategy that turned out to be disastrous on a number of fronts. For one, here's the plot summary from The Internet Movie Database:

England is torn in civil strife as the Royalists battle the Parliamentary Party for control. This conflict distracts people from rational thought and allows unscrupulous men to gain local power by exploiting village superstitions. One of these men is Matthew Hopkins, who tours the land offering his services as a persecutor of witches. Aided by his sadistic accomplice John Stearne, he travels from city to city and wrenches confessions from "witches" in order to line his pockets and gain sexual favors. When Hopkins persecutes a priest, he incurs the wrath of Richard Marshall, who is engaged to the priest's niece. Risking treason by leaving his military duties, Marshall relentlessly pursues the evil Hopkins and his minion Stearne. Summary written by Ed Sutton.

The film turned out to be one of the most brutal and sadistic main stream films of its time. In fact, Matthew Hopkins was a real historic character. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the shoddy treatment the film received over the years (it was subjected to, among other things, having its original soundtrack removed and replaced by another that would give the term banal a bad name), the movie became such a cult classic that when it was recently restored to its original condition, it actually was screened at the Museum of Modern Arts film restoration festival. Last year I reviewed the box set "Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collections" for the site Fulvue Drive-In and here was my take on Witchfinder General from that set (with a number of minor edits for context and perfuse effusions) :

The last feature film in the set is Witchfinder General and it vies for the distinction of best of the box. This film's legendary status can almost work against it; those who've waited years to see it sometimes ask what's the fuss? It is at once a product of its time and timeless. Its storied legend includes being billed in Britain as Edgar Allan Poe's Witchfinder General, when in reality it was loosely based on an historical novel of the same name by Ronald Bassett. In America, it was released as The Conqueror Worm, in a slightly demented attempt to yet again squeeze Edgar Poe dry, with Price reading the Poe poem over the opening credits. The film itself is captioned Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General and this is probably the proper title. The third film by auteur director Michael Reeves, whatever you call it, is was one of the most violent films of its day. Reeves was upset with the casting of Price as Matthew Hopkins and he let him know it; there was no love lost between the two. Despite this, or perhaps, because of it, Price gives one of the best performances of his career. Gone are the camp and clichés attached to the Price franchise; no arching eyebrows, no wicked smile, no knowing wink to the audience, and what remains is the actor and he comports himself well, indeed.

In later years, Price admitted his distaste for Reeves and, tellingly, also acknowledged that he felt it was one of his best roles. The extreme violence of the film, tame in comparison to, say, today's torture/porn franchise Saw, covers the full gamut, literally and metaphorically: sadism, torture, rape, depravity and sexual exploitation. Set in England in a time of political upheaval, Hopkins journeys from town to hamlet in search of witches and the fee local corrupt officials will pay him to flush them out. The turmoil throughout 16th century England lets someone like Hopkins run amok in the name of social order and one doesn't have to think long to see a very real connection to today's political climate. In fact, this movie is more relevant than when I first viewed it over 10 years ago and the irony is tragic, indeed. The horror here is all too real and one would be justified to categorize this as more a violent historical film than true horror. The film shifts dramatically about halfway through to a vengeance film, with leading man Ian Ogilvy going all out to avenge his slain fiancée, so much so that he becomes that which he pursues. Perhaps most chilling of all are the scenes of the crowds passively witnessing the hangings and burnings, at one point even cooking potatoes in the same fire that has just consumed a supposed witch. Technically, the film has been cleaned up considerably since my own previous viewings and this adds dramatically to its power. The original, eerie score has been restored in all its glory.

In a tale so bizarre as to be seemingly fictional, a truly horrific moog score was substituted for the original in the 80's when Orion, who had bought AIP, sold the rights to the music to a beer company for a commercial.

Here is the original American trailer for the film and it captures enough of the horrific flavor that viewers are warned not once but twice to leave the kiddies home and this was one time that the Hollywood hyperbole was, in fact, not hyperbolic at all.

And here are two more scenes from Turner Clasic Movies: here and here.

The idea of making a full length feature film from a poem is singular, indeed, and the fact that all three made from Poe poems have at best a tangential relationship to the original source is not surprising. To its credit, The Videohound (2007) does not list any of the three in its "Kibbles" index under the category "Adapted from a Poem." They do list 18 films, however, and here they are

The Bells
Casey at the Bat
The Castillian
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Gunga Din
The Man from Snowy River
The Odyssey
Old Ironsides
The Set-Up
The White Cliffs of Dover
Wild Party

I'm not sure if there are more major motion pictures that would fall into this category or if, indeed, the ones the Videohound has listed are true adaptations. Can anyone think of any others? Wikipedia has a nice list, though it does include short films and, like many things Wikipedia-ish, shows some questionable judgment. 13th Warrior is a bit of stretch since its an adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, though it is something of a retelling of the Beowulf story. They also include The Raven. In addition to these, there is a fine article from the The Boston Globe on movies based on poems, which includes Jabberwocky, one missed by both VH and Wikipedia. I would add to all these two adaptations of "Dante's Inferno:" a new animated version and an older obscure Spencer Tracey film from the 30's, set in at an amusement pier, that has a dream-like sequence that replicates the tortures of the damned that makes up for its brevity with its Gustave Dore style depiction. This footage evidently was taken from an earlier silent version and it is captured perfectly in this description.

Finally, to come full circle on his day, here are the Edgar Allan Poe poems that prompted the post: The Conqueror Worm and The Haunted Palace.


Friday, January 16, 2009

James Wright: "In Response to a Rumor ..."

Bridgeport, Ohio and Wheeling Island

Here's another poem from James Wright's Selected Poems, from the Near Perfect Poetry list. It comes from the volume Shall We Gather at the River (as opposed to Above the River: The Complete Poems).

This is quintessential Wright; it breaks your heart in such a lovely, human way. It is at once the product of its time and the place of its inception and, somehow, ubiquitous, touching tenderly each and every soul that lets it in.

Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse
in Wheeling, West Virginia, Has Been Condemned

I will grieve alone
As I strolled along, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main,
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
in Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
to find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.

You might want to check out an earlier version of the Selected Poems at google books: Collected Poems. Have a great weekend.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thinking About Liking Billy Collins

Below is the first of a few Billy Collins poems that I'll be posting occasionally in my attempt to understand what he is all about. I'll be posting more about exactly why some time soon. Meanwhile, here's two very short, perhaps uncharacteristic, poems from his second collection, The Apple That Astonished Paris:


The fox you lug over your shoulder
in a dark sack
has cut a hole with a knife
and escaped.

The sudden lightness makes you think
you are stronger
as you walk back to your small cottage
through a forest that covers the world.

Hart Crane

This time when I think of his leap
from the railing of a ship
which sailed on, a scale model of the world,

I weigh only the moments when he was caught
first in the wake,
lifted and dropped in its artificial rhythm,

then must have felt the timing change
as the sea's own beat resumed
and made him part of the cadence of his waves,
dark turquoise with rolling white tops.

Ok, why these early poems if they are not all that characteristic of the man? I believe what attracted to me to these two is that they are shorter than normal for Collins and that they begin to reveal something about his method, which I feel is an important key to his success. These two don't have his characteristic humor, a major strength, but they do have something of his ironic, one might even say mildly sardonic, vision which is what I believe I have the most difficulty with in his later, more realized work. The distance from both his subjects here is striking and, perhaps, characteristic of the later work. Collins later seems to use this ironic distance to get closer to the reader, adding another layer of irony, which gives it a post modern quality that is not often spoken of about Collins in any depth. In some ways he exhibits all the flaws of the post modern artist, yet Collins has something else that most post moderns don't and that reminds me of the great post modern fiction writer, Steven Millhauser: he has heart.

This third level of irony is the most mind-boggling and, incidentally, pleasing of all. Herein I believe lies his appeal. He is distinctly a voice of this time, late 20th, early 21st century America. Wisecracking and wise, ironic and loving, a poor schmo who knows he's a schmo and that everybody else, well, we all are poor schmoes, too.

That's schmo in an affectionate, non-ironic way, folks.

More thinking out loud about Billy Collins to come ...


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright

A new book for the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list is From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright from Lost Hills Books of Duluth, Minnesota. I've been discussing two Wright books quite a bit lately: The Branch Will Not Break and Selected Poems and this book came as both a surprise and a revelation when I received it to review for The Small Press Review.

Frankly, I didn't have much hope. Books of homage are rarely up to the original and, so, what's the point, really? A writer such as James Wright might best be honored with a lyric rather than an elegy. As I say in my review "if there must be homage, let there be mystery, let there be revelation." And so there is, and then some.

Right out of the box, the first poem, by W. S. Merwin, nails it:


News comes that a friend far away
is dying now.

I look up and see small flowers appearing
in spring grass outside the window
and can't remember their name.

W. S. Merwin

I read that and thought, "time to close the book, it can't get better than that." In fact, there couldn't have been a truer assessment; yet, there were many poems that are up to Merwin's high standard set here. Galway Kinnell and C. K. Williams both have outstanding work here. Stanley Plumly has two excellent pieces. In an endnote, Robert Bly observes that the essence of Wright was his ability to transform a moment, to illuminate that transcendence, and the best work in this collection emulates Wright's strength without being derivative. Perhaps it is the highest honor of all to take the approach of another and to make of it something new. It is not a matter of style or allusion or voice; it is a matter of epiphanic moment. It is revelation.

In this collection, the occasional flat piece is the exception not the rule; the most critical I can be is to say perhaps the proliferation of horses throughout is unfortunate, but that is hardly fair since, in one particular sense, it is not so much what you say as how you say it. In "Two," Christina Lovin perfectly captures that moment, a la "The Blessing," when man meets nature and suddenly blends, realizing her/his place "in the family of things" as Mary Oliver so succinctly puts it. Instead of two horses, there are two deer, culled from seven by a cougar:

from Two

----------------There are two: just enough to take care
of the business of grooming. They stand neck-to-neck,
each licking, nuzzling, teasing the ticks and lice from the other's
coarse fur, enjoying the comfort, the contact, as horses do.
As humans do. As do you; as do I. Touch me here, then,
softly as deer's breath. I will touch you there, where
your mother held you in her arms, your neck against her shoulder.
Not where the raging fire begins, where undergrowth sparks
and catches and we are lost in its blaze. No, here,
where the hushed forest opens and the two quiet bodies
have disappeared into the green darkness within.
Christina Lovin

Ellen Seusy, too, finds an analogous moment in the seemingly pedestrian act of walking scraps out to the compost heap in the back yard:

from The Compost Bin

At the edge of the light, I look down,
then step into Ohio's dark night,
into what used to be forest.

The yard is quiet. This cold walk through the dark
takes me far. Who knows what will bloom
from what I bring. At the wooden bin

I tip the bowls onto the snow-covered compost.
Chemistry is going on in there
that I don't understand; pink peonies

could come from this decay. Sometimes
I wish not to go back, but to stay out
by the soft-armed hemlocks

out here by the compost bin,
this hearth way in the back of the yard,
and deep inside, the fire that no one's lit.
Ellen Seusy

Helen Ruggieri's poem is pure revelation, "The Kind of Poetry I Want," taken from a line by Wright in a direction he probably wouldn't have imagined and which he would have highly approved:

from The Kind of Poetry I Want

I want poetry from a woman who smiles with her teeth
you know her - she thinks like a man

I want poetry damp and shady:
trillium, bracken and fern

The kind of poetry I want takes my shape
not even knowing my name ...
Helen Ruggieri

This is just a dip into a fine collection of work that resonates just as Wright's best work does. Though it a quote from Wright himself, I'm not sure the title exactly captures the feel - perhaps "To the Other World" might have worked better, or even "Between Worlds" - but, in any case, this is a fine bit of business. As I said in closing my SPR review, "Since all these poets stand in unison, let one of their own stand for all. Listen to the close of "The Voices" by Michael Dennis Browne:"

from The Voices

From where I stand now,
I cannot see any singer,
but looking across the years,
listening in ways learned
only from them,
I can hear all the song.
Michael Dennis Browne

I can't think of a better analogy for poetry itself, its history, its tradition, what it is, and what it may be.

Revelation, indeed.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

George Carlin in Twain and Swift Territory

Dali/Quixote Napkin by Tom Kane (w/tea stain)

The following is a small excerpt from the 2007 George Carlin special "It's Bad For Ya." In some ways it is a humorous take on similar territory explored in the recent Robinson Jeffers post. Once again, Twain and Vonnegut and Swift come to mind, the great satirists who cared enough to rip their beloved fellow travelers a new one for the sake of redemption. The pitch Carlin builds here nearly takes him out of comedy all together; though he might have lost a step or two physically in his later years, he was never more scintillating, acerbic, and spot-on as in this portrait of the human condition. (It's hard to imagine that a language disclaimer is necessary at a small press poetry blog but here you go: George uses many of those famous seven words and more, so you've been warned).

As I mentioned in last Thursday's weekly post, due to schedule changes at my paying job, the archival posts will now be on Tuesday and this is the first. This week it's issue #57 of Lilliput Review, from June 1994. Hope you enjoy the selections, including a poem by the late Michael McNeilley, author of the Lilliput broadside 15 sexual haiku/senryu, a visual art/poem, and one for Kurt Cobain. Has it really been 14 years?

down they came

down they came and I wiped
them out ----the bastards
-------they'll be back I know
-------sit over there ---so don't then
they'll be back I tell you
you'd better listen ---we'd better
-------hurry we've just got time
-------to get one in
we'll be ready for them next time
won't we but we'd better hurry
-------shit here they come ----here
-------take this no wait
Michael McNeilley

The Light Above It Is Burned Out

The stepladder's closed,
leaning against the stacks.

If it were in Humanities,
symbolism would shine all over.

In Government Documents, it waits
for the maintenance man to get off break.
H. Edgar Hix

More InSerts

Richard Kostelanetz

Global Village

The noon spider
spins a porch-web,
silk lines snaring
my thought. I see
5.5 billion humans
in a single fly
abuzz by the dusk
Walt Franklin

Brautigan and Bukowski
------------i.m. kc
With first light and your sigh,
the heavy dew evaporates
from the pane.
K. Shabee


Monday, January 12, 2009

Threading Delightfully Loose Ends


Here's a tangle of loose ends that are coming undone, together, very nicely.

Recently I posted my semi-lame Top 5 Poetry Books for 2008. If anyone is looking for a comprehensive list of good work actually published in 2008, check out Cold Front Magazine's year end list of the best in poetry. Thanks to Ron Silliman, once again, for pointing the way.

Also, an excellent collection of poems attributed to Han Shan can be found at Moon Soup (No Bowl, No Moon), in various translations.

A creditable job was done by James Campbell in the NYTBR looking at the Letters of Allen Ginsberg and The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. I've read about a dozen reviews of these two books and this one was one of the best.

Stuck on the mp3 player (and computer) is Apples in Stereo's New Magnetic Wonder and though one could cop to the cynicism (try that for a title), download these two tracks for free in their entirety, legally, from amazon: "Can You Feel It" and "Energy" and let that cynicism wash over you awhile and see if it doesn't transmute into something else altogether.

Stumbled across an interesting site of book extracts entitled Books in the Darkroom. This post reminded me how wonderful Kenneth Rexroth translations from the Chinese and Japanese are.

Finally, a poem by Ryokan, Zen poet known as the great fool, perfectly captured on film:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Robinson Jeffers: Antiwar Poems

Robinson Jeffers was the Walt Whitman of misanthropy (I am told the correct term is inhumanism. What then might be the correct tone?). When he embraced the void, it was no simile and there was no echo. For Jeffers, Swift's A Modest Proposal ... was, perhaps, too good, too late. If Beckett has him beat in the hopelessness department, it's only by a short, curly one.

But enough with hyperbole. Jeffers loved nature, rocks, cliffs, the sea, hawks; man he, perhaps, could take or leave (can someone be an occasional misanthropist?). He certainly wasn't much impressed with our achievements. And ultimately it cost him, losing his early hard earned fame in the politics of nationalism.

Because of all these things, he doesn't make your average poetry readers' top ten list (or top 190, for that matter). There doesn't seem to be any danger that The Library of America will be calling anytime soon. It just so happens, however, that Jeffers was one of the finest American poets of the 20th century and yesterday was the anniversary of his birth. notes that "Jeffers verse, much of which was set in the Carmel/Big Sur region, celebrates the awesome beauty of coastal hills and ravines that plunged into the Pacific." The website features three of his poems: Carmel Point, Rock and Hawk, and Summer Holiday, which are representative of much of his shorter work.

I'd like, however, to take a different approach. I'd like to remember him for his anti-war stance that cost him his popularity and, perhaps, some of the depth of what might have been his posthumous reputation.

The Soul's Desert

They are warming up the old horrors, and all that they
-----say is echoes of echoes.
Beware of taking sides; only watch.
These are not criminals, nor hucksters and little jour-
-----nalists, but the governments
Of the great nations; men favorably
Representative of massed humanity. Observe them.
-----Wrath and laughter
Are quite irrelevant. Clearly it is time
To become disillusioned each person to enter his own
-----soul's desert
And look for Godhaving seen man.

The Bloody Sire

It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world's values.

What but the wolf's tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jeweled with such eyes the great goshawk's head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world's values.

Who would remember Helen's face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world's values.

Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.

Their Beauty Has More Meaning

Yesterday morning enormous the moon hung low on the
Round and yellow-rose in the glow of dawn;
The night herons flapping home wore dawn on their
-----wings. Today
Black is the ocean, black and sulphur the sky,
And white seas leap. I honestly do not know which day
-----is more beautiful.
I know that tomorrow or next year or in twenty years
I shall not see these thingsand it does not matter, it
-----does not hurt.
They will be here. And when the whole human race
Has been like me rubbed out, they will still be here:
-----storms, moon and ocean,
Dawn and the birds. And I say this: their beauty
-----has more meaning
Than the whole human race and the race of birds.

And, finally, now, pilgrims, here's a little bit of parting advice:

Advice to Pilgrims

That our senses lie and our minds trick us is true, but in
They are honest rustics; trust them a little;
The senses more than the man, and your own mind more
-----than another man's.
As to the mind's pilot, intuition
Catch him clean and stark naked, he is the first of truth-
-----tellers; dream-clothed, or dirty
With fears and wishes, he is prince of liars.
The first fear is of death: trust no immortalist. The first
Is to be loved: trust no mother's son.
Finally I say let demagogues and world redeemers bab-
-----ble their emptiness
To empty ears; twice duped is too much.
Walk on gaunt shores and avoid the people; rock and
-----wave are good prophets;
Wise are the wings of the gull, pleasant her song.

Robinson Jeffers

Twice duped, indeed.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jack Micheline's "Manifesto"

(Note: an incomplete version of this post went out this morning. My apologies.)

Earlier this week, stuck home with a bad cold and no voice, I sat down with a pile of books I've been going through: two by James Wright, an R. H. Blyth, the "new" translation of Anna Karenina, Paintings in Proust, Rommel Drives on Deep Into Egypt by Richard Brautigan, and Outlaw of the Lowest Planet by Jack Micheline.

Yes, I was feeling miserable, but what a way to go.

I read the Tolstoy in chunks, slept, ate soup, picked up some poetry, read more Tolstoy etc. It was a plan.

In between some incidents of high Russian soap opera, I picked up the Micheline book and this fell out:

Click on the image to read

What a treat! What starts out as a manifesto, dips into Beat history, than personal history, and ends up as one hell of a wacked publisher's blurb written by the wild man poet himself. I loved it.

And the book itself - Outlaw of the Lowest Planet - I enjoyed very much, overall for me much better than River of Wine, his most often cited work. The poems here come from three different decades yet have a cohesive feel, Micheline's voice never wavering over the years. Over at Outlaw Poetry, there is an article by another small press icon, Todd Moore, on Micheline, entitled chasing jack micheline's shadow that is worth a look.

Here's a couple of poems from Outlaw of the Lowest Planet that give a good feel for Jack's work.

Beauty is everywhere Baudelaire

Beauty is everywhere Baudelaire
Even a worm is Beautiful
The thread of a beggar's dress
The red eye of a drunkard
on a rainy night
Chasing the red haired girl
Baudelaire across the sky
Your raggy paints
Laughing in the rain
Beauty is everywhere Baudelaire

A Look Back at My Youth

A highway crosses the playground of my childhood
the shoemaker is still on Archer Street
the druggist
the same faces inhabit the wilderness of the Bronx
its superstitions
its narrow minds
the synagogue of old hebrews
the church of black cloth Catholoics
its Irish sons with yellow ties
the football field is still there
night descends over the houses
Willy the mad Russian where are you
Tullo carrying ten men over the goal line
lost junky after the cheers died away
wild Murray where are you
Joey Cohen pimples on your face where are you
Little Abie do you laugh that loud anymore I wonder
voices of the children playing in the park
the boat house is deserted
the grass is still green in October
night is descending over the Bronx
the wilderness is but a memory
The Ritz movie is long gone
the whores have all moved away
It is time to gon on
time moves so quickly
My mother still prays nightly
I used to play hooky and go to Bronx Park
and look at the lovers in the grass
the leaves are brown and green now
water flows down the fall of the Bronx River

------------------Spring 1959

River St. Poem

Out on the walk
by the Louisiana shore
the early morning light meets the darkness
the waves roll in slow but sure
one star
one red floating light
one freighter from Tampico
one barge
one riverboat
one bridge
one radio tower
the waves consistent with the tide
one slogan painted on a wall
"Be Yourself Forever"
Algiers, Savannah, Tampa, Santiago, Havana,
the do shakes its shaggy tail
the human condition remained the same
nothing really changes but the drone of engines
Mindanao, Monterrey, Madagascar,
-----------------------Montego, Montana, Montezuma
the dark freighter crawls into port
4 monks statue-like on River Street
A green light flashing
The sky turning black to pink to red
Evers to Tinker to Chance
A triple play
One solitary bird saluting the universe
the sky grey to white
the early morning smoke rising
the dark freighter crawls into port
the hooker walks on

----------------7-11-87, New Orleans, LA

These are poems to be heard, to be read aloud, to be chanted. They are poems of wonder and beauty and horror, all encompassing and spontaneous, poems of a tradition but not in it.

These are Jack Micheline poems.

It seems that Outlaw of the Lowest Planet is still available from the original Zeitgeist Press. Toggle down about halfway on the page (or hit control "f" and search "planet") to see the listing.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Brautigan's Near Perfect Book of Poetry: The Pill Versus the Springhill Mining Disaster

Richard Brautigan's The Pill Versus the Springhill Mining Disaster is probably his most read collection of poems and has been reader selected for the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list. It also appears to be the only volume of his poems, with the exception of his early fifties writings The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings (which contains some poetry) to still be in print. The Pill may be found in the omnibus volume Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar. However, most of his poetry may currently be found on line at

The Pill ... is subtitled "the selected poems 1957-1968 of Richard Brautigan" and collects previously published small press collections of his work. Here's the description from

In addition to thirty eight previously uncollected poems, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster included The Return of the Rivers (May 1957), all nine parts of The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958), nine poems from the Lay The Marble Tea (1959), seventeen poems from The Octopus Frontier (1960), and all thirty two poems from All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1967).

Coupled with In Watermelon Sugar and Trout Fishing in America this is the one volume of Brautigan to get if there is only room for one on your shelf (or in your budget). A number of the poems in The Pill ... regularly show up around the net, which is testimony to the enduring quality of work that is sometimes viewed as whimsical and representative of a bygone era. They strike, however, a very deep emotional vein and have a universal appeal that speaks especially well to non-readers of poetry. Admittedly, they are not everyone's cup of meat; a great deal of his work does, however, resonate with me. Here's a taste:

The Beautiful Poem
I go to bed in Los Angeles thinking
---about you.

Pissing a few moments ago
I looked down at my penis

Knowing it has been inside
you twice today makes me
---feel beautiful.

Private Eye Lettuce

Three crates of Private Eye Lettuce
the name and drawing of a detective
with magnifying glass on the sides
of the crates of lettuce,
form a great cross in man's imagination
and his desire to name
the objects of the world.
I think I'll call this place Golgotha
and have some salad for dinner.

Haiku Ambulance

A piece of green pepper
off the wooden salad bowl:
--so what?

A Baseball Game
---Part 7

Baudelaire went
to a baseball game
and bought a hot dog
and lit up a pipe
of opium.
The New York Yankees
were playing
the Detroit Tigers.
In the 4th inning
an angel committed
suicide by jumping
off a low cloud.
The angel landed
on second base,
causing the
whole infield
to crack like
a mirror.
The game
was called on
account of

So, what's so great about these poems? For me, with the possible exception of "Haiku Ambulance" (and I'd argue even for that), they balance a lightness of tone with a seriousness of subject that defies comparison. Of course, they are funny; when the laughter ends, though, the reader is left to wonder exactly what s/he was laughing at (or with). As an editor, I can tell you that people are still writing in the style of "A Baseball Game, Part 7" 40 years later. In fact, if there is any style that might be said to truly define the small press (as opposed to the so-called university"small" press), this is it. I get them submitted to Lilliput by the boatloads, have for the 20 years I've been doing this. Of course, there is one minor drawback.

Nobody, but nobody, writes this style of poem this well. It's like watching a trapeze artist - they don't call them artists for nothing - like watching somebody walk a high wire between two skyscrapers in a brisk breeze. Somehow you know they'll never fall, but everyone shouldn't even try.

In addition, the fact of the matter is I love baseball and it is precisely this consuming passion that makes me detest baseball poems. I can't abide them. I have a huge blind spot when it comes to them. I have to turn away. I'm at once embarrassed and repelled. What can I say?

Well, what I can say is I love this baseball poem, unashamedly, unabashedly, I love this poem.

'Nuff said.

Is "Private Eye Lettuce" really about the human science of naming, of the need for language and classification? The power of a single word is demonstrated here, turning a humorous poem dead serious, and then back again.

What kind of dressing you want with that salad, bub?

And, yeah, it's 40 years later and when's the last time you heard a man say he felt beautiful? Squeezed into a poem of a mere 24 words which also happens to contain the word penis, a word a poem rarely, if at all, contained back in the soon-to-banished uptight day.

It certainly could be argued that Brautigan himself was a victim of the transition from those up-tight days to an unimagined freedom, as were Plath and Sexton. But I won't argue it here. It all is simply what it is. Beautiful.

Beautiful poetry.

By a beautiful man who knew he was.

How about that, hey, bub?