Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sweet Jane: Issa's Sunday Service, #44

Patti Smith & Lou Reed

It's time for a shout-out to all the poets (who "studied rules of verse") out there and, for the Sunday Service, I can't think of better way than Lou Reed and Sweet Jane.

This live acoustic version from Spanish TV is worth a look-see, especially for the chord thieves amongst us:

Lou is a god in NY, but, aside from this little number and "Walk on the Wild Side," a future LitRock selection, I'm not sure this is the case everywhere else (well, of course, there is always France and, it would seem, Spain). I'm a huge Lou and Velvet Underground fan, so there is no objectivity here. This Sunday Service is all about the worship.


This week's feature poem is from issue #68 of Lilliput Review, April 1995. In a previous post, 6 poems were highlighted from this issue. scarecrow's poem is about the ultimate transcendence, which all attain, no matter religion, race, or sex.

¶dreamed that my face was large
-composed of sifted red clay dirt,

-hoofprints abounding.

in cuffs dragging
through the dirt...
plum blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS To listen to all 44 selections so far (or to pick and choose individually), see the Issa's LitRock Jukebox on the sidebar. Or visit the spin off page here. Background info on all the songs and links back to the original posts can be found here.

As always, I'm offering the two current issues of Lilliput Review free (or have 2 copies added to your current subscription) for any litrock selections that I use in a future post. Just email me at: lilliput review at gmail dot com.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tom Waits and Jack Gilbert: A Song and a Poem

One song, one poem:

This popped up on the ipod on the way to work and, as it always does after I hear it, has been haunting me all week. No candidate for Issa's Sunday Service, still I thought it well worth posting the haunting "What's He Building in There," with the clichéd hope that I'd get rid of it that way.

It's all yours. Good luck passing it on ...


And here's a poem found last week on the Writer's Almanac site well worth passing on, from Jack Gilbert's excellent collection, Refusing Heaven:

Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
Jack Gilbert

flying two feet
then two feet more
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, February 26, 2010

Chinese Poetry, edited by Bonnie McCandless

Over the past few weeks, I've taken some time away from the tour of my Eastern anthology bookshelves because, frankly, I got stuck in the "C's", as in anthologies of Chinese poetry. Well, I've read through another intrepid little volume, with a decidedly un-humble scope: poetry from the Ancient Chou Dynasty to the present day (1991) in 127 pages. Chinese Poetry: Through the Words of the People, edited by Bonnie McCandless, is divided into 9 sections, plus an introduction, each section containing a 2 to 4 page intro of its own. So that adds up to almost 30 pages of introductory material, leaving about 100 pages to cover 2500 years of poetry from one of the world's finest traditions. There is one poem per page, with a few poems covering two or three pages.

A daunting task, indeed; you get the idea.

As might be imagined, the presentation here is highly selective and, one would assume, highly qualitative. The translations are by a variety of different people, including Burton Watson, Gary Snyder, Witter Bynner, Kenneth Rexroth, and more. As with many an anthology, I had mixed feelings; it seemed for such a slim volume, there were even slimmer pickings. I winged my way through the entire first two sections until being struck by the following in section three, "Poetry of the Recluse:"

Written While Drunk

I built my house near where others dwell,
And yet there is no clamour of carriages and horses.
You ask of me "How can this be so?"
"When the heart is far the place of itself is distant."
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
And gaze afar towards the southern mountains.
The mountain air is fine at evening of the day
And flying birds return together homewards.
Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words.
T'ao Yüan-Ming
translated by Cyril Birch

"Within these things there is a hint of Truth ...," an untellable truth - that's the ticket. This poem is immediately followed by a selection of Han-Shan's Cold Mountain Poems, translated by Gary Snyder. Though Snyder's are not my favorite renditions, Han-Shan is one of my favorite poets; this one's a beauty:

In my first thirty years of life
I roamed hundreds and thousands of miles.
Entered cities of boiling red dust.
Tried drugs, but couldn't make Immortal;
Read books and wrote poems on history.
Today I'm back at Cold Mountain:
I'll sleep by the creek and purify my ears.
translated by Gary Snyder

Skipping forward to the T'ang dynasty, here is a stinging, incisive poem by Po Ch'ü-I:

Too Brilliant
From distant Annam there came a gift-
a scarlet parrot with coloured plummage
like peach blossom; so clever that
it could speak like men;

-----so, as with clever men
-----they put it in a cage
-----where it sits wondering
-----when it shall taste life again.
Po Ch'ü-I
translated by Rewi Alley

There is a touch of a political air in this poem and it is welcome. From the next section, "Chinese Women and Poetry," comes a poem by a woman in praise of women, which in its time (8th century) and culture had its own political implications:

Willow Eyebrows

Sorrows play at the edge of these willow leaf curves.
They are often reflected, deep, deep.
In my water blossom inlaid mirror,
I am too pretty to bother with an eyebrow pencil.
Spring hills paint themselves
with their own personality.
Chao Luan-Luan
translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

The next section, entitled "Poetry in Music, Art, and Theatre," begins with a poem by the wonderful 8th century poet/painter, Wang Wei, whose work is moving in a deeply personal way:

Composed on a Spring Day on the Farm

Spring pigeons bill and coo under the rocks;
Returning swallows spy out their former nests;
Apricot blossoms whiten the outskirts of the village.
Axes in hand, the peasants set out to prune the mulberry trees
Or shouldering hoes, exploring water sources for irrigation.
Old people leaf over the latest almanac.
As for me, with my cup of wine, I suddenly forget to drink,
Whelmed in abysmal longing for friends far away.
Wang Wei
translated by Chang Yin-nan and Lewis C. Walmsey

The poem itself has such a painterly quality as to conjure up the scene entire in the mind. The technique is one that will also bring to mind for James Wright fans the poem Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota: each line builds, an image at a time, to a sudden final, moving revelation in the concluding line. The Wright poem, often justifiably cited as one of his very best, was initially met with critical resistance which basically posited that the reader was unprepared for the conclusion by what came before. Yet here is Wang Wei, 12 centuries earlier, showing the exact same psychological process which somehow a number of modern critics somehow managed never to experience in their time on this wildly spinning blue ball in space.

Go figure.

A few pages after the Wang Wei poem, is a poem entitled "A Lady Picking Flowers" by the Chinese painter, Shen Chou, who obviously also knew how to wield both kinds of brushes, the painter's and the poet's:

A Lady Picking Flowers

Last year we parted as flowers began to bloom.
Now the flowers bloom again, and you still have not returned.
Purple grief, red sorrow—a hundred thousand kinds,
and the spring wind blows each of them into my hands.
Shen Chou
translated by Jonathan Chaves

A third poem from this section quickly established it as my favorite; those with delicate sensibilities, quick, look away - this one's hot ...

To the Tune "Red Embroidered Shoes"

If you don't know how, why pretend?
Maybe you can fool some girls,
But you can't fool Heaven.
I'd dreamed that you'd play with the
Locust blossom under my green jacket,
Like a eunuch with a courtesan.
But lo and behold!
All you can do is mumble.
You've made me all wet and slippery,
But no matter how hard you try.
Nothing happens. So stop.
Go and make somebody else
Huang O
translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

That's Heaven with a capital "H," fellas. Nobody, but nobody, wants to be on the wrong end of this kind of put-down. You'll notice, while we are busy catching our breath, that like many a Chinese poem, it takes its name from the song melody referenced in its title. Finally, of course, one can't help but wonder if red embroidered shoes were involved in any way besides a reference.

The anthology moves forward to conclude with 3 chapters of modern Chinese poetry, much of which has a political tone and shifts emphasis from the personal/universal to the societal. To be sure, there are some poems of revolution, here and there a poem of nature ("Sonnet" by Feng Chih is quite good), and a beautiful poem of living nostalgia (Bei Dao's "Old Temple").

Any anthology, especially one this slim, that offers up 5 to 10 poems of lasting value is a success in my estimation. I'm not sure, in this case, that this was the type of success the editor hoped for. I suppose if someone else read it and there were 5 to 10 other poems that grabbed them, then it might be accounted an overall success. However, I can't in good faith urge people to seek this one out. It seems to me that the huge editorial scope simply overwhelmed the sheer lack of room. But, if you see it in a used book shop cheap, and I bet you will, or pick it up at the library, it is worth a peruse. You'll probably catch a gem or two that got by me.


This week's featured broadside, HighKu (Lilliput Review, #118), is a highly experimental, with the emphasis on the highly, set of poems by Washington state poet M. Kettner. As such, They may not be everyone's cup of meat, as the poet said. But here's a taste of the 13 poem broadside: the first bag's always free:


aerial surveillance of self
patent leather reflecting sun


sun on chipped paint
alleys steaming



ocean breeze
----on a crate of oranges


feet clean
zits popped.



Ping-Pong ball caught in vacuum hose
parking tickets unpaid


high at midnight:
single light in the rectory
skin a canvas covering


And the Master tells it like it is:

drinking cheap sake--
this cuckoo
this grove

Issa translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Highway 61 Revisited (Johnny Winter): Issa's Sunday Service, #43

This week is the birthday of Mr. Johnny Winter who, for our purposes today, is the smokin'est blues guitar player of his generation. On another day, we might discuss this in depth; today he's it. Today's selection for Issa's Sunday Service is the Bob Dylan tune "Highway 61 Revisited."

This is Bob's re-imagining of the Abraham and Issac story, played out in the larger contest of the then (and still) impending threat of nuclear war. For those alive back in the day who remember the Kent State protest and killings ("Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ..."), you might also remember the sculptor George Segal's controversial memorial "In Memory of May 4, 1970, Kent State University," that set off its own firestorm of protest, drawing on the same Biblical story for its resonance in modern times:

Looking back over the first 40 plus weeks of selected LitRock songs, it seems that there is a really formidable subset of songs drawing on the Bible. And this rock and roll was supposed to be the devil's music - who'd a thunk?

Back in 1992, Johnny Winter performed "Highway 61 Revisited" at Dylan's big 50th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden. What follows is that performance; watch Johnny signaling the drummer to speed it up (!), G. E. Smith telling the sound crew to turn it up, and Steve ("Hit it, Stevie") Cropper's fixed stare at one helluva amazing guitar slinger ...

There are also two other possible literary allusions in this song I'd never caught before. Take a look at the 3rd verse:

Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
And he said yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61.

This song was written in the wake of the immense popularity of the Louis Armstrong rendition of the Brecht/Weill composition "Mack the Knife." Mack the Finger sung by King Louie: oh, yeah, I'd say so. Though one of his more popular numbers (a la "Hello, Dolly"), it certainly isn't one of Pops finer moments. However, I will never say anything negative about one of the great jazz musicians of the 20th century. Somehow, we all have to pay the bills.

The other allusion is a bit more generic: "Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night." Could be to Shakespeare but since Twelfth Night is a lot bigger than Will's take on it, I'll have to let that one go: the lyrical thread is a bit too tangled for me to undo.

Finally, why Highway 61 revisited? Well, it may be as simple as Highway 61 runs by Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan's hometown, on its 1400 miles trek to New Orleans. Also Dylan, ever the singer steeped in the folk and blues tradition, would have been well aware of Mississippi Fred McDowell's song "61 Highway," with its blistering slide guitar that even Mr. Winter could learn a thing or two from.


Today's feature poem comes from the California poet, Tom Riley, originally published in Lilliput Review, #67, April 1995. Think of it as an admonishment, think of it as a cautionary tale - think of it:

What You're Good For
The ice giants
fry the eggs of the snow serpent,
the tastiest morsels they know,
on the bare backs
of hot-blooded
lads like you.
Tom Riley


And here's one for those who, though perhaps success in avoiding those ice giants, have been breaking their backs with all the recent snow:

he's also in no mood
to sweep the snow...
translated by David G. Lanoue


Thursday, February 18, 2010

John Martone: On Squirrels

John Martone is one of the finest purveyors of the short-short poem today; he is most certainly a favorite poet of mine. His work arrives in the mail box in a variety of forms, frequently even tinier than the work I publish.

I love it when work is smaller than Lilliput Review. It makes me happy in the way eccentrics are often pleased; a blissed out, peaceful kind of smile that causes those in authority to do a troubled double-take.

And I just keep on smiling. Ban the mind-altering substance poetry if you dare.

John's closeness to nature is one of the aspects of his work that I find most appealing. His predisposition to all living things and, for that matter, natural inanimate things, reminds me very much philosophically of Master Issa. His latest little collection is tiny, indeed, containing 13 small poems centered around squirrels.

human speaks squirrel
squirrel stares back
what's a poem

One of the anomalies of the brief poem is voice - who is speaking, to whom, and does it even matter? In this case, what is the nature of trans-species communication, what exactly is happening here? Honestly, I'm not sure but I can tell you this: it made me smile.

Martone has a penchant for fine detail, the kind you should notice except if you, like me, are too busy being "out of your mind." Literally, that is.

squirrel eyes
taking you in
no whites

Of course, I had to shuffle to an image search to discover what John would have just stepped outside to see:

Having proven me as inattentive as might be, the next poem posits another thought:

squirrel has 2 hands too

So, what's the poet about here? Even I noticed a squirrel has two hands; just yesterday I watched one, standing upright on a lamp stanchion, quickly twirling the food s/he was working over, while taking in all of the surrounding environs, ready to bolt at the briefest of whispers.



Notice how different the form of this poem is from the others and why. Here is a poet, bound closely with nature, yet comparing a squirrel to humans: eyes, hands, occupations. And then this:

squirrels passing thru my life - their faces

Now this is something else again. With the implied individuation of each face, the poet extends his ongoing comparison to humans. And to see the human in the animal face is the perfect complement to seeing types of animals in human faces, a type of revelatory experience that can have the forceful impact of a solved zen koan.

One might say the zen koan, yet to say the anything when it comes to zen is a bit presumptuous, so perhaps not. And yet, and yet.

On one level, of course, these are rather plain, seemingly simplistic descriptions of squirrels. Is there another level? Can you feel the vibrancy, can you see it? When you see a stone, is it a stone? Is it alive? When you hold a leaf in your hand, what do you see?

Which makes me think, as I often do, of the transcendent conclusion to the pulp novel, The Shrinking Man (made into the iconic film The Incredible Shrinking Man), by Richard Matheson. Scott Carey, the shrinking man, has just escaped from the basement where he has been trapped for the later part of the novel, battling a voracious spider with a sewing needle and fending off a veritable flood caused by a faulty water heater, and finally wakes up on a bed of leaves:

He remembered lying on the bed of leaves the night before, and he glanced down. He was sitting on a vast plain of speckled brown and yellow. There were great paths angling out from a gigantic avenue. They went as far as the eye could see.

He was sitting on the leaves.

He shook his head in confusion

How could he be less than nothing?

The idea came. Last night he'd looked up at the universe without. Then there must be a universe within, too. Maybe universes.

He stood again. Why had he never thought of it; of the microscopic and the submicroscopic worlds? That they existed he had always known. Yet never had he made the obvious connection. He'd always thought in terms of man's own world and man's own limited dimensions. He had presumed upon nature. For the inch was man's concept, not nature's. To a man, zero inches means nothing. Zero meant nothing.

But to nature there was no zero. Existence went on in endless cycles. It seemed so simple now. He would never disappear, because there was no point of non-existence in the universe.

Though what Matheson is talking about here is quite literal, it also is metaphoric and this moment of transcendence is, even more incredibly, preserved in the film. One can make a case that the movie, despite allusions to "God" not in the book, hones the book's point to a finer edge. Notably, Matheson wrote the screenplay himself.

Somehow, I always imagined Scott Carey continuing to shrink, so that eventually he will fall through the leaf, among the atoms, and beyond.

Man presuming on nature, indeed.


Cover: Susie by Albert Huffstickler

This week's featured broadside is Dearly Departed by Albert Huffstickler, published as Lilliput Review #120. This tiny little booklet, comprised of 13 brief poems, none of which goes beyond 6 lines, is perhaps the most devastating work I've had the privilege to publish in Lillie during the first 20 years of its run. It is dedicated to fellow poet and close friend Susie Bowers who died of her own hand the previous year. Some of the poems are addressed directly to Susie and they are by turns loving, angry, and pointedly astute. Death was a muse Huff knew quite well. Though these poems are intensely personal, somehow they also speak for us all.

As always, no matter how far we venture out, Huff brings us home:

People always want
to know why
Why is just why.
It doesn't tell you


Suicide is a
great responsibility:
you take from others
so many things that
were never yours
to begin with.


I don't mind
my own solitude
but now you've
left me with yours.


I don't think I want
to understand why you did it.
I can't even deal with
not understanding.


And here we are
and here you go
leaving me
as you found me:
heart divided
words on paper.


Huff by Susie Bowers


does my star too
sleep alone?
Milky Way
translated by David G. Lanoue



PS Huff's little broadside, for with all 13 poems and both portraits, is available for a standard self-addressed envelope with a single first class stamp attached or for $1.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Poor Little Rich Boy: Issa's Sunday Service, #42

This week's Issa's Sunday Service feature is "Poor Little Rich Boy" by Regina Spektor. She references both Hemingway and Fitzgerald in this catchy little number and manages to give us a bit of a break from all the old school that's been happening around here lately.

There have been other songs with this delightful title, from songwriters as diverse as Randy Newman and George Jones. In fact, the poor little rich boy seems to be something of a stereotype across the cultural spectrum. But, for the purposes of this post, let's just say this one's for F. Scott and poor little rich boys everywhere.

And just in case you were thinking that maybe this little tune doesn't rock enough, this live performance should tip the scales:


It is a bittersweet irony that this week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review #66, an Albert Huffstickler broadside entitled Circles Within Circles. Ironic because of its deep red color and the inclusion of the following poem on this day of days:

A stone-shaped
A heart-shaped
Choose one
Albert Huffstickler

And a little valentine for us all from Issa, one which I believe Huff would have loved:

traveling geese--
the human heart, too
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS And in case you'd like to read a review of a book I recently read and loved, head over to Eleventh Stack for "Hermann Hesse: The Fairytales."

Also, you will notice in the sidebar that I reconfigured "Issa's LitRock Jukebox" of all 42 songs so that the most recent songs play first and work their way back in time. The separate standalone page for the Jukebox is also the same.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dennis Maloney: Just Enough

I've just finished reading Dennis Maloney's Just Enough, a collection of 64 tanka, for the 2nd time in its entirety. The first time was a couple of months ago and, as I often do, I marked favorites with post-its on which I scribble a thought or two if I'm lucky enough to have one. What struck me this time is how many of the poems I hadn't highlighted during this reading.

Who said procrastination is a bad thing?

According to the cover copy, the poems are a linked collection "written in the voice of a contemporary hermit-poet living in the Higashiyama region of Kyoto." As Dennis notes in the Afterword, he has visited Kyoto many times since 1973 and that many "of the poems are drawn from experiences in Kyoto or inspired by it."

The tanka themselves are a loose collection of poems exploring the self and its relation to the outside world, the stuff of classic Eastern verse. This beautifully designed little volume, published by Palisade Press, with Bashô's hut pictured on the cover, fits neatly into the hand (4 x 7") or back pocket.

As with the best Eastern verse, there is a subtle, understated quality that may be deceptive in its simplicity. Here there is less erudite allusion or a sophisticated style than a simple, pure philosophic outlook. There are no simple answers, however; what there is is the constant everyday working toward the light, if you will, the light as in enlightenment.

Don't give me the whole truth,
but sea for thirst, sky for light.
Give me a glint,
as birds bear water drops
from bathing.

There are no sure answers; we are human, after all. There is contradiction, in the best Whitmanesque sense. First, the poem from which the title is derived, also the first poem in the collection:

How hard it is
to take
what is given
and say yes,
just enough.

And then 28 poems later:

You didn't ask to be born,
but here you are living
in the everyday world.
There is so much,
one life is not enough.

Both of these poems are, in their individual ways, glorious celebrations of life. Whatever the goal or the Buddhist principle, the truth will out, as it does in both poems that on the surface seem contradictory but in reality work together as the wings of young sparrow.

One of my favorite poems here is about poetry, a weakness of mine that is obvious to anyone who knows my finer editorial peccadilloes, yet still it manages to be about, and evoke so very much more, than that in a mere 21 words:

A good poem
should smell of tea,
earth or newly split wood.
A few words woven together
to make a home.

Notice the economy and precision here: the poem should "smell of tea," not "like tea." And three simple elements here - tea, earth, and wood - make up not just the poem but what any good home may be comprised of.

Art and life, perfectly dovetailed as one.

The quest, of course, is never ending, the journey is the destination, otherwise we all could have stopped writing (and drawing and singing) a long time ago.

On the mountain trails
of the self
-hot summer sweat
step after step uphill,
no destination in sight.

And life is conjured in all its glory and ambivalence and wonder, internal and external:

Some days the pond
has utter clarity
-a distant mirror.
Other days
it is clouded by rain.

The mirror appears again, this time in its symbolic guise, resonating back and forth:

Years spent in
meditation halls
wandering from teacher to teacher
polishing, polishing the mirror
-now break it!

Maloney has adopted certain principles, certain archetypes, be they Zen, lyric, or otherwise, and made them his own. His vocabulary is basic; he puts the words he chooses, and ones he doesn't, to great use. Here is another about a teacher and the lesson, which I glossed over in my first reading:

In the old days
the teacher said
find a need and fill it.
What is that need?
Only the road will till you.

However you view that road, be it literal or symbolic, the point I originally missed is that it is external. It is "a need" not, "your need," (italics mine) and it is outside yourself you will find it. As another contemporary nature poet asked, "What will you do with this one wild and precious life?" Again, "this one wild and precious life", not "your wild and precious life" (again, italics are mine).

This is a beautiful little book for appreciators and practitioners of tanka, those with an interest in Eastern philosophy, and anyone generally enamored of the short poem. Here's one final reason this volume deserves to find an attentive audience:

If you're kin to the pine
you'll live long,
glisten in the rain,
be lively in autumn,
beautiful in snow.


The featured broadside this week is Lilliput Review #125, entitled Only: a patch of Cid Corman. Cid was a giant in 20th century poetry. His work, as illustrated below, is focused in the now; in the shortest verse each and every word bears its own weight. He slows you down, makes you look now at the realities of life. In addition, I can personally say he was a poet of unflinching generosity to even the smallest of presses, Lilliput certainly falling, both literally and figuratively, into that category. The notes he wrote, the poems he sent, the spirit he shared, all were an immense lift to me and, as a result, the magazine. He showed me hope, he showed me heart, and he made me see things, literally and lyrically, in a different way. I was lucky enough to publish 2 broadsides and 2 chapbooks of his work. I believe Now/Now, "Modest Proposal Chapbook #12, was the last collection of his to appear in his lifetime; it arrived just before he entered hospital in December 2003. The broadsides and chapbooks are all still in print and still available.


To feel what it is
was to be or have been this
only this moment.

Nobody survives
except as a form of no
thing - is what this is.


We like to think we
think and that we mean something
by thinking we do.

There are reasons for
reasons excuses excuse
and there you are - here.

Cid also loved the classic haiku poets, Issa included. Here are two poems by a master poet I believe he would have loved:

butterfly dances
'round the arrow
in a dying deer

dying to the beat
of the prayer to Buddha...
one leaf falls
translated by Daniel G. Lanoue


Monday, February 8, 2010

Dave Christy: Small Press Giant

News arrived this morning of the passing of Dave Christy, co-publisher with his wife Ana, of Alpha Beat Press. Doug Holder announced it this morning on his blog. From the Alpha Beat website:

Alpha Beat Press has been publishing Beat Generation, post-Beat Independent and other modern writings since 1986. Alpha Beat Press had its beginnings in a Montreal flat with the idea of keeping the aesthetics and sensibilities of the Beat generation alive. Our first magazine, Alpha Beat Soup was unique, being the only small press magazine publishing original and current Beat writings. In our new magazine Bouillabaisse and in our other poetry publications we have continued in that tradition, publishing a wide variety of writers and styles, from Bukowski to the lesser known poets. Alpha Beat Press is certainly the best of the small press!

To call Dave an icon of the real "small press" is no exaggeration. Working in the style and spirit of the Beats and mimeo revolution of the 60's, Dave and Ana have published some of the most important New Beat and Beat poets of the last 30 years. I have been in contact with Ana and Dave almost since the inception of Lilliput Review in 1989 and we have swapped small publications for all these years.

This is truly saddening news. Ana, you are in my thoughts.

the death bell
tolls at the temple...
winter seclusion
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Undercover of the Night: Issa's Sunday Service, #41

Patti Smith & William S. Burroughs

Yesterday was the birthday of the Godfather of Outlaw Literature, William S. Burroughs. This week's feature on Issa's Sunday Service is a most unlikely song by The Rolling Stones: "Undercover of the Night." It seems especially unlikely to me in its ties to Burroughs. The Stones really shouldn't surprise in a career that spans so many years; the breadth of material they have composed is truly amazing. Though it seems inevitable, just in terms of sheer volume, that some songs would be LitRock (and this is their second appearance on ISS), I never imagined any reference to Uncle Bill. Jagger has been widely quoted as to the song's meaning and here's what he had to say:

"I'm not saying I nicked it, but this song was heavily influenced by William Burroughs' Cities Of The Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile. I think it's really good but it wasn't particularly successful at the time because songs that deal overtly with politics never are that successful, for some reason."(quote from Songfacts)

I guess it's honest to admit that I never imagined that I'd ever hear Jagger use the phrase "a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression." But, there you go. Cute and lots of brains, too. The lyrics follow:

Undercover of the Night
Hear the screams of Center 42
Loud enough to bust your brains out
The opposition's tongue is cut in two
Keep off the street 'cause you're in danger

One hundred thousand disparus
Lost in the jails in South America
Curl up baby
Curl up tight
Curl up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover of the night

The sex police are out there on the streets
Make sure the pass laws are not broken
The race militia has got itchy fingers
All the way from New York back to Africa

Cuddle up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Cuddle up baby
Sleep with all out of sight
Cuddle up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover of the night

All the young men they've been rounded up
And sent to camps back in the jungle
And people whisper people double-talk
And once proud fathers act so humble
All the young girls they have got the blues
They're heading on back to Center 42

all out of sight
all out of sight
all out of sight
all out of sight
Undercover of the night

Down in the bars the girls are painted blue
Done up in lace, done up in rubber
The John's are jerky little G.I. Joe's
On R&R from Cuba and Russia
The smell of sex, the smell of suicide
All these things I can't keep inside

all out of sight
Undercover of the night

Undercover of the night
Undercover of the night

Undercover of the night

In further remembrance of Mr. B., what follows is an excerpt of an interview with him from the film The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg in which he recounts his relationship with Ginsberg and Kerouac and the flowering of his own career.


This week's poem comes from Lilliput Review #65 (February 1995). 6 other poems from this issue were featured in a previous post.

There is a
line of them
pecking at crumbs
that fall from
the hands of a
child who grows
old in their
eyes even as
they eat
Alan Catlin

And a poem from that lover of sparrows, Issa:

fledgling faces
peek out the nest...
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, February 5, 2010

Peter Dent - Breaking Shadows

When someone sends a tiny book, especially a tiny poetry book, out into the world, I imagine they have to wonder: will this even make one ripple in the pond and, if so, will that ripple reach the pond's edge? I have many books in my house and, since I've been editing a poetry magazine that specializes in poems ten lines or less for the last 20 years, a lot of those books are small, some very tiny, indeed.

Peter Dent's Breaking Shadows has traveled all over my house, from 1st floor to 2nd, from the second to my working garret, and back down and up again at least a few times. Where this book actually came from I can only guess and my best guess is Ronald Moran. For some reason I associate him with Juniper Press, the publisher of Breaking Shadows. Ronald sent me a couple of batches of very small books a number of years back and, so, I am connecting the dots here. I could be wrong, but there you go.

Wherever this diminutive little book came from, it is a little beauty. It is #12 of a haiku/short poems series entitled "Chickadees," as you may note from the above Juniper Press link. It is approx. 3.75 x 4", handset, and hand-sewn and contains 16 very small poems. The very first poem sends a message: read slowly, very, very slowly.

To the possible
Be at home. Home's lights
Its cobwebs nothings
Linking here to there

This is a poem in which pausing at the end of every line is critical. In fact, in a number of instances, I forced myself to pause after each word to find the sense via the rhythm. For me, pausing after "lights", "cobwebs", "nothings", and maybe even"Linking" help me get at the essence of the poem. One could make a case - for instance after "here" - to pausing in different places. In any case that you might make, slowing down is of paramount importance. The next poem is similar:

Still life --More still the word
The cloud puts down its crows
By water waits as if
There's something left to do

Why hasn't the poet provided punctuation? Is punctuation necessary in so short a poem? If not, why not? Is the lack of punctuation part of the point?

I'm in an asking questions not supplying answers mode today. Some cop out, eh? But actually, this is how this book should be read. It is about the interaction of the poem and the reader. The poem doesn't bring the meaning: the reader does.

Still, for me, these poems intrigue, deeply. Here's a real beaut:

Full Moon
By which to write -But nothing
Nothing's great sails filling
Wonder words the book of
Heaven --Steady as she goes

Again the reader makes decisions, reading decisions. The poet is engaging his audience; here, you do some work for a bit. Thanks. Think that one lovely? Try this:

In silt and shadow
The Autumn
Of an endless stream

The poet is in a giving mood, his line breaks providing all the punctuation you need. Robinson Jeffers might love this poem; no frigging people to muck things up (Heisenberg might disagree, but this is a poetry blog, not a physics paper). This poem slows your ass down. How much more beautiful can something get? Now let's turn to syntax, artfully shaped into revelation:

Empty after
It's emptied out
A day we couldn't
Still can't bear

Here's sacrilege - it doesn't matter what this poem is about. It strikes deep, it strikes hard, and it is incessant. The shifting from past to present in the space of one word - "couldn't" to "Still", to a possible endless future forces the reader to confront the essence of something that cannot be borne. It is one thing to say it, quite another to live it. It doesn't matter if it is a place, a concept, a person that is emptied out, whatever, it is emptied out and it is unbearable.

All in 12 short, plainspoken words. So much power, so much devastation.

I can't end it here, not on this note. I need some solace, albeit it minimum, some guidance, some instruction:

After Ryo-nen
Sixty-six Autumns
Of moonlight I've said enough
Ask no more - Listen
To what the pine and cedar
Say when no wind stirs

Leave it right there, we can't hope for more: there is none. A tiny little booklet, full of revelation. It's time for me to pay better attention, before there is no more attention to pay.


Click to enlarge

This week's feature broadside is Lilliput issue #130, entitled Fish Ladder: 19 Tanka by Miriam Sagan. Miriam is one of the finest small press poets we have; her work is direct, engaging, and emotional, with the deep clarity of a cool spring stream. I've been reading her work in the "littles" for over 25 years and simply can't get enough. Here is a sample from Fish Ladder:

Through the fish window
we saw the silver salmon
swim up the ladders
of the damn, and thought
suddenly of our lives

How surprising-
that it could still startle me,
blood on the sheets
after I was
forty-five years old

Canada geese
along the canal
their long black necks
writing a calligraphy—
no ink, no brush

She says she once
saw tigers mating, early
in the morning
at the zoo—
why did she tell me this?

Rain forest,
underside of the fern leaf
more spores
than the cities on earth
cells in my palm

The final word(s):

at the gate
a palm-sized rice field too
has greened
translated by David G. Lanoue


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Issa's LitRock Jukebox

Introducing Issa's Lit Rock Jukebox, an outgrowth of the special weekly music/literature feature, Issa's Sunday Service. The Sunday postings highlight rock songs that have some direct reference or allusion to literature - litrock, for short. To date, there have been 40 songs featured on Sunday postings; a list, with links back to the music and original posts, may be found on this standalone website. In addition, the Jukebox itself also has its own page.

You can listen to the songs featured on Issa's Sunday Service, either individually or in sequence, via the grooveshark widget above or on the separate page. Simply use the slidebar on the side of the juke to select particular songs from the current list. I've embedded the Jukebox on the sidebar on the right a bit of the ways down, after the listing of Issa sites around the web, for listening after this post is history. I will update the Jukebox weekly with the new Sunday posts.

And, as always, if you have a song suggestion for the Litrock Sunday series that passes muster, in appreciation I will be happy to send you the two current issues (or extend your current subscription by two issues) of Lilliput Review, free of charge.

the insect's song
on the paper door
translated by David G. Lanoue