Friday, July 30, 2010

Buson, Chiyojo, Meisetsu, Moritake:
1 Maxim & 5 Haiku

Two Crows by Buson

Ran across this quote while reading The Essential Haiku, edited by Robert Hass, in preparation for the November Haiku session I'll be doing

"Use the commonplace to escape the commonplace"

Capturing the spiritual aspect of haiku, haiku as a way, can be tricky when dealing with a Western audience new to haiku. This particular quote may or may not work for my purposes, but it sure does work for this blog. There is at once a Tao/Zen quality to the quote, probing to the core of the Mystery. A beauty.


As promised in a previous post, here are a few more haiku from One Hundred Famous Haiku, selected and translated by Daniel Buchanan. An older book which largely adheres to the 5-7-5 form in English, there were a number of standout haiku well worth sharing.

Bearing no flowers
I am free to toss madly
Like the willow tree.

This is a most uncharacteristic haiku, especially a classic haiku, on a couple of levels. First, the use of a simile, with the word "like" and, second, flowing directly from that, a deep expression of personal emotions. It might be more correctly called a senryu, but in any case its strong appeal is precisely because of its uncharacteristic qualities. One of the great Japanese woman practitioners of the haiku form, this powerful emotional work is remembered long after it is read.

Butterflies follow
Lovingly the flower-wreath
Placed on the coffin.

The translator Buchanan explains in a note that the word "shitau" in the original, which has been translated as "follow / Lovingly" has also the alternate meaning of "yearn for" or "love dearly." Thus the comparison in this ku is implicit compared to Chiyojo's above; the mourner/mourners, too, are like the butterflies, following longingly.

The morning-glory
Today reveals most clearly
My own life cycle.

Again perhaps more senryu than haiku, Moritake speaks to the essence of what the nature element and haiku are all about. To make a distinction between nature and human beings, as though people were not part of nature, is in my estimation a significant error. Looking to nature, Moritake sees himself (and us) in the grand scheme of things.

What might the morning-glory reveal tomorrow?


Sometimes, all it takes is one line; from Lilliput Review, #142, January 2005, a "companion" poem from one of last week's featured poets:

poetry is the dew of silence
Jean Michel Guillaumond

if someone asks
answer: it's a dewdrop
translated by David G. Lanoue 


PS  There are always 100's of poems to peruse at the Lilliput archive.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

John The Revelator: Issa's Sunday Service, #62

Week 62 (or 61 depending on you count them) and, looking back, it has amazed me that the overwhelming literary source for the high end material known as "litrock" has been the Bible.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't be so amazed. First and second generation blues musicians frequently talked about the relationship of gospel music and blues, juke joint Saturday nights and church singing Sunday mornings. Blues, of course, being the Devil's music and gospel, the Lord's.

This week's selection for Issa's Sunday Service is a song that is positively possessed, a song of the prophet who wrote the book full of hell fire and redemption, speaking in tongues and apocalyptic visions: "John the Revelator." There are a gazillion renditions of this number: rock, folk, blues, gospel, you name it. Since this feature is geared to rock, with the occasional detour, today's rendition is by one of only a handful of jam bands that are a blip on the ordinary music listeners radar: Gov't Mule (two others being the Grateful Dead and Phish).

While looking around for a decent version of "John The Revelator," I discovered that Nick Cave made it all his own, including some new lyrics. Maybe not my favorite, but certainly worth a listen for Cave fans and, the more I listen, the more possessed by it I seem.

Jack White of White Stripes, channeling early Black Sabbath, has also made this his own by writing an intro about war and devastation, the whole becoming the medley "Cannon/John The Revelator," here done live in France in 2007.

Of course, this is Son House's song, plain and simple, so I was hoping to find some video of hime performing it for full effect, but no luck. So, here's Son House's acapella version, with the complete lyrics:


Albert Huffstickler has been featured here many times and this week's poem adds to an impressive list of fine work: from Lilliput Review, #93, back in December 1997, a little waft of cool air in this abysmally hot weather, to tip us towards things to come:

Autumn is how
the distance grows
how voices
get farther
Albert Huffstickler

summer moon--
in the vacant lot a ruckus
of voices
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, July 23, 2010

Blues & Haiku: Big Mama Thornton & Peggy Heinrich

Over the years, Peggy Heinrich has published a number of outstanding haiku in the pages of Lilliput Review. 10 of her works were recently featured at Of the featured haiku, I was particularly touched by:

holding my breath
until the cormorant

Peggy Heinrich

This, of course, reminds me of Bashō's cormorant poem, featured and discussed in a previous post. Here's Bashō, as translated by Lucien Stryk:

Cormorant fishing
how stirring
how saddening.

translated by Lucien Styrk

For those unfamiliar with cormorant "fishing," the following explanation comes from that earlier post:

The verse about the cormorant fishing perhaps needs a gloss. Fisherman commonly used the cormorant to fish by tying a string around its neck so when the bird snared a fish it couldn't swallow and the "fisherman" would simply remove the fish and put the bird back in the water. Not quite fishing with hand grenades, but certainly in the same mode. What really captures the true Basho spirit here is that he is both stirred and saddened, he still sees the miracle of nature despite the appalling behavior of nature's "highest creation", man.

Peggy manages to capture the idea of being stirred, as in Styrk's version of Bashō, with a suggestion of sadness or, perhaps, horror.

Another poem that resonates from this selection seems so basic, so simple in image and execution, to approach cliché, and yet, and yet (as Issa said of the dewdrop world):

ebb tide
turning to look back
at my footprints

Peggy Heinrich

In some ways, this is a perfect modern haiku: precise, concise, a literal image capturing a specific moment that resonates mightily. There is not one wrong word here and each carries its weight. Three words are at this poems core: ebb, turning, and back. What each one of those words means individually and collectively makes the poem come together. It is something anyone whose been to a shoreline has experienced. Mixed in that experience is the cosmic feel of place, a sense of self as self, a sense of self as part of the whole, a sort of returning, a vague bit of romantic nostalgia ...

But, ah, I'm projecting and that's the point of great haiku, the interaction of reader and poem, bringing one's own experience to bear. The poem has a feeling of ending, but it could just as well be about beginning, or both.

A genuine haiku moment, so simple it might easily be overlooked, as we overlook things, ordinary things, each and every day. Haiku moments. Moments.

The now.


On to the then, to risk a trite segue. Here is a moment, courtesy of Miss Late July (who also recently posted this), that is just too good for words. Big Mama Thornton. A very young Buddy Guy.

And, because once you get something like this started you can't stop, see if this one doesn't blow you out of the water:

Ok, so three's a charm: this one's for Janis (there is a reason this link has over 6 million hits), who was a huge fan of Big Mama (turn it UP):


Featured this week are two poems from the archive, from Lilliput Review #143 (June 1993), to mull over:

when you say 'bird'
do you feel
your wings unfurl?

Jean Michel Guilliaumond

A Melody by Haydn

wild plums --- just --- out -of ---reach

James Magorian

And one from the master:

not giving a damn
that plum blossoms fall...
his stern face

translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, July 18, 2010

End of the Night: Issa's Sunday Service, #61

The French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline is a figure of great influence and great controversy. Widely recognized as the author of one of the great novels of the 20th century, Journey to the End of the Night, he is also almost universally denounced for his anti-Semitic diatribes and opinions. The following is an assessment of his legacy from an authoritative Wikipedia article. In my mind, however, his anti-Semitic views are so appalling as to raise the question of what a "great author" really is.

Journey to the End of the Night is among the most acclaimed novels of the 20th century. Céline's legacy survives in the writings of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Queneau and Jean Genet among others, and in the admiration expressed for him by people like Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Robbe-Grillet, and Barthes. In the United States, writers like Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., William S. Burroughs, and Ken Kesey owe an obvious debt to the author of Voyage au bout de la nuit, though the relatively late date of the first English language translation means that any direct influence can be difficult to demonstrate, except in Henry Miller's case, who read the book in French shortly after it was published while he was living in Paris. Few first novels have had the impact of Journey to the End of the Night. Written in an explosive and highly colloquial style, the book shocked most critics but found immediate success with the French reading public, which responded enthusiastically to the violent misadventures of its petit-bourgeois antihero, Bardamu, and his characteristic nihilism. The author's military experiences in WWI, his travels to colonial French West Africa, New York, and his return to postwar France all provide episodes within the sprawling narrative.

Pessimism pervades Céline's fiction as his characters sense failure, anxiety, nihilism, and inertia. Will Self has described Celine's work as an "invective, which — despite the reputation he would later earn as a rabid anti-Semite — is aimed against all classes and races of people with indiscriminate abandon". The narrative of betrayal and exploitation, both real and imagined, corresponds with his personal life. His two true loves, his wife, Lucette Almanzor, and his cat, Bébert, are mentioned with nothing other than kindness and warmth. A progressive disintegration of personality appears in the stylistic incoherence of his books based on his life during the war: Guignol's Band, D'un château l'autre and Nord. However, some critics claim that the books are less incoherent than intentionally fragmented, and that they represent the final development of the style introduced with Journey to the End of the Night, suggesting that Céline maintained his faculties in clear working order to the end of his days. Guignol's Band and its companion novel London Bridge center on the London underworld during WWI. (In London Bridge a sailboat appears, bearing the name King Hamsun, obviously a tribute to another collaborationist writer.) Celine's autobiographical narrator recounts his disastrous partnership with a mystical Frenchman (intent on financing a trip to Tibet by winning a gas-mask competition); his uneasy relationship with London's pimps and prostitutes and their common nemesis, Inspector Matthew of Scotland Yard. These novels are classic examples of his black comedy which few writers have equaled. He continued writing right up to his death in 1961, finishing his last novel, Rigodon, in fact on the day before he died. In Conversations with Professor Y (1955) Céline defends his style, indicating that his heavy use of the ellipsis and his disjointed sentences are an attempt to embody human emotion in written language.

His writings are examples of black comedy, where unfortunate and often terrible things are described humorously. Céline's writing is often hyper-real and its polemic qualities can often be startling; however, his main strength lies in his ability to discredit almost everything and yet not lose a sense of enraged humanity. Céline was also an influence on Irvine Welsh, Günter Grass and Charles Bukowski. Bukowski wrote "'first of all read Céline. the greatest writer of 2,000 years"

Aside from the authors cited above, Jim Morrison of The Doors acknowledges Celine's influence in today's Issa's Sunday Service selection, "End of the Night." Not as often noted about this song, however, is that there is a direct quote from William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence": "

Auguries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell through all its regions.
A dog starved at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipped and armed for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.
The wild deer wandering here and there
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misused breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.
The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.
He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be beloved by men.
He who the ox to wrath has moved
Shall never be by woman loved.
The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh.
He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them, and thou wilt grow fat.
The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of Envy's foot.
The poison of the honey-bee
Is the artist's jealousy.
The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands,
Throughout all these human lands;
Tools were made and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright
And returned to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar
Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes Revenge! in realms of death.
The beggar's rags fluttering in air
Does to rags the heavens tear.
The soldier armed with sword and gun
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric's shore.
One mite wrung from the labourer's hands
Shall buy and sell the miser's lands,
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole nation sell and buy.
He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mocked in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.
He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.
The questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour's iron brace.
When gold and gems adorn the plough
To peaceful arts shall Envy bow.
A riddle or the cricket's cry
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding sheet.
The winner's shout, the loser's curse,
Dance before dead England's hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not through the eye
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light
To those poor souls who dwell in night,
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.
William Blake

I can't speak to the Céline, but the Blake is brilliant. There is the well-known opening 2 couplets:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

And the 8 lines towards the middle:

It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

And near the close, the lines from which Morrison quotes, the only lines in the poem were the rhyme is, songlike, repeated consecutively:

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

All three sections, plus the final lines, are strung together by a long catalog of examples, bolstering the poet's argument and assuring his immortality, and ours.


The featured poem from the Lilliput archive comes from issue #91, September 1997 and is by Cathy Drinkwater Better. Enjoy.

crows gather
row of hunched forms
immersed in no-mind
Cathy Drinkwater Better

paying no attention
to the departing spring...
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, July 16, 2010

Santoka: Some Further Translations

Last month, I did a post for which Scott Watson allowed me to share some of his thoughts on translation, along with 5 of his excellent renderings of the work of Santoka. In response, in order to prompt to continued thought and, perhaps, even talk on the subject, Charlie Trumbull sent along some translations of the same poems from his ongoing Haiku Database project. I asked him for more info on the project and he sent it, kindly granting permission to reprint the overview here:

The Haiku Database Project


while ago I was in the library looking for the text of a certain poem and was grateful for those anthologies that featured a first-line index of the contents. I had the thought that it would be wonderful to have a first-line or subject index of the best English-language haiku. But then, I continued, since haiku are so short, why not a full-text index? And while we’re at it, since we’re effectively talking only about 40 years of English haiku activity, why not a comprehensive, inclusive database?

The Haiku Database in an attempt to do just that: to put into a searchable, sortable, electronic database all important haiku that have appeared in English. I began working on the project in September 1998 and so far (end of June 2010) have captured almost 220,000 haiku. An unscientific guess is that the total number of English haiku published in the journals, anthologies, and individual collections is about twice that number. The Database grows at a rate of more than 20,000 haiku a year.

I began — because it was easy — by copying materials from on-line haiku sites and journals, including Dogwood Blossoms (the first Internet haiku journal), the Shiki Internet Haiku Salon biweekly kukai, Dhugal Lindsay’s Web site (which includes a few issues of Futoh), the wonderful sites constructed by Jane Reichhold, ai li, Elizabeth St Jacques, Randy Brooks, John Hudak, and others. Next, I targeted the major English-language anthologies, and have so far included Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (all three editions), Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, Jim Kacian’s annual Red Moon Anthologies (1996–2008) and the first five volumes in the New Resonance series (1999–2007), the San Francisco, Canadian, Australian, and two New Zealand anthologies, the British Haiku Hundred and Iron Book of Haiku, Zoe Savina’s huge international anthology, and many others.

Journals and individual collections are next. I have finished entering systematically the full runs of a few journals including American Haiku, Haiku West, Haiku Quarterly (Arizona), Woodnotes, Black Bough, South by Southeast, Acorn, Still, and Frogpond, and have begun working on Modern Haiku, Cicada, Dragonfly, Blithe Spirit, and Brussels Sprout. As for Internet sources, the Database includes Reflections, Haiku Light, The Heron’s Nest, Tinywords, Roadrunner, and Simply Haiku as well as much material from the English-language haiku columns in Japanese newspapers such as Mainichi and Asahi.

The Database focuses on haiku in English, but translations into English are also included. The Database now includes the contents of first three volumes of R.H. Blyth’s Haiku, as well as all of his two-volume History of Haiku. All the Peter Pauper haiku books have been extracted, as has the first volume of Toshiharu Oseko’s Bashô’s Haiku and many other translations into English of Japanese haiku. David Lanoue’s astonishing online database of Issa’s work was added at the end of 2007. Important individual collections are being captured as well, including Jane Reichhold’s massive Dictionary of Haiku (both the print and on-line editions; more than 4,800 haiku), Richard Wright’s Haiku: This Other World, and Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus.

Criteria for inclusion of a haiku are basically that it should have appeared in print (or in an online journal) in English. A few haiku in other languages are included, some translated, some not; these may form the core of a non-English haiku database some time in the future. Verses included as part of haiga or haibun are included if, in our opinion, they can stand alone as independent haiku. Except for the hokku, verses of renku are generally not included, nor generally are rengay, tanka, cinquains, and the like. In the case of concrete poems and short verses of haiku length, we generally try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Children’s haiku are included, but gathering them is a low priority.

Data collected for each haiku include the text (including as much of the formatting as possible), the author, publication history, date of composition (or, more commonly, date of first publication), and notes. For haiku translated from languages other than English, notably Japanese, the original text (in the original orthography and in a romanized version, if applicable), the name of the translator, and date of translation are also included. These data permit searches on specific kigo and comparisons of various translations of a haiku by, say, Bashô, even when the English texts are very different. Other fields in the database assist in sorting by season, season words, attributes (e.g., rhyme), etc.

The purpose of The Haiku Database is to make it easier for serious students to locate and study haiku — i.e., it is a finding tool. So far the database has proved useful to poets wishing to check the originality of their own work and in a few cases has helped identify cases of plagiarism in haiku contests. It has been useful for authors writing about haiku, preparing newspaper columns or journal articles, and compiling anthologies to have at hand large selection of examples, together with original publication information.

Clearly, any sort of commercial use or making the database freely available—e.g., on the Web—is out of the question, and I will not publish any raw search data. I would, however, like to make the existence of this resource known and make the search capability available to others in the haiku community. Please let me know if you are looking for a specific haiku or want to know what use has been made of, for example, “pampas grass” or “Christmas” in haiku. Within reason, I’ll be happy to run a search for you.

The poems that follow are in the order of the original post as translated by Scott Watson. I haven't reproduced Scott's renderings again as it isn't a question, in my mind (nor, I believe, Charlie's either), which one is better or worse etc. It is simply a further glimpse into the mind of the original poet, Santoka; more takes on his language, imagery, and thought. It is a way to expand our understanding and further the conversation. As Cid Corman said

Poetry is that
conversation we could not
otherwise have had.
Cid Corman
Lilliput Review, #103

ochiba furu oku fukaku Mihotoke o miru

Dead leaves fall, in the depth, I see the Buddha

Hiroaki Sato, Cicada 2:3 (1978)

Fallen leaves
Deep in the forest
I see a Buddha.

John Stevens, Santôka, Mountain Tasting #223; different format with translator not given, in Simply Haiku [Web] 3:3 (autumn 2005)

kûshû keihô ruirui to shite kaki akashi

The air-raid alarm
Screaming, screaming;
Red persimmons.

John Stevens, Santôka, Mountain Tasting #160; different format with translator not given, in Simply Haiku [Web] 3:3 (autumn 2005)

shinin torimaku hito-bito ni kumo mo naki sora ya

no other translations

ureshii tayori mo kanashii tayori mo haru no yuki furu

Good news,
Bad news;
Spring snow falls.

John Stevens, Santôka, Mountain Tasting #215

shigururu ya shinu naide iru

Cold winter rain;
I am still alive.

R.H. Blyth, Blyth, History of Haiku II:181

Downpour, dead I’m not

Hiroaki Sato, Cicada 2:1 (1978)

Winter shower I'm still not dead

Hiroaki Sato, Santôka, Grass and Tree Cairn, 7

late autumn rain;
not yet dying


late autumn rain;
yet not dying

Stephen Wolfe, Wolfe, "Wreath of Weeds," 219

It’s drizzling,
Here I am,
Still alive.

Hisashi Miura and James Green, Selected Haiku from Sômokutô

For further info on the Haiku Database Project, you may contact Charles Trumbull at:

trumbullc AT comcast DOT net (all one phrase, with AT standing in for @ and DOT standing in for .)


This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review, #145 and, since this post has been about translation, what can be more fitting than this little tanka, from the seminal 100 Poems by 100 Poets collection (a full translation of which may be found here):

The mountain pheasant's tail
trails long behind
–longer still
is my loneliness
in the unendingly long night.
Kakinomoto-no Hitomaro
translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro

the green mountain
a pheasant cries
translated by David G. Lanoue


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

mornings like this for harvey pekar: John Grochalski

The Pittsburgh-reared, Brooklyn-based poet John Grochalski has written a wonderful tribute to the late Harvey Pekar and posted it at his fine blog, Winedrunk Sidewalk. I liked it so much, I asked for and received permission to reprint it here.

mornings like this
for harvey pekar

mornings like this
with the scotch burning a new hole
in the stomach
with the coffee tasting stale
and the rejection letters stinging
a little more than usual

mornings like this
with the dumb sun breaking through the dark
shaking off violent dreams
worrying about the last month
of paychecks coming

mornings like this
sitting in front of the machine
hoping for magic
or a soft single into shallow left
with the gods playing on the radio
and the bad news of the world
untouched by the eyes

mornings like this
where anything is possible
mornings of great poems and stories
mornings like this
of words slapped on paper
of the solitary act of saving your own life

that’s what this life is all about
mornings like this
or nights just the same
under the hot lights
under the gun of your own genius

so many of us try for it every day
so few of us have it
even fewer will let it grow
and that’s why hearing about you, harvey
makes mornings like this
a bit more somber
knowing that we, the crazy souls,
the ones up while the fat world rests
have one less of us out there
scratching insanity and soul onto paper
hoping for just a sliver of bliss
John Grochalski
Winedrunk Sidewalk

RIP, Harvey Pekar.

the master being dead
just ordinary...
cherry blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS Thanks, Jay.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pablo Neruda: Ars Magnetica

Today is the anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th century's greatest poets, Pablo Neruda. Here is a statement of purpose:

Ars Magnetica

From so much loving and journeying, books emerge.
And if they don't contain kisses and landscapes,
if they don't contain a man with his hands full,
if they don't contain a woman in every drop,
hunger, desire, anger, roads,
they are no use as a shield or a bell:
they have no eyes, and won't be able to open them,
they have the dead sound of precepts.

I loved the entangling of genitals,
and out of blood and love I carved my poems.
In hard earth I brought a rose to flower,
fought over by fire and dew.

That's how I could keep on singing.
Pablo Neruda
translated by Alastair Reid

From Isla Negra: A Notebook

still singing
the insect drifts away...
floating branch
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bukowski: Issa's Sunday Service, #59 (and #60)

Charles Bukowski
is something of an anomaly; whether you hate him or you love him, it would be fair to say he was a major poetic voice of the last 50 years, particularly in the populist sense. This ambivalence is exemplified, I believe, in this week's Issa's Sunday Service cut, "Bukowski" by Modest Mouse.

There's no denying it, Buk was no picnic to be around. There is also no denying that beneath the crustiness, irascibility, and drunkenness, there was a tenderness that shone through the brutal honesty on more occasions than his detractors would allow. Here's a little number where he sidles up to his subject, drifts back, and brings it home:

me and Faulkner
sure, I know that you are tired of hearing about it, but
most repeat the same theme over and over again, it's
as if they were trying to refine what seems so strange
and off and important to them, it's done by everybody
because everybody is of a different stripe and form
and each must work out what is before them
over and over again because
that is their personal tiny miracle
their bit of luck

like now as like before and before I have been slowly
drinking this fine red wine and listening to symphony after
symphony from this black radio to my left

some symphonies remind me of certain cities and certain rooms,
make me realize that certain people now long dead were able to
transgress graveyards

and traps and cages and bones and limbs

people who broke through with joy and madness and with
insurmountable force

in tiny rented rooms I was struck by miracles

and even now after decades of listening I still am able to hear
a new work never heard before that is totally
bright, a fresh-blazing sun

there are countless sub-stratas of rising surprise from the
human firmament

music has an expansive and endless flow of ungodly

writers are confined to the limit of sight and feeling upon the
page while musicians leap into unrestricted immensity

right now it's just old Tchaikowsky moaning and groaning his
way through symphony #5
but it's just as good as when I first heard it

I haven't heard one of my favorites, Eric Coates, for some time
but I know that if I keep drinking the good red and listening
that he will be along

there are others, many others

and so
this is just another poem about drinking and listening to

repeat, right?

but look at Faulkner, he not only said the same thing over and
over but he said the same

so, please, let me boost these giants of our lives
once more: the classical composers of our time and
of times past

it has kept the rope from my throat

maybe it will loosen
Originally published in "Third Lung Review"

Though not known as a poet of double meaning or ambivalence, those last two lines give one pause, eh?


This week's featured poem from the Lilliput archive has the unique attribute of meaning something different then when it was originally published in #90, back 13 years ago this month. The difference isn't in the meaning - it means exactly what it meant back then. The difference is to whom it means.

Let's call it a generational thing.

Let's form a circle, old and slightly less old, and belt out a few choruses of something that isn't "We Won't Get Fooled Again," but very much like it.

Something perhaps by Brecht.

With more spittle and less, well, synthesizer.

You know what, it's Bastille Day coming up this week, my nomination for campfire song for the disaffected follows the poem and makes this week's Litrock a two-fer.

First, Mr. Solarczyk's bit of prescient nostalgia:

Dreaming we'd dreamt
a new dream
we slunk off at dawn
ashamed we'd been
dreaming at all.
Bart Solarczyk

#60 on the Class War Hit Parade:

he wipes horse shit off his hand
with a chrysanthemum
translated by David G. Lanoue


there are countless sub-stratas of rising surprise from the
human firmament ...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Vollmann, Miles, Godard, & Kerouac's Big Sur

Browse Inside this book

Lately, I've been dipping into the new William Vollmann book, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater, with some thoughts on Muses (especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines. The subtitle is so long, amazon cuts it off at "Hou," which is all you really need to know about amazon as a "bookseller." The following is from the first chapter and concerns kimonos used in contemporary Noh Theater:

The weaving of the old kimonos is finer than today's, not only visually but also structurally; in them Mr. Umewaka [today's leading Noh actor] can move more freely, or I should say less constrictedly, thanks to some peculiar fashioning of the sleeves which would now cost millions of yen to reproduce. Moreover, he tells me, the artificial fertilizer ingested by the plants on which twenty-first century silkworms feed weakens the silk."

Something that, on many different levels, should give us all pause.


Two of my favorite things: the music of Miles Davis and Jean Luc Godard's film Alphaville. Who can resist a mash up on this level; certainly not me. One of the blogs on my Quick List on the sidebar, Five Branch Tree, posted this the other day and I told Brian I'd love to pass it on. So here it is. I first saw Alphaville almost 40 years ago as a teen and even than it seemed to be simultaneously set in the distant future and the not so distant past. Haunting, poetic, absurd, and illuminating, this is on a par with Cocteau's Orpheus Trilogy: a film not to be missed, all these years later.


It's hard to imagine anyone, Godard, Miles, anyone, making a better trailer for the Kerouac film, One Fast Move or I'm Gone, than this one, which I believe my buddy Mr. Baker tipped my way. Sam Shepherd reading, Tom Wait's with a devastatingly brief observation - just wonderful. In addition, these equally brief, equally spot-on thoughts:

"I would say it [Kerouac's work] was based on observation, it was
based on imagination, it was based on benzedrine, also."


"Oh, Jack ..... Jack, Jack , Jack.


And, finally, for this lazy blissful hot height of summer Friday, when maybe the heat wave breaks and maybe it doesn't, here's one of Pittsburgh's finest purveyors of the short form, Bart Solarczyk, from Lilliput Review #146, October 2005, reminding us that we've forgotten what Father Walt really had to say:

Walt Whitman's Watching
We sweat & we wipe
work the world's rhythm
sway with the grass & leaves

we drink the day's end
ignore the astronomer
gazing at the stars in our cups

we speak what we will
across cyberspace
bold water, flesh & air

so snuggle up
take off your clothes
let me write a poem on you.
Bart Solarczyk

stinging bug
you too someday, some time...
dewy grass
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, July 4, 2010

My Blakean Year: Issa's Sunday Service, #58

My Blakean Year by Patti Smith on Grooveshark

This week's selection for Issa's Sunday Service is by the inimitable Patti Smith, her second go round here in the land of litrock. These are the lyrics, from the artist's website, plus a gander, in pdf, at her original ms. page for the song.

Right here is where poetry and rock come together:

And so, as Mr. Blake himself is invoked, I can hardly pass on the opportunity to share one of his many devastating short poems:

A Divine Image
Cruelty has a Human heart
And Jealousy a Human Face,
Terror, the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy, the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forgéd Iron,
The Human Form, a fiery Forge,
The Human Face, a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.

William Blake

Death mask of William Blake


Since it's the 4th of July, here's a little something for folks who maybe never really listened to the lyrics to this song. When we think about war and we think about freedom, let's think on this a bit. Seems to me the tone of this rendition captures the spirit of the words a tad better than the better known version:

For those without the pleasure of a Jersey history, the penitentiary he is talking about is Rahway State Penitentiary (aka East Jersey State Prison), where Rubin Carter did hard time:

And this is the refinery, the Bayway Oil Refinery, formerly owned by Standard Oil and Exxon, now owned by ConocoPhillips:

And, this 4th of July, the war drags on.


From the archive this week: a poem by Greg Kosmicki, from Lilliput Review, #89, July 1997.

untitled, undated #2
How long can a writer go on intuition alone.
How long can a sparrow go on intuition alone.

Greg Kosmicki

baby sparrow--
even when people come
opening its mouth
translated by David G. Lanoue


Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Grieving Over Spring": Two Haiku by Buson

This fall, I've been invited to do two more sessions for life long learners on poetry, one on haiku and one on Robert Frost. The prospect of the haiku session has sent me scurrying about, collecting various books I don't have, and consulting the ones I do, in preparation. It's to be a short session, one hour, so I'll be doing a basic intro, including history and an attempt at a definition, and the rest of the session will be pure enjoyment of the work.

I've been looking at a number of older books on haiku, some which I plan to highlight here in the coming months. One such early collection, One Hundred Famous Haiku, selected and translated by Daniel C. Buchanan, adheres closely to the 5/7/5 approach to English haiku, as did many of the early English haiku collections. Since it's generally agreed that 10 to 14 syllables in English is closer to the 17 "syllable" Japanese, this approach can sometimes lead to haiku that seem decidedly bloated. However, since rendering is rendering, it can also result in provocative work, which informs other, more modern versions of classic poems we may be used to.

Two particular haiku by Yosano Buson grabbed me in these translations. I've not featured many of Buson's poems here because, with a couple of exceptions, I haven't connected as often with him as the other classic poets. Buson is noted for his artistic sensibility, being also a painter, and his poems often contain vivid images and are objective in tone. They are what might be termed word pictures.

Cherry blossoms fall
On watery rice-plant beds:
Stars in the moonlight.

This is a perfect example of lush imagery; what engages the reader immediately is the imagery, the blossoms floating, the stars twinkling. This is lovely in a way that really transcends the comparison at its heart; it is the stuff that makes life worth living, the mystery of existence itself. It is speaking the unspeakable, if you will.

Coincidentally, I read the next one on the last day of spring. When it comes to the half full, half empty paradigm, I'm one of those people who, at summer solstice, thinks only that the days are now getting shorter, neglecting the fact that we are entering one of the finest times of the year. Upon reading this, the kinship was immediate:

Candlestick in hand,
See, he strolls through the garden,
Grieving over spring.

Those of us who prefer spring and fall over summer (and winter), relate to Buson's feeling. And that single element is what makes this so unusual a poem by Buson: it is overtly about feeling, at least as it is translated here. This is Issa territory, if you will, more senryu than haiku, and it is all the more beautiful for it ... says the half-empty glass kind of guy.

They'll be a few more from this collection in a future post.


This week's poems from the Lilliput archive are a set, all on one page, taking a collective look how things are, plus one poem that gently pushed open the door as the last poem of the issue. They were originally published in Lilliput Review #147, October 2005 (5 more poems from this issue may be found in this post).

buying medicine for my father
I take a shortcut
through the cemetary
Jay Leeming

after his death
my father's brushstrokes
on the wall he painted
Jay Leeming

Farewell – and though there be
no budding in the spring
no autumn withering, as well.

this perpetual
David Lindley

"katy-katy!" not dead
translated by David G. Lanoue