Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Story of Isaac: Issa's Sunday Service, #67

In Memory of May 4, 1970: Kent State - Abraham & Isaac - George Segal, 1978.

One of the more controversial pieces of art over the last 50 years, George Segal's bronze sculpture in memory of the Kent State killings, utilizing the Abraham and Isaac biblical story as analogy, still remains an emotional flashpoint for those who remember the murders of Jeffrey Glenn Miller, age 20, Allison B. Krause, age 19, William Knox Schroeder, age 19, Sandra Lee Scheuer, age 20.

Leonard Cohen's song "The Story of Isaac" utilized the same story to similar purposes on his album Songs from a Room, recorded ten years earlier.  The opening verses are a simple lyrical retelling of the story.  The final two verses, however, plainly draw the analogy to the Vietnam War, which was at its worst around the time of the song's composition:

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father's hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.

And if you call me brother now,
Forgive me if I inquire,
"Just according to whose plan?"
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.
And mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war,
The peacock spreads his fan

In Memory of the Kent State Massacre. Photo by John Filo.

This is Cohen's first appearance on ISS, though his song "Hallelujah" was covered early on by Popa Chubby.

Since I'm thinking about (and now watching) Popa Chubby's rendition, I couldn't in good conscious not acknowledge the finest rendition of all, sans Cohen himself: Jeff Buckley:

And, in memory:


From the archive this week a poem from Lilliput Review #123 by one of my favorite unknown poets, W. T. Ranney:

Counterfeit father of an Industrial City,
mama encased in Europe,
my life sways like a kite line
thru rented rooms odd jobs,
to days I only thot had ended
before I was born
W. T. Ranney

the trainer lets
his monkey hold it...
New Year's kite
translated by David G. Lanoue 


PS  Get two free issues           Get two more free issues

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Even in Kyoto ... I long for Kyoto:" Bashō by Hass

Last week, I mentioned that I really connected for the first time in a resonant way with Bashō via some of William Howard Cohen's unusual translations from the 1970s.  I've continued reading the haiku translations of Robert Hass after doing a recent post on his renderings of  Issa.  I thought this week, I'd marry those two posts and look at Hass on Bashō.

Until recently, I'd never properly warmed up to Bashō, yet he is a favorite of many of the folks who write me regularly.  I went through the nearly 100 translations that Hass provides and come up with a scant 12 that I really like.  That being said, the ones I like are very fine, indeed.  I see that previously from David Landis Barnhill's collection of 700 Bashō poems, I selected 35 I enjoyed very much, so the math seems comparable. From Jane Reichhold's complete Bashō book, I enjoyed 45 from the 1000+ she translated.   From Hass's selection:

       Even  in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo's cry—
       I long for Kyoto.

I love this haiku.  It has a certain post-modern quality that gives it a great contemporary appeal, yet describes a very essential truism about the nature of life.    This is a poem about memory and nostalgia and, probably more importantly, it addresses the second of the 4 Noble Truths: "the origin of suffering is attachment."   What is felt here is the sweetness, the very humanness, of the pain caused by attachment.    This may be my very favorite Bashō poem.

       First day of spring—
I keep thinking about
       the end of autumn.

Again, memory plays a big part in this haiku.   Truly, spring and autumn share many qualities; but for the direction of the wind, one is hard put to tell which season is which on any given day.  And, of course, the wind doesn't know what month it is.  How often in describing beautiful weather in autumn we mention blustery weather in spring as and vice-versa.  Still, what is the poet exactly thinking about the end of autumn?

        The jars of octopus—
brief dreams
        under the summer moon.

The oddness of the two elements of this haiku - an octopus in a jar and brief, disturbed dreams - are what unites the imagery.   The oddness is the meaning and, as such, encapsulates  the oddness of life itself.

       It's not like anything
they compare it to—
       the summer moon.

Pure, unadulterated Zen in spirit, if not in execution.  Talk about the finger pointing at the moon!  This one tells the reader in no uncertain terms that there is no finger.

       As the sound fades,
the scent of flowers comes up—
       the evening bell.

I've been thinking a lot about this haiku, so much so that I believe I will be using it in the introductory haiku class in October I'll be conducting.  What I've been thinking about this I can sum up in one word: vibrations.   That's not what all the critics tell me I should be thinking but I'm thinking it anyway.

       A cicada shell;
it sang itself
       utterly away.

How lyrical can it get?  Anymore lyrical than this?   I doubt it.  The ennui of life perfectly sketched, emphasizing how beautiful sadness might be, if perceived a certain way at a certain time.

       Year after year
on the monkey's face
       a monkey's face.

Another ku that has a post-modern feel, combined again with a Zen feeling, both in philosophy and in execution.  This time the reader cannot see the man behind the curtain.   This poem also recalls for me personally the story I recounted in last week's post about suddenly seeing human faces as having overwhelmingly animal characteristics.   

     A wild sea—
and flowing out toward Sado Island,
     the Milky Way.

The visual image is at once surreal, overpowering, and lyrical.  Yosano Akiko has a beautiful tanka about the Milky Way - the collection of her work, The River of Stars, refers to it - and there are a number of other haiku in this tradition.  Issa, I believe, has at least one ("A clear view / in the soup kettle / ... Milky Way," translated by David G. Lanoue).   In this rendition of Bashō's haiku, since the sea is wild the Milky Way can't be a reflection.  More likely it is so wild, that the sky and sea seem to be one.  Perhaps it is a clear night before a storm or a clearing one just after.

       A caterpillar,
this deep in fall—
       still not a butterfly.

Is this a strikingly modern haiku in its implications?   If a reader insisted that this was senryu rather than haiku, it would have a different resonance than perhaps originally intended, but a significant resonance none the less.   

       The dragonfly
can't quite land
       on that blade of grass.

Here is a moment, a series of contiguous moments actually, so perfectly captured through minute observation that it may only be described as immensely beautiful.  This is as painterly as Buson - actually, it is beyond painterly, it is cinematic.

       A group of them
gazing at the moon,
       not one face beautiful.

This poem has an Issa quality about it.  On the surface, it is about a group of people at a moon viewing party. Somehow, there seems to be something very attractive about the lack of beauty in Bashō's companions.  Is the moon's face, too, ugly?

       Ripening barley—
does it get that color
       from the skylark's tears?

This last is a favorite of mine - a striking image, a philosophical inquiry or, perhaps, a scientific one.  It reminds me a bit of one of Bashō's most famous, and one of my favorite, haiku.   For me, both show a very practical side to the concept of reincarnation.

The summer's grass!
all that's left
of ancient warriors' dreams.


This Friday feature poem from the archive is from Lilliput Review #137, May 2004.  It is a haiku that may remind you of a little something:

bent by a butterfly ...
broken dream
Jean Michel Guillaumond

garden butterfly--
the child crawls, it flies
crawls, it flies..
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Get two free issues           Get two more free issues

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jungleland: Issa's Sunday Service, #66

Asbury Park

Outside the streets on fire in a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy 
  and the poets down here 
Don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand but they wind up wounded,
  not even dead,
Tonight in Jungleland.

Something of an epic, part of which was used as an epigraph for Stephen King's monumental post-apocalyptic novel, The Stand (the title of which comes from a line above), in its final verses Bruce Springsteen's Jungleland almost seems to transcend the medium itself.  Something I never noticed before is the tip o' the hat to F. Scott Fitzgerald with a line in the previous verse

Beneath the city two hearts beat,
Soul engines running through a night so tender

Anytime a night is described as tender, the lyrical Fitzgerald is recalled. Without getting too carried away, the debt to Dylan is fairly obvious.  What might be less obvious is what I perceive as a Yeats feel.  Maybe it's just me; still, the naming of the characters in this narrative certainly recalls Yeats's Crazy Jane, who was directly referenced in Springsteen's earlier minor epic, Spirit in the Night.  

Then there are these lines from Jungleland:

Man there's an opera out on the turnpike,
There's a ballet being fought out in the alley

For this edition of the Sunday Service, I'll leave it with this great live performance of Jungleland from a 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show.


Featured from the archive this week is a poem I believe may have appeared on Facebook and the Twitter feed but not here.  A monostitch in 7 mere words, it opens up worlds:

     childhood:        train track leading into the forest
        M. Kettner

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


PS  Get two free issues           Get two more free issues

PPS Don't miss a transcendent performance by Skip James over at Miss Late JulyI'm thinking Nick Cave should cover this one. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Walk in Seasons: William Howard Cohen

Another older book I've read recently to prepare for the fall haiku session is To Walk in Seasons: an Introduction to Haiku, by William Howard Cohen.  It first came out in 1972 as part of the wave of all things Eastern introduced with the counterculture changes of the 60's.   It was published by Charles E. Tuttle Company, a publisher largely responsible for some of the great Japanese poetry books (as well as books on all aspects of Japanese culture) that have been introduced to Western readers.   Like One Hundred Famous Haiku, which I looked at in a previous post, To Walk in Seasons is an older book and so many of the innovations in rendering haiku we take for granted today had yet to be realized.  Cohen does these renderings himself, without slavishly adhering to the 5/7/5 form that was still common at that time.

Cohen, a poet himself who "won the title of United States Olympic Poet" representing the US in Mexico City in 1968, notes that his method of translation was "to study all the available translations I could in English then make my own version."  It is not clear if he knew the Japanese language, though he studied Far Eastern philosophy, literature and art at the University of Florida and traveled to Japan.  He particularly acknowledges R. H. Blythe and Harold Henderson and his brief introduction to haiku is clear, concise, and right-headed enough that I've found it useful for my own intro for this fall's course.

Of the 50 pages of translations (with up to 4 ku per page), I did not find a large amount that grabbed me and hung on.  However, the ones that did are quite striking.  I marked 10 for a further look-see.  Some are close enough to other versions to be hardly distinguishable.  Still, the poems themselves are the thing and here they are:

Under the cherry shower
water down the mountain
turning stones to songs.

I sit like Buddha
but the mosquitoes don't recognize
my Nirvana.

These perfect morning-glories!
The faces of men are always
a little off.

One man
And one fly
waiting in a large room.


The stone gods vanished -
only the dead leaves kneeling
on this temple stoop.

How many flowers
are blossoming in the mind
when the cherry blooms.

The rain is falling
but the hollyhock
still points to the sun.

Even when the heart
is slowly dying
the flowers still bloom.

On the edge of the stream,
not knowing its name,
this weed flowers.

When the world blossoms
it can never be put back.
How the petals fall!

The first poem by Onitsura is simply beautiful, with a visual essence reminiscent of Buson, whose poems, though present in the anthology, didn't strike me in Cohen's renditions.  In this one, though the water turning stones to song catch the attention, but cherry petals transform it into a fine haiku.

Oemura's "I sit like the Buddha" has the Zen quality which is at once humorous and yet literal.  I think of some of Issa's poems about mosquitoes and fleas - Issa imagines sending a flea to its next incarnation, Oemura senses that the reverse will not be true.

Or maybe it will.

The next two Issa poems are familiar in various renditions, especially the 2nd one.  I think Cohen has nailed both of these; certainly the man, the room, and the fly is a tough one to screw up.   For me, however, "These perfect morning-glories!" is sublime, probably my favorite ku in this collection.  It captures a moment of recognition, of placing human beings in the natural world, that one comes upon in life almost as a surprise; truly a satori-like moment.  I've spoken to a some people about experiencing this type of thing.  For a few weeks many years back, I had the experience, not a conscious conjuring, of seeing peoples faces as visages of different types of animals: squirrels, monkeys, dogs etc.  It was quite uncanny, more than a little unsettling, slightly surreal, and ultimately, well, numinous, really.  This feels akin to that kind of moment, captured by Issa and done perfectly by Cohen.

The next 3 poems by Bashō are very different than those I've seen in the past, resulting in what feels like almost completely different poems.  They illustrate how different translations present the reader a slightly different angle each time and how, the more translations of a particular poem one reads, the fuller the portrait becomes.  Really, these versions endear Bashō to me in a way he hasn't been before and I am thankful for them.  The first gives a holistic view of the world, seen possibly through a sort of homage to the old religion of Japan, Shinto - I bring no expertise here, only my recent reading of many of the seminal volumes on haiku.  Whether the specificity of the culture references are lost on Western readers matters not, except to the purist; for some of these poems to break through all these obstacles of time and culture proves their true universality and worth.  "The stone gods vanished" is certainly one of those poems.

"How many flowers" - well, did I say "These perfect morning-glories!" was my favorite here?  Well, see, I've lied - and they say never trust the poet, never mind that: never trust the reader.  Bashō here literally takes the poem and nature to their place of conception, the mind itself.  I don't recall this poem in other versions and so I suspect Cohen has done something radical here and possibly violated some basic translating precepts.  Fortunately, all to great effect.  What's captured perfectly is the moment so important each spring in Japanese culture, the blossoming of the cherry tree.  Yet Bashō takes that current, living moment and shows how the mind projects it in such a way as to allude to other flowers blossoming, perhaps the memories of past springs blossoming in the mind.  Beautiful.

I believe I recognize the hollyhock poem; it usually is trasnslated with the narrator walking up a hill, noticing the hollyhock on the side of the path pointing toward the sun even though its raining.  Here is Jane Reichhold's translation from a past post:

path of the sun
the hollyhock leans into
early summer rain

The Reichhold translation, too varies from some other standard translations, the path here becoming the sun's path rather than the path the hiker is on.  I believe the variation in both these poems is, indeed, to good effect, again providing the reader with another way into Bashō's mind and intent.

The next Issa poem, "Even when the heart," is another beauty, one I'm either unfamiliar with altogether (which wouldn't be surprising since he composed some 20,000 poems) or which is translated in such a way that I don't recall any other versions.   As with so many Issa poems it at once contains so large a sorrow and so large a joy that it seems impossible that so much may be encompassed so tiny a work.  This is why he is called Master around here.

Cohen's translation of the Chiun poem is subtle and ambiguous.  I take it to mean that both the weed itself and the viewer don't know the weed's name; the first conveys an important Buddhist philosophical precept and the second the all important humor that should be brought to this world of sorrow.  Woe is a world without laughter.  The ambiguity of the 2nd line, "not knowing its name," functions as a sort of gate that swings both ways.  This type of ambiguity, along with punning, often is largely lost in translation and, so, is marvelously evoked here.

Finally, Teitoku's haiku is another which seems to incorporate the entire world and how to feel about it.  It is indeed recognizing a moment of great sorrow without, perhaps, suggesting that the world will blossom again.  Still, being in the present tense, one can hardly limit future vision.  It is a lovely poem of change, really, because, though there is sorrow, there is such beauty in how the petals fall, accentuated by the exclamation appended by Cohen, along with the emphasis on the "how" of the falling petals rather than the fact of their falling.

The prefatory material to this collection by Cohen is quite good, a nice succinct summary, thorough without being overwhelming, about the history of haiku and the elements considered important in its composition and appreciation. It is well worth a reading since, no doubt, different poems will strike other readers in unexpected ways.


The featured poem this week comes from Lilliput Review #138, May 2004.   It seems to me that this piece by Jen Besemer addresses something I've touched upon above, in archetypal way, if you will.  See what you think.

stone is skin.
lips from bridges
and tongues escape.  the strings
and tails of their fetters
fall.  Walk to the wall
of a face.  walk to the edge &
peer out.
Jen Besemer 

a cuckoo--
the bridge beggar
listens too
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Get two free issues           Get two more free issues

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Literary Kings by Late July: Issa's Sunday Service, #65

It's time for a first here at the Sunday Service: the featured song, "Literary Kings," is by an indie singer/songwriter.  Late July is the artist and she has new her EP, her first, entitled Side Swept.  If you've followed things around here lately, you probably recognize the name.  I've mentioned the website "Miss Late July" a couple of times regarding some excellent music (and musing) postings in recent weeks.  We connected over blues (MLJ thinks it might have been Sister Rosetta Tharpe) or Eastern poetry or philosophy (I was thinking Basho or Issa, but whadda I know).  Just yesterday she posted this powerful video of one of my all-time favorite bluesmen, Lightnin' Hopkins.

Obviously, I'm very glad we connected.  Her 5 song Side Swept EP is solid, indeed.  You can pre-listen to and download  the whole of Side Swept at the same place that you can make a donation if you do decide to download it.  It may also be purchased here.  I slapped dough on the virtual table and downloaded it and have been listening incessantly at home and on the mp3 player all week long. There's a real kinship between the small press and indie music.  Why not support a new artist like you'd support a new lit mag?  Still on the fence? Here's the video for "Literary Kings:"

Love the Kabuki-reminiscent death mask in the vid.  And the song with a literary title has a hook that just won't quit.

Thanks, MLJ, for representing when it comes to indies and for all the great music.  It'd be great for this song to start an indie trend here at The Hut.


Issue #99 from October 1998 provides today's feature poem, by the artist and poet John Harter.  John, who used eccentric spelling and typed everything in caps, died a few years back, highlighting another level of meaning in the following:

John Harter

Here's an extra poem from #99 for those of you who've been following for awhile, since John's poem already appeared here 3 years back.   This poem has the narrative quality and slightly surreal feel of many a fine poem by the excellent David Chorlton.  Enjoy.

Between The Lines
The minute hand waves from the clock
to say I am only time, do not take me so seriously,
and the waiting passengers distract themselves
by reading.  Late again, how quickly
life goes past, they say to themselves
while they skim the news, page after terrible page.
Only when the first of them stands on his briefcase
to deliver a speech does the fine print fly
from the paper as a flock of doves, each
with an olive branch in its beak.
David Chorlton

And, finally, because I seem to be thinking of dead friends quite a bit lately, here is Ringo, performing a song that now is forever linked with George, due to his lovely dedication at the concert for George.  Because of copyright restrictions on the concert, here is a different equally wonderful performance of "Photograph" from Ringo (check out the band).  Since I don't wish to forget what Ringo said and why I'm posting it, here's a photograph to look at:

at the sound of the sunset
translated by David G. Lanoue 


PS Following up on a recent Sunday Service that featured "A Whiter Shade of Pale," here's a Bill Griffith comic take on that song from his strip this week (click to enlarge)

"The groom was strumming harder
As th' earwig flew away ...
When we called out for a hyperlink
Th' ghost lost his toupee"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Issa by Robert Hass

In last Sunday's post, I mentioned that I'd spent some time with Robert Hass's The Essential Haiku. Most of the translations are by Hass himself but, as he mentions in a note, when he couldn't better a translation by R. H. Blyth, Sam Hamill, Lucien Stryk, Makoto Ueda, or Jorie Graham, he included them. I thought over a couple of posts to highlight some of what Hass has done in choosing work by 3 of the 4 great masters for this volume, the poets being Issa, Buson, and Bashō. Previously, I featured 27 poems by Issa as rendered by Hass. Since I've revisited the translations nearly a year and a half later, I thought I'd see if any others struck me this go round.

And of course there were, 7 more to be exact.

.......Zealous flea,
you're about to be a Buddha my hand.

I love this one. Here is this pious monk, Issa, sending off a flea to its next destination for fulfilling so well its current destiny. Is it rationalization, is it serious, or is it humorous?  Well, no, it's poetry, and it made me laugh, which probably says more about me than the ku. This reminded me of an interview Bill Moyers did, probably 20 years ago, with the Dalai Lama. It was outdoors at some sort of conference, a hot summer day, they were sitting under a tree and a single, persistent fly kept lighting on the Dalai Lama, on his arm, on his face, on his head. The fly was so persistent that finally Moyers could ignore it no longer and said, "I notice this fly keeps landing on you and yet you remain perfectly still. Is it because all life is sacred." And this was his answer:

.......The holes in the wall
play the flute
.......this evening.

Issa is so poor that his hut is full of holes and yet what does he make of it but music.

........From the end of the nose
of the Buddha on the moor
........hang icicles.

When I first read this one I didn't like it much. But when I thought more about it, how the vapor from breathe, too, can form icicles, I realized there was more here than I originally assumed.

.......face of the spring moon-
about twelve years old
.......I'd say.

Here is another where the poet, with a touch of Zen, catches the reader off guard.   How deep might one dig for the truism herein.  When reading this I think of the adage, it is the moon and not the finger pointing at it.

.......Fleas in my hut,
it's my fault look so skinny.

Like with the hut with holes, we see here that Issa is so impoverished he feels obliged to apologize to his friends, the fleas, because he is so skinny himself he can't feed them very well.


.......Her row veering off,
the peasant woman plants
.......toward her crying child.

Issa, the orphan, was always appreciative of attentive parents and longed for that attention himself. Here he observes what others might overlook.

.......The moon tonight-
I even miss
.......her grumbling

Possibly for his wife, who died before him, his sadness overwhelms his thoughts, and this reader.  The melancholy humor is typical of Issa in its resonance.

.......The world of dew
is the world of dew.
.......And yet, and yet ...

The most famous of these 7, this poem in 13 monosyllabic words encompasses the entire world and the summation of all of knowledge, be it religious, philosophical, scientific or spiritual. Here is all we know, and all we don't know, about our life on this tiny spinning ball. He did this with a couple of the 20,000 plus poems he wrote - I'm thinking about the one with the insect on the branch singing as it is carried downstream  and the one about walking on hell's roof gazing at flowers - huge philosophical statements about life summed up in a few slight words.

It's amazing to me that this time round, from over 100 poems by Issa translated by Hass, I picked between 35 to 40 and, of those, 27 were the same as I'd picked before.


This week's feature poem from the Lilliput archive is by British poet David Lindley and was originally published in issue #139 in October 2004.  Things being what they are, anytime a poet composes a haiku with a frog, a comparison is inevitable.  This one, however, gives a different angle to man's place in nature and, for that matter, Mr. Frog's, too.

My hand trailing in
the water.  The frog and I
surprise each other.
David Lindley

old pond--
please, you go first
frog jumping
translated by David G. Lanoue

Here is David Lanoue's note to this Issa poem:

This haiku has the prescript, "Looking at the ruins of Bashô's hut." The opening phrase, "old pond" (furu ike ya), is a playful reference to Bashô's famous haiku: furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto:

old pond--
the frog jumps in
with a splash

Shinji Ogawa adds, "I would like to point out the humor Issa put into the haiku. The old pond is not any pond but the pond of the great haiku master Bashô. Therefore, there must be the descendants of Bashô's frog [in the pond]. The ordinary frogs, perhaps Issa's, must pay respect to the frogs of high birth. When it comes to this type of humor, Issa towers above the rest."


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Who Are You by Tom Waits: Issa's Sunday Service, #64

Detail of Ophelia by John Everett Millais

This week, in a post about identity, Miss Late July appended a video of a song by Tom Waits entitled "Who Are You?," which somehow had gotten under the radar here at Issa's Sunday Service. So, with this sincere tip of the hat to MLJ, this week's selection has, in a sense, been reader selected. From the album Bone Machine, it's arrangement harkens back to his well-known "hit," "Downtown Train." The illusion here is to Hamlet, via the reference to Ophelia. What, you say, there are many other Ophelias out there. Maybe, but when you take a good hard look at the lyrics - well, you decide.

Who Are You
They're lining up
To mad dog your tilt-a-whirl
3 shots for a dollar
Win a real live doll
All the lies that you tell
I believed them so well. Take them back
Take them back to your red house
For that fearful leap into the dark
I did my time
In the jail of your arms
Now Ophelia wants to know
Where she should turn
Tell me...what did you do
What did you do the last time?
Why don't you do that
Go on ahead and take this the wrong way
Time's not your friend
Do you cry. Do you pray
Do you wish them away
Are you still leaving nothing
But bones in the way
Did you bury the carnival
Lions and all
Excuse me while I sharpen my nails
And just who are you this time?
You look rather tired
(Who drinks from your shoe)
Are you pretending to love
Well I hear that it pays well
How do your pistol and your Bible and your
Sleeping pills go?
Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?

Well I fell in love
With your sailor's mouth and your wounded eyes
You better get down on the floor
Don't you know this is war
Tell me who are you this time?
Tell me who are you this time?

I saw Tom Waits back in 1979 and its really hard to describe how formidable and moving an experience that was. Fortunately, I don't have to grope for words because here, courtesy of his website and YouTube, is a live performance from that same year; certainly the Theatre le Palace in Paris doesn't quite have the ambiance of the New Jersey venue I was at, but it'll have to do. This is full-blown, balls-out, in-character, and incendiary rendering of "Heart Attack and Vine." Enjoy.


This week's feature poem is from Lilliput Review, #98, from July 1998, and is by the inimitable Albert Huffstickler. I can't believe I've never featured this poem before but, well, there you go.

Hope enters shyly,
swinging her small grey purse.
Albert Huffstickler

Finally, here's a poem by Issa, translated by Robert Hass, that I came across in the book Essential Haiku, while doing background work for this fall's session for lifelong learners on haiku. I wonder what they'd think of this one?

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
isn't art.
translated by Robert Hass

Hass, in his note to this translation, says the original is really "Writing nonsense" and he "turned it up a little." The story is that this was Issa's response to a request for a poem about "new snow" for a contest. As Hass observes, "The joke is that it is a perfectly correct haiku and uses the seasonal phrase 'new snow,' which symbolizes, of course, freshness and purity."


Check out:
Poetry archive -- how to subscribe -- guidelines for sending work

Friday, August 6, 2010

On the Scented Breeze: Yosano Akiko

"Modest Proposal Chapbook" #21 is just out. It is a selection of the work of Japanese poet Yosano Akiko, entitled On the Scented Breeze, translated by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro. For those unfamiliar with this marvelous poet, here is info from Dennis:

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) is admired as the greatest woman poet and tanka poet of modern Japan. Akiko infused her poems with an erotic and imaginative passion at a time when traditional poetry had grown lifeless and conventional.

In addition to Midaregami or Tangled Hair, from which this selection of poems is taken, Akiko published over 75 books including over 20 of original poetry, as well as novels, essays, fairy tales, children’s stories, an autobiography, and translations. She was a leader and strong supporter of the women’s rights movement in Japan.

Yosano Akiko transformed tanka poetry, instilling life in what had become a relatively stilted, tired form. Many well known translators have rendered her work, including Kenneth Rexroth, Sanford Goldstein, and Sam Hamill. On the Scented Breeze is a modest selection of 29 of some of her most moving, powerful tanka, translated in a clear precise lyrical manner that heightens this power. Here is a selection of 5 poems from this excellent collection:

Did we part
or a thousand years ago?
Even now I feel
Your hand on my shoulder.

Goodbye my love
For a night at Fuzan spring
I was your wife.
Now until the end of the world
I demand that you forget me.

Spring so short,
In what can we
Find immortality?
I let his hands fondle
My vigorous breasts.

Poet, sing of this night
Alive with lights and
The wine served.
Our beauty pales
next to the peony.

God of fate, echo of my life.
This last world of mine
Please listen to
The notes of my koto
Played with an ax.

As with all "Modest Proposal Chapbooks," On a Scented Breeze is a $3.00, including shipping. If you'd like a copy, details to send along payment may be found here.


This week's Lilliput archive poems, a pair, come from issue #141, January 2005, and are seemingly two sides of that same old coin:

bright red tulips
almost touch his name
spring rain
Joyce Austin Gilbert

May morning ...
sunlight fitting itself
around each blade of grass
Dorothy McLaughlin

blades of grass--
swallows start arriving
so pretty
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Whiter Shade of Pale: Issa's Sunday Service, #63

Illustration for "The Miller's Tale"

It's a summer song of pervasive dread, a wedding hymn riven with sexual anxiety, an epochal composition which routinely functions as background muzak for the keep-fit class (if you don't believe me, dig out Diana Moran's album Get Fit with the Green Goddess). Contradiction only bolsters the enigma of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Mike Butler, from Lives of the Great Songs

As long-time time readers of The Hut know, I am a big fan of the art-rock band Procol Harum and so it is kind of surprising, at least to me, that it's taken this long to get to this hairy old chestnut (though they've appeared on The Jukebox twice before). Admittedly, for those who lived through those times, it was in many ways one of the most over-played songs on its initial release, rivaled in dread by some only slightly less than "MacArthur Park." To understand this dread (as opposed to the kind Mike Butler is talking about), one needs harken back to AM top 40 radio when number 1 singles were played at least once an hour. Ok, no more than once an hour, but it often seemed like much, much more.

The literary connection in this classic tune is the reference to "The Miller's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; at least that is the collective wisdom. One problem though: Keith Reid, the writer, denies it.

Sort of.

According to Reid, the reference to the Canterbury Tales is a red herring; pointedly, in an interview with Mike Butler linked above, he doesn't deny the reference is there. When asked why he put it in, he said "I can't remember now." Since the interview took place in 1994 and the song ostensibly recounts getting good and loaded, his answer seems hardly surprising, though there is no denying there may be a coyness there. In any case, for the purposes of Issa's Sunday Service, LitRock it is.

While doing a bit of background, I ran across versions of this song by Percy Sledge, whose tune "When a Man Loves a Woman" has been noted as a musical inspiration for "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Annie Lennox, a funky instrumental by King Curtis, and a surprisingly well-done vocal rendition by South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.


This week's featured poem comes from the fine poet David Chorlton, who hails from Phoenix, Arizona. David's chapbook, Getting Across, is #5 in the "Modest Proposal Chapbook" series and was published back in 1997. Though 13 years ago, his lyric chronicle of the immigrant experience in the West is sadly as relevant today as it was back then. Here is a beautiful little poem of his from Lilliput Review, #97, in July 1998.

Central Station
Playing Bach in the glass construction
sewn into an iron frame,
a flautist paces the traffic of the masses;
adagio, allegro, allegretto,
and every costume has a face
beneath the sparrow trapped inside
David Chorlton

in and out
of prison they go...
baby sparrows
translated by David G. Lanoue