Monday, November 29, 2010

Shout Out to the Geordies: The Animals

Getting back into the work week after a long holiday can be tough so, by request, a shout out to the Geordies, and everybody that loves good ol' r & b soulful rock, with a heavy blues bottom:

Also,  The Animals will be making an appearance on Issa's Sunday Service soon.  Stay tuned.

servant on holiday--
the mountain festival
ended yesterday
translated by David G. Lanoue

And a tip o' the hat to Rita ...


Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 79 songs
Hear all 79 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wordy Rappinghood: Issa's Sunday Service, #79

[Because of the holiday, there was no post last Friday.   Regular Friday posts will start up again this week]

This week, I got to thinking about some bands I hadn't thought of in a long time and, it turns out, I've come up with a selection that wasn't on my list for Issa's Sunday Service.  I got a hankering to hear Tom Tom Club, a group made up of a number of members of Talking Heads, a sort of side project that became much more than that.  I decided to listen to a couple of their albums, which I did, and realized that one of their big songs, "Wordy Rappinghood," makes for a great weekly selection.  

There are many versions of this song; back in the day of dance "club" music and free flowing coke, there were more 12" remixes, extended versions etc. of songs than rolled up Andrew Jacksons.  So, if you like what you hear above, you are going to be delighted with the following 12" extended play (count me among the delighted):

Of course, the song takes its title from the early fairy tale of the oral tradition entitled "Little Red Riding Hood," versions of which were done by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm (no 12" remixes that I'm aware of).   Just this, and the homage to "words," would be more than enough to qualify for the LitRock canon, but the opening lines adds another dimension:

What are words worth?  Words.
What are words worth?  Words. 

If you'd like to know what Tina Weymouth was thinking about when she co-wrote "Wordy Rappinghood," here's a brief film from 2009 about just that topic (you'd never think the Dalai Lama would get a well-deserved shout-out on this one but, well, there you go):

This has all got me to inexplicably thinking about Tiny Tim, but perhaps I'll save that for another time.


This week's selection comes from the Lilliput archive, issue #117, from June 2001; two poems by the incomparable Albert Huffstickler, neither of which have here appeared before.  Enjoy.

I have measured
my solitude on
the scale of
my being
and come up with
a formula
for converting
ashes into sunlight.
Albert Huffstickler

For my funeral
write me a requiem
of herbs and wild flowers
and play it on the wind.
Albert Huffstickler

at a funeral...
the autumn wind
translated by David G. Lanoue


Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 79 songs
Hear all 79 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blind by Deep Purple: Issa's Sunday Service, #78

I could have never foreseen when I started this series a year and a half ago that, among the first 78 songs to be featured, two would come from the group Deep Purple's self-titled album third album.  Even if that would be the case, why not simply feature songs by other groups that haven't made it on to the Jukebox instead of dipping in the well a 2nd time so early on?

Here's the reason:

I got super busy about a month ago (2 poetry sessions for life-long learners teach - one on haiku, one on Robert Frost - two poetry readings to give, 1 session of 3 Poems by discussion group to participate in, and one lecture at the local library school - all within a span of 3 weeks!) and decided that, since the trusty IPod has over 12k worth of tunes and I often listen on shuffle, I would choose tunes that chose themselves.  In other words, if a Litrock tune got in my face or, more specifically, my ears, that would be the week's selection.  Since I listen to anywhere from 60 to 90 tunes every week walking to and from work, it seemed like a low stress, serendipitous approach to selection.

A go-with-the-flow method, if you will.

This week's tune wasn't even on my Excel list of 400 plus (and still counting - I'm always open to suggestions, folks) Litrock songs, so it was a bonus.

"Blind" is a cut from the days before Deep Purple became hard rock gods - a much more interesting, if decidedly less successful time.   Not that they couldn't rock out - listen to the lead guitar over the wonderful harpsichord on this cut to catch a glimpse of what was right around the corner for this group.  I realize this is hardly a popular pick (with tons of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, U2, Pink Floyd, Dylan etc to go) but there you go - I didn't pick it, it picked itself.

The Litrock connection I noticed first was the use of the word "poet" and that was going to be enough for me until the myth of Daedalus and Icarus jumped out - it was a forest for the trees situation upon my first listening.

In any case, I have to say if ever there was a great lost Art Rock or Litrock album, this particular one by Deep Purple is it.  And don't take my word for it; just in case you didn't get a chance to click through to the all music guide's review above, let me pull a succinct quote: "This is one of the most bracing progressive rock albums ever."   Plus, it's not everyday that two Hieronymus Bosch artworks appear on this blog at the same time.

I have to say I may go to this well once or twice more time before the Sunday Service wraps up.


This week's featured poems come from Lilliput Review #116, from March 2001.  Any day with Albert Huffstickler is a good day.  And it certainly is a lot easier to ponder the winsome, wayward vagaries of a fruit fly in mid-November than later August, at least in this neck of the woods.


    It's good to be
    cold somedays,
    good to feel
    the skin tingle,
    to remember
    how vulnerable
    we are to weather,
    how we and the
    air interpentrate
    each other.

A fruit fly found me
up seven flights of marble staircases
one crooked hallway
inside a huge cavernous room
under a wooden beamed ceiling
in room
with one tomato.

And Master Issa:

blindly following
the setting sun...
a frog
translated by David G. Lanoue


Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Friday, November 19, 2010

Farm Country: Mary Oliver

Farm Country

    I have sharpened my knives, I have
    Put on the heavy apron.

    Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
    In blue willow-pattern bowls.

    I have put on my boots and opened
    The kitchen door and stepped out

    Into the sunshine.  I have crossed the lawn.
    I have entered

    The hen house.
Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a plain speaking poet, as exemplified by this early poem.   She is a perfect example of a poet who continually is writing the same poem over and over again, perhaps to a fault, but you're more likely to  hear that from her than me.  Often her poems describe direct encounters with nature, in which the narrator has a revelation or a transcendent moment or plainly, simply, is.

"Farm Country" is nature from a different approach.  More to the point, it comes round to the lesson all her finest poems teach, if by an even plainer, less circuitous route than usual.  Is it that the route hasn't been traveled before that gives her work its power and resonance?  Hardly.  She reminds us, she insists on reminding us, of what is all around us that we have simply stopped paying attention at the possible cost, without putting too fine a point on it, of our souls.

These words are ones which, in translation, Issa and Bashō most assuredly would concur.

killing a chicken--
the willow at the gate
so green
translated by David G. Lanoue

David Giannini has just dropped me a note to let me know that today, by the old Japanese calender, is Issa's death day.  So here is one of his finest pieces, his death poem:

A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
how stupid
translated by Robert Hass


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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Silent Flowers: R. H. Blyth Translations

Art by Nanae Ito

With a reading and poetry program last week and another reading and a poetry program this week, and the new issues in the oven getting ready to go out to contributors,  I've fallen a bit behind.  So, posted today is what I originally intended to put up on Friday and Issa's Sunday Service will return in its regular slot next week.   Meanwhile, all 77 songs to date can be found here in list form and here in jukebox form.


Ah, Hallmark Editions books - small little hardcovers, with decorative dust jackets, that brought a world of sentiment alien to what is commonly thought of today when one says the word "Hallmark."   The little volume at hand is 55 pages long with some 140 plus haiku, all by masters of the form and translated by one of the first and finest of all haiku translators, R. H. Blyth.  There is a nifty intro that cites Wordsworth, one of Blyth's favorites - in fact, the intro may come from Blyth, there is no easy way to tell.  The overall selection was edited by Dorothy Price, who did a very fine job, indeed.

All for the remarkable price new of $2.50 back in the year 1967 (and 40 years later you can get copies for only a dollar more, including shipping), this little book packs a formidable punch.    The simply (in all senses of the word) stunning artwork is by Nanae Ito, in the traditional style.  I've mentioned this collection before, but only in regard to a handful of Issa translations.  I'd like to dip in a little more deeply now.

All 140 haiku were selected from Blyth's 4-volume masterwork, Haiku, from Hokuseido Press of Japan, unfortunately out of print and going for a pretty penny. The volumes are invaluable, no matter what you pay for them, and I don't often make rash statements when it comes to money.  This may seem puzzling on the surface, but the poems aren't half the beauty; Blyth's commentary is unsurpassed.  If you want to learn the origin of haiku, the spirit of haiku, the Way of Haiku, these volumes are your ticket there. 

From Silent Flowers, I've marked some 30 poems for further review.

     Silent flowers
speak also
     to that obedient ear within.

The first poem, from which the title derives, is unusual for a traditional haiku and all the more strong for that.  Silence is perfectly balanced by the ear within; only the inner ear may truly hear silence.   That the flowers themselves are given voice is lovely without being awkwardly anthropomorphic.  There is more of an almost synesthesiac quality if anything, suggesting one is "hearing" a smell or an vision.  Quite fine, since the philosophical implication is most important of all; the silent flowers, most often cherry blossoms in traditional haiku, are teaching us the ultimate lesson if we wish to hear.

     Just simply alive,
Both of us, I
     and the poppy.

There it is, folks - doesn't get plainer or simpler or truer or more beautiful than that.   After you read a poem like this, time to shut the book and get back to life.

     My eyes having seen all,
Came back to
     the chrysanthemums.

That's not a typo - it is Isshō, not Issa, about whom I could find very little except that he was a poet of Kanazawa, who was warmly admired by Bashō.   This particular poem might be taken in two ways: in the moment and in a deeper philosophical sense.  In the moment, the poet returns to the chrysanthemums after literally looking about and seeing all.  Figuratively, there is a kind of resonance - having seen all in life, I return to the chrysanthemums because they are most worth seeing and may tell us all we need to know, as with both  Onitsura's and Issa's poems.   It is said that Bashō was so moved by the poet's death at a young age, he wrote the following uncharacteristically emotional poem for him:

On the Death of Isshō

Oh, grave-mound, move!
My wailing is the autumn wind.

     The scissors hesitate
Before the white chysanthemums,
     A moment.

This Buson poem I've talked about before, but I'm not sure if it was in the Blyth translation.  All these renderings seem damn near perfect, but this one is truly amazing.  The 1st line breaks at "hesitate" - which we do - the second ends with a comma - hesitating again - and the third, well, locks us firmly in that moment.  We know what comes next and I'm not talking about a blossom head falling to the ground.

I'm almost overwhelmed with how resonant these short renderings are.  There are two masters at work here at all times: poet and translator.

     To pluck it is a pity,
To leave it is a pity,
     Ah, this violet!

Caught perfectly in the balance, the violet - and the human.   Each of these poems seems the final word - on all of poetry.

     They spoke no word.
The visitor, the host,
     And the white chrysanthemum.

Oh, wait, it would seem no final word, no word at all, is needed.

     Striking the fly
I hit also
     A flowering plant.

     Simple trust:
Do not the petals flutter down,
     Just like that?

How could I have missed these two the first time I looked at Issa's work in this collection.  How wrong to strike the fly is seen in the result: two dead things.  And simple trust, what could be easier ... and harder?

     The long night;
The sound of water
     Says what I think

Here is a little mystery - what is the poet thinking, what is the water saying.  When we hear water, it says a lot of things to us.  What could it be, says the old person to the young person, what could it be?


This week's sample poem comes from the Lillie archive comes from issue #124, March 2002.  

         Rainy winds...
    An orphan sycamore
Uses my grandmother's voice
               Patrick Sweeney

plum tree--
on my hut's unlucky side
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Get 2 free issues     Get 2 more free issues     Lillie poem archive

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"A Night at the Bar" - Speed & Briscoe reading 11/11/10

To hear last Thursday nights Speed & Briscoe reading on CMU's WRCT radio station, click here, click regular download, then click the text "Speed and Briscoe Nov 11 2010.mp3."  

The theme of the reading was "A Night at the Bar" and featured the work of Carrie Shaley, Kris Collins, Jason Baldinger, Nikki Allen, Jerome Crooks, Lucy Goubert, Renee Alberts, and Don Wentworth.

Initially, we came up a little short on time, so hang in till the very end, past what seems to be the sign off, for a couple of final poems.

The reading was lots of fun, two standing mikes, a circle of poets, with revolving containers of libations, some strong original voices, all ably orchestrated by Red Bob, engineered by Tina Milo, and generously coordinated by poet and publisher, Jerome Crooks of Speed & Briscoe fame.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Speed and Briscoe on WRCT's A Live Show: 11/11/10

Tomorrow night, we're on the air with our ink sisters and brothers of the Speed and Briscoe persuasion. Tune in on the very air, or, for those out of range, stream it live at

Thursday November 11th 2010
(11/11/10--that's BINARY!)
One night only!
Speed and Briscoe takes over CMU radio!
88.3 fm   WRCT


Don Wentworth
Carrie Shaley
Kris Collins
Jason Baldinger
Nikki Allen
Jerome Crooks
Lucy Goubert
Renee Alberts

conducted by: Red Bob
produced by: Tina Milo

Don (via Renée)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Shine on Brightly: Issa's Sunday Service, #77


It's three wise kings from the East that bring us this week's selection for the Sunday Service: "Shine On Brightly," by Procol Harum, who are becoming something of a house band.   Perhaps a tad early for Christmas, but it seems their quest was long and nearly endless; our doomed narrator, however, receives the gifts in stead (ahem), presumably giving the Prussian blue electric clock an extra wack for some additional rest for that poor befuddled brain.

Keith Reid rules.

Shine on Brightly   
 My Prussian-blue electric clock's
 alarm bell rings, it will not stop
 and I can see no end in sight
 and search in vain by candlelight
 for some long road that goes nowhere
 for some signpost that is not there
 And even my befuddled brain
 is shining brightly, quite insane

 The chandelier is in full swing
 as gifts for me the three kings bring
 of myrrh and frankincense, I'm told,
 and fat old Buddhas carved in gold
 And though it seems they smile with glee
 I know in truth they envy me
 and watch as my befuddled brain
 shines on brightly quite insane

 Above all else confusion reigns
 And though I ask no-one explains
 My eunuch friend has been and gone
 He said that I must soldier on
 And though the Ferris wheel spins round
 my tongue it seems has run aground
 and croaks as my befuddled brain
 shines on brightly, quite insane

Though often scoffed at for their art rock sensibility, this live performance puts the lie to any such thought. In particular note one of rock's great, underrated drummers, B. J. Wilson can be seen and heard at his finest.  His performance on the second tune, "In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence," will no doubt remind many of the late, great Keith Moon, in style, flair, and competence.


This week's features the opening 4 poems of issue #115, from March, 2001.  In fact, let me include the cover, by the late poet/artist Harland Ristau, since the sequence seems to start with that.


(... to be continued)
Wayne Hogan

              the birds
                              a history of stars
Marcia Arrieta

  Eighty-eight keys,
  each a telescope trained
  upon a single constellation.
  Stephen Power

  Those who
  The universe
  Stop at
  the edge of it.
Edward Supranowicz

looking pretty
in a hole in the paper door…
Heaven’s River
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Friday, November 5, 2010

James Wright Trashes Allen Ginsberg

Recently, I listened to a reading by James Wright at the Guggenheim Museum on March 20th, 1964.  On this occasion, he read two of well-known poems from The Branch Will Not Break: "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" and "Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join me."

He introduces "Lying in a Hammock ..." in this manner:

"Robert [Bly] and I were down there [at William Duffy's farm] and I was trying to write a review of a bad book.  One thing led to another and I finally wrote a bad poem about not being able to write the review and got drunk and hungover and then wrote this, or part of it, on the back of it:"

        Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm
        in Pine Island, Minnesota

            Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
            Asleep on the black trunk,
            Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
            Down the ravine behind the empty house,
            The cowbells follow one another
            Into the distances of the afternoon.
            To my right,
            In a field of sunlight between two pines,
            The droppings of last year's horses
            Blaze up into golden stones.
            I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
            A chicken hawk floats over, looking for a home.
            I have wasted my life.

                     James Wright

He then says, by way of introducing the next poem:

"That really was a bad book because it was full of screams and exclamation points.  I think I'll read the poem about being unable to review it:"

        Depressed By A Book Of Bad Poetry, I Walk
        Toward An Unused Pasture And Invite
        The Insects to Join Me

            Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone,
            I climb a slight rise of grass.
            I do not want to disturb the ants
            Who are walking single file up the fence post,
            Carrying small white petals,
            Casting shadows so frail I can see through them.
            I close my eyes for a moment, and listen.
            The old grasshoppers
            Are tired, they leap heavily now,
            Their thighs are burdened.
            I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
            Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
            In the maple trees.
                James Wright

There is a pause, and then he says, with more than a hint of sarcasm:

"I saw the best crickets of my generation
starving hysterical naked ..."

Followed by brief, sporadic laughter.

This, I believe, says a lot about the state of American poetry at that time; as in society, there was a deep contentious divide between the old and the new; so too with poetry.  Ironically, Wright himself had been considered, justifiably, a departure from the old.  But things were changing at lightning speed.

As anyone who has read this blog for any period of time knows, I love the work of both Wright and Ginsberg.  This reading, however, gives a little context to the cultural history of "Howl" and how very courageous and revolutionary Ginsberg was with the publication of his work in general and "Howl" in particular.

Since it would be hardly fair to leave it there, representing one point of view, let's finish with this:


The feature poem this week is by one of the best kept secrets in the Pittsburgh poetry world: Bart Solarcyzk. I've published more of his straightforward, resonating short poems than most anyone I can think and intend to keep doing just that till he runs dry or screams uncle.   This one, from Lilliput Review #126, July 2002, is a gem of miniature narrative, re-imagining only slightly a scene familiar to many a devotee of Chinese lyrics in general and Li Po, in particular.  Enjoy.

Li Po
A hat full
of wine
by the river

my face

the moon
in my hand.
Bart Solarcyzk

hazy moon in the pine--
passing through
passing through
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Three-Fer Thursday

In the last week, I've run across three great short poems I thought folks might enjoy.  First, from the current New York Review of Books:

   So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
   in painted quiet and concentration
   keeps pouring milk day after day
   from the pitcher to the bowl
   the World hasn't earned
   the world's end.
Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Next, one of the great websites and daily email subscription services, tinywords:

election night smoke from an unseen cigar

Jim Kacian

Last and most formidable, David G. Lanoue's Issa Archive, which along with tinywords, graces my inbox everyday via Issa Haiku-A-Day, managing to take the sting out of almost any bite

like me
no good at dying...
blossoms at the gate
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Get 2 free issues     Get 2 more free issues     Lillie poem archive

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 74 songs
Hear all 74 at once on the the LitRock Jukebox