Thursday, December 27, 2007

Beckett on Dante, Freud Meets Aquinas,
and the Fine Art of the One Word Poem

Cover collage by John Harter

Last week's posting opened with an elegant quote by James Wright concerning Dante. Perhaps Dante would be appreciative of a maniacal mood swing to another aspect of his persona, as well as ours. In my job, I read literally dozens of reviews every week, concentrating on the areas of literature. In the Times Literary Supplement 11/30/07 under the heading "Cultural Studies", there is a review of Valerie Allen's On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages. From that review, the following:

"Samuel Beckett, the creator of more than one flatulent character, when asked about his ambitions once replied: 'All I want to do is sit on my arse and fart and think about Dante.'"

One might suppose that reading dozens of literary reviews weekly might be conducive to all sorts of reactions, but that line of thought is surely a cul-de-sac. Rather, better to take the high road and press on to Joyce Carol Oates's review of Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life by Philip Davis in the Dec. 21-28 TLS, for the following interesting tidbit on the pitfalls of the biographer:
"In the preface ... Davis quotes the notorious remarks of Sigmund Freud on the futility of the biographical enterprise: 'Anyone turning biographer has committed himself to lies, concealment, to hypocrisy, to flattery, and even to hiding his own lack of understanding, for biographical truth is not to be had, and even if it were it couldn't be useful.' Such an irrational outburst leads one to wonder what Freud was desperate to conceal from biographers, and whether he succeeded ..."

Freud and his talking cure have long been discredited, despite or, perhaps, because of its many successes; Oates's little diatribe, of course, prompts the reader to wonder how such "an irrational outburst leads one to wonder what" Oates was desperate to conceal about the futility of the reviewing enterprise. Extending this logical progression of thought with a mighty Aquinian (as opposed to Kierkegaardian) leap, one might actually come to posit that Freud was, in his notably prescient way, commenting on the blogging enterprise of the early 21st century and its futility.

Under every rock, a post-modern observation lurks, it would seem.

So, enough of what I do when not reading poetry, posting letters, laying out new issues, and thinking about Dante. More selections of poetry have been added to the Back Issue Archive; there are now 14 back issue samplings up online, with over 80 poems. More samples, of course, are posted every week in this blog, so there are now well over 100 poems from the past 18 years of Lilliput Review online, with more to come. This week's selections come from #135, pictured above. As a lover of the short poem, I've an unhealthy fascination for the one line poem and, even more narrowly, perhaps, and even more life threateningly, the one word poem. Among the selections below is one of my favorites ...


Just before spring

the war begins

but - ignorant -

the pink blossoms

keep opening

their tiny fists

Julie Toler

The year comes to an

end, another begins. Still

it is not finished.

David Lindley


Ray Skjelbred

Each that we lose takes part of us;

A crescent still abides,

Which like the moon,

some turbid night,

Is summoned by the tides.

Emily Dickinson

Here's to peace in 2008.

Best till then,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"There are so many stories ..."

Cover art by John Bennett & Cornpuff

Last week was the anniversary of the birth of James Wright, one of finest poets America produced in the 20th century. His combination of moving lyricism and deep-felt sadness served as a model for some of the best 20th century poetry to follow. White Pine Press, which I mentioned in my last posting, has recently reissued the wonderful collection of prose/prose
poem pieces The Shape of Light by Wright. Most of the pieces in this book run from a paragraph to a few pages and center around an Italian journey. The following, in its entirety, is one two line sentence that captures the flavor of this resonating book:

Saying Dante Outloud

You can feel the muscles and veins rippling in widening
and rising circles, like a bird in flight under your tongue.

Also in my last posting, I mentioned the latest chapbook by Gary Hotham in the "Modest Proposal" series, Missed Appointment. Here a few of poems from that collection:

window, window...
the child pressing against
the rain

missed appointment---
late morning sun spreading over
the faded sofa

farewell party---
the sweetness of the cake
hard to swallow

Over the past two weeks, I've added 8 more issues to the Back Issue Archive, each containing 6 poems per issue, for a total of 11 issues. I will be posting more back issues to this archive on a regular basis for general reading and to give newcomers a chance to see what Lilliput is all about. Combined with the samples given in the 7 previous postings in this blog and over 30 postings in the old Beneath Cherry Blossoms (beware, pop-up zone) blog, there are now sample poems from nearly 50 back issues available.

Also, a page of Small Press Links has been added to the homepage this week in my regular effort to transfer over material from the old homepage. Do feel free to suggest other small press links, particularly to pages for Lilliput poets and mags that count themseleves among Lilliput's friends.

So, what is the title of this posting about anyway? Well, over the last few weeks I've been slowly going through Mary Oliver's stellar collection, House of Light, where I came across the following, from the poem Snake:

There are so many stories,
more beautiful than answers.

Frequently, I'm asked for the magazine's guidelines and, of course, I provide the usual, poems under 10 lines, a 3 poem limit per batch etc. But qualitatively, the above two lines might serve very well, indeed.

Finally, it's on to a selection of poems #134, which originally appeared in October 2003:

Just before spring
the war begins

but - - ignorant - -

the pink blossoms
keep opening
their tiny fists

Judith Toler

what far off peace
some will war for--right here
a moon

Scott Watson

Rain at the window
wood doves of the morning's first
light. How long, how long?

David Lindley

a long sleepless night-
your voice on my machine
saying hello
again and again
while the rain softly falls

James Rohrer

Till next week,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gary Hotham and Yosano Akiko (& more)

Cover art by Wayne Hogan

This morning I've received notice that one of Gary Hotham's poems from Missed Appointment, #17 in the "Modest Proposal Chapbook" series, has been reprinted in the Mainichi Daily News of Tokyo. If you click on the Mainichi link, not only will you see Gary's insightful poem but also 14 other fine haikus, including Francis Masat's excellent "dusk --" and a gem by this site's patron, Issa, translated by Isamu Hashimoto. Congrats, Gary.

This week also saw the anniversary of the birth of Yosano Akiko. Yosano almost singlehandedly revitalized the tanka form for modern readers. She is one of the premiere poets of that form and to this day remains my personal favorite. I'm happy to say it has been one of my greatest thrills as an editor to be publishing Dennis Maloney's new translations of Yosano Akiko in recent Lillies, with more to come in forthcoming issues. Here are a few examples from recent numbers:


Unable to touch
The hot tide of blood
Beneath my tender skin.
Do you feel lonely
Teacher of the way?
(from Lilliput Review #153)


You came from Saga, near water
Love god of a single night.
The poem you composed
Within the silk bed,
Please keep it secret.
(from Lilliput Review #155)


Listen lord!
Love is the voice of admiration
For violets
in the purple evening.
(from Lilliput Review #157)

Dennis, by the way, is the editor and publisher of one of the finest American small presses in business today, White Pine Press. White Pine has published and continues to publish some of the very best classic and modern Eastern and contemporary world poetry, including recent reissues of work by Sonia Sanchez and James Wright.

On the reading shelf right now are Mary Oliver's House of Light, Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and an advanced reading copy of Manil Suri's new novel, The Age of Shiva. Doyle will be appearing here in Pittsburgh at the Drue Heinz Lectures series next month, which many folks are looking forward to. Reading these two novels at once, I've been struck not only by the obvious differences compared to America, but by the similarities, particularly on how all three cultures treat women. The rituals and rites of passage may differ; the results are the same, all adding up to tragic inequality that one could never have dreamt dragging on into the 21st century. On my daily walk to work, I am reminded of this by a piece of incisive graffiti: "No War But Class War."

So it goes, as the much missed sage would say.

After much resistance, I've been reading Mary Oliver's work on and off over the last year. She is much maligned; one particularly unjust criticism is that she writes the same poem over and over again. It is hard to believe that this criticism was actually leveled by a fellow "poet." It seems to completely misunderstand the vocation that is poetry. I wonder what Dickinson, Willie Dixon, Issa, or Picasso might say to this, all of whom might have the same criticism leveled at them.

This week's sample of Lilliput poems comes from issue #133. Enjoy.

the arrival

you are
going from

~ John Phillips

October Leaves

bleed veined beauty
pure enough
to suffocate art

while we look on
with loosened hair.

~ Larsen Bowker

Shiki wrote eighteen
thousand Haiku: How many leaves
has a willow tree?

~ Robert Chute

Everybody knows that
autumn is a ghost,
haunting us with memories
of things that never happened.

~ Albert Huffstickler

My flesh heart needs teeth
and all of Buddha's koans
will not jar them loose.

~ Mary Rooney

Finally, in particular for those new to Lillie, there are samples from three past issues up in the new archive page on the (also new) website. Check it out.

Best until next time, Don.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Website, New Index, Proust,
A Modest Proposal & More.

Artwork by Tom Blessing

Lots new at Lilliput Review this week, but first a tip of the hat to the patron saint of Lilliput, Jonathan Swift (no one seems to have done a decent Swiftian homepage - any takers?). This past week saw the anniversary of Swift's birth, which is the perfect occasion to reacquaint ourselves with his satirical work that continues to resonate painfully in the 21st century: A Modest Proposal. If you don't have the time to read it, listen to or download the mp3 of the LibriVox version here.

If you clicked the Lilliput link here or above, you will see that there is a brand new homepage. Since jettisoning the Tripod blog and webpage, my life has become considerably easier. In both the new webpage and blog, there are no pop-ups, no ads, no bs. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Even bigger news is a brand new index to issues #'s 1-158 of Lilliput producer by the poet, editor and indexer, M. Kei. This is a wonderful tool that covers all of Lilliput's first 18 years of publication and, in the pdf format, is searchable by author, title and keyword. I am incredibly grateful to M. Kei for all his input and very hard work, indeed.

This week I ran across an interesting new book, Proust As A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer investigates the anticipation of scientific findings in the arts, dealing individually with, among others, Whitman, Cezanne and Proust (be sure not to miss the "Summarize Proust" page at the Proust site, wherein various readers summarize In Search of Lost Time in 5 words or less, with Monthy Python's original premise duly noted. The chapter on Proust is a revelation and, via his premise, cuts to the essence of In Search of Lost Time, his masterwork. From that chapter:

"Neuroscience now knows that Proust was right. Rachel Herz, a psychologist at Brown has shown - in a science paper wittily entitled "Testing the Proustian Hypothesis" - that our senses of smell and taste are uniquely sentimental. This is because smell and taste are the only sense that connect directly to the hippocampus, the center of the brain's long-term memory. Their mark is indelible. All our other senses (sight, touch, and hearing) are first processed by the thalmus, the source of language and the front door to consciousness. As a result, these senses are much less efficient at summoning up our past."

Another great, very odd find this week is Invisible Republic. I stumbled on this while searching for Charles Mingus' autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. It is an amazing, free mix of music, spoken word and politics. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Finally, it's on to the tour of Lilliput back issues, this time round it is #132. At the head of this post you will see artwork by Tom Blessing from this issue. Some poems follow:

"speak low"
kurt weill is still
here when we need him,

for it's an even longer
time from may until

~ Gerald Locklin

Window shade drawn
to the grey autumn rain ...
a lamp silhouettes a moth

~ Rebecca Lily

Endless October
a maze of centuries
and only my nose bleeds

~ Phoebe Reeves

And finally, from the Irish poet Giovanni Malito, who died too soon:

lone blackbird
in the far away sky
-- all of it

~ Giovanni Malito

Until next time, Don .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sculptures of Silence & Thanks George

Today is the anniversary of the death of George Harrison. Most folks know the story of George as little brother, always tagging along behind Paul and John. But, when it came to music, though not as prolific, at his best he was every bit their equal. And his spirit was, and is, immense. From Isn't It A Pity:

Isn’t it a pity
Isn’t it a shame
How we break each other’s hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn’t it a pity

Some things take so long
But how do I explain
When not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all the tears
Your eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Now, isn’t it a pity

There is a new chapbook out by Franz Wright entitled Address from the Vallum Chapbook series out of Montreal. I've just read and done a work up of a review for the Small Press Review. It is a limited run of 200 and if you are a fan of Wright, this is his finest work yet. In fact, this is the best book of poetry I've read this year and I have read quite a few.

Continuing the tour through past issues of Lilliput, what follows is from #131, with cover art above by Christoph Meyer.

When the known
& unknown are
one what is there
but poetry?
~ Scott Watson

A Reply to Ars Poetica
A poem should …” says Archibald, and by
the third word has circumscribed our world.
~ Liam Weitz

I think there is a way
to sculpt silence.
Perhaps that’s what
poems are:
sculptures of silence.
~ Albert Huffstickler

A cup of sweet coffee
one salted egg
a side of salsa
glass of nouns
a bowl of verbs
several silent vowels
swimming in sharp consonants
~ Lonnie Hull DuPont

The Poetry Reading
Metal chairs, bad backs,
the cups of bargain wine.

cold mists travel the cedar grove,
stirring a hidden gong.
~ Suzanne Freeman

I continue to work on new issues, now long since overdue. Hopefully, some will begin to hit the mails in the next two weeks, the rest following shortly thereafter.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

Swimming Up Ladders, All Our Different Ways

Contributor copies for issues #159 & 160 went out in the mail this past weekend, so the full run of Lillies will be following over the coming weeks. My apologies to subscribers as things are even later than usual.

I just finished
Tristram Shandy today and I can’t praise it enough. Just a fantastic, hilarious piece of fiction. Sterne is right up there with Swift, Rabelais, Voltarie and Cervantes as an early satiric genius, if not the best of them all. Also, I’ve been working my way through Let Us Compare Mythologies, Leonard Cohen’s first book of poems, recently reissued in a 50th anniversary edition. Sadly, I can’t recommend it. A selected edition of his work might be able to scrape 2 or 3 poems from this volume; even that might be pushing it. I enjoy Cohen immensely, both song and lyric. This is just one book that should have remained obscure.

Also I was working my way through
Mary Oliver’s House of Light when I ran across this unexpected (by me anyway) gem.

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make yourself a light,”
said the Buddha
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Issue #130 of Lilliput is a broadside of the work of the wonderful
Miriam Sagan. Entitled Fish Ladder: 19 Tanka, here is a modest selection:

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

You don’t dream
of anything—
not the sea
not the past
not those
houses that open

the silver-backed gorillas
watch us through the glass
you wonder what it means
to be “a person”

Girl-child by the edge
of the sea, you have come down
to crab shell,
beach stone, tide swell, where
everything changes.

We all give thanks in such different ways … Don

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Beneath Cherry Blossoms" disappears

Just back from vacation to discover that the entire Lilliput blog, "Beneath Cherry Blossoms," has disappeared. Thanks, Tripod; six months of postings, with lots of poetry samples, down the tubes. It is the little things in life. I don't really know where to start after this. 8 glorious days in London? An absolutely wonderful vacation of bookstores, museums, pubs and did I mention bookstores? Yes, glorious indeed, despite the horrid rate of exchange on the dollar.

Well, this new blog, "Issa's Untidy Hut," and it will be a bit of an experiment since I don't know where it'll be going from here. I'm going to go ahead and post some work from Lilliput Review #129, as part of the continuing tour through back issues of Lillie. Here's some samplings ....

Like a blind dog
I turn my nose
to the wind
and truth
enters me.

- Albert Huffstickler

Well, it seems formatting may be an issue with "Blogger" - let's try another (by the way, I think a dedication to of "Like a blind dog ..." to Tripod seems appropriate ...)

- Ed Baker

And, lastly, this little number, which goes out to the memory of all those lost postings from the defunct Beneath Cherry Blossoms:

I'm off Buddha's eight-fold path
No Gods speak to me. Past a blur.
black -
ashes in mountain air.
- Dave Church

My apologies to all, including the above poets excerpted to a nefarious purpose.

Hopefully, more soon.

- Don