Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 5 Poetry Books of 2008


Top Five Poetry Books of 2008

The Door by Margaret Atwood

On Love and Barley: the Haiku of Basho, translated by Lucien Stryk

Shattered Sonnets, Love Cards, and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities, by Olena Kalytiak Davis

One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds

At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver (audiobook)


Above is a list of the top five poetry books I read in 2008, culled from a list about 8 times the size. Only 1 of the 5 were published in 2008, but that's really not surprising, at least to me. The Basho title is an obvious offshoot from the Basho Haiku Challenge, instituted here this year. And the Mary Oliver title comes from my research for the 3 Poems Discussion group I moderate at work. The complete Emily Dickinson would have made this list if I'd finished it instead of hunting and pecking my way through. A book called West Wind by Oliver, which I'm currently reading, most certainly would have been in the running as it may be her best print collection I've read so far. The audio book At Blackwater Pond, which I listened to since there is no companion print volume, is in fact her best collection overall. It was particularly interesting to me that the poems she selected from various volumes were not necessarily included in either of her collections of selected poems, sending the message that perhaps she might have selected differently if she'd had her druthers (or maybe she just changed her mind). I probably should say I read quite a few Basho and Oliver titles that did not make the list.

The Sharon Olds' title made it on the strength of its final third. The poems that open the collection are not quite up to her usual excellent standards but the poems in the final section, dealing with her mother's death, have the devastating power of her very best work.

Here's to a peaceful, happy, and decidedly more lyrical new year,


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Albert Huffstickler, Richard Brautigan, and Franz Wright

For fans of Albert Huffstickler, here's a treat courtesy of the always excellent Outlaw Poetry site. His poem The Way of Art, in English and French, along with a nice biographical overview of his career, which, like all good biographical pieces, captures most of the important details and misses all the magic.

Which is why they included the poem. Do spend some time over at Outlaw Poetry and Free Jazz Network. You won't be disappointed.

Here's a great take by Mickey Hess on Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout: a Japanese Novel for his "A Year in Reading" project. Since we're on the subject of IUH favorite Brautigan, how about a little something that has that year end kind of feel:

Feasting and Drinking Went on Far into the Night

Feasting and drinking went on far into the night
but in the end we went home alone to console ourselves
which seems to be what so many things are all about
like the branches of a tree just after the wind
-----stops blowing.

Richard Brautigan

Finally, here's a beauty by Franz Wright entitled The Only Animal.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Brand New Work by Yoko Ono

For the best view, click on the image.

And from an old work by Yoko Ono:



PS A tip of the hat to Ron Silliman for pointing this one out.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

James Wright: The Blue Jay and the Levitation of All Things

The Branch Will Not Break is truly a treasure trove of the best of James Wright. There are so many excellent pieces in this collection they almost outnumber the just average work. Here's another poem that resonates from here to heaven and back again:


The moon drops one of two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean into mine.

I listen to this poem and I think first of the old Japanese custom of throwing moon-viewing parties. Once again, there is an Oriental element to this work, but something else also. There is a touch of surrealism and that is really what makes this particular piece work. Somehow, when the woman lifts up, you feel it and it feels right. All this without the benefit of a soundtrack, as in the Talking Heads classic "And She Was," which comes to mind.

I love the following for its sheer reality, it feels like an actual moment that the poet perfectly captures:

from Two Hangovers

Number Two: I Try To Waken And Greet The World
----------------------Once Again
In a pine tree,
A few yards away from my window sill,
A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and
On a branch.
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.
James Wright


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jack Kerouac: Pull My Daisy and Jazz and Jack Kerouac

Both Ubuweb and Google videos have got the famous loopy/goofy Jack Kerouac film, Pull My Daisy, for viewing. Here's the Wikipedia description that accompanies the film:

A short film that typifies the Beat Generation. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, Daisy was adapted by Jack Kerouac from the third act of a stage play he never finished entitled Beat Generation. Kerouac also provided improvised narration. It starred Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Peter Orlovsky, David Amram, Richard Bellamy, Alice Neel, Sally Gross and Pablo Frank, Robert Frank's then-infant son.

Based on an incident in the life of Neal Cassady and his wife Carolyn, Daisy tells the story of a railway brakeman whose painter wife invites a respectable bishop over for dinner. However, the brakeman's bohemian friends crash the party, with comic results.

The Beat philosophy emphasized spontaneity, and the film conveyed the quality of having been thrown together or even improvised. Pull My Daisy was accordingly praised for years as an improvisational masterpiece, until Leslie revealed in a November 28, 1968 article in the Village Voice that the film was actually carefully planned, rehearsed, and directed by him and Frank, who shot the film on a professionally lit studio set.

Pull My Daisy has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Here's the film in its entirety:

For me, this sounds much better than it appears. When you isolate the soundtrack, the improv/performance element of it is actually pretty amazing. If this legendary film actually lives up to its reputation, it is Kerouac's performance, unseen, that is the reason. It is interesting to see a young Corso and Ginsberg and all the others, but Jack is the only one who is actually acting.

The David Amram score is also quite good.

Speaking of sound, here's a public radio program entitled "Jazz and Jack Kerouac," from the program Night Lights, originally broadcast on WFIU Public Radio. There is some good work here, though there have been many stories on how some of the jazz guys, particularly in the "American Haiku" session (Al Cohn and Zoot Sims), were merely perfunctory and treated Kerouac with an indifference that shattered his dreams of a great blowing session. Here's David Perry's comments from the linear notes to The Jack Kerouac Collection:

Sims and Cohn, (Bob) Thiele (the producer) explains, thought of it as just another record date. Didn't even listen to him. Probably went out and got drunk. The incident also shows the vulnerable side behind the brawny voice. "When I found him, he was in a corner crying," says Thiele. "And he said, 'My two favorite musicians walked out on me. They didn't even want to hear this back.'"

In those days the typical thing was, the date's over and we'll see ya. These guys would head for the local pub. They could have been recording with Ellington or Benny Goodman and they still would've done the same thing.

This story somehow encapsulates the tragedy that was Kerouac; heartbroken by his jazz idols, yet misunderstanding that it wasn't personal, really to them it was nothing at all. Still, they weren't impressed and though Kerouac's understanding of jazz was deep, it's application to literature was more metaphoric than actual. For the jazz guys, it was non-existent. For them it was two different languages. It didn't translate. They didn't get it.

They didn't get it all.


Friday, December 26, 2008

R. H. Blyth's Haiku

Last night I wandered from my previously stated purpose of mining R. H. Blyth for more Shiki translations and sat down with the 1st volume of R. H. Blyth's 4 volume Haiku, opening it up to the preface and beginning to read. I was positively knocked out; it is, simply, transcendent. I've plumbed these 4 volumes over the years for many of the hundreds and hundreds of poems by acknowledged Japanese masters of the haiku, by poet and by season (the later being the general schema of the volumes). Let me let Blyth speak for himself:

The history of mankind, as a history of the human spirit, may be thought of as consisting of two elements: an escape from this world to another; and a return to it. Chronologically speaking, these two movements, the rise and fall, represent the whole of human history; and the two take place microcosmically many times in peoples and nations. But they may be thought of as taking place simultaneously or rather, beyond time, and then they form an ontological description of human nature.

-----There seems to me no necessity, however, to make a Spenglerian attempt to show from historical examples how there has been a movement towards ideas, ideas, abstractions; and a corresponding revulsion from them. In our own individual lives, and in the larger movements of the human spirit these two contradictory tendencies are more or less visible always, everywhere. There is a quite noticeable flow towards religion in the early world, and in the early life of almost every person,-and a later ebb from it, using the word "religion" here in the sense of a means of escape from this life.

-----The Japanese, by an accident of geography, and because of something in their national character, took part in the developments of this "return to nature," which in the Far East began (to give them a local habitation and a name) with Enô, the 6th Chinese Patriarch of Zen, 637-713 A. D. The Chinese, again because of their geography perhaps, have always had a strong tendency in poetry and philosophy towards the vast and vague, the general and sententious. It was left, therefore, to the Japanese to undertake this "return to things" in haiku, but it must be clearly understood that what we return to is never the same as what we once left, for we have ourselves changed in the meantime. So we go back to the old savage animism, and superstition, and common life of man and spirits and trees and stones,-and yet there is a difference. Things have taken on something of the tenuous nature of the abstractions they turned into. Again, spring and autumn, for example, non-existant, arbitrary distinctions, have attained a body and palpability they never before had. We also, we are the things,-and yet we are ourselves, in a perpetual limbo of heaven and hell.

-----It was necessary for us to prostrate ourselves before the Buddha, to spend nine long years wall-gazing, to be born in the Western Paradise. But now, no more. Now we have to come back from Nirvana to this world, the only one. We have to live, not with Christ in glory, but with Jesus and his mother and father and brothers and sisters. We return to the friends of our childhood, the rain on the window-pane; the long silent roads of night, the waves of the shore that never cease to fall; the moon, so near and yet so far; all the sensations of texture, timbre, weight and shape, those precious treasures and inexhaustible riches of every-day life.

-----Haiku may well seem at first sight a poor substitute for the glowing visions of Heaven and Paradise seen of pale-lipped asceties. As Arnold says:

----------Long fed on boundless hopes, O race of man,
----------How angrily thou spurn'st all simpler fare!

Haiku have a simplicity that is deceptive both with regard to their depth of content and to their origins, and it is the aim of this and succeeding volumes to show that haiku require our purest and most profound spiritual appreciation, for they represent a whole world, the Eastern World, of religious and poetic experience. Haiku is the final flower of all Eastern culture; it is also a way of living.

There are some deep, even ticklish and, occasionally, seemingly nonsensical waters to navigate here. Be that as it may, my thought is sit at the feet of a master and learn. If there is anyway for someone from the West to understand what haiku actually means in Japanese culture, this is it. No matter whether you agree or disagree with Blyth; there is just too much here not to revel in. Admittedly, this is the beginning of a potentially long, four volume journey but I'm hoping to see it through in '09. I have a feeling I'm going to need a good deal more of pluck than lucky, but I'll just have to see. And I'll report back.

Here's a couple of poems I came across this week worth a gander:

Mary Oliver's Morning Poem
Jane Kenyon's Taking Down the Tree

The Oliver poem is an outgrowth of all the reading I've been doing for the 3 Poems discussion group; it is a good one, really representative of all her work. If ever there was a poet constantly working and reworking the same territory, it is Mary Oliver and, despite what many critics have to say, this is just why she should be cherished. She points to nature in its myriad manifestations and takes from it a solid, spiritual, all-encompassing world view.

Not too shabby.

For more on Oliver, check out my post on Eleventh Stack dealing with her best collection, the audiobook entitled At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver.

The Kenyon poem nails what many of us will be doing over the coming days and weeks, taking down the tree. In this piece, Kenyon harkens back to the pre-Christian tradition of the solistice tree and its original purpose, something we all know and feel on an instinctual level but rarely articulate. Darkness, be damned.

Right now, I'm reading poetry volumes by Richard Brautigan, Robert Bly, and James Wright in preparation for featuring work that has been selected for the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list (183 and counting - will we make to 200?). Three poems from the Wright volume, The Branch Will Not Break, have already posted. In addition, I'm reading From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright from Lost Hills Books for a future print and possibly blog review. Like so much tree tinsel, the Blyth volume has distracted me from Matsuo Basho: The Master Haiku Poet by Makoto Ueda, which I will be getting back to I hope.

If I'm not careful, I'm gonna run out of bookmarks.

This week's dip into the Lilliput archive comes from October 1994, with a nifty, if slightly faded cover by the irrepressible Wayne Hogan. Hope something grabs you here.

Cover art by Wayne Hogan

As This Morning

we have forgotten so much:
how afternoon light
will warm us. the
way our bodies are.
how fingers will move
into a shadow so
slight, there is
hardly room for
the world.
Mike James

After Sex

I watch her getting dressed.
She dips her head slowly,
her hair flops away
from the crown
in a swirling semaphore
of golden petals.
Clothes float up from the floor
like butterflies.
John Grey



Richard Kostelanetz

and O
------how he loved is tenderness
-------------when he touched her
John Elsberg

November Sunday Madonna

curls into herself,
the last leaf
on the maple
wind blown
and twitching
still holding on
Lyn Lifshin

¶writing is motionless
-when I am done.
-my shadow
-on the path of the path.


Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter: Two 20th Century Icons

Eartha Kitt explains it all

For further clarification, Harold Pinter explains it again, for Charlie Rose.

In loving memory.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Blessing by James Wright

Arguably the best poem James Wright ever wrote, certainly a personal favorite of many, even the most casual, of poetry readers, "A Blessing" seems a perfect choice for the holidays. It is the center piece of The Branch Will Not Break, the volume being featured from the "Near Perfect Books of Poetry" list.

The last three lines illustrate the Eastern influence on Wright's work. They might be extracted for a near perfect Western style haiku. Certainly, the lines resonate in many ways, transcendence being the primary one.

A Blessing
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright

For the next two weeks, the regular weekly post featuring poems from the Lilliput Back Issue archives will be on Friday due to the Thursday holidays.

Wishing all the best of holidays,


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Burroughs: A Junky's Christmas

Holiday Elf card by William Burroughs

Thanks to Dennis Cooper for gathering together the two parts of William Burroughs' A Junky's Christmas, a perfect little tale for a different kind of Christmas. O. Henry and Dickens it ain't ... but, you know, in another way, it most certainly is.

With a nod to all, and to all, a good night.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Patti Smith: An Interview, A Reading, and Some Heroine

Patti Smith Reading Virginia Woolf

Here's is a long interview with Patti Smith on one of her recent poetry books, Auguries of Innocence. She covers a wide range of topics, discussing the inspiration for many of the poems and her influences, interspersed with writings and her remembrances over the years. Along the way she touches on Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf, Nat King Cole, Modigliani, Jim Morrison, William Blake, Janis Joplin, H. P. Lovecraft, R. L. Stevenson, Jimi Hendrix and many more.

For an objective look, here's Slate's take on Auguries, in which Patti name checks, among others, James Wright, a little more surprising then Blake, Rimbaud, Ginsberg and Whitman, whom she regularly invokes.

And here is exactly where the thin line between poetry and music meet ...

Dancing Barefoot - Patti Smith


Monday, December 22, 2008

James Wright and Mary Oliver

Continuing a look at James Wright's classic volume The Branch Will Not Break, here is a poem of a revelation in reverse, if you will:

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

I have spent a good deal of time reading boatloads of Mary Oliver lately. She is the next poet we will be covering in the 3 Poems By discussion group at my place of employment. Though she undoubtedly would have done Wright's poem very differently, the method, the tone, and the sentiment might be remarkably similar. Oliver is all about observation, musing, and revelation (and, occasionally, transcendence).

All of that may be found in the following, though the order is decidedly different. Here is a description by Oliver, complete with grasshopper, of exactly what Wright is doing after being disgusted by that bad poetry:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Frolic from the City to the Country
Straight to Hell

An amazing little video created for the 25th anniversary of 4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins. Sure, it's a pitch, but it is a city of books ...

And if you want something to actually read, here's a full translation of Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North I stumbled on.

Finally, for all you gamers out there, it's time for the final destination: Dante's Inferno:


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Penny Harter on Bill Higginson

Bill Higginson

Back in October, I was very sad to share the news of the passing of haiku giant Bill Higginson. In a new post on Blogging Along Tobacco Road, comes a message from Penny Harter, his life companion and fellow haiku great. The message contains her thanks to all who have contacted her in these rough months.

Penny recounts a reading she presented to the Overlook Hospital community by way of giving back to them for all the care and support they provided. In it, she tells of the most wonderful dream she had of Bill which came to her the evening before the reading and was her first since his passing.

Please visit Blogging Along Tobacco Road and read this uplifting piece. I can't think of anything more in tune with the holiday season and with life itself.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Su Tung-po / Su Shi

Su Tung-po (Su Shi)

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Su Tung-po. So what better way to celebrate than with his own poem, "Remembrance?"


To what can our life on earth be likened?
To a flock of geese,
Alighting on the snow.
Sometimes leaving a trace of their passage.
Su Tung-po 1037-1101

Things haven't changed much in the last, oh, 900 or so years. And we know what kind of tracings most of us leave behind. For more on Su Tung-po, whose real name was Su Shi, check here.


Two weeks back, I posted about the untimely passing of small press poet Dave Church. Here's another article on Dave by someone else familiar to those working in small press poetry, Tom Chandler. He reprints a beauty of a poem called "Muses" by Dave, the last two lines of which perfectly captures, with typically incisive honesty, what all we poets do.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

James Wright , Jack Kerouac, Charlie Smith, and Chuang Tzu: Full House

Cover by Bobo

In Monday's post, I mentioned James Wright's groundbreaking collection, The Branch Will Not Break. Intrepid correspondent Ed Baker remembered the ending of another powerful poem from that collection. Here it is in its entirety:

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

As evidenced in Ed's memory of this last line, the power of the poem is hard to underestimate. Perhaps that power has been slightly diminished via much imitation; still, I am bowled over every time I read it. The precision in execution, the attention to detail, and, perhaps, the allusion in the first line to Chuang Tzu's (Zhuangzi) famous

"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. "

Whether the allusion is there or no (just a dream of mine, perhaps), the general flavor of Eastern work permeates The Branch Will Not Break. I've been revisiting this volume on and off all year and reading the Selected Poems sent me back again. No matter how many times I return, the well continues to be plenteous.

Many thanks to the Poet Hound for her take on issue #165 of Lilliput Review. Sidle on over: she features poems by Greg Watson, David Chorlton, and John Martone.

Curtis, over at Blogging Along Tobacco Road, has mounted a YouTube video of Kerouac reading some of his haikus. In case you haven't seen it (or I should say heard, since it's a YouTube vid with a single picture fronting the audio - close your eyes and think "YouSpeaker"), here it is:

In addition, Curtis has been featuring videos he is making of poets reading haiku, as with the one by Roberta Beary posted here recently. This calls for some more sidling to see his vid of Charlie Smith and other goodies. With Curtis's permission, I'm also posting it here:

Charlie Smith

Ron Silliman has pointed to an interview by Doug Holder of the prolific poet, critic, reviewer, and small press legend, Hugh Fox that might be of interest to folks. Hugh has published the occasional poem here and is author of the Lilliput broadside, "Slides," which was issue #112. Here's a link to the old Lilliput blog (beware, pop-up zone), "Beneath Cherry Blossoms," with some sample poems from that broadside.

This week's featured back issue of Lilliput Review is #63, from December 1994. Be sure to check the Back Issue Archive, where you can find sample poems from 75 back issues. Enjoy.

A Basic Understanding

Cause links one
Reason to another,
And at the end
Of the chain
Sits a stark
And elemental is.
Ed Anderson

Sentence (from a sequence)

Too painfully large for word
or phrase, our small talents
despair of meaning, and we are
on buses tapping seat rails
unsure of the stop for today,
pausing as fingers glide
along reflective chrome
streaked by syllables
of familiar streets.
Tim Scannell


this snow: light
fallen to show us through darkness
toward spring. Please
lift this sighting forward
on worthy words. I
don't know how.
But I believe in you.
Patricia Ranzoni

Turds falling from 5 billion human rumps,
------5 billion snowflakes falling
----------from a single cloud.

The constant wavesound,
the chant,
slow-grinding thought and bone
to sand
christien gholson

The Knobadoor Diamond

Four boys
found a glass doorknob on the beach.
They called it The Knobadoor Diamond
and it made them rich.
Cal Sag

someone's gotta fall
--make sure the bottom's still there.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A. D. Winans on Jack Micheline

Jack Micheline, pictured above with jazz legend Charles Mingus, was one of the great unsung poets from San Francisco in the later half of the 20th century. A. D. Winans, another small press poet from SF of considerable renown, remembers his friend in this fine three part article, here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part 3).

Here is the write up on Micheline from The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, along with a few poems. For more poetry by Jack, check out the webpage for his Selected Poems. From that page, comes the following touching piece, composed with fellow neglected Beat poet, Bob Kaufman:

Poem For The Children Of The World

A child walks in a dream
Her eyes dance in the night of stars
Someday when the moon is full
The gypsies come home
They will come home forever
And all the boats that never sailed will sail forever
And all the flowers that have not grown will bloom forever
A child walks in a dream
And all the stars that have not shone will shine forever
And all the children that could not dance will dance forever
A child walks in a dream

Jack Micheline and Bob Kaufman

Thanks to Ron Silliman for pointing to the original posting.

best, Don

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dylan 1965 Press Conference

* I'm not really sure why IE is placing blank duplicate screens on the page, but all 6 parts of the interview are posted here. It views just fine in Firefox.*

An amazing artifact that catches Dylan the person in an extended 1965 press conference in San Francisco. I found part 1 via Dennis Cooper's excellent D.C.'s blog posting, part of a collection of pieces and observations on Dylan.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

This interview perfectly captures Dylan in all his mercurial modes: funny, serious, ironic, stoned, insightful, combative, silly: you name it. Often when interviewed, he would only project one of these (i.e. hostile) because, as can be seen here, he reacts to each question and person specifically. If it requires a silly response, you got, a serious one, ditto.

An amazing document that somehow provides boatloads of insight 40 plus years later.



Monday, December 15, 2008

James Wright: A Prayer To Escape From The Market Place

The Branch Will Not Break
by James Wright is one of the greatest volumes of poetry of the twentieth century. This was brought home to me again as I perused Wright's Selected Poems for a review I'm preparing of a new collection of poems in his memory. Some of the poems simply jump off the page and throttle, all the more amazing since they askew the easy modern method of engagement that is direct address, which many a modern poet uses like cheap whiskey to get there fast, only truly arriving the following morning.

Here is the first poem of a few I hope to feature in the coming weeks.


A Prayer To Escape From The Market Place

I renounce the blindness of the magazines.
I want to lie down under a tree.
This is the only duty that is not death.
This is the everlasting happiness
Of small winds.
A pheasant flutters, and I turn
Only to see him vanishing at the damp edge
Of the road.
James Wright


Notice the haiku-like, epiphanic moment, beginning "Suddenly ...," which echoes a similar moment at the conclusion of perhaps the most famous poem from The Branch Will Not Break, "A Blessing":

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
into blossom.

And, yes, we do know what type of magazines he was referring to, eh?


PS While typing this I discovered by serendipity that last week was the anniversary of Wright's birthday.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kings of the Blues

For a little Sunday relaxation, here are the three Kings of the Blues: Freddy, Albert, and B. B. Each distinctive, amazing, and, well, transcendent, particularly if you are a devotee of the blues.



B. B.



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sharon Olds

Here's a powerful poem by Sharon Olds, featured last week on The Writer's Almanac, in case you missed it.

My Father's Diary

When I sit on the bed, and spring the brass
scarab legs of its locks, inside
is the stacked, shy wealth of his print.
He could not write in script, so the pages
are sturdy with the beamwork of printedness,
except when he spun his father's DeSoto on the
ice, and a young tree whirled up
to the hood, throwing up her arms—until
TO DESERVE SUCH A GIRL? Between the tines
of his W's, and liquid on the serifs, moonlight,
the self of the grown boy pouring
out, kneeling in pine-needle weave,
worshiping her. It was my father
good, it was my father grateful,
it was my father dead, who had left me
these small structures of his young brain—
he wanted me to know him, he wanted
someone to know him.
Sharon Olds


Friday, December 12, 2008

Roberta Beary's Video Haibun

Curtis Dunlap, over at the always excellent Blogging Along Tobacco Road, has recently recorded and posted a video of Roberta Beary reading a haibun for her dad. As most of you folks know, Roberta was the winner of Issa's Untidy Hut's first annual Basho Haiku Challenge.

Curtis has generously consented to let me embed the video here for your enjoyment, so here is a bright little moment for your Friday pleasure. Please return the favor and give Curtis a visit
at the link above.

And, thinking of fathers and daughters, here's a haiku by Issa, whose longing for family always shines through:

staying behind --
the nightingale's only
translated by David G. Lanoue


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

R. H. Blyth on Shiki: Part 1

R. H. Blyth is the author, commentator, and translator of two separate sets of seminal publications on haiku: the 4 volume Haiku (V. 1 Eastern Culture, V. 2 Spring, V. 3 Summer and Autumn, V. 4 Autumn and Winter) and the 2 volume A History of Haiku. Blyth was one of the first to bring haiku to the West and is fairly conservative and traditional in his approach. His translations are sparse, the way I like them. Sometimes he elicits the hidden gem within: the principle of less is more comes to mind. At other times the results are flat, as if the very essence of the piece was simply untranslatable. His views betray a distinct bias (whose don't, eh?). His affinity for Zen has been cited as part of that bias but, in my estimation, we could do worse for a guide to both Japanese culture in general and haiku in particular.

The sets themselves are both lessons in all things haiku and a pleasure to peruse.

I have a soft spot for Blyth's great affection for western writers such as Wordsworth, Whitman, and Lawrence and his uncanny ability to slip them into the discussion in just the right spots. In some ways its hard to imagine comparing these relatively long-winded (in a good way) writers to the miniaturist art of haiku, though Lawrence's affinity early on with the Imagists certainly is a direct connection. But this is where Blyth excels. It is the essence he is after and the essence of these writers has a direct transcendent, almost transcendental, connection to the spirit of the East. Emerson, also, is never far from Blyth's ruminations. Typically, he may be translating a particular poem such as the following:

---A sliding door,
In the distance,
---At midnight.

And then throw in the offhand remark for the Western reader: "Emily Dickinson also felt the meaning of the shutting of a door, Stevenson too." That's it, just enough to make sure you are paying attention to the full resonant import of the tiny little gems he selects.

When it comes to Shiki, Blyth makes neither apologies or excuses. In A History of Haiku, Vol. 2, Blyth has three full chapters on Shiki: "Shiki: The Critic," "Shiki: On Furu-ike Ya," and "Shiki: The Haiku Poet." The second chapter is Shiki's critical appraisal of Basho's frog poem, which I'll be taking a look at sometime in the future. Today, I'd like to consider Blyth's take on Shiki the poet and present some of his translations. Here is his opening salvo:

Shiki, like all Japanese perhaps, is far better at creation than criticism. The Japanese have never produced a Coleridge, Hazlitt, or Lamb, but Wordsworth and Keats and Clare and Tennyson have their counterparts in Japan. Shiki has variety, if not depth. Though he is not emotional, he is not sentimental. There may be an excessive objectivity, but this means no pretense, no hypocrisy. As with Buson, whom he admired very much, he gives us pure poetry, which never fails to satisfy us and though it may not gain in depth with re-reading, we do not tire of him.

There is a razor sharp precision here, coupled with subtlies of distinction that I just marvel at. To put it succinctly, he nails it, big-time. He at once manages to show that Shiki's strength is simultaneously his weakness and who among us can deny that thought when applied to our own life's work? No depth a strength: you betcha! And let me tell you why, says Blyth.

This is beautiful, incisive criticism, reflecting a deep engagement with the work. I love the fact that he anchors this for the Western reader in artists more familiar to her/him. Blyth has such love of the romantics and their relation to Eastern ways reveals itself to his readers, complementing each tradition in a way that lifts them both up.

And, yes, I also love the fact that he mentions John Clare.

Before getting to some of the translations, here's a bit of insight, along with important background information on Shiki from his chapter on Shiki the critic:

Shiki, 1867-1902, is considered to be the restorer of haiku, which had been falling off since the time of Buson. Bashō walked his Way of Haiku; Buson his Way of Art; Issa, though he did not speak of it, his Way of Humanity. What had Shiki? He had no Way of any kind unless perhaps a Way of Beauty, like Keats, but ill-health and beauty do not go well together, and by the end of his short life he had got some humanity, but no religion, no pantheism, mysticism, or Zen.

One final critical note from Blyth is ironic in that he has already stated Shiki's importance in restoring haiku as an artistic medium in Japanese culture:

The effect of Shiki was to stimulate, but in over-praising Buson and under-praising Bashō he helped the continuous and never-ceasing tendency of haiku to become more artifical, rootless and, trivial.

Ouch. This may be a blow to Shiki, but notice the back hand is even more devastating: haiku, the medium on which Blyth wrote 6 groundbreaking books, is not immune to his intensely critical eye, as it should be.

All of this has helped me out immensely with my feelings toward all the Shiki poems I've been reading and remarking on over the last few weeks. In his chapter on Shiki the poet, Blyth translates 71 haiku, casually remarking that these are different than the 390 haiku he translated in his 4 volume masterwork. I've been reading those, but am having a hard time tracking them all down as the index to the paperback editions don't seem to correlate with the hardcovers (I have a mix of both) and so I have to go through page by page. Eventually, I'll sort it all out, but for now I've gone through these 71 and have marked 12 as grabbing me immediately. Here they are:

---A snow landscape
still hanging up in spring -
---the dust on it!

---The plan to steal melons
Forgotten too -
---Cooling in the evening.

Blyth's comment on this I love: " This is good because of its truthfulness, and consequently its truth to life; morality, like love, as Sydney Smith said, depends on the temperature."

---Oh, ears defiled
By sermons
---The hototogisu! (cuckoo)

---A boat finished,
The Rose of Sharon blooming,
---A fishing village.

---All the hawker's cries
Became silent,
---Noon cicadas crying.

---Fluttering and dancing,
They are drawn into the vortex,
---The dancing leaves.

---Water birds,
And reeds withering,
---In the setting sun.

And Blyth's critical comment on this: "Such verses as these may be called almost too objective, too lacking in humanity. They are nature devoid of what even nature itself looks forward to, and appears in mankind."

---The beginning of autumn
The shell of the cicada
---Patters down.

---The evening bell tolls:
The sound of ripe persimmons
---Thudding in the temple garden.

Again, with Blyth's comment: "The sound of the bell is large, and that of all falling fruits slight, but Shiki's love of religion was small and his love of persmimmons great. They are therefore equal as spiritual sounds, representing as they do the transcendental and the material, the ideal and the real in human life."

---Passing autumn:
He comes to collect the money
---For tolling the bell.

---I going,
You remaining,-
---Two autumns.

---When the snail
Raises its face too,
---It looks like me.

Some of these haiku I've featured before but Blyth's translations make me see them in a new light, sometimes because of a particular word, or perhaps a better distillation of the ones chosen. I've read many translations of the first ("A snow landscape") but this is the first time it grabbed me beyond the image itself. Particular words that make these poems for me are "defiled," "vortex," "patters," and "thudding." The condensation of the famed haiku (and one of my favs) on two friends parting ("I going") to a mere 6 words is a marvel of condensation and poetry; those six words positively explode off the page for me with the pure power of deep-felt sorrow.

I would single out also two other poems for special attention, two I hadn't encountered before in all those other collections. I'm not sure if it's intentional, either by Shiki or Blyth, but the fact that autumn might be seen as a personification in "Passing autumn" I find incredibly resonant. It raises the level of an everyday human experience to that of the cyclical struggle of life and death, making it like a 3 line allegory or 3 line morality play. Even if this is not intentional (for Blyth at least I can't see how it couldn't be), the echoes of autumn as a symbol in Eastern work cannot be denied. For whom is the bell tolling, indeed?

Finally, the last poem ("When the snail") is truly transcendent for me and if you had handed it to me blind and said pick one of the 4 master haikuists as composer, I would not have hesitated to pick Issa. This work is sublime, yet it found its way into none of the other collections I've reported on in previous posts.

I'm looking forward, indeed, to those other 390 translations of Shiki in the 4 volume Blyth. Despite the pointed criticism, he has won me over to this master poet, not simply intellectually, but in a heartfelt, emotional way. Shiki was notoriously difficult to get to know, by all counts irascible and nasty at times. His illness certainly goes a long way to explaining why he was so hard to know, literally as well as via his work.

Thanks to Blyth, I feel I know him now and like him, indeed, very much. Not only that, but I know why.


Normally, on Thursday I append some Lilliput poems from the archive for your perusal. I have to skip that this week as I've expended a great deal of energy on Shiki and, unfortunately, my paying gig beckons. Well, something to look forward to next week, eh?

So as not close on a negative note, here's a poem from one of the two brand new issues of Lilliput, #165, Dennis Maloney's fine translation of my favorite tanka poet, Yosano Akiko:


I won't transform
My feeling into words
Or a poem but pour them
From heart to heart
This day, this moment.
Yosano Akiko
translated by Dennis Maloney

All the best,