Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Issa: A Few Flies and I

I promised I would return to this remarkable little volume of Issa poems, A Few Flies and I, selected by the childrens' author Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert. I previously featured four poems. Here's a handful more:

------At the morning exhibition
Of the Buddhist image,
------The sparrows also are on time.

-------The flying butterfly:
I feel myself
-------A creature of dust.

A thousand
As one.

------Visiting the graves
The old dog
-------Leads the way

The deer
Are licking
The first frost
From one another's coats.

All the while
I pray to Buddha
I keep on killing

As mentioned previously, the 3 line translations are by R. H. Blyth and the 4 liners by Nobuyuki Yuasa. It is very refreshing, indeed, to have two different approaches in one volume, not something that happens too often. Some volumes of Baudelaire do this, Dante also, but it really is lovely to have this approach with Master Issa. I've tried here to select poems not previously featured but when something is a favorite, my resistance is minimal.

Sometimes, you just have to cave.


This week's featured works are from a combination of #31 and #32 which, issued as a pair, were short and long-line issues respectively, plus two from #29 (February 1992). The countdown to #1 is beginning to feel like a free fall from a building or a very tall bridge.

Cafe Poem

--That little old lady has a purpose.
--She's a cartographer completing the map of her life.
--It's there on her face,
--as contained, as exact as the will that lies
--deep in that small, sunken breast.
--She looks around her, laughs.
--Another line forms,
--another move toward the completion she already envisions.
--There's nothing more for us here.
--Let's leave her to her work.

--Albert Huffstickler

Poem Up From Too Little Light
Was it a dark and
stormy night or just
a round shadow all
stuffed with sound
and too little light?
Wayne Hogan

From #29:

side street
(wind chimes)

porch of no one's
at home

backdrop of busy
street sounds


-- ---yet
here is
-- ---that pulse to
Deborah Meadows

The further back in the run I go, now 17 years in the past, the more I encounter an earlier me, a novice editor, working toward something. Though still something of a novice today, I fancy now that I see a thread, even in this early work, of the direction thematically that the magazine was heading. For instance the first 3 poems revolved around sound (two about wind chimes, one about an ocarina), followed by two alluding to symphonies, the later symphony poem also introducing a flower motif that culminates in the last two poems of the issue, with two poems, one about breathing, the other mentioning Yogananda, sandwiched in between.

Now, through older eyes, the issue doesn't quite lift off, the whole not equal to the sum of its parts. Each poem, however, does its part and I enjoy the work, some of which is in styles that I don't necessarily gravitate toward any more. So this is a novice cutting his teeth, possibly at the expense of the poets. Let me finish this thought, however, with the poem that opened the issue, which says much more eloquently what I'm struggling with here:

last will and testament:
make a wind chime
from my bones,

hang it
where the poets speak.

let me be a part
of the conversation,

charlie mehrhoff


to enlightened eyes
Buddha's bones?
dewdrops in the grass
David Lanoue



Charles Gramlich said...

That Mosquito one captures the essence of being a spiritual human. At least for many of us.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

As good a definition of human as it gets, I'd agree ...