Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kenneth Rexroth: Songs of Love, Moon & Wind, and a Bashô Haiku Challenge Update

Night Without End

Night without end. I cannot sleep.
The full moon blazes overhead.
Far off in the night I hear someone call.
Hopelessly, I answer, "Yes."
Anonymous (Six Dynasties)

Songs of Love, Moon & Wind: Poems from the Chinese is the companion volume to Kenneth Rexroth's Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese, which I discussed in a previous posting. Utilizing Scribd, New Directions has provided some sample poems from the collections, a nice touch, which I've linked to via the titles.

As companion volumes, they make a fine set in their physically attractive and appealing designs, and as an introduction to the overall body of Rexroth's Japanese and Chinese translations. The same flaws with the previous volume stand; no bibliographic history of where these poems previously appeared is provided, so those owning volumes such as and 100 Poems from the Chinese and 100 More Poems from the Chinese have no idea if these selections come from these, or for that matter, any other volumes by Rexroth.

Again, all that being said, this is another fine selection of work, although personally my preference is with the Japanese selection Written on the Sky. This, however, probably reflects my overall attraction to Japanese poetry.

The following two poems chronicle a closeness to nature; in addition, an affinity with the first two of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths makes that closeness readily apparent, something this volume illustrates again and again. First, Master Tu Fu:

A hawk hovers in the air.
Two white gulls float on the stream.
Soaring with the wind, it is easy
To drop and seize
Birds who foolishly drift with the current.
Where the dew sparkles in the grass,
The spider's web waits for its prey.
The processes of nature resemble the business of men.
I stand alone with ten thousand sorrows.
Tu Fu

How easy it is to seize birds that foolishly drift in the current! And the business of men seen as the extension of the preying hawk and lurking spider. Ten thousand sorrows, indeed.

As was frequently the custom in Chinese poetry, poems were set to the tunes of well-known songs. Here is a song that one day we all must sing:

To the Tune "The Fair Maid of Yu"
Once when young I lay and listened
To the rain falling on the roof
Of a brothel. The candlelight
Gleamed on silk and silky flesh.
Later I heard it on the
Cabin roof of a small boat
On the Great River, under
Low clouds where wild geese cried out
On the Autumn storm. Now I
Hear it again on the monastery
Roof. My hair has turned white.
Are all as though they had
Never been. Only the rain
Is the same, falling in streams
On the tiles, all through the night.
Chiang Chien

Today, this is a song of life sorrow familiar to admirers of Jack Kerouac, Albert Huffstickler, the Romantics in general, and so many of the great poets. This astute, resonating collection by one of the master translators and major poets of 20th century, Kenneth Rexroth, fits neatly in the palm of your hand or the back pocket of your jeans. Take into the woods. Read it. Breath it. Live it.

Then leave it for the next seeker.


Jim Kacian of red moon press has written to me and generously offered to sweeten the pot for the 2nd Annual Bashô Haiku Challenge. Jim is going to provide 5 books from red moon's exemplary catalogue to be given away to participants. So, with his approval, I've decided to give a book to each of the first five runners-up to the first prize winner. To recap, here's the full dope:

1. Until October 31st, send up to five haiku via email to:
lilliput review at gmail dot com (spelled out to fend off
pesky bots). I will need a minimum of your name and

2. Accepted works will be published in the 2nd Annual Bashô Haiku Challenge Chapbook to be published some
time in 2010.

3. The winner of the challenge will receive a copy of
Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary, edited by Makoto Ueda, a 15 issue
subscription to Lilliput Review and two contributor
copies of the chapbook.

4. 5 runners-up to the winning haiku will receive a
book from red moon press, a 6 issue subscription to
LR, and two copies of the chapbook.

5. Everyone else whose work is published will receive
a 6 issue subscription and two copies of the chapbook.

So, that's the update. Again, the deadline is October 31st. Send work along and good luck.


Cover by Wayne Hogan

Poems highlighted this week come from issue #159, November 2007, something of a menagerie, human and otherwise. Enjoy.

At the Marsh in Wartime
With its too-big head
the kingfisher in federal blue

dives and dives into the much
and brings up a fingerling every time.
Jennifer Wallace

next to


thank you
John Martone

Split the Lark--and you'll find the Music--
--Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled--
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
--Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.

Loose the Flood--you shall find it patent--
--Gush after Gush, reserved for you--
Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
--Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
Emily Dickinson

And one from 159, to introduce Master Issa:

i found a new haiku
on my tongue
John Grochalski

ripples on water--
mingling with the larks
a fishing boat
translated by David G. Lanoue


1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

Rexroth: a beautiful "little" book that he
(via/with Unicorn Press)
dif in 1973
w his calligraphy facing each poem...

sky sea birds trees earth house beasts flowers...

book is of love-poems and is dedicated / for Carols and to Gary Snyder so's Gary can pass them on to Masa:

Spring puddles give way

To young grass.

In the garden,

Willow catkins

Change to singing birds


nice therust to/in your posts..
keep it up!

now back to Lanza doing The Great Caruso..