Friday, February 27, 2009

Robert Bly: Turkish Pears in August

One gets the sense that in these his later years, Robert Bly is approaching his craft as a potter or a sculptor or even a mason: with his hands.

He is building poems.

This late reliance on form is intriguing and, in this case at least, its paid off, for Turkish Pears in August is one of Bly's finest works in years. Don't be mistaken: there are a few clunkers and no one can thud with such unsonorous resound as Robert Bly but, on the whole, this is fine stuff, indeed.

As you might guess, my feelings toward Bly run hot and cold. That being said, I always read him with great interest and feel he has produced some outstanding work through the years.

I should only be able to say that about more contemporary poets.

In his prefatory note, Bly explains his method and, though I have particular questions (the notion of "troubled speakers") about that method, I believe it is important to take the poet at his word and on his terms. From the preface:

A few years ago, I began to hear inside the stanza individual sounds such as in or air or ar call to each other. An er is a sort of being that cries out. What could we call a union of a consonant and a vowel? The word syllable is a ridiculous name for it; it's too Latinate and mute. These particles have more energy than the word "syllable" suggests. Hearing these cries put me into a new country of poetry. I was not hiking among ideas or images or stories, but among tiny, forceful sounds. What would happen if I adopted in or ar as the center of a poem? Decisions on content would then depend on that. I let that happen. For length, I settle on eight lines, which is larger than a couplet but smaller than a sonnet. Every poem, of course, has to have images and ideas and some sort of troubled speaker. But I began more and more to shift attention to the little mouths that cry out their own name. I eventually accepted ramage as a title for this brief poem. The word occasionally appears as the name of a movement during some French compositions for flute; it is related the the French noun for "branch." We can hear the root of that in "ramify." The tunings of these things is like tuning on horseback some sort of stringed instrument from the Urals. Each time you try to add one more of the chosen sound particles, new nouns abruptly enter the poem, and one has to deal with them.


So that's the method and it is different. I've been through the collection 3 times and it is quite good, indeed, so Bly has struck on something, at least for himself, though I wouldn't be surprised if some others tried their hands at this. For me, it is all a bit foggy despite the positive results; perhaps I'm in over my under-educated head. Of course, I do hear and see echoes of sounds units throughout, eschewing the term syllable per request. But what the final sentence in the preface brings home to me, and is important to remember, is that all of this is a negotiation between the method, the sounds produced, and the images conjured in the poet's consciousness (I'd argue unconscious but, for the moment, only parenthetically) and the negotiation twixt all these elements results in the birthing, or perhaps breaching, of a poem.

So, enough of the man-behind-the-curtain, la-dee-da. As with any properly baked item, the proof is in the tasting, so here are a few well done pieces.

Orion The Great Walker
Orion, that old hunter, floats among the stars
Firmly... the farms beneath his feet. How long
It takes for me to walk in grief like him.
Seventy years old, and still placing my feet
So hopefully each night on the ground.
How long it takes for me to agree to sorrow.
But that great walker follows his dogs,
Hunting all night among the disappearing stars.

The Hermit At Dawn
Early in the morning the hermit wakes, hearing
The roots of the fir tree stir beneath his floor.
Someone is there. That strength buried
In earth carries up the summer world. When
A man loves a woman, he nourishes her.
Dancers strew the lawn with the light of their feet.
When a woman loves the earth, she nourishes it.
Earth nourishes what no one can see.

Of course the exact opposite of this particular poem may be easily argued, but this is Bly's poem, so we'll let him have his point. It is his, after all.

The Watcher Of Vowels
How lovely it is to write with all these vowels:
Body, Thomas, the codfish's psalm. The gaiety
Of form comes from the labor of it playfulness.
We are drunkards who never take a drop.
We all become ditch-diggers like Brahms.
No, no, we are like that astronomer
Who watches the great sober star return
Each night to its old place in the night sky.

This is the poem about method and intent and he pulls it off nicely. Any method that evokes "the codfish's psalm," sound-wise, has my endorsement, though Billy Collins might have something to say about meaning. But meaning here is secondary, as it is so often in poetry, and I believe that is the point. It is the sound first, meaning second, and, in this context, as a method Bly's may actually be seen as fairly traditional.

As a set, these poems treat the idea of grief again and again and, so, it seems to be what Bly himself brought to the table as he fiddled with the tools of his approach. Here is a beauty:

What Is Sorrow For?
What is sorrow for? It is a storehouse
Where we store wheat, barley, corn an tears.
We step to the door on a round stone
And the storehouse feeds all the birds of sorrow.
And I say to myself: Will you have
Sorrow at last? Go on, be cheerful in autumn,
Be stoic, yes, be tranquil, calm;
Or in the valley of sorrows spread your wings.

There are lots more fine pieces here, including the wonderful "The Big-Nostrilled Moose," "Turkish Pears," "Slim Fir-Seeds" and "Tristan and Isolde." So many fine pieces, indeed, that I'll be adding this book to the ever-expanding list of Near Perfect Books of Poetry. Not to end on too prosaic a note, here is the piece that is perhaps my favorite of the collection. Enjoy.

Wanting Sumptuous Heavens
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitar all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his rum all day and is content.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jack Gilbert's Chinese drum

There is a new poem by Jack Gilbert up at the New Yorker. For my money, he is one of our very best. Here he takes a memory from long ago and suddenly transmutes it into revelation.

Waiting and Finding

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play

the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to

run in order to get there first, and he would not.

So he always had a triangle. He does not remember

how they played the tomtoms, but he sees clearly

their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back

and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.

If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.

You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms

went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all

triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.

Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what

he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,

shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.

Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost

and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning

without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,

sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives

silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting

for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence

as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Jack Gilbert



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Letter to Kerouac in Heaven: Jack Micheline

This is from Jack Micheline's latest volume, One of a Kind, which I mentioned in a previous post. All original punctuation, spelling etc. retained.

Letter to Kerouac in Heaven---------Globesville, Colo
---------------------------------------------------Oct 15, 1984
---------------------------------------------------4411 Logan
---------------------------------------------------Denver Colo 80216

Dear Jack,

---I'm sorry I never made it, but I tried to do it my way.
I just could not find a courageous publisher with distribution.
None of my 9 books can be found in any American bookstore.
I want to thank you for your encouragement. It's been a
long hard road. Bobby Miller is still getting drunk in North
Beach on week-ends. He tells some good corny jokes he must
be close to sixty and he still chases girls—Goldfinger is still
alive in the Village. Walking the streets, that beautiful crazy
Jewish elevator man. Harold Anton has passed and your
drinking buddy the composer Chuck Mills has departed the
earthly plane. They had a Kerouac Conference at Boulder a
couple of years ago. You would have been proud of me. Ken
Kesey gave me the most valuable performance award. A
bottle of wine for Harvey Silver, and a bottle of whiskey for
Jack Micheline.¹ ­ I was really on that afternoon and I hope
you heard me up there in Heaven. I hear Bobby Donlin is
still alive managing some club in Cambridge. Charlie Min-
gus is also gone, passed away, gave up the ghost. People are
more frightened than ever now. The reason I never made it.
I wouldn't play the game or ball with the publishers, they
seem so self-involved, publishing mediocrity. Rick Kids play-
ing games with a pack of ass kisses always around them,
when was it any different. The arts is not for us poor kids.
we create because we have no choice. It is what we have
to do—no matter what. I swear I'm not jealous of these
people. with their power that is the way they show their
love. I guess I should have more compassion, they always
refuse to go for a walk in the sunlight. Frightened Men. The
Ring of fear. Sing me a song baby Blue. A song that rises to
the heavens. A song that dances with The Stars .. Sing me a
song Baby Blue. A song of the open road. You have a beauti-
ful daughter, Jack. By the name of Jan. I don't see much of
Allen and Peter. I was never close to them, they seem cold
and detached, they're lousy trying to make it. But you see I
always was a loner, A bare stick in the water, A hot piece, An
outlaw, a runner, Doing my chaotic happy dance across this
land. I want to tell you, I tried Baby. God knows how I tried
to say it like it was never said before.
---You know this world never loved genius, we exist in
spite of the world. I heard Charles Mills talking to the lions
once in Central Park. He wrote over 90 pieces of music in
his lifetime. I'm putting this book together—Let's Ride the
angel goodbye! I am staying with an old buddy from Chicago
now in Denver named Ken Krebs, you'll be happy to know
all your work has taken off all over the world. They read
you everywhere now. You are a departed legend of time,
and I guess you knew it all the time. I saw Carl Solomon at
the Kerouac Conference. He still lives with his mother and
works as a messenger boy. I was in TAOS New Mexico last
[break in manuscript] celebrating an art show at Shadoni of
Bill Gertz a painter friend. A guy you would have loved to
have known. He introduced me to Geronimo's grandson who
is a painter and a poet. Heavy dude you take one look at him.
He gives you the willies he is so real. Life goes on to the end.
I hope they are treating you nice in heaven. You know how it
was on the earth and I hope it's better up there.

----------------------Love your friend
------------------------------Jack Micheline

P.S. your acquaintance Rainy Cass disappeared, The guy,
The sleepwalker from New Orleans, the guy who plays
the cornet and put out Climax Magazine. Some guy named
Willie put out a magazine called The Willie, he disappeared
too. It seems all the good people disappear. There are too
many phoneys in the world. The arts are loaded with them.
Somehow we must rescue the consciousness of man. Some
way some noble purpose must exist. Away to a new aware-
. At the Kerouac Conference Chellon Holmes was such
a Beautiful gentleman. He really loved you Jack. He called
you the great rememberer and read a soul stirring piece
about you, what rare, fine soul. and such a gentle spirit. Too
many people do not live their poems. We are still in the dark
ages baby. Bless you Jack your kind gentle spirit. Shig is still
alive and is very sick and has moved to Southern California
to spend his last years. The one armed [words missing in
---I hope you are well in heaven. And god bless the damned
and bless the angels too. bless em all the long and the short
and the tall, bless all their children and their bastard sons
Bless em all.
---Remember that song Jack
---Bless Em All!

--------------------Jack Micheline

¹ Jack Micheline was born Harvey Silver, also known as Harvey Martin Silver, on November 26, 1929, in the Bronx, New York City

A bare stick in the water.

Kerouac did an introduction for Micheline's first book, River of Red Wine, which is lost in a pile somewhere around here or I'm sure I'd be quoting that right now.

In any case, if you never knew how to talk to the dead, this has been your lesson. And when you speak like this, friend, the dead talk back.

someone else's affair
you think...
lanterns for the dead
translated by David Lanoue

******* George Harrison's birthday ********

And here's a little something from John and George in honor of George's birthday. Enjoy.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gerald Stern on W. H. Auden

Cover by Oberc

This past Sunday, February 27th, was the birthday of a personal favorite here at Issa's Untidy Hut: Gerald Stern. Stern was born in Pittsburgh, which has been my home for the last 18 years, and lives in New Jersey, where I was born and raised. Much of our non-mutual time was spent in the same haunts in Jersey, New York, Philly, and Pittsburgh. His imagery is familiar, I might almost say familial, an imagery that is spot-on in both detail and emotional sagacity. I won't belabor the point, as I've covered much of this territory in past posts.

Happy birthday, Gerald. Wishing you all the happiness you have so generously given others in the sharing of your work and life.

Yesterday, I noted the recent anniversary of W. H. Auden's birth. I thought it might be nice to dovetail these birthdays together with a poem by Gerald Stern in memory of W. H. Auden. It's a bit longer than I usually post here, but a lyrical, insightful homage.

In Memory of W. H. Auden
I am going over my early rages again,
my first laments and ecstasies,
my old indictments and spiritualities.
I am standing, like Schiller, in front of Auden's door
waiting for his carved face to let me in.
In my hand is The Poem of My Heart I dragged
from one ruined continent to the other,
all my feelings slipping out on the sidewalk.
It was warm and hopeful in his small cave
waiting for the right word to descend
but it was cold and brutal outside on Fourth Street
as I walked back to the Seventh Avenue subway,
knowing, as I reached the crowded stairway,
that I would have to wait for ten more years
or maybe twenty more years for the first riches
to come my way, and knowing that the stick
of that old Prospero would never rest
on my poor head, dear as he was with his robes
and his books of magic, good and wise as he was
in his wrinkled suit and his battered slippers
—Oh good and wise, but not enough to comfort me,
so loving was he with his other souls.
I had to wait like clumsy Caliban,
a sucker for every vagueness and degeneration.
I had to find my own way back, I had to
free myself, I had to find my own pleasure
in my own sweet cave, with my own sweet music.
--Once a year, later even once a month,
I stood on the shores of Bleeker and Horatio
waving good-bye to that ship all tight and yare
and that great wizard, bobbing up and down
like a dreaming sailor out there, disappearing
just as he came, only this time his face more weary
and his spirit more grave than when he first arrived
to take us prisoner on our own small island,
the poet I now could talk to, that wrinkled priest
whose neck I'd hang on, that magician
who could release me now, whom I release and remember.
Gerald Stern

And, since it is his birthday, here's a beautiful, touching, resonant, celebratory, and tragic piece of wonder, that high steps to all the right notes, perfectly pitched:

The Dancing
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a postwar Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop — in 1945 —
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing — in Poland and Germany —
of God of mercy, oh wild God.
Gerald Stern

Though all of us wish an end to the long, senseless wars that rage on, perhaps none of us will ever dance as those who danced on that day in 1945.


If it's Tuesday, it's time for a dip into the Lilliput Review Back Issue Archive. This week it's issue #51, from December 1993. As I've mentioned previously, the further back in time we go, there is a noticeable change in tone and approach. This issue, I think, reflects this more than most. The sampling opens with a powerful piece by the excellent poet and Vietnam vet, Bill Shields.

dead poem #9
in the night
I'm my dream

my enemy

rabid dogs
suck my wet fingers

headless children sit in a circle
of chairs around my bed stomping their feet

as the mattress burns
the worms flow

my face

Bill Shields

what dostoyevsky might have meant

-----------dead dogs die


------------Todd Kalinski

Orphans Adopting Themselves
from our fathers
we inherit feet
from our mothers
long arms

we walk away
always reaching back
Robert S. King

So It's Sometimes Said
Big Apple celebrityites
are to the ontological plenitude
of quotidian propinquity as
Arnold Schwarzenegger (minus
Great Garbo) are to the
ruck of humanity. Or so
it is sometimes said.
Wayne Hogan

Where there is nothing to hear
And no listener
James J. Langon

Issue #51 was dedicated to the memory of frequent contributor and correspondent during Lillie's first four years, Beatrice George. It's been almost 16 years since her passing.

This is still for you:

Something in the slight spring
of the branch
as the bird
alights —


Monday, February 23, 2009

W. H. Auden & Nina Simone

This past Saturday, February 21st, was the shared birthdays of W. H. Auden and Nina Simone. Auden was never a man of too few words; this poem, however, has the power of his longer works with an unaccustomed conciseness.

Epitaph On A Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter;
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
W. H. Auden

Which calls to mind, for me, E. E. Cummings's

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man

There is a kinship here of a bygone era and yet the subject transcends all culture and time.

Also, here is an Auden poem from the 1936 film titled "Night Mail." A minor sub-genre of poetry, the mail is something that habitually creeps into the work of most poets, who are typically awaiting news of a manuscript or proof copies of a new book. In "Night Mail, Auden universalizes this obsession of writers everywhere. Oddly, the recitation of the main verses in the film, in an attempt to replicate the motion of the train carrying the night mail, comes off as a sort of stiff upper lip rap, many decades before its time.

When it comes to trains, give me John Lee Hooker anyday. When it comes to the mail, Auden, however, has the inside track:


And then there is Nina Simone, who knew how to give a different sort of look at sinnermen. Tt's all about the power, despite the static slide show presentation (lovely as the individual images may be). Just close your eyes and sway ... and, if you are work, make sure the cat is belled.

Finally, here is a 30 minute documentary entitled "Nina Simone." A wonderful snippet of her singing Kurt Weill, whose work I coincidentally spent some time listening to this weekend, is a great moment, among quite a few others. The sound is not up to modern standards and this is a warts and all production, as she notes herself, but well with a glimpse of an artist coming to terms with herself and the world. Enjoy.


Friday, February 20, 2009

"Everybody Got It Wrong": Ginsberg in India, Snyder Reading

Here's some archival footage of Ginsberg in India, with commentary and poetry by Gary Snyder, with Bill Morgan, Gita Mehta and others reading and commenting. The Snyder reading, so alike in rhythm and akin in musical pitch to Ginsberg's, and Mehta's cogent, spot-on analysis from the Indian perspective are highlights.

"Never before had the void been pursued with such optimism, such razzle-dazzle. Everyone suspected that whatever America wanted, America got. Why not Nirvana?"

even the heavenly gods
crowd 'round...
plum blossoms

translated by David Lanoue


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Audre Lorde & Yoko Ono: Revolution

Today is the shared birthdays of two revolutionary poet/artists, Audre Lorde and Yoko Ono. Revolution often foments in rage and anger and these women certainly have brought that. Also, and perhaps more importantly, there is the love that is the goal of all souls looking to truly revolutionize who we are and how we conduct ourselves. Each of these artists, in their own transformative way, does just that.

Equality is the word and the word is love.


is the total black, being spoken
from the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book - buy and sign and tear apart -
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.
Audre Lorde

Door Piece

Make a tiny door to get in and out
so that you have to bend and squeeze
each time you get in . . . this will
make you aware of your size and about
getting in and out.
Yoko Ono
Spring 1964

In memory of Audre Lorde and happy birthday, Yoko.

You rock the world.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

David Giannini: AZ 2, Words of Travel

The high quality small press publisher, Adastra Press, has just published a new book by the poet, David Giannini, entitled AZ Two: Words of Travel. The book is an excellent example of fine quality, handset publishing. The edition is limited to 220 copies, is "handset Monotype Garamond type, letterpress printed on archival quality Mohawk Superfine text, handsewn with a Classic Laid Duplex recycled cover and illustrated with Sinagua Indian designs and petroglyphs, printed in different hand-mixed colors."

Yes, this is small press publishing surviving and thriving in the 21st century with beauty, class, and lyrical resonance.

The publisher describes the poems as a suite of 25 inspired by the Sedona, Arizona area and the Sinagua Indian culture that once resided there and eventually disappeared. As a set, the poems have the feel of a lyrical travel journal, recounting the visitors encounter with the land and the spirit it emanates. It opens with an invocation that honors that:

------Dawn hills black
take on sky rouge and pink
---keep it all day in rock
----at dusk give it back

Inevitably, Giannini touches on the meeting of cultures, the lost Sinagua and today's modern desert migration and its attendant incursions. Here though what may be, and indeed in later poems is, portrayed as a clash is rendered as transcendence:

Feel of the Desert
We walk into silence
and nothing

in this air
feels heavy.

Breath with breath
hand in hand

we weigh
only ourselves.

Who can prove
we are not the spirits

of this
we move through?

Each word precisely put, step-by-step, as the poet/narrator moves we feel a presence, within and without. In the following, Giannini again senses something beyond the ordinary, perhaps just an elderly, confused man or a spirit of an age long gone, yet psychically contiguous:

---A Sound Inside the Rain
The rasp of something
owning very little—

--perhaps an old man
-----filing the edge

--of his voice, wanting
--------to receive

----and be received
---—----only if

-------outside of

Outside the rain, inside the rain. What resonates here, makes me think ghost, really - it is the name Sinagua, the name of the tribe that survived for so many years in the desert, the name which means "without water."

Without rain.

Perhaps something of a maxim, the following truly captures the dovetailing of cultures, together but forever separate, feeding each other: a model of nature itself -

Indians Selling Turquoise
The higher
the place

the lower
the price.

"Wupatki" captures a very similar feeling in a much different way:


I often ask life-long learners I instruct and in the library discussion group I'm a part of "where does the poem turn," and, in this case, it literally pirouettes on the word abandon, divided into its syllabic essences for emphasis. But as in "Indians Selling Turquoise" both cultures are touched here and it isn't just the easy dismissal of our modern culture, which literally and metaphysically knows how to abandon everything. The site has abandoned the seers and if that doesn't resonant, nothing in this world ever will.

The syllabic break (or perhaps true hyphenation, since "site-seers" perfectly stands in for the more common "sightseers") of "site-seers" is almost percussive, like the boom of the firework after the light.

Here is a great example of the form being dictated by the content, no mere structural gimmick from the poets sack of illusions.

As a set, there is something redemptive blended with the melancholy here, making AZ Two a great addition to any small press collection of high quality poetry. An earlier edition of the book, published by John Martone's excellent tel-let press, is available in pdf form online; the sequencing of the earlier edition is different than this print edition, something I'm sure the poet did not do lightly. The physical book is available via Small Press Distribution (1-800-869-7553), amazon and directly from the publisher at:

Adastra Press
16 Reservation Road
Easthampton, MA 01027

The price from the publisher is $18.00, plus $2.50 for shipping. Of course, there are copies available at abebooks and amazon at a reduced rate. As a matter of policy, I've made it a point not to direct people to amazon, but for a book like this exceptions are made.

Do remember, supporting a small press publisher like Adastra directly, which might cost you a couple of bucks more, yields untold benefits as it echoes on through the culture for years to come.

Just saying ...


PS If you are a small press publisher or poet and would like to have your poetry collection (chapbook or book) considered for review or notice on Issa's Untidy Hut, feel free to send a review copy along to the Lilliput Review address. Of course, there is no guarantee it will be reviewed or noted on the blog. Review chances increase exponentially if the poetry is in my area of expertise : the short poem. Collections by poets published in Lillie are always welcome.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"I come like Water, and like Wind I go"

Today is the anniversary of the passing of Thelonious Monk, on February 17th, 1982, arguably the single most creative keyboard composer and player in the history of jazz. I'm not exactly sure who might argue with that: devotees of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller and a handful (or two) others no doubt.

For me, however, he's the one. Let's see - Monk on piano, Mingus on bass, Jones on drums, Ornette on alto, Trane on soprano/tenor, Miles on trumpet, composing duties shared equally - that should cover it. Away with the fantasy, however: here's the real deal.

I promised, or perhaps threatened, more highlights from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which I was much taken with in a recent reading. Background highlights may be found in the previous post. For now, here's a thick, lyrical stew of death, booze, ennui, and love, not necessarily in that order.

Please use your hands.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
---Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend—ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?

Alright, maybe the annotating isn't quite over. Notice the words that he capitalizes. That capitalization is not largely gratuitous. Particularly, in this quatrain: Room, Summer, Couch, and Earth. And, also, what is not capitalized: we and whom.

Ok, I'll try to refrain from refraining.


Ah, make the most of what we may spend,
Before we, too, into the Dust descend;
---Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!


Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
---A Muzzeín from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools, your reward is neither Here nor There!"


Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so wisely—they are thrust
---Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.


Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
---About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door that I went in.


With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
---And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd—
"I come like Water, and like Wind I go."


Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
---And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.


What, without asking, hither Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence?
---Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence.

Well, it seems there must be a part three, because I could go on forever, but Omar says no! Since it is a little early for a Cup of Wine (No, again!), it seems it's time to turn to the Lilliput archival selections. This week's selection comes from December 1993, 15 plus years ago. Whatever were we up to then, eh?

Cover by Guy Beining

dead poem, #8

when the poets talk of flowers
I want them placed on their banal graves

big bloody hearts
hanging from a copperhead's mouth

Bill Shields

Early Robins

Orange breasted buddhas
test their beaks
the frozen earth
Bart Solarczyk

In A Time of Human Savagery

Woman in a blue car
holds a white flower
to her pink face

She breathes the flower,
eyes closed,
waiting to make her turn

Leaves open their arms
and fly wild onto the wind

Nothing can stop the world.
christien gholson

white blossoms
& cranberry glass
the night more wild
than the red blood
of Egypt
each leaf
is not
what it
Gina Bergamino

from Interweavings II
Richard Kostelanetz

Turner's Song

The player dances his keys
with pale tarantula hands.
His music moves into
the night where its staves melt
in the madness of the rain.
Gordon Grice

January 29th 1986

Winter is like losing
your luggage in Newark
Arthur Winfield Knight

Time into the serpentine
weaving of Café Latté
saxophone Kanishiwa
one month away
Hugh Fox

Finally, something of an update: I've printed the Basho Haiku Challenge chapbooks. This coming weekend, I hope to put a good dent into cutting, folding, collating, and stapling the contributors run of 50 or so. The new issues, 167 and 168, are also coming along nicely and all should begin to go out on time (well, that's a rescheduled on time) around March 1st.

And, then, perhaps daffodils.

spring begins--
sparrows at my gate
with healthy faces
translated by David Lanoue


Monday, February 16, 2009

Jack Micheline, One of a Kind

Back cover: One of a Kind

Here's a little something from the most recent collection of Jack Micheline's work, One of a Kind, from Ugly Duckling Presse, with original spellings retained:

Intercommunication Satellite 1

Dear Charles:

---------------I have come to come to a decision, about
freedom and responsibility, about loneliness and curiosity
about greed and more greed. About America and its des-
tiny, about dreams and fantasy, about cats and dogs, about
love and hate, about history and demagogues, about mass
murderers and comic relief, about desire and the fulfillment
of a lifetime is predestined before our birth; do not judge, do
not judge, do not judge, do not judge, and let me be, I did not
seek fame, I did not seek money, I only sought to con-quer
the unknown, the vast territories of the unexplored mind.
No one gives a shit for the artist, Power is respected.
--------------------------I deal in color and truth
--------------------------I deal in unknown quantities
--------------------------I deal in the zodiac
--------------------------I deal in preson and prisms
--------------------------I deal in shit kicking
--------------------------I deal in fear
--------------------------Knowing that fear runs the
--------------------------wheel of the world
--------------------------I cannot deal with cunning
-------------------------------------con men
-------------------------------------and cliques
-------------------------------------I can only be me
-------------------------------------I can only be
-------------------------------------That is all I can do
-------------------------------------The best I know how
-------------------------------------That is all I can be
----------------Be patient
----------------It is all coming
----------------in its own time
----------------The rainbow of colors in the night
----------------The rainbow of my dreams
----------------Be patient
----------------It is coming like the sun
----------------in a dark cold day
----------------like a hot iron and a forge
----------------Each being is a different species
----------------There is no two fish alike
----------------You turn the knob on the clown
----------------Not on me, The fishtank of your childhood
----------------disturbs me throw the fishtank away and dance
----------------in the street, My car is not in your driveway
----------------Love the crazy Jew
----------------Keep the faith
----------------Keep the faith
----------------Laugh in your belly
----------------Smile brother it is just beginning
--------------------------------------Farewell—Jack Micheline


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Magic Sam: Boogie, Children

It's Magic Sam's (you know, the guy Jake was talking about) birthday folks, so it's steppin' out time. Enjoy.

Poetry returns on Monday.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Butterfly and the Moth Redux: Buson and Billy Collins

Following on the discussion of Buson and Billy Collins from this Wednesday's post, I received a very informative email from Charles Trumbull, editor of Modern Haiku. His email contained some salient information, plus variant translations of the temple bell / butterfly haiku, so I asked and received his kind permission to reprint it in full. For those who didn't read the original post, here are the two poems that were discussed:

----on the temple bell


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.
Billy Collins

The gist of my musings was why Collins chose to go with "moth" rather than "butterfly," which is how most translations have it. Here's what Charlie has to say:

I read with interest your bit about the Buson haiku and Billy Collins. Here’s some background that may be of use to you.

The haiku by Buson (note, no macron over the O)

釣鐘に止りてねむる胡蝶 かな
tsurigane ni tomarite nemuru kochô kana

is indeed one of his most famous and most often translated. Harold Henderson, in his Introduction to Haiku, renders it literally as follows:

Temple-bell-on settling sleep butterfly kana

where “kana” is a kireji, a word in Japanese that governs the relationship between two parts of a sentence and here is a sort of unvoiced sigh or sotto voce “that’s so.”

Collins apparently saw the translation that was published in X.J. Kennedy’s Introduction to Poetry:

On the one-ton temple bell

On the one-ton temple bell
a moon moth, folded into sleep,
sits still

I haven’t checked my copy, but Kennedy probably got the version from someplace else. This translation is typical of early English translations of haiku, adding words and notions for their poetic values as well as unnecessary titles.

Neither my Japanese nor my Japanese dictionary are good enough for me to know the exact meaning of “kochô,” the name used by Buson for the insect. “Butterfly” is more commonly “chôcho,” while “moth” is “ga.”

Here is a handful of other translations, with translator and published source:


A frail white butterfly, beneath the spell
Of noon, is sleeping on the huge bronze bell

Harold Stewart
Stewart, Net of Fireflies, 52

Asleep in the sun
on the temple’s silent bronze
bell, a butterfly

Behn, Harry
Behn, Cricket Songs

on the temple bell.

Robert Hass
Hass, Essential Haiku (1994), 108

Butterfly asleep
Folded soft on temple bell …
Then bronze gong rang!

Beilenson, Peter
Japanese Haiku (1955); Haiku Garland (1968); Little Treasury (1980)

Clinging to the bell
he dozes so peacefully
this new butterfly

Sam Hamill
Hamill, trans, Sound of Water; Hamill, trans, Little Book of Haiku, 61

on a temple bell
alighted and sleeping
this butterfly

William J. Higginson
Modern Haiku 35:2 (summer 2004), 52 (a)

On the great temple bell
stopped from flight and sleeping
the small butterfly

Miner, Earl
Miner, Japanese Linked Poetry; Bowers, Classic Tradition

On the hanging bell,
staying while he sleeps,
a butterfly!

Sawa Yuki and Edith Marcombe Shiffert
Haiku Master Buson

On the temple bell
has settled, and is fast asleep,
a butterfly.

Harold G. Henderson
Henderson, Introduction; Modern Haiku 4:3 (1973), 51 (a); Frogpond 14:2 (summer 1991), 31 (a)

On the temple bell
Something rests in quiet sleep.
Look, a butterfly!

Buchanan, Daniel C.
Buchanan, One Hundred Famous Haiku (1973), 65

On the temple bell,
Settled down and fast asleep
A butterfly.

Harold G. Henderson
Henderson, Introduction; Modern Haiku 3:2 (1972), 26 (a)

On the temple’s great
Bronze bell, a butterfly sleeps
In the noon sun

Beilenson, Peter, and Harry Behn
Haiku Harvest

Perched upon the temple-bell, the butterfly sleeps!
Hearn, Lafcadio
Hearn, Kwaidan

The buttefly
Resting upon the temple bell,

R.H. Blyth
Blyth, Haiku II—Spring, 258



I checked my copy of Introduction to Poetry by Kennedy and, coincidentally, Buson and Collins are listed next to each other alphabetically in the "Lives of the Poets" section. The translation is Kennedy's own, though he has another poem by Buson translated by Robert Hass. In two romanized Japanese/English dictionaries I checked at the library, kochô was listed as butterfly, but I'll defer to Charlie since I also found chôcho listed as butterfly in a third.

So, though the mystery still remains, we've ended up with a wealth of useful information and a wonderful selection of different ways Buson's poem has been translated. I was particularly thrilled to see a beautiful version by Lafcadio Hearn, the subject of a post here recently, and a typically taciturn, precise version by R. H. Blyth.

Many, many thanks to Charles Trumbull for all the great information and the various translations. Only one question remains:

Will we wake up before the big bell rings?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lisel Mueller and Amy Lowell

This past week saw the birthdays of two more formidable American poets: Lisel Mueller (February 8th) and Amy Lowell (February 9th). Both of them are among my favorite poets and neither is currently receiving the kind of recognition they deserve.

Lisel Mueller is a fine contemporary poet, whose volume Alive Together: New and Selected Poems I recommend to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, considered modern verse. Here's a couple of examples:

After Your Death

The first time we said your name
you broke through the flat crust of your grave
and rose, a movable statue,
walking and talking among us.

Since then you've grown a little.
We keep you slightly larger
than life-size, reciting bits of your story,
our favorite odds and ends.
Of all your faces we've chosen one
for you to wear, a face wiped clean
of sadness. Now you have no other.

You're in our power. Do we
terrify you, do you wish
for another face? Perhaps
you want to be left in darkness.

But you have no say in the matter.
As long as we live, we keep you
from dying your real death,
which is being forgotten. We say,
we don't want to abandon you,
when we mean we can't let you go.


This year spring and summer decided
to make it quick, roll themselves into one
season of three days
and steam right out of winter.
In the front yard, the reluctant
magnolia buds lost control
and suddenly stood wide open.
Two days later their pale pink silks
heaped up around the trunk
like cast-off petticoats.

Remember how long spring used to take?
And how long from the first locking of fingers
to the first real kiss? And after that
the other eternity, endless motion
toward the undoing of a button?

Small Poem About The Hounds And The Hares

After the kill, there is the feast.
And toward the end, when the dancing subsides
and the young have sneaked off somewhere,
the hounds, drunk on the blood of the hares,
begin to talk of how soft
were their pelts, how graceful their leaps,
how lovely their sacred, gentle eyes.
Lisel Mueller

Winner of many prizes, including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, those interested may find out more about Lisel Mueller in this article by Nell Casey.


Amy Lowell was, in my mind, a major figure of late 19th and early 20th century American poetry. Despite or perhaps because of Ezra Pound, she was a major figure of the Imagist movement, championing the work of many poets and producing a large body of her own quality poetry. Along with other Imagists, she helped popularize Eastern works for English speaking readers; one of her volumes, Fir-Flower Tablets, contains lyrical renderings of literal translations of classic Chinese poetry. Here's a good example of her Imagist work:

Wind and Silver

Greatly shining
The Autumn moon floats in the thin sky;
And the fish-ponds shake their backs and flash their
----dragon scales
As she passes over them.

Although this appears a pretty little bauble, and it is, still there is a perfect lyrical moment captured here in the interplay of light and shadow, neither of which is mentioned by name.

Her love poems are remarkable:

A Decade

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savor,
But I am completely nourished.

A Sprig Of Rosemary

I cannot see your face.
When I think of you,
It is your hands which I see.
Your hands
Holding a book,
Resting for a moment on the sill of a window.
My eyes keep always the sight of your hands,
But my heart holds the sound of your voice,
And the soft brightness which is your soul.

The Giver Of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

We should all be loved so well, eh? Even more remarkable is thinking that these were composed around 1900; what else on this level, with this power and frankness, was being written at that time?

I have somehow misplaced my volume of the complete poetry of Amy Lowell, so can't go right to the work I've marked for return reading. I have a selected poems volume here, A Shard of Silence, that has some interesting items, so I'll finish up with that.

from Twenty-Four Hokku On A Modern Theme

Again, the larkspur,
Heavenly blue in my garden.
They, at least, unchanged.

When the flower falls
The leaf is no more cherished.
Every day I fear.

As a river-wind
Hurling clouds at a bright moon,
So am I to you.

Foolish so to grieve,
Autumn has its colored leaves—
But before they turn?

When the aster fades
The creeper flaunts in crimson.
Always another!

And, finally:

Ombre Chinoise

Red foxgloves against a yellow wall streaked with
----plum-colored shadows;
A lady with a blue and red sunshade;
The slow dash of waves upon a parapet.
That is all.
As solid as the center of a ring of fine gold.


Buson and Billy Collins: the Butterfly and the Moth

In prepping for this week's Billy Collins poetry discussion, I ran across a poem of his that is something of a meditation on a haiku, although that might be stretching the concept a bit. As an introduction to it, here's a poem by Busôn:

                 on the temple bell

Probably, and justifiably, his most famous haiku, it took quite sometime before my dull, dull mind heard the bell ring and I realized how it literally resonates. Over the years, I've read many versions of this and this is the simplest and, in my opinion, the best.

Now Mr. Collins:


Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

Billy Collins

There are some things I like about this poem, other things not so much. The title, "Japan," for me is a bit of a conundrum, but perhaps, as is frequently the case with Collins, it's just a launching point. At first I was puzzled by his use of moth instead of butterfly, which robs it of an allusion to Chuang Tzu's famous work:

"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. "

Most versions go with butterfly, but I did find one that used moth, specifically a moon-moth, so there you go. As usual, when confronted with a puzzle, I turn to Master Issa:

on the flower pot
does the butterfly, too
hear Buddha's promise?

Issa translated by David Lanoue


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle": The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

In life, death informs all things. Think of it as the booby prize of cognizance. This is as true for those who choose to repress it, perhaps even more so. It's the primary reason Freud got to have what has euphemistically come to be known as a consulting room (check out Ernst Becker's groundbreaking The Denial of Death to let all this sink in, long and hard).

For those who might like their answer in a more timely, lyrical fashion, there is the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as translated by Edward FitzGerald. I was recently reminded of the Rubáiyát by an article in the Times Literary Supplement (January 9, 2009) entitled "The Angry Omar," though it might more appropriately been titled "The Wine-Soaked Omar." It is a fine article written by Daniel Karlin, fine enough to prompt me back to the Rubáiyat, which I've haven't visited in many a year.

Two points Karlin makes are of particular editorial importance. The first:

In the Persian text the rubáiyat are independent poems, grouped according to custom by end-rhyme. FitzGerald saw how some of these separate poems might be linked to form a narrative and argumentative sequence, by analogy with the classiccal Greek or Latin "ecolgue."

The second:

(FitzGerald's) attitude to translation is summed up in a phrase that has become the rallying cry of "free" translators against their literalist opponents: "Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle."

There were five different editions of the Rubáiyat in FitzGerald's lifetime and, since they are all relatively brief, being composed of anywhere from 73 quatrains to just over 100, frequently all 5 are published in the same volume. The verses I've chosen to highlight all come from the final 5th edition. Enjoy.


Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentence fling:
---The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.


And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:
---And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshýd and Kaikobád away. ----


And those that husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
---Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As buried once, Men want dug up again.


Think in this batter'd Carnavanserai
Whose doorways are alternate Night and Day,
---How Sultán after Sultán with his pomp
Abode his hour or two and went his way.


And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River's Lip on which we lean—
---Ah, lean upon it lightly, for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen. ---------

(Think Isaiah: all Flesh is Grass)


Ah, my Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past regrets and future Fears—
---To-morrow? Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterdays Sev'n Thousand Years.


Lo, some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
---Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before
And one by one crept silently to Rest.


And we that make make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
---Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?

Well there is a little taste, of both sweet and bitter wine. I'll try to delve into more verses in a future post.

Speaking of second parts, in last week's archival posting of Lilliput Review poems, I promised a second dip into the double size issue, #53, from February 1994. Here it is.

Cherry blossoms swirling
--------------in the wind:
---------------------one thousand little poets

--------Jamie Sweeney

a hilltop puddle
with clouds
Bill Hart

¶trees turned to fence
sky to window,
ocean to the drowning ground


Snow Chimes The End Of The Human War

Snowgrains strike
the rust-iron train trestle
above the frozen creek.
They clang loud as bell towers
in the world inside the dove's eye.
In our world,
they barely make any sound at all.
christien gholson

Sigmund Freud On Coming To Terms
-------------With His Father
--------(Based on Freud's Revolutionary Dream)

"I stood on the railway platform
waving good-bye to a blind man."

D. B. McCoy

/ modern /
everyone's a masochist.
who hasn't shaved, bled?
those who grow hair free i'm sure
have refused butter on their toast?
turned off tv and yawned through a book?
altered their chemical makeup
just to stint the truth?

the candle that burns twice as bright
burns half as long i guess we burn
twice as long, we sad dim fuckers.

6:57 P.M.

wearing your

I just can't

C. Ra McGuirt

Well, those were different times, indeed. Here's a little something that sums up change nicely.

the sky colors
of dawn have changed
to summer clothes
translated by David Lanoue