The copy, pictured above, is actually the second edition of 90 Frogs by karma tenzing wangchuk, published as the first chapbook in Stanford Forrester's bottle rockets chapbook series. Stanford provides a wonderful introduction on the composition of the original edition, which was produced by tenzing in 4 days for his mother's 90th birthday. Not only did he present her the book but on the train on the way to visit her, tenzing made 90 origami frogs and wrote one poem on each to present to his mother on his arrival.
fly tongues about
There are any number of the poems in this collection which show the influence of the ever compassionate Issa. Particularly when the poems directly address life forms, as with this "little frog" above, they have that timbre.
a fly relaxing
on a frog's back
The ironical juxtaposition here of two natural "enemies" is delightful to all, except perhaps the frog.
the tree frog's
touched by the dawn
Time and again, tenzing's power of minute observation evinces itself, powerfully juxtaposed by the extreme minimalist of description. What feels most impressive to me about these poems is their timeless quality; truly, as well done as they are, they could have been written by one of classic masters.
The poet here seems to tip his hat to all the possibilities of the situation, including Bashō's.
without a thought
This poem nicely posits a response to critics of the anthropomorphic strain found in Issa's work, which also appears in some of the tenzing's poems in this collection. Lighten up and laugh, folks, knowing full well what you (don't) know.
a blade of grass
bends with the weight
of a tree frog
Somehow, we feel the weight, light as it is. And see it, too. Truly, there is so little to say about tenzing's poems that they don't already more succinctly and more powerfully say on their own. I'm just going to get out of the way of the next two:
back and forth
over the lake
I was once
a tadpole myself
Try this one on for size:
hop on stage
Having just attended a haiku festival, I can tell you there is a lot of hopping around onstage. This, however, is another timeless haiku; literal, it may be, and figurative it definitively is
none of the voices
out of tune
This poem shares a kinship with "waiting patiently," above - it is simple, wonderful truth
the teacher's drawer
has a frog in it
the class very quiet
Here is a moment perfectly captured. The silence can be heard.
all those frogs
with a cell phone
Finally, three more which all, in one way or another, look back on their ancient precursor:
the frog deepens
the biggest splash
of them all
This volume, of which this is just a small selection, is truly a classic of our time. It is so rich, so resonate, and so spot-on it really is hard to believe that it has slipped out of print for a second time. tenzing informs me that, down the line a ways, there is a possibility of another reprint.
In my view, it can't be soon enough.
This week's selection from the Lilliput archive comes from #170, July 2009 and it is a powerful monostitich by the fine poet Grant Hackett. Enjoy.
Each step into simplicity :: undoes the weave
he likes the grass
of my umbrella-hat...
translated by David G. Lanoue
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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 113 songs