The small press is one of those ideas, one those concepts, that seems to have as many definitions as there are people involved with it.
And, in my estimation, that's a good thing. A very good thing.
The focus here at Small Press Friday is a narrow one, indeed: generally, it is poetry, frequently it is brief poetry (10 lines or less), and often if is specifically about Eastern forms, such as haiku, tanka, haibun, and haiga (or Eastern influenced forms).
Sometimes, the small press can be one person. One person on a mission. One person dedicated to a particular purpose.
Old Pajamas, this post's subject, is that kind of person.
Drenched Through At Old Age was printed by the author himself. There'll be no shilling books this time - 25 were printed, in a solid recessed hardcover binding, with a beautiful dust jacket, pictured above. They are all gone, there are none for sale.
There is just the work. And, of course, I think a lot about the work.
With every new book of poetry I come across, I expect disappointment. My hopes are high, but history is more telling - so often there are one or two, or at best 5 or 6 poems in a collection that I connect with. I want them all to be great, but that's just not how it is.
I've learned, however, to turn that logic upside down (Pee Wee) and realize, my god, this poet wrote four very good poems, indeed. Maybe there is the next Matthew Arnold in our midst.
But OP is different - there are almost 20 poems in this collection that grabbed me and held on tight. So what am I going to do - grouse about the ones that didn't?
No, indeed. So, let's begin:
in utero there are twenty-seven verbs for clinging
We've plunged right into the mystery, the deep end of the pool, so to speak. Even before we have words we have verbs, or clinging ...
afforded a choice of smooth or rough, fat or thin,
I've taken the path that makes moonlight
most difficult to collect, to bear, to believe in
You have to pause and think: no one else could have written this, or everyone else, it's that simple. It's your choice.
As I find myself often doing when I encounter work of this quality, I think, damn, I wish I'd written that.
Yes, mystery is at the heart of things. Here's two more that speak, or don't speak, to that:
vagabond on fire // offering his hat for free
what separated our lips // the dead butterfly we tear halfway
What, oh, whatever, can the poet mean? This first feels close to Rumi, whom I've been reading a lot of lately for a future project, the second David Lynch, or Nietzsche, or some lapsed agnostic.
The 30 Sorrows of False Spring Mountain
lick each poem free from bone to bone //
as you old man caught blind in sudden snow
will feel tongues scraping this endless night
I may be wrong, but I don't believe it will be the endless night that feels those tongues scrapping. Han-Shan knows what this is about. How about you?
from what cheerless thicket ruptures this agent of Love?
It would seem this monostitch turns on the word Love, but, no, that's just the subject. It turns, or, perhaps, re-turns on cheerless.
My, how very high that word 'cheerless' lifts my heart.
my grief on the wings of geese returning
Speaking of returning, the poet here has turned the cliché on its ear. We are in the presence of a formidable poet here - do you feel it?
what blush there was when peonies wheeled the barrow with I abloom inside
If you were resisting before, your resolve must be melting now. Could this poet's heart be any larger? Might we ask, Mr. Whitman?
so near the forest's end I'll stay until art decays me
how one poem wakes ten thousand skies!
Positively dizzying, the poems come at the reader with a rat-a-tat-tat that's undeniable - I had to put the volume down time after time to catch a breath, it is so packed with pure poetry.
a bronze bowl
catching petaled tears
Is it my father, or your father, Mr. Segal's father ... or is it wily old Allen Ginsberg's father, Father Death?
That's right, it's all fathers, whose petaled tears simply break our hearts.
whet the blade
in Basho's pond
sharp old water
There's no more to say - all that's left is the words of old pajamas, Alan Segal; take us out of here ....
planting the gaps
between this barren
for a betrothal of bloom
my age in crows
counting my age
in crows, at sixty-six
they slip away,
the black of them
near end of day
are you as aware of me plum blossoms
I Am surrendered
to the sea-claws;
I Am demoted
to being human;
I Am resigned
to be a clothed creature
wading in the tide rising
I Am drowning perfectly.
So, there you are - this barely breaches the surface of this fine, unobtainable book. It isn't so much as mentioned anywhere on the internets ... what to do, what to do?
Well, my best guess, what I'd say, is this. Somebody, some small press publisher, needs to come along and make old pajamas and offer he can't refuse. And I haven't even talked to him about it, so, who knows, maybe he'd say no. The book just came out in 2013 and, like morning dew, as it appeared, so it is gone.
But, really, shouldn't this be in print, somewhere, available to people who read this, amazed, and said, where can I get more?
Small press Friday, indeed.
Photo by Aftab
pond snails sing
they're in the kettle
but don't know it
translated by David G. Lanoue