Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Hotham

This week, while doing collection maintenance at my day job as a librarian, I ran across a small volume of poems by Kenneth Rexroth, which I had not seen before. I was intrigued by the at once old school and small press looks of the book, which is entitled The Silver Swan: Poems Written in Kyoto, 1974-75. A very early publication of the mainstream “small press” Copper Canyon, it is comprised of 16 short poems with facing characters in the Japanese style, fairly primitive in execution. Though uncredited, they may possibly be by Rexroth himself.

I enjoyed the volume; three poems in particular seize the day, as it were. Here they are:

For Ruth Stephen

Twilit snow,
The last time I saw it
Was with you.
Now you are dead
By your own hand
After great pain.
Twilit snow.


On the forest path
The leaves fall. In the withered
Grass the crickets sing
Their last songs.
Through dew and dusk
I walk the paths you once walked,
My sleeves wet with memory.

Late Spring.
Before he goes, the uguisu
Says over and over again
The simple lesson no man
Knows, because
No man can ever learn.

Rexroth is widely known for his help in the continued popularization of Eastern forms in the West via his many collections of translations (100 Poems from the Japanese, 100 Poems from the Chinese etc.), which followed in the footsteps of such greats as Waley, Blyth, and others. The poems in this volume demonstrate the Eastern influence and his own mastery of the short form in English. Long out of print, Silver Swan can, of course, be found in the recent Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth and also in the more affordable Flower Wreath Hill: Later Poems. Both these later editions include 12 additional poems, including one long one among the short, which can be read in its entirety here.

Ah, yes, less is more, indeed.

Gary Hotham’s Modest Proposal Chapbook, Missed Appointment, has received another positive review, this time in the current Frogpond: check it out here (if blurry, zoom in).

Cover by Wayne Hogan

This week's sampling of poems from past issues comes from October 2005: Lilliput #147. It begins with a couple of my favorite kind of short poems, ones that might be characterized as presenting a cosmos in a teacup:


I first saw her in the mirror of the burnt hall
Her white hair spreading across Europe ....
Daniele Pantano

History of the Moon

Nights go, sitting up
to tend this flame:

not the center,
where it burns fat and yellow

-the edge,
thin, blue and infinite.
James Owens

And here's a couple of more little beauties:

The people of my native village
have changed after many years,
but at the gate
the fragrance
of plum blossoms remains.
Ki-no Tsurayuki
translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro

The Library of Why

The shelves are empty.
Noelle Kocot


I've had
no luck
the forest
I was supposed
to have been
lost in
and ever
Mark DeCarteret

Hopefully, by next week's posting I'll have an announcement about the next volume in the Modest Proposal Chapbook series and some more info about when to expect #'s 161 and #162 to hit the mails. Until then ...


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Helen Vendler, Peter Pauper, and the Meaning of Everything

Best to get the important stuff out of the way first: the Meaning of Everything. This should clear up everything nicely. If, perchance, there are any further questions, try here. Or here. Not quite: how about here? Surely here (which may be continually refreshed). How about a little old school? Perhaps a tad older? No? Yes?

Let this be
the last word on that ... And now for something completely different ...

Every once in awhile, something will just leap up from behind a rock to scare or surprise the bejezus out of us. As I may have mentioned previously, in my paying job I spend a great deal of time reading literature reviews, most of which are functional at best and run of the mill most of the time. Word limitations are the culprit in many cases, so it is sometimes a pleasure to read lengthier work when time allows. This week I stumbled across a Helen Vendler review of a new book by Charles Wright in the
New York Review of Books (March 6, 2008). Always insightful, Vendler manages to at once balance particular detail with the larger picture of Wright's career to make for pleasurable reading in and of itself. In the midst of her precise, lyrical explication the following arrested me in mid-work mode:

"Like Yeats, he (Wright) thinks that each of us, poet and non-poet, must invent the unfolding choreography of his own life. The choreography that non-poets trace is a virtual poem---the same, although silent, as the spoken poem of the writer."

And the review continues from there. It felt like one of those emergency early warning system tests one still hears occasionally on the radio (on the what?), only this one came in the middle of a book review. Followed by the new Tommy James and the Shondells song.
This has only been a test. Ms. Vendler now returns you to your regular work mode. And somehow that Tommy James song just never sounds the same.

In the midst of a rather busy week and a 12 hour work day Monday, shuffling between two jobs, I managed to pick up a little something to read in the off free moments while grabbing a bite etc. I was looking for something light (weight-wise; I had a two mile walk ahead) yet filling. And I ran across one of the old Hallmark editions of haiku on the library shelf, as pictured above, so gave it a go. It reminded me of how, for so many people, the first introduction to Asian poetry came in the form of these Hallmark/Peter Pauper editions, many of which were charmingly illustrated:

What is most impressive about this particular volume, Silent Flowers: a New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems, is the fact that the translations are by the master haiku sensei, R. H. Blyth, whose 4 volume magnum opus on the haiku is still the standard that translation should be measured against. Here are a few examples from the patron of this site, Issa:

Just simply alive,
Both of us, I

And the poppy

A world of grief and pain:
Flowers bloom;
Even then ...

"The peony was as big as this"

Says the little girl,
Opening her arms.

in the eye of the dragon-fly
The distant hills

Spring begins again;
Upon folly,

Folly returns.

Cover by Cornpuff

This week we arrive at Lilliput #146, from October 2005. Hope something from these samples grabs you. As always, copies of this and any other back issues are available for one buck each, less than a pocketful of change.

the tall trees remind me

how much less I could say

than I do

Constance Campbell

field of sunflowers

far as the eye can see


Anne LB Davidson

Silence spreading
across the ridge

after the hawk
Carl Mayfield

To Rise

Lily buds

o wet pale loop of swan's logic.
James Owens

Autumn wind -
sidewalk leaves whirling
a perfect enso.
Greg Watson

Finally, a bit of news. The contributor copies of the new issues, #161 and #162, will begin going out in the next two weeks, with the full subscriber run hitting the mails during the month of March. FYI, it takes about a full month to send the entire run out to subscribers, what with notes to be written, apologies to be proffered, and praise to be lavishly distributed.

best till next week,


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keith Reid and Cid Corman

Perhaps the single most neglected writer of rock lyrics is Keith Reid, the non-playing sixth member of Procol Harum. Among other non-playing lyricists, there is Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead and Peter Brown of, among others, Cream. In a post from last year at the old Beneath Cherry Blossoms blog, I placed the Reid penned "Conquistador" side by side with Shelley's "Ozymandias" for comparison and resonance.

Currently, I have the first four Procol albums on my mp3 player and have for the last month or so. It might seem odd to call them timeless; perhaps the more apt description would be out of time. Here are the lyrics from "Pilgrim's Progress," the cut that closes their masterwork, A Salty Dog:

Pilgrim’s Progress

I sat me down to write a simple story
which maybe in the end became a song
In trying to find the words that might begin it
I found these were the thoughts I brought along

At first I took my weight to be an anchor
and gathered up my fears to guide me round
but then I clearly saw my own delusion
and found my struggles further bogged me down

In starting out I thought to go exploring
and set my foot upon the nearest road
In vain I looked to find the promised turning
but only saw how far I was from home

In searching I forsook the paths of learning
and sought instead to find some pirate’s gold
In fighting I did hurt those dearest to me
and still no hidden truths could I unfold

I sat me down to write a simple story
which maybe in the end became a song
The words have all been writ by one before me
We’re taking turns in trying to pass them on
Oh, we’re taking turns in trying to pass them on

In the history of rock, there has been many a concept album; most of them have been noble, if pretentious, failures. The reason A Salty Dog is, in my opinion, the very best is simple; the concept is metaphoric, not literal. To sustain an entire story over a whole album strains believability, mostly because the medium cannot bear the weight (if truth be told, herein lies where many an opera fails, but, of course, that's not the point: so, too, rock fans might argue with, perhaps, less credulity). But the subtle art of suggestion, one of the writer's most powerful tools, within a loose conceptual framework is what gives this album its incredible power, a staying power that only grows over the passing years. Because A Salty Dog, magnificently executed by a fine band at the top of its game, is quite simply one man's story: the story of one particular writer.

Keith Reid.

The enigmatic quality of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," with its allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, has often stumped the casual listener of popular music. The allusion in "Pilgrim's Progress" is even more overt. The words "anchor" and "pirate's gold" tie the song to the overall concept, but no one would mistake this for a song about anything other than a metaphoric salty dog. This album smokes; if you can listen to "Crucifiction Lane" without a wince of recognition, you're a better person than I.

I was very happy to see this week that Garrison Keillor is doing his bit to keep the memory of Cid Corman alive. Check out his rendition of "Someone I cared for" by Cid from Monday's The Writer's Almanac.

Long live Cid.

Cover art by Keddy Ann Outlaw

The ongoing tour of past issues of Lilliput Review brings us to #145. For those following along, #144 is a broadside by Christien Gholson entitled Spiral, that does not lend itself to excerpting so has been skipped.


The Arrival
We have arrived without luggage
in a country we don’t recognize
among people who distrust us
where the walls have no windows
and the doors open only
for the chosen. We are home at last.

David Chorlton

moist petals open,
the tumor blooms

Karen R. Porter

cutting glass
the guy in the neat suit
picked his way into a part
of the mirror & began
to see everything backwards.

Guy R. Beining

The short space
between the joints
growing along the Naniwa shore
- may the time before
your next visit be as brief

Princess Ise
translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro

Till next week,


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gerald Stern and Chicken Pie

I'm in love with Gerald Stern. It is unabashed, it is obsessive, it is irresponsible, and it is nigh on devotional, this love for Gerald Stern.

It all started a couple of years back when I ran across a couple of poems in the much maligned anthology, Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor. Keillor was attacked, pilloried, really, by no less a poet, one whom I greatly admire, than August Kleinazhler. He has since been defended
by another poetic luminary, Dana Gioia, which ended up creating the proverbial poetic tempest in a teapot that ended up in a vaguely clicheish
flurry of exchanges. Points were scored on both sides and, god forbid, people were talking about poetry in a semi-heated fashion.

Little of this mattered to me. I enjoyed Keillor's anthology very much, but more importantly I'd fallen in love; and though the white hot passion I had for 6 months or so has cooled a bit, still, my devotion is true. Which leads to the recent publication of Stern's new Quarternote Chapbook, The Preacher.

I am at a loss to describe my love. Stern, on the surface, appears staid enough, surely nothing unsafe here. Yet he plays like a wild-haired, poetic clarinetist, suddenly deviating seriously from the charts. The metaphors, the allusions, the connections are sparks flying from downed wires; careful there, isn't that water, rushing nearby?

The Preacher takes its title and begins as a rift on the narrator from the opening lines of Ecclesiastes in the King James version of Bible (yup, the version is important; not only which one, but which particular King James version). Or perhaps it actually began with listening to another riff, this one by one of the very few people I'll let preach to me: Charles Mingus.

Eat that chicken, eat that chicken pie: oh, yeah.

Or maybe it all really began with the poet executing one of his signature moves, well-known to devotees, lovers and acolytes alike: hugging a tree. Though you might not end up rich if you got a dime for every time Stern alludes to this most lyrical of occupations, you still could get yourself a cup a joe, possibly even at one of the upscale clip joints passing for coffeehouses these days.

What's it about, you say? Who cares, says I, it's by the loved one. It's about everything. We dip our big toe in Dante's (or was that Milton's) fine Lake in Hell (
Cocytus 32-4), discover many lamentable holes, very black, indeed, throughout the miserable existence of our heroic human race. Truman, Sharon, and Genghis Kahn (typo, variant spelling, or just plain sic?) all get their fiery comuppance, with Kant, Leonard Cohen and Lord Mingus all strolling in and out for perspective and three-part harmony.

The whole is structured on a poetic riff of a conversation with fellow versifier Peter Richards; this conversation is spoken, however, in the language of Tongues, one long familiar to the Preacher, Mr. Stern, and the composer of that famed autobiography, Beneath the Underdog.

All in all, the dialogue is free associative, manically passionate and, probably, in the key of B flat. As is well known, my attention tends to wander after 10 lines or so, but Stern's standard 30 to 50 or so line work usually keeps me riveted. This 23 page, book-length poem might have been expected to tax that haiku-like attention span yet it kept me in my seat and brought me back for more (after reading a library copy twice through, I bought my own copy).

By way of disclosure, Mr. Stern started life in Pittsburgh, where I've ended up. He's hit many of the world's high spots in his journey, notably NYC, Jersey and Philadelphia, all places I touched base with in the beginnings of my journey. So, there is a corruption of place, a sort of geography of influence in this post I felt I had to confess, along with my above heralded love. I've never met Mr. Stern, am not shilling for any one particular agenda or another except the reader's agenda, specifically this reader's agenda: mine. If you are unfamiliar with his work, if you like things a tad untidy, if you sing off key or, perhaps, don't mind doing the dishes in the morning, get a hold of a copy of Leaving Another Kingdom: the Selected Poems.

He rarely disappoints.

Cover by Gyorgy Kostritski

This week, the tour of past issues of Lilliput arrives at #143, from June 2005. Enjoy.

Robins’s nest in the tangle

of climbing roses

Careful, bird! I, too,

have been pierced by the barbs

that kept out the wolves

Emily Rodgers– Ramos


I lean on the balcony rails

and breathe in the sun-spliced

winds of the west.

A cross glimmers on the front-range

mountains, blends with the light

of the sun. Hidden in the drain

shafts red-throated sparrows

trill to my steam heavy thoughts.

This morning, I try to bend

two waves of light into one.

Brian Dickson

Though I am departing for Mt. Inaba

I will return home at once,

-if I hear your voice

in the sigh of the wind

in the pines

Chunagon Yukihira

translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro

on the phone

my daughter and I

watch different sunsets

Anne LB Davidson

the day departs

of course

without me

David Lindley

Till next time, Don