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 ...



Poet Hound said...

"History of the Moon" is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for posting such precious gems.

Poet Hound said...

Don, I was tagged by Allen at World Class Poetry and I am tagging you to participate in the "Six Word Memoir Challenge"
Please copy and paste the link below:

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the kind words and challenge. "History of the Moon" is one of those little beauties that resonates.

I've taken up the challenge ... thanks.