Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Reminder to Sing

Just a quick reminder that this Thursday, October 2nd, is the deadline for the Basho Haiku Challenge. No entries will be accepted after Thursday.

The response has been very good, indeed, but there is always room for more so, if you were thinking of sending some along, consider this your nudge from me.

Tomorrow at this time (6:00 am), I'll be in a near panic mode as the lifelong learning session on poetry appreciation will be just a few hours off. I've decided to add one Issa poem to the original list of poems I'll be reading with the group. Somehow, it makes it feel complete. Here it is, in the Robert Hass translation:


Even with insects
some can sing
some can't



Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ray Charles: The Fifth Haiku Master

Lots doing as the next two weeks will be somewhat chaotic at my job, so I'll just be skimming the surface here with a couple of highlights, a new feature, a reminder and some old fashioned getting-down.
I'm so steeped in Basho that haiku seem to be falling from me like leaves from the plane tree across the way. This morning, in a pre-waking hypnagogic state, a perfect haiku came full blown from nowhere, I'm still stunned. I believe I'll continue steeping as long as I'm able. I'm making progress in both volumes (the Reichhold and Landis Barnhill translations), having read over 500 haiku in each. In the Reichhold volume that is only halfway, well past three-quarters in the Landis Barnhill. I hope to be highlighting selected haiku from both in a future post.

Which segues to a reminder that there is one week left to the deadline for the Basho Haiku Challenge,
so if you've been thinking about sending some along, now's the time to pull the trigger. There are well over a hundred haiku already and more would be just the ticket.

While touching on ongoing projects, the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list is approaching the milestone number of 150 (been stuck on 148 for a couple of weeks). So if you have any suggestions, the original offer of the current 2 issues of Lillie free (or two issues added to your subscription) stands.

Since the
Near Perfect list has been reader generated, I thought it might be a good idea to feature work from the books on the list when possible. First on the list is Anna Akhmatova's Selected Poems. Here is a typically powerful poem, in a translation by D. M. Thomas:

Why is our century worse than any other?
Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief
It has plunged its fingers into the blackest ulcer
Yet cannot bring relief?

Westward the sun is dropping,
And the roofs of towns are shining in its light.
Already death is chalking doors with crosses
And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

If you have a chance, don't miss the most recent post over at trout fishing in minnesota. Jim has much to say about the qualities of wood, traveling guts, and the voices of a wide variety of trees. Jim's ruinations segued synchronistically with the first bit of fiction I've read in nearly two months (its been strictly poetry with all the program preparation I've been doing). Here is the opening paragraph to Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree, which I read about a week ago like a parched traveller at a fresh spring:

To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy their individuality.

This weeks featured back issue of Lilliput Review is #76, from January 1996.


The Marriage Vow
Here and now, we will compose
our own fairy tales,
beginning each fable
with an empty room, an open window.
Hilary Lyon
Wish I Weren't Here
the roots of the nerves of my pain are cut
i am alone on a riverbank
northeast of death and southwest of remorse
i cannot sing. there are no tears.
Shelley Stoker

String your feet to mine
I want to walk you through
this century like you were
an easy weight on my back,
or a thousand rose petals
or a building full of wind.
Ali Kress

Within Bounds
Dog-eared history,
reams of yellow second-sheets,
folks gathering round, the waters, parted,
try to understand, you debtors,
try to understand.
Errol Miller

the false world falls away
where have you been --we ask
Lisa Helgesen


Since the original Ed Coletti suggested video of Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis has disappeared into the cosmic ether, here is a reasonable substitute: enjoy.



Monday, September 22, 2008

A Pair of Ragged, Droning Claws

Because it is Monday and because we are instructed to pass the hurt along:

Courtesy of the Library Alchemist, the pain and its relief, all rolled into one.

The question is: which is which?

T. S. Eliot vs. Portishead.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

How to Read a Poem (& Why)

Cover by Gustave Doré

In just under two weeks, I will be conducting a poetry appreciation class, entitled "How to Read a Poem (& Why)" (not a very original title, but to the point, and a tad better than last year's "Poetry: Mystery and Magic") for a local lifelong learning program. This will be followed a week after with the first meeting of a new poetry discussion group at the library, called "3 Poems By..., which will focus on 3 representative poems by one particular poet, this time round Emily Dickinson. And a week after that, I'll be speaking to a class at the library and information service school on topics a tad arcane for general interest.

After that, my calendar is relatively free for the next 49 or so weeks.

I've mentioned the poetry appreciation class in passing previously and a number of folks asked me to elaborate, so here goes. The class consists of a general introductory "lecture" wherein I prat on for 40 or so minutes about essentially what poetry means to me and why it is important in people's lives, even folks who only encounter it a handful of times in their lives. Two basic texts that I found very helpful in preparing are both entitled "How to Read a Poem", one by Molly Peacock and the other by Edward Hirsch. They help a great deal with the how part of the program and Peacock is also very strong with the why. I use a few poems to illustrate some points in the introduction and open the lecture with James Wright's The Jewel. This year I'm going to try and tuck in some Issa haikus based on Robert Hass's reading and may also use Billy Collins's poem Introduction to Poetry to illustrate how not to read a poem. I heavily stress that poetry is not about answers, it's about questions, usually the big ones, to which there are no pat answers, hence the frequent refrain "oh, poetry, yeah, it's great, but I just don't get it." The great poems are a constant rephrasing of the big questions. As the great haiku critic, R. H. Blyth, said: "Poetry is never in the answers but in the questions - or rather between question and answer, between the known and unknown." I try to reassure everyone by hammering this home a number of ways and then follow with a single sheet handout of tips on how to read a poem.

Then we'll just plunge into the poetry.

I've prepared 10 or 11 poems for discussion and base what I do on the tried and true method of book discussion groups: I prepare between 5 to 10 open-ended questions based on each individual poem and use some of these to get the discussion going. Once the ice is broken, I simply guide the discussion of each work to help elucidate and provide clarity.

Since this is my second year doing this program and there is a slim possibility that there might be one or two folks in the class that where in it last year, I'm thinking, based on Elvis Costello's tour of a few years back (the one when he brought out a spinning wheel with 70 or so songs from his catalog and spun it on stage to create the evening's set), I may let the class choose which poems to do. Previously, I had a prepared order because I chose some poems with shared themes and imagery (in Auden's case borrowed imagery, in the kindest sense of the word). I'll have to see how that goes. I also have some video and audio to break up the monotony of me and that seems to go over well with the older crowd.

Here are the poems:

Some of these poems have subtle relationships (the first two), others more direct (the next 3, plus the last of that group of three and the next poem), the next two subtle again (with the Kenyon harking back to the 2nd group) and finally two unrelated individual poems. If past experience is any measure, we'll get through 4 or 5 poems. If I was to do them in order, and I still may, this would probably be the order I would do them in. I have video for the Frost (Voices and Visions), Donal Og (in John Huston's excellent film adaptation of James Joyce's story The Dead), and the Auden (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and audio for the Bishop. There is audio available for some of the others but it just doesn't have the "sparkle" that video brings; the Bishop I love, however, since she laughs at her own poem while reading it.

Here is the recitation of Donal Og from The Dead, to give you a taste:

Yesterday, I did a brief post for the birthdays of William Carlos Williams and Ken Kesey and a friend, WF, from across the pond sent this little poem by Richard Brautigan, a Issa's Untidy Hut regular, concerning WCW's birthday (or maybe not):


"September 3 (The William Carlos Williams Mistake"
I had severe insomnia last night with
the past, the present, and the future detailing
like: Oh, the shit we run through our minds!
Then I remembered it was Dr. William Carlos
Williams' birthday and that made me feel better
-----until almost dawn.


---------September 3rd is not
---------Dr. William Carlos Williams
---------birthday. It is the birthday
---------of a girlfriend.
---------Dr. William Carlos Williams
---------was born on September 17th, 1883.

---------An interesting mistake.
Richard Brautigan


Hmn, it's amazing how this man's mind worked and how he found poetry in the most minute things.

I'm happy to report that I've received over 100 haiku for the Basho Haiku Challenge. The great response has sparked still more manic ideas on my part, so keep the haiku coming and pass the word on to friends. More about the manic ideas later.

This week's smash from the past is Lilliput Review #77, from March 1996. Hope something grabs you here.


Zen American Style
If you don't want
to hear
anymore talk
about the void

then say hello
to the trojan horse
Mark Hartenbach

You can't drive the seagulls
away by pointing
toward the horizon
Tom Riley

insatiability rewinds old sorrow and records lust over it
Sheila E. Murphy

from poems for Leecia written when she was little
-----------------If in sleep
-----------------beside you
-----------------I should
-----------------"Shiva" --
-----------------will you answer
-----------------with just "Mama --
-----------------go to sleep now?"
-----------------Sylvia Manning

the saddest lines
are hunting
joy in every island
Richard Alan Bunch



till next time,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

William Carlos Williams and Ken Kesey (& Jerry Garcia)

Two birthdays of note today: William Carlos Williams and Ken Kesey. Here's the Doctor:


The Thing
Each time it rings
I think it is for
me but it is
not for me nor for

anyone it merely
rings and we
serve it bitterly
together, they and I.
William Carlos Williams


And, Mr Kesey:

So, if that thing isn't a telephone, oh, whatever might it be?

Back to you, Ken.

Until tomorrow,


Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Death in Western Culture

The following is the current column from American Life in Poetry. I was moved enough by the poem to register in order to be allowed to reprint the column in its entirety. I thought it was something readers of this column would find meaningful.

I was struck while reading this that when Western writers confront death, their sensibility often shifts to an Eastern tone. Obviously, we all die. Somehow in the West, we compartmentalize life to such an extent that death goes over here. When reading the great Eastern writers and poets, death seems always to be present.

None of these reflections, though sparked by his poem, have anything to do with Stuart Kestenbaum per se. They are just the not-particularly-original, though hopefully somewhat pertinent, observations of someone who is currently steeped in Eastern poetry.


American Life in Poetry: Column 181

Stuart Kestenbaum, the author of this week's poem,

lost his brother Howard in the destruction of the twin towers of the

World Trade Center. We thought it appropriate to commemorate the

events of September 11, 2001, by sharing this poem. The poet is the

director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine.

Prayer for the Dead

The light snow started late last night and continued

all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally

enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother

was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware

that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson

of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything

that is born: we are here for a moment

of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us

remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace

we don't know, and each moment contains rhythms

within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece

of your own writing, or an old photograph,

you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you,

it's not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire

and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture

of grief and remembrance.

Stuart Kestenbaum

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation
(www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also
supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-
Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2007 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Reprinted

from "Prayers & Run-on Sentences," Deerbook Editions, 2007, by
permission of Stuart Kestenbaum. Introduction copyright © 2008
by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser,
served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the
Library of Congress
from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited



Saturday, September 13, 2008

Willow Songs by Fleur-de-Lisa


Curtis Dunlap, from the excellent Blogging Along Tobacco Road, has asked me to pass on the word about a new CD of 27 songs based on haiku entitled Willow Songs, by the a cappella group, Fleur-de-Lisa.

Here is his original post and his follow-up post, the later containing one of the cuts from Willow Songs, entitled "reading Shiki."

For more info about how to get a hold of this cd, check out Dave Russo's post over at the North Carolina Haiku Society Blog.

And, as frequently happens around here, let's give Issa the last thought:


my rice field too
song by song
is planted
translated by David G. Lanoue



PS The deadline for the Basho Haiku Challenge is October 2nd.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Basho, Burns, Brautigan, Amy Lowell, and Jacko?

Cover art by John Bennett

Busy, busy times, so posts for the next couple of weeks will be sporadic and brief. The Basho Haiku Challenge is off to a great start, with lots of entries coming in. Thanks very much to Poet Hound, Haiku and Horror , Blogging Along Tobacco Road, and trout fishing in minnesota for getting the word out. I'm sure there are some others, too, that I don't know about, but thanks all.

So, keep the haiku coming in, folks. Instructions may be found at the Basho Haiku Challenge link, above.

And keep spreading the word.

As alluded to above, not much progress on any fronts. I haven't read any fiction in over a month and I am seriously jonesing. When I see the piles as I go room to room, you can't imagine the variety of voices I hear calling to me from every corner: classic, modern, sci-fi, horror, any damn thing. They all want to be read and I want to read them all and the discipline is killing me.

I continue to read, however, for both the haiku challenge and a future Modest Proposal project, two different translations of Basho, one at work and one at home. At home, I'm reading the Jane Reichhold Basho: the Complete Haiku, which is the prize for the challenge and, I'm happy to say, I'm beginning to warm to it a bit. All the translations I've read so far have had one thing to recommend them: specifically, Basho himself. This may seem ludicrous but what I mean specifically is that I seem to be encountering different aspects of the same poet in the different translations. A poem I loved in one translation, I'm indifferent to the next and, of course, vice versa. At work, I'm still reading David Landis Budhill's Basho's Journey which, after the Reichhold, is the most complete and has notes for every poem. They'll be more details on both of these volumes in future posts.

Come mid-October, I hope to be working on the new issues, #'s 165 & 166, along with a new chapbook in the Modest Proposal series, a second volume of translations from 100 Poems by 100 Poets, by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro. This volume will concentrate on poems of nature following the previous Unending Night, which contained love poems.

Jilly Dybka at Poetry Hut has pointed to a beautiful, pointed September poem by one of my favorite poets, Amy Lowell (particularly her shorter poems). Here it is, September, 1918; I think you'll enjoy it.

A Richard Brautigan poem, Star Holes, seems to be making the blog/live journal rounds. This guy just won't lay down and, of course, that's why we love him. Here it is:

Star Holes
I sit here
on the perfect end
of a star,

watching light
pour itself toward

The light pours
itself through
a small hole
in the sky.

I'm not very happy,
but I can see
how things
are faraway.
Richard Brautigan

Finally, in the news of the truly odd, Michael Jackson has reportedly recorded musical versions of the work of Robert Burns. If I didn't read it in The Guardian, I wouldn't have believed it.

You know what: I still don't believe it.

This week's issue from the Lilliput archive is #78 from March 1996.


I sought my heart
among the shadows
and found instead
a burnished leaf
Albert Huffstickler


Drag me in,
you are a night that is just beginning.
You are a room I've seen
but have never slept in.
Your shoulder pushes against
the world's edge, and the sky
scrapes softly on my cheek.
Ali Kress


-----The pulsing
of the soft brown muslin curtain,
for example

And the quietness of rain,
taking you apart
Mark Jackley


Thank You
To the pirate faced biker
streaming slowly down
Marshall Avenue,
colors jazzed in the
night time light,
front wheeled Harley
out to here, black
jacket man with beard
of steel, who saw my
one year old boy craning
in his blue stroller
and waved.
Michael Finley


Poem Inspired by Hokusai, #7
in hell
draws perfect
one inside
the other.
Alan Catlin


When My Ashes Have Cooled Down
Pitch me to the nearest wind.
I'll find my way home.
Bart Solarczyk



Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gobsmacked! Carol Ann Duffy's Brilliant Retort

A regular brouhaha has been stirring in the British poetry world over the removal of Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Education for Leisure" from a curriculum anthology because of the mention of a knife. Ms. Duffy, a poet from the tip of her toes to the top of her laurels, replied almost instantly upon the news:

Mrs. Scofield's GCSE

You must prepare your bosom for his knife,
said Portia to Antonio in which
of Shakespeare's Comedies? Who killed his wife,
insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch
knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said
Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?
Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt's death?
To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark - do you
know what this means? Explain how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth; how we
make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:
speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.

Upon reading this poem,
Mrs. Scofield, the instigator of said censorship, observed that she felt "gobsmacked." Well, hmn, maybe, yeah. To describe the poem, however, as weird is, well, weird for a teacher, particularly a teacher of poetry. Ms. Duffy has been ever so kind to supply numerous instances of the Bard flashing the cutlery in a few less than obscure plays and this is weird?

Hell, it seems more like a lesson plan to me. Here's the original offending poem for perusal:

Education for Leisure Today

I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was
in another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something’s world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don't appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he's talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

The irony is so thick here it could be cut with ... well, you know.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Basho Haiku Challenge ...

Cover by Wayne Hogan

In a number of recent posts, I've been talking about the various editions of Basho's haiku that I have been reading in preparation for a future Modest Proposal Chapbook project. It is funny how the web works, often in delightful ways. Tomoe Sumi, of Kodansha America Press, has been following the posts and comment threads and noticed I hadn't anything as yet to say about the brand new Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated with an introduction by Jane Reichhold. So, she (I believe) contacted me and offered to send along a review copy for comment on the blog. Turns out that I had already purchased this for myself for my birthday (an annual tradition I highly recommend to everyone, the buying yourself a book part that is, the birthday part you're already hip to) so I wrote back and thanked her for her generosity and told her I already had it (and, in fact, was intending to get to it in a future post). She then, once again generously, proposed that she send the copy anyway and that I give it to someone who reads the blog.

And the 2008 Basho Haiku Challenge was born.

So, here's the deal: for the next four weeks, send along up to 5 haiku to lilliput review at gmail dot com (spelled out to fend off pesky bots) and the best haiku wins the review copy of Basho: The Complete Haiku. Minimally, I will need your name and email to contact you with the results. In the subject line of your email, please put "Basho Haiku Challenge" so I can easily differentiate it from the scads of other things that come my way. The final date for submissions will be October 2nd and the winner will be announced in either the October 9th or October 16th posting. My definition of haiku is about as liberal as you can get: I follow no one particular method, school or theory and there is no seasonal requirement. Your haiku can be 1, 2, or 3 lines (over 5 would be a bit much, folks, but I will keep an open mind for experimenters). The one restriction would be that it be in the spirit of haiku (I've always liked the definition of English haiku as lasting the length of one breath, in and out and pause, but that's just me - and, oh yeah, I'm the judge, but, again, it's the spirit of the thing that counts) and that the haiku be previously unpublished in either paper or electronic form (ok, that's two requirements).

If I get only one haiku, we have a winner, so, what the hell, give it a go. I reserve the right to publish the haiku on the blog (or not), with possible publication in Lilliput Review.

And, oh, yeah, spread the word ...

To entice you a bit further here's a little something about Basho: The Complete Haiku. Like it says in the title, it's complete, which is significant in itself as all previous translations are just selections (according to the press release, this is the first complete Basho translation in English). That's 1012 haiku by the master. There are 164 pages of notes, one for each poem, which variously treat a haiku's origin, allusions, variations, and grammatical anomalies, the later being quite important and virtually untranslatable. Reichhold has provided an introduction and a short biography, with appendices on "Haiku Techniques", "A Selected Chronology", "A Glossary of Literary Terms", and a bibliography. I've just begun it and it is formidable; I'll be looking at it in more depth in a future post, probably sometime after the contest is over.

Why so long, you may ask? Well, a couple of reasons. I have a number of poetry projects coming up in the next four weeks that are going to drain time from both the blog and the magazine (Lilliput Review). In just under four weeks I'm going to be teaching a session on poetry appreciation entitled How to Read Poetry (& Why) for the Osher lifelong learning institute. A week after that session, we'll be starting a poetry discussion group at the library I work at entitled 3 Poems By .... Both of these are currently chewing up huge chunks of my time. Throw on top of that that I've been asked to speak at the local library school the week after the poetry program and I'd say it is a full calendar.

But the old adage when you've got lemons may apply here. I mentioned in a previous post some of these upcoming projects and a number of folks asked me to elaborate a little on them so I'll be using a future post (or two) to do just that. It will help to get my head straight about what I'll be trying to do and, hopefully, will be of interest to folks. Of course, the weekly posting of poems from the Lilliput Archive will go along with any postings and I'll squeeze in any relevant info that comes my way and that fits in(to my schedule, that is).

Briefly, a Basho update. I'm now reading the Reichhold translations at home, along with the Makoto Ueda full length study with translations, and the David Landis Barnhill translations at work. These have and will significantly slow down over the next few weeks because of the reasons stated above.

One news item of note: Nathaniel Otting at the Kenyon Review blog has adjusted his post on 52 German Poets, which originally called Lillie's Near Perfect List of Poetry Books, which inspired the German poet list, "tepid", to read "intrepid", and has posted some further thoughts on his initial reaction to the enterprise and ideas like this in general. My thanks to Nathaniel for his generous reconsideration.

Onto the Lilliput archive, this issue being #79, from June 1996, with another great cover by the also intrepid Wayne Hogan. Enjoy.


Alone in the dark,
I find the salmon of my mind
swimming downstream
to die.
Carolyn Long


Men's Room Wall
Feeling immense relief,
then these words confront me:
Dead fish follow the stream.
David Denny


The damp petal lingers, adheres
to fingers;

I flick it
away, some of my flesh

clinging to its flight
into rough grass,

and I turn
to embrace the spring

wind in my face,
the long road ahead.
Michael Newell


Spring Flower

She planted yellow
and the bulb
is its own


the secret
cave of the heart,

or perhaps only

the refreshed wound

that can bloom
Duncan Zenobia Saffir


Flowers once bled from my hands;
Now even the stems are gone
Jack Greene


I've arranged things all day...
- ----now the moonlight--
- ---sshines my shoes.
Carl Mayfield


Monday, September 1, 2008

Since Art is Labor, Play On ...

Just a brief note, pointing to a musical interlude for the holiday.

I am and always have been a huge fan of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The following video, from UbuWeb, presents the unlikely coupling of Maestro Kirk with avant-garde musician
John Cage.

John Cage and Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Sound?? (1966).

If the Cage doesn't work for you, the Kirk just might. I hope it does. Watching this wild man play three wind instruments at the same time and keep your toe tapping is, well, unreal in the best kind of way.

Did I mention that Kirk was blind?

Somehow this all worked for me, Cage included. Hope you enjoy it and Happy Labor Day to everyone out there, especially all artists. As they saying goes, don't let 'em see you sweat; we know, however, how very much you do.


PS My thoughts are with folks down on the Gulf Coast, hoping everyone weathers Gustav safely and with a minimal amount of disruption. Hang in, Charles.