Thursday, December 18, 2008

James Wright , Jack Kerouac, Charlie Smith, and Chuang Tzu: Full House

Cover by Bobo

In Monday's post, I mentioned James Wright's groundbreaking collection, The Branch Will Not Break. Intrepid correspondent Ed Baker remembered the ending of another powerful poem from that collection. Here it is in its entirety:

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm
in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for a home.
I have wasted my life.
James Wright

As evidenced in Ed's memory of this last line, the power of the poem is hard to underestimate. Perhaps that power has been slightly diminished via much imitation; still, I am bowled over every time I read it. The precision in execution, the attention to detail, and, perhaps, the allusion in the first line to Chuang Tzu's (Zhuangzi) famous

"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. "

Whether the allusion is there or no (just a dream of mine, perhaps), the general flavor of Eastern work permeates The Branch Will Not Break. I've been revisiting this volume on and off all year and reading the Selected Poems sent me back again. No matter how many times I return, the well continues to be plenteous.

Many thanks to the Poet Hound for her take on issue #165 of Lilliput Review. Sidle on over: she features poems by Greg Watson, David Chorlton, and John Martone.

Curtis, over at Blogging Along Tobacco Road, has mounted a YouTube video of Kerouac reading some of his haikus. In case you haven't seen it (or I should say heard, since it's a YouTube vid with a single picture fronting the audio - close your eyes and think "YouSpeaker"), here it is:

In addition, Curtis has been featuring videos he is making of poets reading haiku, as with the one by Roberta Beary posted here recently. This calls for some more sidling to see his vid of Charlie Smith and other goodies. With Curtis's permission, I'm also posting it here:

Charlie Smith

Ron Silliman has pointed to an interview by Doug Holder of the prolific poet, critic, reviewer, and small press legend, Hugh Fox that might be of interest to folks. Hugh has published the occasional poem here and is author of the Lilliput broadside, "Slides," which was issue #112. Here's a link to the old Lilliput blog (beware, pop-up zone), "Beneath Cherry Blossoms," with some sample poems from that broadside.

This week's featured back issue of Lilliput Review is #63, from December 1994. Be sure to check the Back Issue Archive, where you can find sample poems from 75 back issues. Enjoy.

A Basic Understanding

Cause links one
Reason to another,
And at the end
Of the chain
Sits a stark
And elemental is.
Ed Anderson

Sentence (from a sequence)

Too painfully large for word
or phrase, our small talents
despair of meaning, and we are
on buses tapping seat rails
unsure of the stop for today,
pausing as fingers glide
along reflective chrome
streaked by syllables
of familiar streets.
Tim Scannell


this snow: light
fallen to show us through darkness
toward spring. Please
lift this sighting forward
on worthy words. I
don't know how.
But I believe in you.
Patricia Ranzoni

Turds falling from 5 billion human rumps,
------5 billion snowflakes falling
----------from a single cloud.

The constant wavesound,
the chant,
slow-grinding thought and bone
to sand
christien gholson

The Knobadoor Diamond

Four boys
found a glass doorknob on the beach.
They called it The Knobadoor Diamond
and it made them rich.
Cal Sag

someone's gotta fall
--make sure the bottom's still there.



Jim H. said...

Pine Island is about 30 miles from here. I've driven through there many times on the way to and from Rochester. I'm not sure there is an island or, if there is, whether it has pines on it. But that doesn't really matter. The poem is amazing. I view the last line as celebratory.

Thanks, Don, for another engaging post.

Ed Baker said...


(just) go-to Hinton's 'Chuang Tzu the inner chapters'
and read about carpenter Riprap( and many other 'things'!

then go to The Essential Chung Tzu (Hamill/Seaton) and

de:light all-over-again!

Charles Gramlich said...

That Wright poem is like a very fine micro fiction, a story as well as a poem. Love the luminescent prose, juxtapositioned with that killer last line.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hey, Jim:

It is an amazing poem ... I guess that would be celebratory in the large sense. Revelation it also is.

Ah, Ed, right to the heart of the matter, as always!

Charles, interesting take, not the prose poem but the term proem here might do it, a term I've never really warmed to for the prose poem, but a poem that uses the conventions of fiction - yeah, proem might do it.