Monday, March 30, 2009

Paul Verlaine: What Is It That You Want

Paul Verlaine

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of French poet, Paul Verlaine, famed for his own work and his friendship and encouragement of Arthur Rimbaud. Here are two of Verlaine's poems that appeal to me very much:

Clair De Lune

Your soul is as moonlit landscape fair,
---Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
---Of being sad in their fantastic trim.

That while they celebrate in minor strain
---Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
The have an air of knowing all is vain, —
---And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,

The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
---That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
---The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.
Paul Verlaine

-----son joyeux, importun, d'un clavecin sonore
-------------------------------------------Pétrus Borel.
The keyboard, over which two slim hands float,
Shines vaguely in the twilight pink and gray,
Whilst with a sound like wings, note after note
Takes flight to form a pensive little lay
That strays, discreet and charming, faint, remote
About the room where perfumes Her stray.

What is this sudden quiet cradling me
To that dim ditty's dreamy rise and fall?
What do you want with me, pale melody?
What is it that you want, ghost musical
That fade toward the window waveringly
A little open on the garden small?
Paul Verlaine

The second poem is untitled, its epigraph roughly translating as "Joyful, troubling sound of a resonant keyboard." We've all experienced the feeling Verlaine characterizes here, a certain undefinable haunting by a melody or piece of music. The feel he evokes is for me reminiscent of Proust's sensitivity to music and it appropriately ends with a question.

The poems are translated in an early English edition of Verlaine by Gertrude Hall and, though they do suffer the occasional strain of inverted syntax for the sake of rhyme, seem to carry the most sense for me of editions I've seen. I must hasten to add that I haven't seen many editions and so would welcome any suggestions in this area.

Here's the opening ten minutes of the movie Total Eclipse (and if it works like it did on my computer, the whole movie will play in sequential parts), about the relationship between Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.


Today is also the birthday of the original Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (as opposed to the better known Rice Miller "Sonny Boy Williamson," who co-opted the name). Here's the first part of a short biographical tribute (13 minutes total, in 2 parts).

Here's part II.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Jack Gilbert Tribute

I just received notification that coming this May, Bloodaxe Books will be hosting a tribute for one of our best living poets, Jack Gilbert. Here's the notice via and via Facebook, which is how I received it.

The publication in recent years of the retrospective Great Fires and the excellent Refusing Heaven collection has brought Jack some long deserved recognition. Here in Pittsburgh we cherish a more modest selection of work, published by the small press publisher Pond Road Press, entitled Tough Heaven: Poems of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh has always been a backdrop for the work of Jack Gilbert, a symbol of youth and the not-so-nostalgic past. The Pittsburgh he remembers, like his fellow compatriot and good friend Gerald Stern, is a Pittsburgh long gone, a Pittsburgh forward looking politicians and the nouveau rich, whose hands are today mired in a different kind of grime, would sooner forget. But the ghosts are here, they are everywhere; just as those of us who walk these streets and struggle for a livelihood see them in the corner of our eyes, fleeting and gone in the early morning fog, they followed Gilbert everywhere he went, woven through his work as a thick tangle of twigs in a long abandoned nest.

And that work is at once beautiful, sad, and immensely moving. Here's a taste of that Pittsburgh long gone, the ghost of yesteryear and, yet, somehow the true hope of tomorrow, a hope without which no desperate economic Renaissance pogrom can ever dream of succeeding. We've lived through a few of those here and still we persist, because or despite of any measured, concerted efforts, because, in truth, on the best of days, we stand hand-in-hand with the very ghosts Jack Gilbert evokes.

The ghosts of ourselves.

Searching for Pittsburgh

The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh
in me. The rusting mills sprawled gigantically
along the three rivers. The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every everning were
stained pink by the inferno always raging in the sky,
as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning
the Earth. Locomotives driving through the cold rain,
lordly and bestial in their strength. Massive water
flowing morning and night throughout a city
girded with ninety bridges. Sumptuous-shouldered,
sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted grace.
A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh. Winter month after month telling
of death. The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged
by the heart. Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont. On Greek islands
with their fields of stone. In beds with women, sometimes,
amid their gentleness. Now the fox will live in our ruined
house. My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound
of water. In this happy place my serious heart has made.
Jack Gilbert


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Charles Olson and A. E. Housman

The Lego version of A. E. Housman's "The Loveliest of Trees" (see below)

Courtesy of the always excellent poetry blog Five Branch Tree, here is Charles Olson reading the poem he described as his best, "The Librarian," in an animated fashion, replete with Zero Mostel eyebrow articulation.

Yesterday, the folks at Poetry Alive reminded me over on Facebook that besides Corso, Campbell, and Frost, it was also the birthday of the poet A. E. Housman. Rather than trot out the same old, same old, I thought this "narrative" tale of ennui and ale, vaguely reminiscent of the drinking songs of the Chinese masters, appropriate enough. So, led on by the celebrant himself, lets raise pint to all four poets of their kind:

-`Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There's nothing much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

---Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour;
It will do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

---There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.
A. E. Housman

Since, of course, it is the season of the cherry tree, perhaps the poem "The Loveliest of Seasons," pictured above, would be more appropriate. Give it a try. I'll be raising that pint.

cherry trees blooming--
this corrupt world
is a Pure Land!
translated by David Lanoue


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gregory Corso, Joseph Campbell,
& Robert Frost

Somehow, on February 26th the stars seem to align just so. Today is the birthday of Gregory Corso of Beat literature fame, subject of the recent documentary, Corso: The Last Beat. Well known for his grounding and homage to the classics, here's a poem from his early collection, Gasoline, that reflects that grounding:

Amnesia In Memphis

Who am I, flat beneath the shades of Isis,
This clay-skinned body, made study
By the physicians of Memphis?
Was it always my leaving the North
Snug on the back of the crocodile?
Do I remember this whorl of mummy cloth
As I stood fuming by the Nile?
O life abandoned! half-embalmed, I beat the soil!
For what I am; who I am, I cannot regain,
Nor sponge my life back with the charm of Ibis oil—
Still-omen of the dribbling Scarab!
Fate that leads me into the chamber of blue perfumes!
Is there no other worthy of prophecy
Than that Decker who decks my spinewith ostrick plumes?

No more will the scurvy Sphinx
With beggy prophets their prophecies relate—
The papyrus readers have seen the Falcon's head
Fall unto the Jackal's plate.
Gregory Corso

And one that captures a little more of the modern flavor, humor and honesty that he was known for:

I Am 25

With a love a madness for Shelley
Chatterton —Rimbaud
and the needy-yap of my youth
----------has gone from ear to ear:
Especially old poetmen who retract
who consult other old poetmen
who speak their youth in whispers,
saying:—I did those then
-----------but that was then
-----------that was then—
O I would quiet old men
say to them:—I am your friend
------------------what your once were, thru me
------------------you'll be again—
Then at night in the confidence of their homes
rip out their apology-tongues
----------------and steal their poems.
Gregory Corso

Here's a taste of the documentary, in the form of a trailer:


February 26th seems to have a feel, too, for mythology; it is also the birthday of Joseph Campbell. Campbell has changed our lives and how we perceive, the dream of every poet. He looked at myth with a poet's eye, much like his mentor, Carl Jung. His Power of Myth was the summation of his life work and a translation of that into "popular" parlance for the common man. If you have never seen it, it is transformative. Most libraries have it; check it out. Here's a little excerpt of his views and directness:


Last, but by no means least, is the the master poet, Robert Frost. Often pigeonholed as the folksy, backwoods farmer/poet of "Stopped by the Snowy Woods" and "The Road Not Taken" fame, there is a thick streak of darkness that runs through his work and life which is apparent to those who delve beyond the most famous poems. In fact, I'd argue a shadow of that darkness pervades even these two famous pieces. Frost will be the subject of future discussion of the 3 Poems By group I co-moderate at the library; I'm thinking of using the following as one of the three poems:

Acquainted With the Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Robert Frost

This is a powerful poem that bears up with many repeated readings. One of the first things that occurred to me was, damn, sounds like Baudelaire. In a good way. The combination of "dropped my eyes unwilling to explain" and "the time was neither wrong nor rights" goes right to the core of things.

Sort of like what might have happened after you chose one of those two roads.

also consenting
to my loneliness...
frost on the window
translated by David Lanoue


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: 90 Lyrical Years

Today is the 90th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He has been the touchstone of generations of poetry readers; if you had never read poetry, somehow, somewhere, if you had the inclination to, you'd run into the work of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It seems as though serendipity and that is his magic.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is first and foremost a word magician (tired, I keyed musician, and he, of course is that, too: a word musician). His Coney Island of the Mind seems to be on everybody's list of best poetry books and deservedly so. Even so, he is hardly a one-trick pony. Here's a poem from his first collection, Pictures of the Gone World, published in 1955:


---------The world is a beautiful place
--------------------------------------------to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
------------------------------- ---not always being
--------------------------------------- --------- -- ---so very much fun
------if you don't mind a touch of hell
-----------------------------------------now and then
--------------just when everything is fine
-------------------------------------------------because even in heaven
--------------------------they don't sing
-------------------------------------------------all the time

------------The world is a beautiful place
-----------------------------------------to be born into
--------if you don't mind some people dying
------------------------------------------------------all the time
-----------------------or maybe only starving
---------------------------------------------------some of the time
--------------------which isn't half so bad
-------------------------------------------------if it isn't you

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Here's another from A Far Rockaway of the Heart, published 42 years later, in 1997:


In far-out poetry
---------------- ---the heart bleeds upon the page
--------as printer's ink bleeds onto
---------------------------------------the fine tooth of paper
As blood in its rage
-----------------------beats through the body
--------------------------------------------------blind in its courses
Leaving its indelible imprints
--------------------those fine tattoos of living
----------------------------------------------------known as poems
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Finally from the 2001 collection, How to Paint Sunlight (not available via City Lights - o.p., maybe?), his beautiful elegy for the most beautiful Allen Ginsberg:

Allen Ginsberg is Dying
Allen Ginsberg is dying
It's in all the papers
It's on the evening news
A great poet is dying
But his voice
----------------won't die
His voice is on the land
In Lower Manhattan
in his own bed
he is dying
There is nothing
to do about it
He dying the death that everyone dies
He is dying the death of the poet
He has a telephone in his hand
and he calls everyone
from his bed in Lower Manhattan
All around the world
This is Allen
----------------the voice says
Allen Ginsberg calling
How many times have they heard it
over the long great years
He doesn't have to say Ginsberg
All around the world
in the world of poets
there is only one Allen
I want ed to you he says
He tells them what's happening
what's coming down
on him
Death the dark lover
going down on him
His voice goes by satellite
over the land
over the Sea of Japan
where he once stood naked
trident in hand
like a young Neptune
a young man with black beard
standing on a stone beach
It is high tide and the seabirds cry
The waves break over him now
and the seabirds cry
on the San Francisco waterfront
There is a high wind
There are great whitecaps
lashing the Embarcadero
Allen is on the telephone
His voice is on the waves
I am reading Greek poetry
The sea is in it
Horses weep in it
The horse of Achilles
weep in it
here by the sea
in San Francisco
where the waves weep
They make a sibilant sound
a sibylline sound
-------they whisper
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Happy birthday, Mr. F. Send him a present; order a book or two of his work from City Lights Books, the finest independent shop in America. And, ah, what the hay, know how you like to give yourself a little something for your birthday, especially the older you get? Well, here's a little present from the younger Ferlinghetti (1955 again, this time "#2" from Pictures of a Gone World) to his older Lawrence-self, accompanied by the Pan-like, multi-faceted David Amram:


No Cover Art by Bobo

This week's back issue from the Lilliput Review Archive comes from April 1993, some nearly 16 odd years later. Odd might be the operative word, if the 16 years previous to those had not been a good deal odder. Here's four short flashes of times gone by:

Weak with Doubt
catching a butterfly
who was ready to suffer

The Right Moment
standing through the windshield
that the car behind you didn't have
Stacey Sollfrey

Getting ready
my mind walks out
of here

down flights of stairs

and glides to a gutter pigeon
its stiff body vibrating

to fly
Sanford Fraser

Ice Out
--------raging torrents, black waters rushing by
quiet nighttime hours, carrying whispers of
ancient female ghosts along on gentle river
winds, dusty voices, long gone pioneer wives
and mothers, once again searching for hope
amid new spring trilliums, wild cherry petals.
T. K. Splake

To finish, a greeting to spring from the master:

borrowing the umbrella-hat
sleeping sparrow
translated by David Lanoue

Enjoy it all - as long as autumn seems to linger, spring flies by.


Classical Chinese Anti-War Poetry

Bloomfield Bridge

The sixth anniversary of the beginning of the war with Iraq has passed relatively quietly. It's ho-hum in the States, where the absence of a military draft assures a lack of significant engagement by the general populace (read: us) because we are collectively too busy trying to insert our heads still further up our asses (read: Facebook, Twitter, blogs).

One of the many ways I walk to work is a over a large, beautiful bridge that runs from the Bloomfield neighborhood ("Little Italy") to the Hill and Oakland areas of the city. For many years I've had the opportunity to pass over graffiti right on the walkway that sums it all up:

----------------------------NO WAR
--------------------------BUT CLASS

It's funny when you walk past something everyday and you read it and you think about it and it begins to sink in and it plants a tiny seed that just needs a little water and a little light.

This little seed has gotten plenty of light and water over the years and I think I've begun to see its very far ranging implications. Race is something that has spent a lot of time in the foremost part of many peoples minds over the years here in America.

It's about time class was next.

Which is all the long way round to revisiting the collection I Hear My Gate Slam: Chinese Poets Meeting and Parting, selected and translated by Taylor Stoehr. Why would I ever be thinking about class and war and class war and America on this 6th anniversary of the Iraq conflict while reading a collection of classical Chinese poetry?

One of the sections of this book, generally themed on meeting and parting, is called "Woe to Soldiers." To depoliticize the statements above about our current situation, I'm simply going to allow the poets to speak for themselves, addressing the issue at hand. First up is the 9th century poet, Wei Chuang:

Frontier Soil
Has there ever been a time without war,
----------an emperor without armies?

Soldiers have but one thing on their minds,
----------the lookout for peace.

At the frontier they say the soil now
----------is more bones than earth,

poor farmers dragged from their fields
----------and marched off to death.
Wei Chuang

Next, 8th century poet, Li Po (Li Bai):

Fighting South of the Wall

Last year we fought were the Sang-kan flows,
this year it was Onion River Road.

We've washed our swords in the Eastern Sea,
grazed our horses on T'ien Shan's snowy side.

A thousand miles are not enough for this war,
our armies grow old in their armor.

Husbandman of slaughter, the Huns
have sown the yellow desert with our bones.

Long ago the Ch'in built the Great Wall,
now it's the Han that light the signal beacon.

All night long the flames flicker,
year in year out, the war goes on.

Bright swords flash, brave men fall and die,
riderless horses whinny at the sky.

Kites and crows pluck out the guts,
hand them high on the withered trees.

Soldiers smear their blood on the dry grass
while generals map the next campaign.

Wise men know winning a war
is no better than losing one.
Li Po

Here is Yüan Chen (779-831), lamenting the plight of the land and the farmer:

The Farmer
His water buffalo bellows a complaint.
Soil baked hard and cracked like a broken plate,
the clods explode under its hooves.

Plowing his field for the Emperor,
sixty years he's watched the wagons rolling off
to feed the soldiers God knows where!

Then one day government troops come
to slaughter the buffalo and take away his cart.
They leave him two buffalo horns.

He hammers the ploughshare into a spade,
while his wife hauls his sister threshes
for without grain for taxes he must sell the house.

We pray for victory. Though the farmer will die
he has an heir, and the buffalo a calf.
Supplies for the army must never run short!
Yüan Chen

There are many, many more fine poems in this collection, some on war, most on friendship, loss, and love. I've returned the library copy and purchased my own. Having read it twice through and dipped in many more times, I know I will be returning to it again and again.

I can only hope that, over the years, it will sink in as well as the lesson gleaned going back and forth to work.

The Summer Palace

In the desolate summer palace
-----------the peonies are still red
and white-haired palace ladies say what they please
-----------about the palace dead.
Yüan Chen


Friday, March 20, 2009

Merwin and Wang Wei:
"Behind the Billowing Clouds!"

Right now, I'm very, very slowly reading The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin. Though the poems are short and can be read through quickly, a glacial pace is recommended. At least, that's what seems to be working for me.

Without Knowing

If we could fly would there be numbers
apart from the seasons
in sleep I was flying south
so it was autumn
numberless autumn with its leaves
already far below me
some were falling into
the river of day
the invisible surface
that remembers and whispers
but does not tell even in sleep
not this time

W. S. Merwin

I just keep mulling this poem over and over in my mind, a grit of sand and a pearl all at once. I will no doubt be reporting back at other things found in this collection.

The next poem in the collection I Hear My Gate Slam, that I talked about previously, has a sort of lyrical segue with the Merwin poem, so I'll just end with that one rather than the handful more I had intended to finish with.

River rising, cold and deep.
Autumn rain darkens the heavens.

You ask about the Chungnan Moutains —
look in your heart behind the billowing clouds!
Wang Wei


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jack Kerouac's Golden Eternity Realized

Well, I had a W. S. Merwin poem all ready to go this morning, but there is a typo and I don't have the book at hand, so I'll have to check it out when the book is in hand.

So, it's time to punt.

Ed Baker commented on a recent post when I talked a bit about Jack Kerouac's Tristessa, urging folks on to his The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (You know that I'm listening, eh, Ed?). I've been wending my way headily through: here is section 29 of a book made up of tiny meditations, koans and prose poems (as the back cover touts, rightly):

Are you tightwad and are you mean, those are
the true sins, and sin is only a conception of ours,
due to long habit. Are you generous and are
you kind, those are the true virtues, and they're
only conceptions. The golden eternity rests beyond
sin and virtue, is attached to neither, is attached
to nothing, is unattached, because the golden
eternity is Alone. The mold has rills but it is one
mold. The field has curves but it is one field.
All things are different forms of the same thing.
I call it the golden eternity — what do you
call it, brother? For the blessing and merit
of virtue, and the punishment and bad fate
of sin, are alike just so many words.
Jack Kerouac

For those who feel that this is a little too much philosophy and not enough poetry (you are out there, you know), the good news is I found my copy of the Book of Haikus I was searching for (see Tristessa link, above) on the recent anniversary of Jack's birthday. So there — or, rather, here:

Ah the birds
-at dawn,
my mother and father

You paid yr homage
-to the moon,
And she sank

Bach through an open
-dawn window—
the birds are silent

All three poems on two facing pages of the book opened at random: that's poetry, friends. Perhaps I should misplace Merwin (and Jack, come to think of it) a little more often.


I had the calendar marked for the 19th as the birthday of jazz master Ornette Coleman. In double checking before posting, I see his birthday was actually March 9th, not the 19th, so it seems the serendipitous mistake is the theme of the day. As a college professor of mine used to say (I believe he said it at least three times): once for the intelligent and aware, twice for the intelligent and unaware, and three times for the unintelligent and unaware. Well, I don't have to be hit over the head more than three times to go with the flow - today the mistake is the truth, so let's celebrate Coleman's birthday today. Enjoy.


PS Ruminated and typed to the delicate, forthright word-picking of Jolie Holland. Ain't it all beautiful, eh, Ed?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Singing for the Squeal: I Hear My Gate Slam - Chinese Poets on Meeting and Parting

I ran across a book in the library last week from Pressed Wafer entitled I Hear My Gate Slam: Chinese Poets Meeting and Parting. Though the title is not all that accurate a representation of the content and a tad unwieldy to boot, this is an excellent collection of work, translated by Taylor Stoehr, which I'd highly recommend to any reader with a predilection for Eastern verse.

Though there are, indeed, quite a few poems on meeting and parting, as the subtitle suggests, there are also others with more general themes. The poets represented here are ones you would expect: Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Li Po. Happily, too, we find Han Shan and Po Chü-I, among others. Taylor Stoehr has done a very fine job, indeed, in translating these disparate poets, sticking with a clear, minimalist approach without sacrificing any of subtly and resonance for which early Chinese poetry is renowned. In addition, the text is accompanied by ink drawings by the multi-talented Mr. Stoehr, as well as a cover painting of his own creation. Here's a selection to tempt you to head for the library, bookstore etc. for a more comprehensive look.

In the Mountains

You want to know why I live in here on the mountain?
Ha! What can I say? Is this where I am?

Peach blossoms reflected in the water –
in which green world do they bloom?

Li Po

I Wait Here Alone

Two white gulls glide to and fro.
High above them a hawk hovers.

Blind to the shadow flitting below,
they ride the wind along the river.

Morning dew drenches the grass.
The spider's web stretches wide.

The world attends to its business
of slaughter. I wait here alone.
Tu Fu

The Demon Poetry

I strive to pass through the Empty Gate
and clear my head of all its idle song,

but the Demon Party lies in wait:
a breeze, a moonbeam – I'm humming along.

Po Chü-i

Ask Yang Qiong

The ancients sang because their hearts were full,
today people sing just for the squeal.

If you want to know why, don't ask me,
go ask Yang Quong the singsong girl.
Po Chü-i

Too Many Words

Talking about food doesn't fill you up,
talking about clothes won't keep you warm.

What your belly wants is rice
and a thick coat is nice in a storm.

Sometimes words just confuse things
and make the Buddha hard to find.

While your talking the Buddha sits
fat and warm inside your mind.

Han Shan

Life in a Bowl

Man lives in a circle of dust
like a beetle in a bowl,

busy going round and round
never getting anywhere.

Enlightenment never comes
to those who scabble in the dirt.

Days flow by like a rushing river,
suddenly we find ourselves old.
Han Shan

Puzzling Things Out

Is my body real or just an illusion?
Who is it who asks such a question?

See how one puzzle leads to another!
I sit on the mountainside lost in wonder

till the green grass grows up between my toes
and the red dust settles on my head.

Country folk come to me with wine and fruit
pious offerings set out for the dead.

Han Shan

Cold Mountain's Poems

Here are Cold Mountain's poems,
better medicine than pills or sutras.

Copy out your favorite
and pin it to the wall.
Han Shan


Hibiscus flowering twig and tip,
the whole mountainside aflame.

By the stream a hut, silent and empty,
and petals falling as fast as they bloom

Wang Wei

One editorial note: for those unfamiliar with the work of Han Shan, his name literally means "cold mountain" and so the poem himself is often called "Cold Mountain" and so he is referring to himself in the above poem, "Cold Mountain's Poems."

That's just a taste of this fine volume of work and belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Chinese poetry. Mr Stoeher's are both carefully measured and natural, no mean feat. Since this Pressed Wafer is a relatively small press, I'd urge you to get a copy now if this kind of work is your cup of meat. It's liable to go out of print fast.

I hope to be offering a few more poems from this collection in a future post.

Finally, today is the anniversary of the birthday of B. J. Wilson, the fine, talented, underrated drummer for the band Procol Harum. In order to address this neglect and in his memory, enjoy the following.

B. J. Wilson


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Inexorable March to the Sea: the Lilliput Archive & Happy Paddy's Day

Cover by Oberc

In the inexorable march to the sea that is the ongoing survey of past issues of Lilliput Review, we've arrived at issue #45, from June 1993. The cover above is by the artist poet Lawrence Oberc. Here's a taste from the distant past:

use of religion

let the manna turn
moldy and green,
holy penicillin

Evan Klein

After Paging Through American Poetry Review
A Friend Sent Me In the Mail

This is the game: To compete.
Ads for books, ads for writing programs.
Poems like craftbaskets sold in tourist towns
to the tourist who wants to be an indian.
Evangelization. The sales pyramid.
And the secret desire leaking
from the new churchgoer:
----"If I sell what's been sold to me,
------------------------------I won't be lost alone..."
----------christien gholson

Form As An Intention
the fashion is to heal
and talk
the fashion is to sprinkle
histrionics over
former meals of drunkenness
the fashion is to go away
where bandaids have been laced
together like this
bundle of my etchings
(would you like to see my etchings?)
Sheila E. Murphy

Setting Hair

walls are what make horses bodies
just the right size
to lie atop the first color console television
that doesn't have to ride the back
of anyones small children
just to hold the balance
between both styles
of farrah fawcett hair dos
Stacey Sollfrey

-----This faint light:
-----the presence

-----of absence
-----in a room.
-----Audrey Haerlin

Hearth fire crackles
your silhouette opens a door
inviting me in

William Galasso

a different view
from a maple tree
I see the world
face to face
Garth Ferguson


that heavy breath
against smeared glass

the poet rubbing

for the world to
peep through

Melissa Cannon

Well, since it's Paddy's Day and I'm working on more projects than I can count, I thought it might be time for a brief respite and some accompanying music. The first clip combines two of my favorite purveyors of urban Irish music, The Dubliners and The Pogues. To see Ronnie Drew stand side by side with Shawn McGowan is an Irish music fans idea of Fiddler's Green. If neither uttered a note, their separate unique stances sing endless refrains.

The 2nd clip is of an old time favorite singer/composer, Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan, whose recordings, aside from a cut or two here and there on an anthology, are literally unattainable. He is a long-time favorite of mine and I have none of his records. How sweet the irony then that the only place they may be obtained is via You Tube, where a handful of cuts appear in a static, still photo format. If anyone knows of any recordings out there that are available, I'm loosening those eye teeth as I type. Hope you enjoy this cut, which is but a taste of what he does so well.

Dominic Behan

In addition to the weekly tour through past issues of Lilliput on this blog, the Twitter poem-a-day from back issues of Lillies is progressing nicely. As with these weekly posts, each poem posted daily at Twitter is from a particular back issue, starting from the newest and heading backwards chronologically. The one caveat is the poem must be 140 characters (including spaces) or less. Today the poem is from issue #156. Check it out.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Cid Corman: Five Years Gone

Cid Corman, Ed Baker, Ted Enslin, Chuck Sandy

Ed Baker calls our attention to the fact that last week was the 5th anniversary of the death of Cid Corman. It is hard to believe that it has been so long since this gentle soul, master poet and translator, and mentor has been gone.

Cid was incredibly generous with his work, from the largest to the smallest places, the last of which I can formally attest to. He published two broadsides, "You Don't Say" and "Only," and two chapbooks, No Choice and Now/Now, here at Lilliput Review. Now/Now, I believe, was the last collection to appear while he was still alive; he proofed it in late December 2003 and it was published in January 2004, at which time he had all ready been stricken ill.

Shizumi, Cid, Anne Waldman

The above pictures are courtesy of Ed, who recalls Cid's straight-to-the-point way and salient advice about poems and life. He had time for all who approached him. He lived and breathed poetry and his life of near poverty attests to the low esteem in which we hold our poets, even our great ones. Ed put it succinctly when he observed that Cid's loss leaves a whole in "meaning - a silence."

A silence.

You are missed, Cid.


Sunday also marked the anniversaries of the deaths of two other literary luminaries, H. P. Lovecraft and Lady Gregory. Lovecraft is one of my many cultivated vices; when it comes to pulp fiction, he, along with Robert E. Howard, is a master par excellence.

Lady Gregory was a major figure of the Irish Literary Renaissance, though her works have largely fallen into obscurity for all but Irish literature aficionados. Lady Gregory helped revive older works of Celtic literature that, in their turn, had also slipped away at the dawn of the 20th century. One such work, the poem/ballad Donal Og, was revived in John Huston's last film, The Dead, which was based on the final story in James Joyce's short story collection, The Dubliners. I featured a video of the recitation of the poem in a previous post. I believe it's good enough for a reprisal, so here it is:


Finally, today is the anniversary of the passing of one the great blues guitar men, T. Bone Walker. If we gotta go, let's go dancing. Enjoy.


PS New poem of the day is up on Twitter ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Barbara Hamby: the Pyrotechnics of a Swoon

Barbara Hamby is a poet truly besotted with words, their sound, their feel, their resonance. Her poetry is never dull and she is someone whose work seems to reach out, grab you by the collar, and pull you into the page. Yesterday I ran across her new volume, All-Night Lingo Tango, and though I tried desperately not to engage (the piles calling to me from at home and at work and ...), I thought, well, I'll just open it randomly and ... whoooosh, I'm in up over my proverbials.


Ganymede's Dream of Rosalind

Girlfriend, I am the boyfriend you never had—honeysuckle mouth,
indigent eyes, no rough Barbary beard when kissing me. Popinjay,
keep me in your little chest, nestle me in your cosy love hotel,
my mouthful of tangy violets, my pumpkin raviolo, my spoon
of crushed moonlight in June. On our breast let me sup,
quaff the nectar of your quim, trim repository of dear
succulence. Only touch my cheek with your hand, and let
us again meet as we did that first time in Act II, Scene IV
when we ran away to the Forest of Arden. Rough sphinx,
you know my heart, because it's yours, too, and quartz,
altogether transparent stone. I yearn for you as a crab
craves the wet sand, a wildebeest the vast savannah, a toad
every mudhole and mossy shelf. Forget Orlando, I'll marry myself.


Of course, my predilection is for the short poem, but I was in a positively dizzy swoon as I stood reading this by my desk, attempting to put it down, put it down, put it down - now!

Whew, as you like it, indeed - with a few tweeks for future archaisms, I believe ol' Will himself would have rode this one all the way down the Thames to its fertile delta and beyond.

In case you need a brief refresher, here it is:

As You Like It

Act 2, Scene 4

SCENE IV. The Forest of Arden.

Enter ROSALIND for Ganymede, CELIA for Aliena, and TOUCHSTONE


O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits!


I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary.


I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's
apparel and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort
the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show
itself courageous to petticoat: therefore courage,
good Aliena!


I pray you, bear with me; I cannot go no further.


For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear
you; yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you,
for I think you have no money in your purse.


Well, this is the forest of Arden.


Ay, now am I in Arden; the more fool I; when I was
at home, I was in a better place: but travellers
must be content.


Ay, be so, good Touchstone.

Look you, who comes here; a young man and an old in
solemn talk.


That is the way to make her scorn you still.


O Corin, that thou knew'st how I do love her!


I partly guess; for I have loved ere now.


No, Corin, being old, thou canst not guess,
Though in thy youth thou wast as true a lover
As ever sigh'd upon a midnight pillow:
But if thy love were ever like to mine--
As sure I think did never man love so--
How many actions most ridiculous
Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?


Into a thousand that I have forgotten.


O, thou didst then ne'er love so heartily!
If thou remember'st not the slightest folly
That ever love did make thee run into,
Thou hast not loved:
Or if thou hast not sat as I do now,
Wearying thy hearer in thy mistress' praise,
Thou hast not loved:
Or if thou hast not broke from company
Abruptly, as my passion now makes me,
Thou hast not loved.
O Phebe, Phebe, Phebe!



Alas, poor shepherd! searching of thy wound,
I have by hard adventure found mine own.


And I mine. I remember, when I was in love I broke
my sword upon a stone and bid him take that for
coming a-night to Jane Smile; and I remember the
kissing of her batlet and the cow's dugs that her
pretty chopt hands had milked; and I remember the
wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took
two cods and, giving her them again, said with
weeping tears 'Wear these for my sake.' We that are
true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is
mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.


Thou speakest wiser than thou art ware of.


Nay, I shall ne'er be ware of mine own wit till I
break my shins against it.


Jove, Jove! this shepherd's passion
Is much upon my fashion.


And mine; but it grows something stale with me.


I pray you, one of you question yond man
If he for gold will give us any food:
I faint almost to death.


Holla, you clown!


Peace, fool: he's not thy kinsman.


Who calls?


Your betters, sir.


Else are they very wretched.


Peace, I say. Good even to you, friend.


And to you, gentle sir, and to you all.


I prithee, shepherd, if that love or gold
Can in this desert place buy entertainment,
Bring us where we may rest ourselves and feed:
Here's a young maid with travel much oppress'd
And faints for succor.


Fair sir, I pity her
And wish, for her sake more than for mine own,
My fortunes were more able to relieve her;
But I am shepherd to another man
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze:
My master is of churlish disposition
And little recks to find the way to heaven
By doing deeds of hospitality:
Besides, his cote, his flocks and bounds of feed
Are now on sale, and at our sheepcote now,
By reason of his absence, there is nothing
That you will feed on; but what is, come see.
And in my voice most welcome shall you be.


What is he that shall buy his flock and pasture?


That young swain that you saw here but erewhile,
That little cares for buying any thing.


I pray thee, if it stand with honesty,
Buy thou the cottage, pasture and the flock,
And thou shalt have to pay for it of us.


And we will mend thy wages. I like this place.
And willingly could waste my time in it.


Assuredly the thing is to be sold:
Go with me: if you like upon report
The soil, the profit and this kind of life,
I will your very faithful feeder be
And buy it with your gold right suddenly.


This is, of course, the preliminary of what is to come. The stage is set for the rest of the play.

And for the poem.

If you love words, don't miss Barbara Hamby. Her work is thrilling, a word not frequently attached poetry today.


PS Check out the daily Lilliput Review Twitter poem. It's posted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jack Kerouac & Paul Kantner

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Jack Kerouac. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, he resonates and one has to suspect that's just the way he'd like it.

Hate him, you ask? Who might do a thing like that? Well, though the evidence is purely anecdotal, there is an awful lot of backlash against Kerouac out there these days. The beauty of Jack is he put it out there, flaws and all, and even if you feel that ultimately his was a sad tragic life, he rose above it to heights others can't even dream of. Could he be a prick? Absolutely. Was he full of, among other things, an expansive, all-encompassing love for everything? Sure was. Did he die a hopeless drunk, squandering much of what might have been? What of it?

If you're reaching for that first stone, know that a mirror is very fragile thing, indeed.

Here's a one-line poem from his Tangier days ...

I strike at that snake-heart that hurt my family

And a few shorter pieces from Pomes All Sizes. These are not traditional haiku, simply Jack working towards something, Jack being Jack, looking for Jack, and finding something.

Dusk: the bird on the fence
a contemporary
of mine

Does a dog have
the Buddha-nature?
Water is water.

There is no sin —
I know perfectly well
where I am

I could become a great grinning host
---------------like a skeleton

Hung Up in Heaven

The moon,
--the falling star —
Look elsewhere

One final note on Kerouac - my favorite novel of his is one that not too many folks talk about: Tristessa. It is slim, sad-romantic-tragic novel, with the core of some of his personal obsessions on full display. It is also deeply moving and a must read for anyone who has ever enjoyed any of his work.

Today is also the birthday of rock pioneer, Paul Kantner, founding member and spirit of the seminal sixties band, Jefferson Airplane. My first published piece of "writing" was a review of their breakout album, Surrealistic Pillow, for my high school paper.

Oh, yeah, we do go back. So here's a video for Paul - happy birthday. For those of you who really can't stand all that old hippie music, just happily skip on over the vid to the Lilliput poem of the day, courtesy of Twitter ...

Finally, the Twitter Lilliput Poem-of-the Day.



PS Just a note to let you know that the comments section of the blog was mightily spammed over night. I'm very reluctant to disable the anonymous posting function on the blog, so what I've done is enable comment moderation on posts 14 day or older. 99% of the comments come on new or recent posts, so this shouldn't effect things much. If this doesn't work, I may have to just enable comment moderation altogether. Rather than knuckle under to spammers and disable the anonymous option, I'd rather moderate. How they get by the scripting function has got me stumped and obviously blogger/google, too.