Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ed Markowski's "Union Men"

Besides being an excellent haiku poet, Ed Markowski has a penchant for proving me wrong. First, it was baseball haiku, which I'd previously spent quite a bit of time deriding. Today, it is haibun, which I have long felt I could take or leave, mostly the latter. Usually to me haibun seemed just a sorry excuse for not being able to fit everything in 12 to 18 or so syllables. By my arbitrary rule of measure, anytime it takes many more words to explain a poem than the poem itself contains, something's amiss.

Wrong again.

I had hold of the wrong end of the haibun. What I discovered, in a number of ed's excellent sequences, is that my problem was I was reading the wrong haibun; further, that those practicing the craft might sometimes be decent haikuists but shabby prose writers or vice versa. Good haibun don't necessarily contain an explanation for anything; they may be a revelation or a sort of record of an organic process.

Be that as may be, I'm ready to sit at the feet of the master, anytime.

Which brings us to Ed's sequence, Union Men, which follows below. With this sequence, Ed's managed to coax me into new territory in more ways than one. What follows is the initial publication of this sequence, which marks the first time that Issa's Untidy Hut is actually publishing something entirely new online. Also, Ed's sort of stirred up some political sentiments hereabouts, not something that I often indulge. Frankly, as my life mate can tell you, I've been stirred up quite a bit on my own lately, specifically about what's been going on out there in the "real world" - record unemployment and, yet, lots and lots of corporate profits. Slimming down the work force, rightsizing, baby, letting the rich cover their mistakes by riding it out on the backs of those less fortunate ... again. The squeeze is on folks and you just know who sure as hell isn't gonna get squeezed.

I touched on some of this in a previous post, No War But Class War. What's at the bottom of the endless Mideast war and the collapsing economy and our self-indulgent ignorance of anyone or anything else on the planet and the disaster that passes for a health care system in our 50 glorious states I can't tell. It feels too late, way, way too late. Nobody is smart enough, nobody cares enough, nobody has the wherewithal to do a damn thing, except the haves in this have-and-have-not world.

We need a bit of that hope about now, Mr. President.

Which is a long vituperous, possibly inappropriate, and decidedly unnecessary way to introduce Ed's sequence, so I'll start it out with an apology: mine, not his. As you can see from the following, Ed's got nothing to apologize for. He stands straight and tall, as do his words, his family, his friends.


Union Men

Being raised in Detroit during the 1950's & 60's
for me meant being raised in the union.

factory entrance
moths spin 'round & 'round
a caged lightbulb

My maternal grandfather helped organize
the Ford Rouge Plant in the early 30's. His
friendship with Walter Ruether was forged
during the street battles with Henry Ford's
Pinkerton goons.

first light
--the strikers
---clenched fists

He was fired & rehired three times from
Rouge. Old man Ford nicknamed gramps
"The Catholic Communist," a nickname
he carried with pride. My grandfather told
me many times, "The only place Marx
& Engels went wrong was in their inability
to see that Communism was a philosophical
& political descendent of Christ's Sermon
On The Mount. Marx & Engels didn't create
Communism, Jesus did."

--the rainbow ends
----at a union hall

My father was a steward in the United Steel
Workers Union. I can't count the number
of times our mother took my sisters & I to
deliver pea soup, ham sandwiches & potato
salad to dad & his friends when they
went out on strike.

wind blown snow the picket line holds

During the holidays we went to union Christmas
parties & our Christmas gifts were purchased
at the union toy store.

on strike
--the department store Santa
makes a promise I can't keep

At the steel warehouse, dad operated an
overhead crane. His hook-up man, Frenchie,
had fought for the resistance during the war.
Frenchie had seven fingers, one eye, a frown
shaped scar on his throat & he was an
unapologetic communist.

half moon
--which side are you on

Frenchie was a down right ferocious man.
Looking back on it, had he told people that
he had survived The Paris Commune, they
probably would've believed him. Frenchie
had an aura of indestructibility about him.
He was a working class super hero & he
was Santa at the union toy store on
Jefferson Avenue.

nativity scene
---Santa quotes

My grandfather, father & Frenchie were men
of great strength, courage, compassion,
& love. The men who raised me were Union
Men, & I'll be forever grateful.

home from
the steel warehouse
dad's lunchbox
filled with flowers

Ed Markowski


Ed's sequence stands on its own. As always, his imagery is impeccable, the haiku as good as it gets. In particular, "factory entrance," "wind blown snow," "half moon," and "home from" just grab me and won't let go. "first light" appears, initially, almost a cliche; yet, as with the tallest trees, the upraised hands are where the light will "strike" first, the purest illumination. The feel of "wind blown snow" is near perfect; how hard it is to hold the line on a full-force, Detroit winter morning, how it almost might give, the ambivalence of the blustery snow passing in and out of the line, yet still the line holds. Visually, it is stunning, set to the pounding pulse of all of nature. The resonance of "half moon" is a short story in itself. The intermittent prose gives a seamless,cohesive quality to the sequence, adding depth yet not gilding the lily, as it were. There is humor here and love, friendship and determination, futility and courage, above all family and, yes, it bears saying again: love. Ed, you've snapped me out of my funk, simply pointing the way:

dad's lunchbox
filled with flowers


This week's featured back issue is #12, from April 1990. Here are two poems touching on the fragility of life and tenderness.

Day's Work
Not really knowing
how it got to this,
or when it turned into
something else:
the giving over,
the giving out,
the giving up.

The shovel handle, the rain.
Michael R. Battram

Gullied Lives
Raw ravines
by wind and rain
and time.

Hearts don't break.
They weather.
Albert Huffstickler

after the rain
the ground hardens...
glorious blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Issa's Sunday Service, #13

Arguably the last fine song by America's premiere popular music group of 60's, The Band, Ophelia hits all the stops: fine arrangement, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and still another outstanding vocal performance by yesterday's birthday boy, Levon Helm.

Finest line: "The ghost is clear."

As a bonus, here's the old man proving he's still got it in 2008, performing today's Sunday Service selection with the Levon Helm Band.

This week's archive poem comes from issue #25, Sept. 1991. A little something for mid-summer to remind us exactly (exactly) where we are.

an echo
The grassy grassy grassy
reaches out across across the road
--the road
cutting man's lifeline line in two two
trying trying to reclaim for mother
--nature nature
what is by all rights
hers and hers and hers

Michael Estabrook

is the wind
on summer vacation?
grassy field

translated by David G. Lanoue


For more LitRock songs, see the Issa's Sunday Service homepage.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Haiku Canada Review

Today, I thought I'd share one of a handful of haiku journals that I really love: Haiku Canada Review. HCR is the publication of Haiku Canada, which is a society of "haiku poets and enthusiasts." The review publishes works by members and non-members alike, both traditional and non-traditional haiku, as well as haiku-related essays, haibun, linked verse (renga), and reviews. The issue I'm looking at also has 9 pages of haiku in French; I'm not sure if this is a regular feature. The magazine comes with a $25 membership and is, in my estimation, something of a bargain if you cost out how many good poems there are (and if you figure out how to do that, let me know). It is published 3 times a year in February, May and October, which means I'm at least one issue behind, reading-wise. In addition, Haiku Canada Sheets often accompany issues, usually focusing on the work of one particular member. More of that below.

HCR is edited by LeRoy Gorman, someone whom I have a great deal of admiration for as both an editor and poet. I've learned a great deal from studying his editorial eye over the 10 plus years I've been reading this magazine and owe a large debt to him for all the ideas learned and, I'm sure, stolen from his insightful approach.

The February 2008 issue is 58 pages long (counting the back cover, which I do since there is an excellent haiku by Natalia Rudychev printed there). By my approximate count, there are well over 200 poems here. Of the 200 plus I marked 17 as quite good, indeed, plus a linked sequence of 34 poems by Bruce Ross and Brent Partridge entitled "Another Heaven," which is one of the finest I've ever read (N. B. I am neither a fan of linked verse or of haibun in general, but HCR often shows me the error of my ways). Here's just a taste of some of the work:

hauling home
the Christmas tree bringing
the mountain with us

Tom Drescher

I AM - looking at stars through a straw

chicken coop
a sashaying coyote
and a thousand stars
George Swede

from a haibun:
---sheep grazing
among gravestones
Chris Faiers


From an article entitled "Wordmusic" by Gerald St. Maur comes this tanka:

With the sun behind,
you stand like a mythic swan,
the glare so blinding
I can't tell which is the way
to heaven or which to hell.
Gerald St. Maur

Here are three poems selected by the always excellent H. F. Noyes, from an article entitled "Old Age Haiku:"

Growing older
I have further to return from
when awakening
Willam Lofvers

A moment
left his deathbed
to give his
flowers water.
William Lofvers

old folks' home-
--the square of light
-----crosses the room
Michael Dylan Welch

I can't even begin to describe how beautiful the sequence "Another Heaven" by Bruce Ross and Brent Partridge (in mostly alternating verses) is, so I'll just tempt you with the first 6 verses:

lotus position
a speck of snow
on Buddha's thigh (BR)

the tip of a feather
brushes across a forehead (BP)

first real melt
a cat's muddy prints
from the garden (BR)

walking more lightly
in a haze of pollen (BP)

cloud after cloud
and up higher still
filmy day moon (BR)

like a breath– the sun
breaks into a dream (BP)

You can feel a narrative begin to develop as the poets go with each others work. Some sequences of this sort work at odds with each other (or amongst, when more than one other poet is involved), but as this sequence develops you feel the poets' egos have truly dropped away and the sequence and the poets are one.

Also, there is this beautiful one word poem that is at once humorous and, quickly upon the heels of laughter, resonant:

Sandra Furhinger

letting go is the Haiku Canada Sheet that accompanied this issue and is simply stunning. A trifold 8½ x 11" sheet with 12 poems letting go is by one of truly fine purveyors of haiku in English today, Natalia L. Rudychev. Every single one of these poems spoke to me and, frankly, that's unprecedented.

silence between us. . .
cherry petals
in flight
Natalia L. Rudychev

the night of calling geese
longing to hear
the sound of my name
Natalia L. Rudychev

grandma's birthday
snowflakes fill the letters
carved into stone
Natalia L. Rudychev

a stepped on flower
slowly reshapes itself
Natalia L. Rudychev

There is so much I could say about all this work, but that is not really the point of great haiku, senryu, renga and the like. Truly great work in the shorter Eastern modes allows the reader to participate in the creation of the verse itself; an essential element of the traditional haiku is leaving space for this type of participation to happen. In essence, the poem completes itself in the readers' mind.

What more could a poet ask of the work s/he creates? Here is the path to immortality, immortality of the moment in the moment: the teeny bud within the drop of dew.

If you are either a haiku poet or enthusiast, as stated above, Haiku Canada Review is an essential read. Over 600 poems for $25 a year?

Hmn, even I can do that math.


This week, it's time to revisit Lilliput Review #19, from December 1991. 19 years ago. This tour of the archive is beginning to wind down. Originally begun as a count up from issue #100 back on July 17, 2007 at the old Beneath Cherry Blossoms blog, continued with a countdown from #99, it should finish sometime in the next 3 months. There are newer issues that I haven't covered (151 through 168) and then it'll be time to make a decision as to what direction the blog should take. Because of a lack of time, I haven't had an opportunity to link all the posts back into the archive but hopefully that will happen sometime. It has been really great to share 20 years of poetry with samples from nearly every issue published.

#17 contained some political rumblings - the first Gulf War had "concluded" earlier that year, but it was the beginning of the morass in which we find ourselves currently embroiled. Philip Waterhouse's short poem manages to cram in a lot of history and culture in 9 short lines and the mood seemed to echo throughout even the "non-political" poems in the issue:

What say we all meet
for r&r at the Khyber
with Cary and Doug.
Drink pink ladies concocted
by Gunga Deen. Dig for
meerschaum. Anything. To
get rid of this cloud
of planets buzzing around
inside our skulls.
Philip A. Waterhouse

Folk Woman Hatching
I am the woman inside
a woman inside
a woman
painted woman
shrinking smaller
and smaller
'til the eyes
Gina Bergamino

greek revival
while the old stones crumble
we find new forms of fucking:

parthenogenesis, & mouthless
children climb up from the ruins

with automatic eye shadow
blocking the scorched sun.
Ron Schreiber

Graveyard, Flatonia, Texas
Albert Huffstickler

not shrinking back
from the sunset...
translated by David Lanoue


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Issa's Sunday Service, #12


Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Tomorrow is the birthday of that "Italian poet from the 13th century," Petrarch, a poet so driven by his idealized love for a woman named Laura that he revitalized the sonnet form. Of course, he was born and lived in the 14th century (1304 - 1374), but I am voting that Dylan read the dates and mistakenly came up with 13th century, a common enough error, or wrote from memory and got it wrong. Lots of Dylan folks think the poet he is referring to is Dante, but I'm sticking by my guns. In an interview in 1978 (scroll down for the interview excerpt), Dylan further muddled the matter when asked who the poet was when the discussion turned to the song, Tangled Up In Blue:

Craig : Its got those nice lines at the end, about ' there was music
in the cafes at night and revolution in the air' and ' some are
mathematicians, some are carpenters wives, I don't know how it
all got started, I don't know what they do with their lives'.

Dylan : I like that song. Yeah that poet from the 13th century....

Craig : Who was that ?

Dylan : Plutarch. Is that his name ?

Well, that's a hoot and a half, anyway you cut it. There have been so many variations of Tangled Up In Blue, along with so many variations of the particular lines in question (Dylan has evidently inserted Charles Baudelaire, the Bible, and the 15th century in various performances), the point is moot. In any case, it is Petrarch's birthday, so Petrarch it is, wrong or right.


This week's poem from the Sunday "count up" (and for those paying close attention, you'll notice the countdown and count up have just overlapped, something that roughly might happen once every two and a half years) is from Lilliput Review #22. I've chosen a different poem from the 3 recently featured in the countdown, hope you enjoy it.

What is there
Single hawk stationary above the highway
------------flapping against the wind.
One dot black on the immense snow sky

-------------a tiny immortal
-------------the old peasant on the chinese scroll.

You can hear the geese but you can't see them.

Christien Gholson

departing geese
whatever are you
gabbing about?

translated by David Lanoue


The LitRock website with past selections is here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Written on the Sky: Kenneth Rexroth

There is a new collection of the Japanese translations of Kenneth Rexroth, entitled Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese," published by New Directions. Although the copyright page lists the years 1974, 1976, and 1977 (with a co-translator, Ikuko Atsumi, listed for 1977), nowhere is it stated what volumes these translations originally appeared in. Only on the fly leaf
is found the statement: "Written on the Sky is a selection of some of Kenneth Rexroth's perfect and enduring translations from the Japanese ..." This lack of clarity is unfortunate; from this statement, the reader must assume all of these translations have previously appeared, either in book or journal form.

Of course, the exact opposite might also be assumed. For those who might wish to trace back a poem to its original appearance, in search of context and companions, no trail is provided. The only other volume of translations listed for Rexroth is Songs of Love, Moon, & Wind: Chinese Poems, a new companion collection. It would seem New Directions' only interest is in these two volumes, despite having published Rexroth's seminal collections in the past (most of which are still in print and available from New Directions).

That being said, Written on the Sky is a handsomely produced volume, with 88 poems, each appearing on a single page. Many of the poems originally appeared, as might be imagined, in One Hundred Poems from the Japanese and One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese. The difference in presentation from previous volumes is readily apparent. Transliterations of the original poems are not provided (though the original Japanese script for the names is, to the cynical allowing for the vertical use of much white space). Translations of some of the names have changed, making collation between the original volumes and the new cumbersome.

There seems to be no apparent unifying theme or approach; if there is, it isn't obvious to the non-scholar. It is 4 x 6," produced with an embossed cover of heavy mylar-like stock and beautiful to hold and behold. The poems are generally every bit as beautiful, which is as good a unifying theme as it gets, I suppose. Rexroth's translations from both the Japanese and Chinese have served over the last 50 years as the introduction to Eastern lyricism for the curious poetry reader. And this book, something of a curio one might expect to just as soon find in a museum shop as a large or independent bookstore, does not disappoint when it comes to the poems themselves.

A small selection illustrates the overall high quality:

The flowers whirl away
In the wind like snow.
The thing that falls away
Is myself.

Prime Minister Kintsune

No, the human heart
Is unknowable.
But in my birthplace
The flowers still smell
The same as always.
Ki No Tsurayuki

The fireflies' light.
How easily it goes on
How easily it goes out again.

No one spoke.
The host, the guest,
The white chrysanthemums.
Ōshima Ryōta

If only the world
Would always remain this way,
Some fisherman
Drawing a little rowboat
Up the riverbank.
Minamoto No Sanetomo

If there is a unifying factor among all these delicate, beautiful pieces, perhaps it is the demonstration of the immortality of the moment. Even in the uncharacteristic conceit of "The flowers whirl away," wherein a direct analogy is drawn between the fleeting nature of the snow and human life, the lasting image in the mind is the flakes, whirling. The sadness, too, lingers, but there is a bittersweet quality to the moment that is at once painterly and transcendent. Another, deeper reading might suggest that the falling away of self for the Eastern mind in fact has no negative connotations, though for me the bitter lingers as an almost perfectly captured epiphanic episode. The tanka "If only the world" expresses a similar sentiment, perhaps with more emphasis on the sweet than the bitter; one has the sense of an immortal moment from a seaside jaunt, although it might just as well be an every day sight seen through fresh eyes. Again the image conjured is painterly. The speaker's realization in "No, the human heart" is potentially catastrophic, yet the focus returns to the beauty of the moment, the unchanging nature of all life, turning what begins in the negative to a seemingly positive realization.

I simply love "No one spoke." We have all had such moments. The resonance here, and in those shared moments, is thunderous. The question for the Western mind is "What would the chrysanthemums say if they could speak?" A Zen pretender might say, "Ha!", yet one need only look to the other poems in this selection for the answer.

The beauty of the Eastern approach is that the reader is as if invited to participate in the creation of the poem. For others, these images will conjure different feelings, possibly diametrically opposed interpretations. To paraphrase Whitman, the Eastern forms contain multitudes. What is shared for all is the perfectly captured moment, the artistic quality of the image, and, above all, a closeness to nature that the West has largely, sadly lost.

Let the chrysanthemums speak to you.

This week's selection of poems from the Lilliput archive comes from issue #20, originally published in 1990, 19 years ago.

Cover by Bobo


you are tired, because I thirst for
salt, we turn to each other.
You are barefoot. It is winter.
This is going to be a difficult story.
Gayle Elen Harvey

Of Duluth I Sing
Oh Duluth.
Oh downtown Dul-
uth. Oh oyster-on-the-
half-shell Duluth. Oh
boarded-up poet-infested
storefront hole-in-the-wall
Duluth, oh.
Wayne Hogan

Song Of Advice
First, you must waken,
Then walk, in cool morning,
Into a meadow
Not of your making,
And listen intently.
Then you may answer.
Paul Ramsey

for the big
chrysanthemum too
autumn ends quickly
translated by David Lanoue


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Returning After a Word from Our Sponser - Henry David Thoreau

Back after 5 days without Internet and phones. Spent some time reading Thoreau's Walden, which explains everything you need to know about the Internet.

Not sure if the regular post will make it up today. Perhaps tomorrow.

More soon.

not missing
the spring rain's blessing...
blades of grass
translated by David Lanoue


"I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have
inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these
are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been
born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might
have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor
in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their
sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt?
Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are
born? They have got to live a man's life, pushing all these things
before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor
immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered
under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it
a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never
cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing,
pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who struggle with no
such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough
to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh."
- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"No Moon Tomorrow"

Telephone service and internet are currently down at Lilliput central and will be down at least through Tuesday.

Don't ask.

So, no Issa's Sunday Service this week. I'm shooting for the usual Wednesday post, a review of the "new" collection of Rexroth translations, but that may be being a little too optimistic.

Hopefully, more soon.

no moon tomorrow
in this famous resort...
evening rain
translation by David Lanoue


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ed markowski: The Essence of Haiku

Pictured above is pop up by ed markowski, a lovely little accordion-style publication, #6 of vincent tripi's "Pinch Book Series from tribe press, published in 2004. ed sent this along with a parcel of other things and I enjoyed it very much. One poem, from which the collection takes its title, in particular grabbed me:

summer loneliness. . .
dropping the pop up
I toss to myself

ed markowski

This little 10 word piece got me thinking about a variety of things. First, I might have to retract my avowal of hating baseball poetry; I find that I've talked about this at heated length in three different past posts and, on reading ed's poem, it occurred to me that there is going to come a point when saying "Baseball poems are awful but you've got to read this one ..." is just not going to cut it anymore. It seems, perhaps, I protest too much.

Could it be that I just hate bad baseball poetry?

In thinking it through, one of the problems I have with baseball poems is the fact that the game is generally taken for a metaphor for life itself. It seems to me that when folks start futzing with metaphors of a metaphor, it isn't post-modernism: it's just plain ugly.

And yet and yet ...

I'm stuck with these baseball poems I really like. ed's poem resonates so well it positively hurts. Baseball is a team sport and here we all are, social animals. We have to cooperate to get by, to say nothing of excel. Catching pop-ups is one of the big thrills of baseball for the young and ed's protagonist here is alone and is forced to play by her/himself. S/he's throwing the ball in the air, perhaps pretending to be catching a long fly, and drops the ball. And this cuts in so many ways. Is it the catcher's lack of skill? Lack of playmates? Boredom, causing lack of attention? Of course, it is all these things, which is the beauty of the haiku form. The reader participates in the writing, the poet creating a telling resonance with enough space for all to bring their memories and observations and feelings.

Summer loneliness: there is none deeper when you are young, summer being the time you just longed and longed for and when it came and it inevitably disappointed, that disappointment was deep, indeed.

Still, it's all just a damn baseball poem, right? But somehow this poem was digging deeper, it was getting under my skin in some very personal, inexplicable way. The poem stuck with me. It just wasn't assimilated, analyzed, admired and filed away pleasantly: it seemed to be bubbling just on the surface of my consciousness, sometimes in thought and, perhaps, sometimes just below.

Then, a few nights ago, I woke up around 3 am, thinking these thoughts about this poem and it hit me: it was a particular summer, 1959 or 60, I think:

My best friend, who lived across the street from me, and I lived and breathed baseball. We played night and day and when we weren't playing we were talking or watching or listening to baseball. We used to go down to the local field, just the two of us, and hit pop-flys to one another, about all you could do when there was only two to play. Being 8 or 9 years old, we couldn't hit fly balls like adults and the result was we chased a lot of grounders or hit a lot of balls that fell short or went over the fielder's head and a lot of downtime was spent chasing the ball, waiting around for the next fly and chasing the ball.

So, it was always a thrill when an adult deigned to take us to the park and hit out to us.

One Saturday, his dad, whom I remember as having played some minor league ball, said he'd take us to the park, about a half mile away, and hit out to us. We were ecstatic. He did some little league coaching and even had a fungo bat, a special kind of light weight bat designed for repeated hitting and perfect for fly balls. We were set.

We walked down to the park and had a glorious hour and half to two hours and could not have been happier. His dad positively wore us out, not an easy task when it comes to a couple of 8 year olds. We started walking home.

We were about 6 or 7 houses away when I saw it: a sign in a wire holder, orange letters on a black background, FOR SALE. And it was up in front of my house.

What this did to an 8 year old boy, walking up the street with his best friend, after a dream-come-true kind of baseball afternoon, hardly needs to be said. In affect, our friendship ended right there, at that moment, in the hot rush of shame and fear and an awful crushing sadness. It was the beginning of an all-encompassing summer loneliness that I can feel fifty years later like it happened yesterday.

It was dropping the pop-up I tossed to myself.

Poetry is like that. If we let it in it can change our lives, it can make them richer in ways we can't even imagine. It doesn't matter if you're into haiku or epics or language poems or romantic poetry or whatever. I tell the lifelong learners in the classes on introductory poetry I occasionally teach that, for me, poetry is a way that I establish a dialogue with myself. The poet shares feelings, insights, adventures, ideas, images and we read them and compare what we have felt and thought and seen. We think about these things in different ways, from different angles, little dispatches from the poets themselves to us, little koans to help out in our everyday lives, ways to unravel knots maybe we didn't know we had, songs about how truly lucky we are or how we need to make ourselves and our worlds better places to be, ways to lift up and support our loved ones and friends.

I'm going to try and never say I hate baseball poetry again.

Thanks, ed, this one means a lot; ten succinct, insightful words, touching in ways you might never have imagined.


I had a number of things I was going to share this week but since I went on so long above, I'll leave them for another post. I did, however, promise I would mention one thing and it is well worth it. For those of you into outlaw, beat-style poetry, Klaus over at Outlaw Poetry and Free Jazz Network sent word along that there are some audios of the great Todd Moore, whose Dillinger Series is getting a bit of boost from the new Johnny Depp biopic, up on their sight here and here.

This week's sampling from the archive comes from issue #22, in May 1990, which was a broadside by Philadelphia area poet Louis McKee entitled Angelus. McKee writes beautiful, emotional verse, couched in everyday events and everyday language. He is a true small press wonder whom I admire a great deal. Here's a few short ones from the broadside, which is still available for a measly buck (9 poems) or a SASE if you're broke.

House Of Cards

Each room is a trick, held up
by the promise of another,
being too careful might be just
what it takes to bring the house down.

The Magic Of Eyes
You turned back
for a lasting look;
I am salt.
Something is wrong.

The Angelus

Stones are silent
but the stars are not;
it is easier to walk
with my head down.

And the master:

awaiting the stars--
does the grown man
feel young again?
translated by David Lanoue


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Issa's Sunday Service, #11: Bertolt Brecht & Jim Morrison

Alabama Song by The Doors on Grooveshark

It is just incredible to think that Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971, 38 years ago at the age of 27. Though this is the first appearance of The Doors at Issa's Sunday Service, it certainly won't be the last, because The Doors were the consummate LitRock band; unlike some, the balance between the rock and lit was never skewed in either direction. Nor will this be the last time that the work of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill will be featured, a pair of favorites among art rock bands. Of course, The Doors could bring the grit and did; "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)," like many a Brecht composition, actually has some of its darker undercurrents toned down in execution. Still, a classic, if ever there was one. Enjoy.

This week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review#20, March 1990. Here's looking at ya ...

don't blame the Third World
for pissing on your grave.
you've got no rhyme
in your body.

Charlie Mehrhoff

the smell of piss
wafting too...

translated by David Lanoue


Click LitRock @ from Issa's Sunday Service for full list of songs and postings.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wislawa Szymborska: "One hole in the net"

Thursday, July 2nd, is the birthday of the fine Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. Wikipedia characterizes her work as follows:

Szymborska frequently employs literary devices such as
irony, paradox, contradiction, and understatement, to
illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions.
Szymborska's compact poems often conjure large
existential puzzles, touching on issues of ethical import,
and reflecting on the condition of people both as individuals
and as members of human society. Szymborska's style is
succinct and marked by introspection and wit.

This is absolutely true and so cold as to convey nothing of the feel of her work. What is missing is the deep running emotion; time and again, I find myself deeply moved by her words. The imprint of 20th century European history is the touchstone of much of what she does, as with nearly all Eastern European poets.

Here's a poem to that point:

Children of Our Era
We are children of our era;
our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,
are political affairs.

Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it's political.

Even when you head for the hills
you're taking political steps
on political ground.

Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here's a suggestion:
a political question.

You don't even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.

Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile people were dying,
animals perishing,
houses burning,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times most remote
and less political.
Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Joanna Trzeciak

And here is the personalizing of the political which reveals the emotion beneath:

Could Have
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

Wislawa Szymborska
trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh


Some quick notes of interest:

outlaw poetry and free jazz network has reprinted
a review I wrote for The Small Press Review of the
book/dvd d.a.levy & the mimeograph revolution
book, edited by Larry Smith and Ingrid Swanberg.
The review is at the bottom of the post.

A new companion journal to daily haiku entitled
daily haiga
is set to launch today. Check it out.

The Smoking Poet has put out a call for poems.
Frankly,most work they use is much longer than
the Lillie focus but, then again, whose isn't. They
also use fiction, reviews, flashfiction, and book and
cigar (!) reviews. Why not air out some of your
longer work here? Submission guidelines.

There is a new website with the complete list,
plus links, to the songs featured on the weekly
postings from Best LitRock Songs from Issa's
Sunday Service.
The site will be updated weekly.

As mentioned in Ron Silliman's blog, there is an
interview up at Capital City Weekly with Alaska
poet Ken Waldman, whose work has appeared a
number times in Lilliput, as well as being featured
in a few posts here at Issa's Untidy Hut. Cheers,
to Alaska's fiddling poet!


Cover by Bobo

This week's featured issue is #22, from May 1991. I've mentioned in a few previous posts, the further back we go, the more removed I feel. However, I've found this little issue packed with poems that still resonate for me today. Here are a handful:

budding leaves
how much
life loves
a wreath
of over-
ripe history
and drains
feeding tap
roots with
Deborah Meadows

Last night the past broke
and there was history
all over the cellar.
You should have seen it -
Rome was here, Greece was there,
Egypt floated near the ceiling--
finally I had to
call a historian:
and you know what they charge
for emergencies.
Gail White

the dead walk the earth
walking thru minefields of my desire
my boots slosh & leak blood

I've become my own ghost

no shadows where I run the nights thru
the taste of the blade in my throat
& the silence of the dead

I slip my fingers thru a mirror
& pull out the beating heart
of a man I once knew so well

that I killed him
Bill Shields

Influences Carried By The Wind
Not the least demonic would have you think
your face doesn't look like a face,
or you have none: it never bloomed.
Beatrice George

in the thicket no one
knows about
trees budding bright
translated by David Lanoue