Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Random Notes: James Wright, Kerouac, Jane Campion's Keats

In preparation for a session of the 3 Poems By ... discussion group, I've been reading all things James Wright. Could I have a better job, getting to research one my favorite poets in preparation for a work project? And the things I've learned.

I mostly detest reading about poetry. That's not a hard admission, though it is a bit of a damning one. In any case, I am beginning to realize how wrongheaded that is. Here is a quote I ran across in a Paris Review interview with Wright (a .pdf) from 1972:

"Tolstoy was asked in a letter by a pacifist group if he could give them a definition of religion and, if he could do that, to explain to them the relation between religion, that is, what a person believes, and morality, that is, the way he acts in accord with some notion of how he ought to act. Tolstoy worried about this letter, and as I recall it, he said: 'I can only go back to myself. I look around myself and I see every year that, no matter what people do to themselves and to one another, the spring constantly renews itself. This is a physical fact, not a metaphysical theory. I look at every spring and I respond to it very strongly. But I also notice that every year the spring is the same new spring and every year I am one year older. I have to ask the question: What is the relation between my brief and tragic life and this force in the universe that perpetually renews itself? I further believe that every human being asks this question. He cannot avoid asking it-it is forced upon him. And his answer to that question is his religion. If he says the relation between me and this thing is nothing, then his religion is nihilism. As for morality, what ought I to do? I wish I knew.' That was a great letter."

The understatement of that last line, though it doesn't quite have the sheer power of "I have wasted my life", packs a considerable wallop. Interestingly, the quote was in part in reply to a question asking Wright's opinion of the poet John Berryman, whom he greatly admired.

Though one might be tempted to write it off to the interviewer's observation that a jug of wine, which needed to be refilled, sat between them during the interview, really it is the poet's natural inclination to inform her/his topic obliquely, metaphorically, if you will. James Wright considered himself a teacher first and one mustn't argue with a writer's opinion of himself. Perhaps he was a teacher first, but his instincts are purely lyrical.

I highly recommend this interview to anyone with the least attraction to his work. PC, it ain't, but insightful it is.


Today is the anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, variously attributed to alcohol, ulcers, or the swallowing of a piece of tin from a tuna top; a subtle combination of all three probably did the deed. At least that was my understanding. Gerald Nicosia succinctly summarizes: Jack Kerouac died on October 21, 1969 “of hemorrhaging esophageal varices, the classic drunkard’s death."

As is the case when remembering him, I like to pull his Book of Haikus off the shelf and randomly open it. Typically, the facing pages contain a total of 6 to 8 poems and I always find at least one that grabs me.

Bluejay drinking at my
---saucer of milk
throwing his head back

Missing a kick
---at the icebox door
it closed anyway

Lonesome blubbers
---grinding out the decades
with wet lips

Ah, the birds
---at dawn,
my mother and father

A current pimple
---In the mind's
Old man

Here's a online selection of his haiku for those craving more. Jack's work in the form is better than I ever imagined it might be. The relationship between the direct pointing of haiku/zen philosophy and first thought, best thought, is as natural as might be.


The new Jane Campion movie on John Keats, is getting high grades from folks I talk to. Ron Silliman has a fine tuned take this week over at his blog. Here's the trailer:


As of this writing, entries for the 2nd Annual Bashô Haiku Challenge (scroll down here for prize update) have already handily surpassed last year in number. Keep 'em coming, folks: there is still 10 full days before the deadline.


From this week's featured issue, Lilliput #156, a sequence of poems from the middle section. Hope you enjoy them.

from the hurricane's path
farther from myself
Robbie Gamble

upturned shells
cup the receding tide...
still not over you
Jeffrey Stillman

Love Song #22
Your absence
lengthens like a shadow
in the afternoon sun
Martha J. Eshelman

a seagull
atop each post
their different looks
Peggy Heinrich

And a final note from Issa:

even for winter's withering
an indifferent face...
sea gull
translated by David Lanoue



Ed Baker said...

nice post/run today..

that last line has all-ways been a mantra for me:

full moon
wasting my time


beyond the hoopla and institutianalIzationing

JK was
a "pay-attention" writer

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yes, spot on, as they say, with JK, anyone worth even a moment of our time ...


Charles Gramlich said...

Abbie Cornish looks a lot like Nicole kidman to me.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, seems to be around the corners of her smile ...

S. Thomas Summers said...

James Wright is wonderful Have you read "The Minneapolis Poem?"

Great stuff.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

S. Thomas: Yes, indeed, I have, another great poem. It is one of about ten or so we've been mulling over for discussion in the 3 Poems By group. I'll probably post which 3 we ultimately choose sometime soon.


Greg said...

nice Tolstoy letter. thanks for mentioning Kerouac... i'll have to break out Book of Haikus too. been a while since i read it. can't remember how it goes, but he had a great haiku about a cow taking a crap.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Greg, when you run across it, make sure you share the crapping cow haiku ... Don

Ed Baker said...

ell here are a couple of JK's that I "dig";

in my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age

when a cow is puking
in Oklahoma
A cow is resting in Nebraska


The cow, taking a big
dreamy crap, turning
to look at me

neat huh? simple... you can tell that Jack K is from
not studying noh particular "school" of high-coos..

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, you found it and more ... neat, indeed. The fly in the medicine cabinet and a classic analagous to Master Bashô's frog.

Both cow poems are wonder full.


Greg said...

yup, that's the one -- thanks Ed!