Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birdhouse in Your Soul: Issa's Sunday Service, #31

Click pic

Not to put too fine a point on it, but They Might Be Giants are one of the best known, under appreciated bands of the last 20 some years. Well known, but under appreciated? Eh?

Well, their song, "Boss of Me," was sung by the millions each week who tuned into the live-action, Simpsons-like sit-com "Malcolm in the Middle." And for those of you who had already thrown their squawk box out of the 3rd floor window really you know how much you haven't missed.

They Might Be Giants redefined quirky just when music culture was desperately mundane, particularly hip alternative music culture. Their very name alludes to a movie (based on a play, the title of which further alludes to a quote from Don Quixote about how windmills "might be giants") about a mentally ill man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes and is being treated by a Dr. Watson, Dr. Jane Watson. It is one of my favorites of all time.

To call it unlikely that They Might Be Giants (the band) became known outside the NYC tri-state area is a bit overstated; their lyric and music abilities are just too good not to have broken through somewhere. Besides, they are the authors of one of the best, heartbreakingly funny break up songs ever: "They'll Need a Crane (just hit the play all button for a real treat)."

Which brings us to today's "Issa's Sunday Service" selection: "Birdhouse in Your Soul." Reaching back to classic Greek literature for the literary allusion, with a subliminal nod to Ray Harryhausen, this tune threatens the veracity of the definition of quirky: Mr. Webster, redefine now, please.

Birdhouse in Your Soul

I'm your only friend
I'm not your only friend
But I'm a little glowing friend
But really I'm not actually your friend
But I am

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I have a secret to tell
From my electrical well
It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
So the room must listen to me
Filibuster vigilantly
My name is blue canary one note* spelled l-i-t-e
My story's infinite
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn't rest

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I'm your only friend
I'm not your only friend
But I'm a little glowing friend
But really I'm not actually your friend
But I am

There's a picture opposite me
Of my primitive ancestry
Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
Though I respect that a lot
I'd be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts
Bluebird of friendliness
Like guardian angels it's always near

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

(and while you're at it
Keep the nightlight on inside the
Birdhouse in your soul)

Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch (and while you're at it)
Who watches over you (keep the nightlight on inside the)
Make a little birdhouse in your soul (birdhouse in your soul)

Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch (and while you're at it)
Who watches over you (keep the nightlight on inside the)
Make a little birdhouse in your soul (birdhouse in your soul)

Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul


This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review #47, from August 1993. Enjoy.

We look to the bottom
of the pond where dreamy plants
the forest. Here we can understand
the flourish of day lilies
on the banks--and the intense stillness
of a hummingbird. The lure is complete.
Mark Schimmoeller

lilies blooming
without supervision...

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS Did somebody say Longines Symphonette?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bosch Guy Thanksgiving Moon Viewing Party

Anonymous Postcard

You know, one of the wonderful things about being in the small press over the years is the strange and amazing things that mysteriously appear in the mailbox, some of which arrive, like this postcard, anonymously (yeah, Burfields, just because you didn't sign it, don't go thinking ...).

The little Bosch guy mascot has been all over the planet, delivering tiny lyrical missives for what seems like forever, actually just a mere 20 years. It's nice to see that he and his friends are in shape enough for some mountain climbing and some good, old fashioned daytime moon viewing.

Wishing everybody a great, stress-free day of giving thanks. Here's a poem capturing the ambiance of the season from Lilliput Review #98, July 1998.

Thanksgiving Weekend
Leaves skitter across the empty lot.
One car in the corner. Away from buildings
the sky widens. Clouds–like sand
rippled by receding tide water.

Wind piles leaves in the corner
of the cemetery fence, hisses through them,
moans through evergreens. The dead are still.
The ground is hardening.
Edward Dougherty

And from Issa:

thanks to the wind
they are precious...
billowing clouds
translated by David G. Lanoue


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Six Gallery Press Reading

Last Saturday's Six Gallery Press reading at Modern Formations went very well. As with last August's reading, I read a mix of past Lilliput poems and some of my own work. Here are the poems from Lillie:

National Poetry Day
This being that fine occasion
to honor appreciative friends
with a wisdomy verse
pulled from one's hip
I am telling myself to first
keep straight my pockets
so as not to go
blow my nose into
William Carlos Williams
Richard Swanson

only one flower
is needed to answer
your question
Stanford Forrester

winter haiku
here, we have five or six
words for snow
and they all start with fuck
Mark DeCarteret

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

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

How Frightening to be the Male
a pair of cardinals on my neighbor's
fence: the male--so bright, so eye-
catching, so out-there, so
Kelley Jean White

When you've rent the flesh and sinew
from my supple skeleton and you've
sucked the last sweet drop of marrow
leaving lonely, brittle bones
will you save the jagged splinters
to adorn your chieftain's chest
or scatter them like toothpicks
over yesterday's dung.
Sue De Kelver

Each step into simplicity :: undoes the weave
Grant Hackett

We forget we're mostly water
till the rain falls
and every atom
in our body
starts to go home
Albert Huffstickler

¶blue thorn gallop rose
why does language have to be so perfect?
Charlie Mehrhoff

Ray Skjelbred

In addition to the Lilliput poems, I opened with a quote from Jim Carroll, and a dedication to his memory. The quote:

"It's too late
-to fall in love with Sharon Tate.
-And it's too soon
-to trace the path of the bullet
-in the brain of Reverend Moon."
Jim Carroll

I followed the Lilliput reading with 7 poems of my own, with only one that I'd read in August. Though I practiced "an echo" by Michael Estabrook, it was difficult to get the right aural effect and I'm afraid I didn't do it justice. Otherwise, I think it went over pretty well. Not too shabby for an old man decidedly out of practice. Overall, it was a solid reading by all. Che Elias from Six Gallery did a great job picking readers and so my personal thanks to him. I was particularly taken with the work of M. Callen, Scott Silsbe, Karen Lillis and Bill Hughes but, again, all the readers impressed.


Since this is a week folks are likely on the road for the holiday, I'll keep it brief. I'm in the process of combing through all the poems for the Bashô Haiku Challenge again. Though I've made a large preliminary selection, I'm going through every poem once more to make sure I didn't miss anything and that what I previously set aside is actually up to snuff. Editing the mag all these years has taught me to space out multiple readings of particular items since mood, attention, and physical condition can actually effect how one approaches work. I read most work first thing in the morning while I'm fresh and rested and save the mundane stuff of replying, printing, collating etc. for later in the day. I'm hoping to make an announcement of the winners by December 2nd, December 9th at the latest.


This week's featured issue is #150, a broadside of 11 poems by powerful tanka poet, Pamela Miller Ness. Enjoy.

Autumn again
in the Japanese garden;
of last year's euonymus
burn still in my journal.

A bud
of the red anemone
ready to burst . . .
the child
she never bore.

after her passing
on the path
I greet my neighbor
in Mother's voice.
Pamela Miller Ness

a wind-blown boat
a skylark
crossing paths
translated by David G. Lanoue

And thanks to Jessica Fenlon for sending along the photo of me cawing "Crow" from the reading.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Adam Raised a Cain: Issa's Sunday Service, #30

Today is the birthday of Steven (Little Steven) Van Zandt, guitar player in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, which gives me the opportunity to delve into the deep cut side of things in the Bruce catalog. This song comes from Darkness on the Edge of Town and isn't something you hear everyday, possibly because of its execution, possibly because free form radio is virtually dead, possibly because of its thematic similarity to other cuts from the band: fathers and sons, empty rooms, biblical resonance, shattered dreams, sin, redemption, and love gone bad. Image-wise, water, blood, and cars are never far from any song by the Boss. Yet, when isolated and listened to, this song perfectly encapsulates so many of Springsteen's works. For my money, the live version below is head over heels better than the original album cut, which in this case simply serves as a template for live performances.

The allusion to the Biblical story serves as its primary reason for inclusion as LitRock at Issa's Sunday Service but, as is often the case with Springsteen, he sneaks something else in to: the reference to East of Eden, the Steinbeck novel which took its name from the Cain's expulsion to the Land of Nod (no giggling here).

Adam Raised a Cain

In the summer that I was baptized
my father held me to his side
As they put me to the water
he said how on that day I cried
We were prisoners of love, a love in chains
He was standin' in the door I was standin' in the rain
With the same hot blood burning in our veins
Adam raised a Cain

All of the old faces
ask you why you're back
They fit you with position
and the keys to your daddy's Cadillac
In the darkness of your room
your mother calls you by your true name
You remember the faces, the places, the names
You know it's never over it's relentless as the rain
Adam Raised a Cain

In the Bible Cain slew Abel
and East of Eden he was cast
You're born into this life paying
for the sins of somebody else's past
Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain
Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame
You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames
Adam raised a Cain

Lost but not forgotten, from the dark heart of a dream
Adam raised a Cain

Happy birthday to Little Steven and if you are a fan of garage rock, the link above at his name will take you somewhere where you can get lost for weeks.


This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review #46, June 1993. #46 is a broadside issue, still available via Lillie, and as a special treat for Albert Huffstickler fans (excuse me, no pushing, that's right, I'm first in line), here is Twilight On Trinity in its entirety.

Twilight On Trinity

Sitting at an upstairs window
watching the rain fall
on Trinity Street,
it’s early yet
but the air
has an evening
feel to it--
as though the day
had decided
to blow everything
off and huddle
in the shelter
of an awning
out of the rush.

I would have written
but I’ve written you
twice and you haven’t
answered and after I
write to you, I
start talking to you
in my head and that’s
not too good a thing
after so long--I
mean it’s better not
to write too much.
It’s better just to
wait for an answer.

But the rain--
have you noticed
how it changes
personality from
one visit to another?
This rain is a woman
waiting for someone,
very gentle,
so very gentle,
not even sad.

I mean,
I could say to you
after all these years
that it doesn’t matter,
that I’m ‘‘over you ‘‘--
whatever that means.
I could say that
you’re less of a
presence in my space
but it wouldn’t be
true. The truth is--
well, I don’t know
what the truth is.

But I wouldn’t be
talking to you if
some part of you
weren’t still here.
I think the rain
is some kind of
conductor. It
links all those
it falls on.
Now tell me
you haven’t thought
the same thing

And the rain that
falls on Trinity Street,
that borderland between
the affluent and the
fallen--that rain
is absolutely necessary.

But if I knew
it was raining
where you are,
then I might
write you anyway
because then, you
see, it wouldn’t
who owed who
a letter.

But of course
I don’t know
just how it is
this moment
where you are
and now after
all these years
I have to confess
I’m not inclined
to take chances.

So what I’ll do is:
I’ll sit by this
upstairs window
on Trinity Street,
watching the rain,
thinking about
the letter I’d write
if I were going
to write while
down below
on this borderland street
the named and the nameless
walk side by side
in the slow fall.

Albert Huffstickler

Chicago House
607 Trinity
Austin, TX
May 15, 1992

Over the years, I published 5 broadside issues of Albert's work and have to say that this one was his personal favorite. He loved it when I printed it in a variety of colors and asked me to surprise him on the occasions when he asked for more copies.

I do miss him, all these years later.


To sum it all up, here's the master:

all night looking
at my wrinkled hands...
autumn rain
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Acorn Book of Contemporary Haiku, Part II

Saturday November 21st, 8 pm, at Modern Formations
A Six Gallery Press Reading

Che Elias, Kristofer Collins, Bob Pajich, M. Callen, Paco Mahone, Scott Silsbe, Karen Lillis, Zoe Goehring, Bill Hughes, Jonathan Loucks, Don Wentworth, and Laura Davis

I promised a follow-up to last week's post on The Acorn Book of Contemporary Haiku, edited by Lucien Stryk and Kevin Bailey. There was just too much great work to cover in one go round. The second half of this volume, which runs 170 plus pages with anywhere from 1 to 5 haiku per page, is if anything stronger than the first half. All types of contemporary haiku are considered, though there is a definite leaning toward brevity. Being a British publication, there is a decided slant to the Brits, plus lots of folks from the continent, from Asia and poems in translation. Here's a second selection:

between the question
--------and the reply -
sunlight on a few leaves moving

Geoffrey Daniel

whisper of wind
--leaves brushing leaves
--as they fall
Jean Jorgensen

in each new Aspen leaf
--the tree
Jean Jorgensen

The hour has not come
for high tide to wash away
a dead cat's maggots
Tamaki Makoto

The blackbird as usual
when I was about to
buttonhole God
Leo Lavery

3 by Daniel Richard

In the plain vase
the forgotten sunflowers
turn to light

The high mountains.
Sometimes, the echoless
sound of the cow bells...

Gazing at the moon
one realizes that she
has come quite a way...

Paros Haiku
Bucket down a well -
--------hear the morning
---------------splinter into water!
Alexis Lykiard

3 four line haiku by Peter Dent

A hand from the water.
Circles out.

To find another stills
and clarifies the world.

Old vessel
of blue we hold to

to the end where all
we've emptied fills.

A moon to read by.
Gulls trail in
a line of broken shadows.
Every tide a text.

generations buried
from tombstone to tombstone
the dragonfly
Kenneth Tanemura

summer vacation
a single butterfly fluttering
in the piano lesson room
Ikuyo Yoshimura

the first day of autumn
a single feather rolling
on the Tatami floor
Ikuyo Yoshimura

from The Haiku Dictionary by Philip McCall

--------guarding one's own love
as if it were something that
could be found again

--------Sunlight reflected
from the windows of a house
where we used to live

see how the coastline
exactly fits the ocean
all the way along
David Steele

A cracked soap
preserves the last
dirt from your hands
Nick Pearson

Cherry blossoms falling -
a carp follows just below
a duck's wake
Tsunehiko Hoshino

With their voices
cicadas create the shape
of a big tree
Tsunehiko Hoshino

There is much here to admire and to admire deeply. Jean Jorgensen gives us the micro in one poem, the macro in the next - read together it makes one dizzy. Tamaki Makoto, as so many poets here, points to nature for answers. Leo Lavery, I know that blackbird, he is presently on a wire outside my garret, attempting to distract me, with some success, from you. Bells that don't echo, flowers that know better than you, and that old devil moon all show off Daniel Richard's deft touch. Alexis Lykiard is dipping into an abbreviated version of old Bashô's pond.

There is something so mysterious about Peter Dent's 4-line haiku I feel that I've gone to church.

Kenneth Tanemura shows explicitly why the traditional haiku, like blues music, will never die. The limited forms are the most infinite! I'm right back in church, perhaps temple this time, with Ikuyo Yoshimura's ku rippling like wind on water. Philip McCall has a splendid notion with his Haiku Dictionary. Nick Pearson's powerful 3 lines catch in the back of the throat.

Tsunehiko Hoshimo's 2 poems have a purity of image that resound through all time and space, simply the beauty of life itself. Finally, I've said nothing of Geoffrey Daniel's poem because it resides in the exact space where all good poetry, haiku included, comes from and to whence it returns.

Lucien Stryk and Kevin Bailey are to be commended for one of the premier anthology's of contemporary haiku to be published. Someone must simply get this work back into print. Since it has, in fact, never been printed in the US to my knowledge, someone out there needs to pick it up and run. It is too good to languish in obscurity.


One of the reasons I'm behind in just about everything is the prep I've been doing for a Six Gallery Press reading this Saturday night at the Modern Formations Gallery. It will be a mix of Lilliput and my own work just as the reading back in August was (here are the Lilliput poems from that reading). I'll be doing all new poems, with the exception of one of my own. Six Gallery plans to publish a collection of my work some time in the not to distant future, as well as a 20th anniversary retrospective Lilliput collection. I'll keep you posted.


Bashô Haiku contest folks have showed great patience awaiting word. It's all on simmer and I will returning my full attention to it again next week, so thanks for that patience. I'm on schedule to make announcements in the first week of December, with the anthology chapbook slated to be published sometime around mid year 2010.


This week's featured back issue of Lilliput Review is #151, from July 2006. Here's a couple of little beauties to put that spring back in your step (or knock the wind out of your sails, depending on what you need). Enjoy.

blending morning tea
hearing water from the fountain
ferns narrow the sound
Guy Beining

Painless Poems
Remember this poem? its simple
rooms? its window full of trees? the white

gable which you loved about this poem,
how its lone triangel seemed to encompass
all humanity? and the spiky yellow sun

exploding somewhere outside the poem?

Of course you do. In fact you're reciting it
right now, standing on one foot in a room
of a different poem.
Paul Hostovsky

When we build bridges
we forget where rivers flow from
and to.
Michael Meinhoff

now blurry, now clear
through the wiper blades
the journey home
Robbie Gamble

And another fine translation of Issa by David G. Lanoue:

big bridge--
the hunter is followed
by a goose
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, November 15, 2009

She Blinded Me With Science: Issa's Sunday Service, #29

What would any respectable list of pop/rock music be, even with pretense to the literary, without a one hit wonder? Add the ever important fact that its an 80's one hit wonder and you have the perfect storm of shlock. It's just too good not to include. And, of course, you can dance to it forever, depending on your crank of choice.

Just in case you can't stop dancing, here is the video, one which helped make MTV the true hellhole which it was to become (oh, man, did we actually watch this over and over and ...)

OMG, here it is "live":

And now you never have to listen to it again. And I've banned myself from using the word "live" anytime in the foreseeable future.


This week's feature poem comes from issue #45 of Lilliput Review, from June 1993.

that heavy breath
against smeared glass

the poet rubbing

for the worl to
peep through
Melissa Cannon

at dawn a keepsake
left on the window
red leaves
translated by David G. Lanoue


Thursday, November 12, 2009

On The Acorn Book of Contemporary Haiku

In perusing my poetry shelves to see what was what, it occurred to me that, as a semi-regular feature, I could delve into the items found there and share a thought or two. So, the first couple of shelves consists of anthologies of Eastern or Eastern influenced verse, haiku, tanka, and traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Indian verse. In addition there are some modern anthologies of English and American verse in traditional forms, which brings us to the first item on the shelf, The Acorn Book of Contemporary Haiku, edited by Lucien Stryk and Kevin Bailey.

The first thing I realized about this book is that I must have purchased it on a London trip because it is going for ridiculous sums via amazon and has evidently never been published in the States. I bought it for 4.5 pounds, probably as a remainder at the Ulysses Bookshop near the British Museum.

I'm over halfway through the volume (so it goes for perusing part of this "project") and I have to say it is as fine a collection of contemporary haiku as I've run across. The hint of regret (have to say) I believe betrays the fact that I'm recommending something that is costly and difficult to get a hold of.

The volume's selection and tone bears all the earmarks of Stryk: poems stark, precise, and imagistic in nature. Stripped to the bone, the bones boiled, and placed out on large leaves, gleaming as they dry in the sun. Imagine my surprise when I ran smack into three poems that have graced past issues of Lilliput Review. Here they are:

The earth bears
even your sadness.
David Lindley

ancient headstones
the name and numbers
worn to murmurs.
William Hart


When the page was blank
no one thought, suddenly
a flower would appear.
David Lindley

One of the things that surprised me a bit was the lack of acknowledgment, a pet peeve of mine. Don't get me wrong; I don't think it is something a press or poet is obligated to do, it's just a courtesy. I explain to folks that it is akin to being accepted for publication for a poet/writer. It is a great lift and, most importantly, recognition of quality in the editorial process. This is not a gripe with this particular press or either poet, just me talking out loud. In my estimation, these are great examples of the finest work in haiku form and I'm proud to have helped them see the light of day. As far as I'm concerned, it is the poet who owns the work, from inception through publication and in any further incarnations, unless they explicitly sign that right away. And they'll never do that here at Lillie.

So, no harm, no foul ... just a little boy griping.

But I digress (and feel the better for it). Here's a selection of a few items that grabbed my attention and held it.

in the corpse's
half-closed eyes
the flame of a candle

Vasile Spinei

one word
but so many varieties
of rain
David Findley

Another robin in my mousetrap:
few of us fail to give
humanity a bad name.

Anthony Weir

The old barn
--looks more like a tree
----each year.
Hannah Mitte

late afternoon sun
the shadow of the gravestone
slants towards my feet
Brian Tasker

Works Gloves
On the garden gate
left here with me --
Shape of her hands
Bob Arnold

The white kitten
playing and playing
with the faded cherry petal

Vincent Tripi

Still in my garden
--------I bend to pluck a weed but
----------------see its smiling face.
Harold Morland

In the garden of Saleh
The silence is soothed
By the whispered lisp of leaves.

David Gascoyne

the fisherman's shadow stretches
across the river
George Swede

A moorhen dives
Ripples spread
To the ends of the earth

Aasha Hanley

I hear the magpies
and you you have give me
this sense of longing.
Paul Finn

I was equally delighted to see a number of poets whose work has appeared in Lilliput featured in Acorn. From this selection alone are the fine poets George Swede, Vincent Tripi, and Bob Arnold. What is most amazing, really, is I've just dug through to the first layer of this exemplary volume. If I have the time and space, perhaps I'll highlight a few more poems from the 2nd half of this work sometime soon.

For an additional insightful, theoretical review (with a large selection of poems) of The Acorn Book of Contemporary Haiku, see Lynx Book Reviews (last review toward the bottom of the page - and from this review which I read after completing this post, I discovered another Lillie poem in the volume, from the 2nd half I haven't gotten to, this one by Gary Hotham).


In the Bashô Haiku Challenge update, I can say that I've narrowed down the nearly 500 haiku received to somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 poems after two complete read-throughs. Lots of decisions still to made, one big one being exactly how long will this year's chapbook be. I believe I'll let content dictate form in this instance, so living with the poems for another two weeks or so should help answer that question very well.


This week's featured issue is #152, from November 2006. Hope something grabs you here:

After Basho
Chrysanthemums bloom
in a gap between the silence
of the stonecutter's yard.
Michael Wurster

trumpet vine
still waiting
for you

David Gross

in the park
by a falling leaf
Peggy Heinrich

Four ancient rocks rose from the earth:
Grief, Rope, Axe, and Sparrow

Gail Ivy Berlin

And, before I flit off, one more:

baby sparrow--
even when people come
opening its mouth
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ramble On: Issa's Sunday Service, #28

This week's LitRock entry on Issa's Sunday Service puts some of the rock back in the lit. Led Zeppelin offered many a gift to the first wave of serious Lord of the Rings maniacs stateside and none is arguably better than "Ramble On." Lyrics and music blend nicely into an infectious little number that bears up under repeated playings.

Here's a bonus video of Plant and Page performing a tasty version from 1995.

This week's Lilliput poem comes from issue #49, which was featured in a post previously this year. #42 was a homage issue, where poets got to have their say about idols, influences, and various imps of an impressionable nature. What follows is a real treat, Lilliput-wise: one of the many "Brobdingnag Feature Poems" that have appeared in the mag over the years. What is a Brobdingnag Feature Poem? Well simply put, it is a poem that goes beyond the normal 10 line limit for Lillie. One of the two forthcoming issues, which should see the light of day in December, will showcase #57 in the Brobdingnag series. So it is rather obvious that, though the mag is all about the size-challenged, sometimes my lack of math skills is readily apparent. This poem by Carl Mayfield is an outstanding little number; though it helps to know the work of Philip Larkin, it isn't totally necessary to appreciate how finely articulated and philosophically grounded my long-time correspondent Carl is.

To Philip Larkin
You spoke across the Atlantic
of high windows, of undiminished
youth living elsewhere--
lines of darkness too true
to be upstaged by any poet--
you, me, the saxophone player.
You were the genius
of what didn't happen,
conversant with the impulse
to notice the color of the sun
but fail to see the radiance.
You avoided being duped
by flesh and blood,
watched the light come up
wherever you were,
and the life go down
in your willingness to breathe.
You said you didn't know more
as you grew older, but who does?
Death takes the lot of us
and lets the wind decide who was tallest.
You exchanged your life
for the truth, only to discover
there is more truth
than there is life.
Ah Philip, so many years
of honesty, so many words
writ on water--is your soul
any lighter because you did it so well?
Carl Mayfield

And one from the master, a tad more succinct:

entrusting the thicket
to the field crow...
the lark sings
translated by David G. Lanoue


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jim Morrison: At the Piano

Here is a little something to clear the sinuses, courtesy Rob Plath over @ Facebook, paving the way for the weekend.

alone he cries
the motherless bird...
autumn dusk
translated by David G. Lanoue


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Georg Trakl and James Wright

I mentioned in last week's post on James Wright's "Milkweed" that, while doing some research, I discovered Wright's love for the work of Georg Trakl. I recently finished Trakl's Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems, translated by Daniel Simko, and I thoroughly understand Wright's attraction. Here's a standout poem that shares a tonal quality similar to Wright:

In Springtime
Snow sank softly from the dark footsteps.
In the shade of a tree
Lovers raise their rosy eyelids.

The dark calls of sailors are always followed
By stars and night;
The oars beat softly in time.

Soon the violets will begin to blossom
By the crumbling wall,
The lonely man's temples softly turn green.
Georg Trakl

The nature imagery is reminiscent of work in The Branch Will Not Break. The closing revelation is not, however, typical of Trakl and, in this case, really stands out. Like all great poets, Trakl works the same territory over and over, tilling and re-tilling his garden to bring forth myriad varieties of the genus lyrical. Some images are so constant as to be all pervasive: a deer, tentative and feeding at forests' edge; the sound of bells, blending together as they fade; the clarity of twilight; autumn's pervasive sadness; the sensed presence of the dead, all around us; small details of village life, with human activity strangely absent; and a deep, resonant melancholy.

I was totally taken over by this work. It dominated me for the last few weeks and, though it is as different from my own as possibly could be imagined, it stimulated me to write and write and write. Wright of The Branch Will Not Break shares with Trakl the approach of recording in detail, imagistically, what is about him. In Wright, it gives the sense of the present moment, of seeing what the poet sees as it is observed. With Trakl, there is a sense of the eternal quality of what is observed. A denouement often results from these images of Wright; with Trakl, normally the images and tone are the end in and of themselves. Wright's images aren't in any sense repetitive; Trakl's are very much so and, though this might challenge the modern reader, it is this repetitiveness that gives them their eternal, immortal quality. Trakl's work is predominately in the 3rd person, Wright utilizes a 1st person persona in many cases, particularly in Branch. Both share a quality of sadness that occasionally implies unnamed, past transgressions. The flawed quality of human nature is never far from the surface in the work of both these fine poets. Here is another haunting piece by Trakl:

Hohenburg (Second Version)
No one at home. Autumn fills the rooms;
Moon-bright sonata
And the awakening at the edge of the twilit forest.

You always think of the white face of mankind
Far from the turmoil of the times–
A green branch bends willingly over the one dreaming.

Cross and evening.
The star of the one singing embraces him with purple arms
As it rises to the empty windows.

Therefore, the stranger trembles in the darkness
As he softly raises his eyelids over a human shape.
In the distance, the silver voice of the wind in the hallway.
Georg Trakl

I've yet to read the twenty poems by Trakl translated by Wright and Robert Bly (pdf file). I am looking forward to it very much. I'll close these thoughts with Wright's poem, "I Was Afraid of Dying." The library poetry discussion group I co-moderate will be considering three poems by James Wright next week, which I am also looking forward to. It will be difficult, indeed, to keep my enthusiasm for his work in check. I have a feeling others will match it.

I Was Afraid of Dying
I was afraid of dying
In a field of dry weeds.
But now,
All day long I have been walking among damp fields,
Trying to keep still, listening
To insects that move patiently.
Perhaps they are sampling the fresh dew that gathers slowly
In empty snail shells
And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the
James Wright


The submission period for the 2nd Annual Bashô Haiku Challenge has ended and the response was excellent. This year there are 99 entries from all over; the UK, Eastern Europe, Japan, and New Zealand are all well represented, as well as the US. The total is close to 500 haiku. Last year there were 34 entries with around 150 poems. So, the reading period has begun and it will be taking quite some time, no doubt.

I'll keep everybody posted on my progress.


This week's featured issue of Lilliput Review is #153, from November 2006. Enjoy.

In this life where, from the womb,
---we step from dark to darkness,
what joy when a few fireflies
---rise up
------------to light our way.
Dan Stryk

Black Bread
-- found phrase (after a poem by Anna Akmatova)
Made of tears, blood and bile, mixed to
a paste of black sorrow and yeasty obedience,
you rise like an envelope full of stale air.
Pounded, meek and quiet into a mass of hope,
fibrous connections tearing, kneaded
again and again, torn and prayered, cornered.
I taste your salty promises of flesh and suckle
the finger offered. I breathe the moist air
made of grief tissue. I eat the corpse proffered.
Lita Sorenson

Never turn away from
a blessing,
no matter how
Greg Watson

full moon
half moon

just don't know
Ed Baker

And Issa's parting word(s) ...

in every direction
ten thousand blessings...
croaking frogs
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, November 1, 2009

White Rabbit: Issa's Sunday Service, #27

This past week was the birthday of rock great, Grace Slick, from one of my favorite 60's bands, Jefferson Airplane (a choice for which I took much flack from close friends). This week's selection is "White Rabbit," which is the second Grace Slick number to land on the Litrock list (here's the first, in case you missed it). Whether it's James Joyce or Lewis Carroll, Slick was always on the, umm, high end of things and this is a classic that just keeps on giving. It's presentation by the band is unusual for a song that hit the charts with staying power; the music builds dramatically, centered around the words and Slick's voice, in a style almost perfect for poetic presentation.


Heading back to March 1993 and dipping into Lilliput Review #41, I found a couple of poems not previously featured. Enjoy.

The Center Of Evolution
the silence of a field
that points through the depth of a leaf
that formed all that potato
frying in your face
Stacey Sollfrey

isness of monarch
on lantana bloom,

two horny toads spied
in one week, late heat ...;

a sprinkle of rain
to prove the phenomenon

is all there is,
and is enough
Sylvia Manning

And one from the master:

eyeing the potato
on the banked fire...
translated by David G. Lanoue