Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Weight: Issa's Sunday Service, #57

The Weight by The Band on Grooveshark

This week's tune is "The Weight" by The Band, their second appearance on Issa's Sunday Service. The reason it is included here is the line "Go Down, Miss Moses" is an allusion to the old African American spiritual, "Go Down Moses," and was appropriated by William Faulkner for the title of his book of the same name. Though in some ways, "The Weight" seems something of a modern retelling of the Nativity scene from the Bible, the following details from the Wikipedia article on "The Weight" are very interesting, indeed:

According to songwriter Robertson, "The Weight" was inspired by the films of Luis Buñuel, about which Robertson once said:

(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in Viridiana and Nazarin, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’ it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good. In "The Weight" it was this very simple thing. Someone says, "Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say 'hello' to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there." This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like "Holy Shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say 'hello' for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament." It was very Buñuelish to me at the time. ....

In Levon Helm's autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire, Helm explains that the people mentioned in the song were based on real people The Band knew. The "Miss Anna Lee" mentioned in the lyric is Helm's longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden


This week's poem from the Lilliput archive is a piece of artwork from issue #87 by the always amazing Albert Huffstickler. It speaks for itself.

Artwork by Huff

timing his death
extremely well...
the Buddha
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, June 25, 2010

Shelter | Street: Karma Tenzing Wangchuk

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk is a poet of the short form whom I admire very much. A new collection of his poems, Shelter | Street, pictured above, has been published by Minotaur Press (P.O Box 272, Port Townsend, WA 98368, $10) and found its way into my mail box. It is quite fine, indeed.

The volume opens with one of his best poems and its placement indicates the themes of struggle and homelessness that appear in its opening pages:

March winds-
a butterfly and I
struggle on

The poem is timeless and might just as well been written by one of the 4 haiku masters. So few words are used to capture a life, all of life really. Sorrow and pain permeate these powerful small poems:

Food Bank-
the wall we lean against
worn smooth

The detail is damning here, such a powerful image that passes unnoticed in more fortunate lives. In the following poem, the first two lines quickly state something many of us see each and everyday, yet the observation in the third line I would venture to say hardly anyone thinks:

the beggar
holding out his hand-
this too is work

In reading this first section of haiku and senryu, one is tempted to impose a narrative character to the whole. With these poems, I think of the persona as a true modern Everyman:

Palm Sunday-
the sign says FREE FOOD
but you have to kneel for it

I found the following poem, which I would characterize as a senryu rather than a haiku, though no person appears, devastating:

greasy spoon-
a fly emerges
from the plastic flower

For me, there is a powerful identification between the perceived and the perceiver; why they are there, what they are doing, and, frankly, their shared experience, their shared existence. The poet has found words to sketch what I would have thought simply beyond capturing in such a deep, resonating way. The sadness is huge, it is mind-numbing.

Further on in this volume, there are poems from an ongoing series that might be titled the "Stone Buddha" poems. In fact, the previous volume of KTW's I reviewed here is entitled just that, Stone Buddha. There is a selection of 13 here, 2 of which I recognize and singled out before. A few from this selection are either new to me or have struck me now when they didn't before, which amounts to much the same thing, eh? 2 more this time grabbed me and wouldn't let go:

first crocus-
the stone buddha's
gentle smile

stone buddha-
never a thought
for himself

The common quality here is that both of these are simply true. For me, the second resonates in such a profound way as to make it nearly perfect. Both have an enduring Zen quality, while remaining true to the "is." Another poem that captures a quality beyond its basic image is:

summer heat-
a fly relaxes
on the frog's back

There are a number of precepts in this collection reminiscent of the Four Nobles Truths and the Eightfold Way, all in less words than it takes to describe them. Least we confuse the moon with the finger pointing at it, the poet summarizes nicely:

Farmer's Market-
the fruit flies point out
the ripe ones

On one hand, what is being emphasized is the obvious; yet are we, poetry's audience, always attentive and aware, attentive and unaware, unattentive and unaware? Who better to point to the moon than the poet?

growing old
with the rest of me
...-my skeleton

Yes, obvious, but not often stated and, when stated, not often thought about in any extended way, such as:

my shadow ephemeral too

Sorrow and pain are never far from truth; a finger pointing at the path of paths:

no parents
left to shame now
...-winter rain

An almost traditional senryu, complete with seasonal allusion, and a near bottomless feeling, this poem, too, is timeless.

Sometimes, too, the magic and wonder and mystery of life can be encompassed in 9 brief words, 3 short lines:

it's the worm
inside the bird
sings the song

Is the finger pointing at the bird, or the worm, or the song, or something beyond? Oh, but the finger is mine not the poet's, you say. Really?

Bet you can read my mind.

One can go deep, deep into many of these poems and this is what gives them their close kinship to traditional haiku. Some are basic observations which, though they might not reward endless revisiting, still they grab hold when they bite, and they itch for sometime afterward.

Photo by Michael Dylan Welch


Here are two poems, originally published side by side in Lilliput Review #148, February 2008, that make something of a set piece.

Rhododendron in a Time of War
Red petals clot on
its glossy exterior
then drop to stained ground.
Corey Cook

Tree sheds red petals.
Out of respect,
I forget my name,
Mat Favre


cheeks stuffed
with a red flower
the katydid sings
translated by David G. Lanoue


Monday, June 21, 2010

Albert Huffstickler: "Holy Secrets" and "Having Dinner with Henry Miller"

"Dinner with Henry Miller"

Click on picture to watch video

"Holy Secrets: the Poetry and Art
of Albert Huffstickler

Click on picture to watch video

Here are two great videos for your viewing pleasure while I put my feet up and relax a bit. The first comes by way of recommendation of the ever vigilant poet/artist, Ed Baker, who set me on my path of recently pursuing The Hamlet Letters by Henry Miller. The second is a short film by Matthew Listiak which I've passed on to folks before, but its been long enough to, one, recommend it again for folks new to these parts and, two, watch again for those of us who've seen it before.

It is a revelation, which is about the best one word summary of Albert Huffstickler I can think of.

Miller wrote a book entitled The Books in My Life. From that book is an interesting section on Krishnamurti, interesting as much for what it says about Miller as it does for the great spiritual leader:

After a long discussion with a man in Bombay, the latter
says to Krishnamurti: What you speak of could lead to
the creation of supermen, men capable of governing
themselves, men who would be their own masters, absolute.
But what about the man at the bottom of the ladder, who
depends on external authority, who makes use of all kinds
of crutches, who is obliged to submit to a moral code which
may, in reality, not suit him?

Krishnamurti answers: See what happens in the world.
The strong, the violent, the powerful ones, the men who
usurp and wield power over others, are at the top; at the
bottom are the weak and gentle ones, who struggle and
flounder. By contrast think of the tree, whose strength
and glory derives from its deep and hidden roots; in the
case of the tree the top is crowned by delicate leaves,
tender shoots, and the most fragile branches. In human
society, at least as its constituted today, the strong and
the powerful are supported by the weak. In Nature, on
the other hand, it is the strong and powerful that
support the weak. As long as you persist in viewing each
problem with a perverted, twisted mind you will accept
the actual state of affairs. I look at the problem from
another point of view ... Because your convictions are
not the result of your own understanding you repeat
what is given by authorities; you amass citations, you
pit one authority against another, the ancient against
the new. To that I have nothing to say. But if you
envisage life from a standpoint which is not deformed or
mutilated by authority, not bolstered by others'
knowledge, but from one which springs from your own
suffering, from your thought, your culture, your
understanding, your love, then you will understand that
what I say - "car la méditation du coeur est l'entendement"
... Personally, and I hope you understand what I say now,
I have no belief and I belong to no tradition. I have always
had this attitude towards life. It being a fact that life varies
from day to day, not only are beliefs and traditions useless
to me, but if I were to let myself be enchanted by them,
they would prevent me from understanding life .... You
may attain liberation, no matter where you are or what
the circumstances surrounding you, but this means that
you must have the strength of genius. For genius is, after
all, the ability to deliver oneself from the circumstances
in which one is enmeshed, the ability to free oneself from
the vicious circle ... You may say to me - I have not that
kind of strength. That is my point of view exactly. In order
to discover your own strength, the power which is in you,
you must be ready and willing to come to grips with every
kind of experience. And that is just what you refuse to do!

This sort of language is naked, revelatory and inspiring. It
pierces the clouds of philosophy which confound our
thought and restores the springs of action. It levels the
tottering superstructures of the verbal gymnasts and
clears the ground of rubbish. Instead of an obstacle race
or a rat trap, it makes daily life a joyous pursuit.

Just in case you missed it, what has been gifted by Krishnamurti to Miller and what Miller is now gifting his readers is simply the one single truth. This is it, folks, what everyone is seeking, what the hucksters are husks-ting, be they prophets, poets, presidents, priests ... the big one. You, too, can quit that pesky full-time job and make thousands a month doing next to nothing ... and it's the truth. Krishnamurti is first in line to say a guru is someone who picks your pocket and sells you back what you already had.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Respect My Authoritah
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Let's just recap for a sec:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ore on Terror
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

See the thread here? I'm just guessing, but I'd bet Henry Miller wouldn't be laughing ... not laughing at all. There's the gift.

Ok, so maybe I didn't really relax and put my feet up after all.

Here is another poem from Huff's wonder full collection Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners: Selected Poems. I've ever you feel there is no hope, pick up.

Huff'll talk you down.

Some days I just let
..................everything go
and sink into the neighborhood,
sit on a bench front of the bakery,
talk to anyone that passes
and don't think about
..................anything at all.
I think they call that
Albert Huffstickler

thinking of taking off?
goose on tiptoe
on tiptoe
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fire Down Below: Issa's Sunday Service, #56

Today's text for the Sunday Service comes courtesy of Issa favorite Nick Cave, with a nod to Malachi, from the fantastic collection of sea shanties entitled Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys. Even if only have a vague interest in traditional folk music, you are bound to find something intriguing here. This collection in general, and this cut in particular, is not for the faint at heart (nor for those easily offended by foul language and lewd behavior). Now that I've got your attention I do hope you enjoy foul language and lewd behavior nearly as much as me.

One can hardly think about a song entitled "Fire Down Below" without conjuring up the Motor City's esteemed son, Bob Seger, so for those of you who thunk this is what you were getting when you headed this way, here it is:


This week's poem comes from issue #82, August 1996 - click the issue number for 7 more poems from same, which came out originally in August 1996,

Working with Wood
That old carving
I thought I was
looking for, that
I have sought
out in museums
and shops, has
turned out to be
this life.
James Tipton

seaside temple--
among the wood chips
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, June 18, 2010

William Carlos Williams: Summer Song

Photo - Life Magazine

As they said in the old day's, "sumer is icumen" and so this little number, courtesy of the Poem-A-Day website, seems most appropriate:

Summer Song
Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer's smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
where would they carry me?
William Carlos Williams

And, of course, if you're over 80 (or saw the movie Rushmore), it's hard not to free associate the Williams title with this little ditty:

summer night--
the moon by the river
just a sliver
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Rose for Emily: Issa's Sunday Service, #55

Tomorrow is the birthday of the keyboard impresario of The Zombies, Rod Argent. Known for their hit singles "Tell Her No," "She's Not There," and the classic "Time of the Season," The Zombies song "A Rose for Emily" comes from their master song cycle, Odyssey and Oracle. A classic case of borrowing a title and then making it all their own, "A Rose for Emily" has nothing to do with William Faulkner's Gothic short story masterpiece of the same title. Still the allusion is there and the song is here. The song, something like "Eleanor Rigby" as seen through the eyes of Syd Barrett, is a classic you may have never heard. As for Faulkner, he wrote many a chilling line and this one is right up there:

"Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head."

Oh, yeah.


This week's poem from the archive comes from Lilliput Review #81, August 1996. It is by the late Joseph Semenovich and, oh, how it sings:

poet's lament
there's hardly a piece of silence
i can listen to
without myself
trying to accompany it
Joseph Semenovich

quite a feat--
in utter silence
the plum tree blooms
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, June 11, 2010

Scott Watson: On Translating

I am privileged to be on a list of email recipents of the thoughts, poems, and translations of Scott Watson. Back in Lilliput issues numbering in the 120's and 130's, I published a number of Scott's renderings of haiku masters Taneda Santoka and Basho. In a recent mailing, Scott shared his thoughts on the art of translation. I was struck by them and thought you might be, too, so I requested permission to post his musings here. He graciously acceded to my request and, in addition, has allowed me to reprint the 5 translations of Santoka that were published in Lillie. I hope you enjoy this and the translations; I'm happy to say that I will be publishing two more Santoka renderings by Scott in a future issue.


Translator’s Words

Ten years ago I wrote: “There is neither rhyme nor
reason to my method here. Just that each poem I take
--from wherever I take it--one at a time and follow
wherever it takes me, and if feels like it is two lines I
put it in two lines; if it feels like two words, two words
are what it is. Some go to four lines, some three. It
depends on how I sense each poem with, as, and in my
life-and-death, my breath, words.”

Ten years later all that can be added is that continuing
along with Santoka the poems his poems start in me at
times feel as if there is a trickling as with the flow of a
brook only downward. A small and gentle waterfall.

Others seem to call for a single ink brush stroke across
the page. These are the ones with what I call the Zen
grammar, which is a label I use for lack of a better one
to describe his poems that use a possessive to modify
a possessive to modify a possessive and how such a
poem retraces itself to a beginningless beginning.

Some choose to call this simple ungrammaticality that
may be a result of Santoka being a lubricated with drink
when composingor editing his work, but I think not.
Drunk or sober, the challenge is to respond to those
poems as my own wordlife. That requires letting go of
whatever protocol or accepted language behavior one
may have picked up over the years at home or at schools.
One must be uninhibited. One has to go with the flow.

Back in the USA sisters Clara Wright and Marsha Benson
at elementary school class parties used to complain that
white boys can’t dance. But they’d dance with me. It’s not
just a matter of knowing the right steps. The words
eventually appear and feel to me as if they are the ones
needed, the words that seem to best respond as Santoka’s
poem lives through me. Dance to the music beyond

Much is intuition. A sense of things that comes out of the
blue. Though I can live, sense things, through the Japanese
language I can’t say that I’m an official expert. No
certificates adorn my walls. At times I need a dictionary
and at times, with Santoka, even a dictionary does not help.
I ask Morie. Sometimes she can help, other times she can't.
I’m not out to make versions that are grammatically or
technically correct. If Santoka’s original has a present
progressive verb form it doesn’t mean my version will.
Anyway no linguist to my knowledge has ever proved that
a progressive verb in Japanese is exactly the same as a
progressive verb in English. They’re just labels anyway.

English is not Japanese, Japanese is not English. I am not
Santoka, Santoka is not me. I don’t accept translation in
the sense that this is equivalent to that. I do what I can.

Scott Watson
Sendai, Japan
June 3, 2010


5 poems by Taneda Santoka as rendered by Scott Watson

falling leaves
deep deep seeing

air raid sirens
one after another
persimmons are red

with the crowd around
a dead body
a sky without clouds

no matter news is
good or bad
spring snow



For some further thoughts on Santoka, check out my review Mountain Tasting here. And now, one from a third master, Issa:

dying to the beat
of the prayer to Buddha...
one leaf falls
translated by David G. Lanoue


Monday, June 7, 2010

Albert Huffstickler: Rainbow Grill, Downtown Austin

Here's another reason you should seriously consider picking up Albert Huffstickler's selected poems, Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners. There are so many fine poems in this collection, it just does not stop coming at you. As far as I can ascertain, it is the only collection still in print and readily available.

Rainbow Grill, Downtown Austin
Skin knows.
It drinks morning light.
Wine of the flesh.
Seated by the window,
I absorb it
with my morning coffee,
thinking how like love it is.
Wine of the flesh
Wine of the soul
Remembrance of clarity
Albert Huffstickler

a clear view
in the soup kettle...
Milky Way
translated by David G. Lanoue


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sharkey's Night: Issa's Sunday Service, #54

Laurie Anderson & Husband

Saturday June 5th was the birthday of avant-garde performance artist Laurie Anderson. There is a lot by Anderson that might find its way onto Issa's Sunday Service, but I've always been particularly fond of this little number, which was one of Mr. Burroughs's, Mr. William Burroughs that is, first forays into "mass media."

Paging Mr. Sharkey, white courtesy telephone please ...

And here is a special little treat:

As good as that performance is, it just is missing something without the big guy's voice. See here is another little oddity by Big Bill, called "Ah Pook."


This week's poem comes from the broadside spectacles of poverty, by scarecrow (Charlie Mehrhoff), published as Lilliput Review, #80, in June 1996. Additional poems from this broadside may be found in this earlier post.

each word a letter,
a mirror
held up to the soul.

or better: writing is the scratching
of ancient dust from mirrors.

(even the words of others
(part of your face.

Mister Monkey too
wears a funny face...
plum blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


Friday, June 4, 2010

Gerald Stern's "Weeping and Wailing"

Weeping and Wailing
I like the way my little harp makes trees
leap, how putting the metal between my teeth
makes half the animals in my backyard quiver,
how plucking the sweet tongue make the stars
live together in love and ecstasy.

I bend my face and cock my head. My eyes
are open wide listening to the sound.
My hand goes up and down like a hummingbird.
My mouth is opening and closing, I am singing
in harmony, I am weeping and wailing.
Gerald Stern

"Weeping and Wailing" is from Gerald Stern's collection Paradise Poems, which just last week was added to The Near Perfect Books of Poetry list, which will be surpassing the 250 title mark presently.

I added this one personally as I have once again been reading Stern's selected poems entitled This Time in preparation for the "3 Poems By Discussion" next week at the library. While reading the selection there from Paradise Poems, I found myself saying, well, this one's great and this one's great etc. and every one was great, so I wanted to see which ones were not included and bought the original. It soon became apparent that nearly all the poems that weren't included were pretty great, too, hence the addition.

awaiting the stars--
even a turtle cools
his behind
translated by David G. Lanoue


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Struck by Lightning"

A poet is someone "who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times." Randall Jarrell, as quoted by David Orr in his review of Robert Hass's new volume of selected poems.

This is a sentiment I've always ascribed to and which was considered at length in a bestselling novel that I reviewed for another blog. So, the next time you see a bunch of old dogs standing out in the rain and not moving, you know what's going down.

lightning flash--
in pampas grass ensconced
a fifty year-old's face
translated by David G. Lanoue