Friday, December 31, 2010

John Martone: scrittura povera

John Martone is one of the finest purveyors of the short form in English today.  Certainly, he is one of my favorites.  When one of his gorgeous minimalist productions arrives in my mailbox, I am thrilled in a way recent books rarely thrill me today.

scrittura povera ("poor writing") is the latest volume to come from John and it opens with this intriguing epigraph:

hempen clothes and paper bedding ... ippen

The quotation is interesting, giving a little foot in the door of the master's hut.  Which master, you ask?

Ah, that is the question.
For those who might be interested, here is a very informative article on Hijiri Ippen, the master quoted in the epigraph, from Hermitary, a resource on hermits and solitude.  For those who want the poems on their own terms (I frequently fall in this school myself, hence this option), I would suggest simply skipping the article and head right to the poems below.

Well, enough of context, on to text!  Or, perhaps, as we look at the opening poem, we see the poet has given us both at once:

see that

that's yr

Not quite a riddle, eh; for those who take a wholistic approach to existence, this makes sense.  For those who are blues aficionados, the lyric "the stream flows to the river, the river flows to the sea"  may come to mind.  The image is not a trope, it is quite literal.

down to 3
cardboard boxes
and his teeth

An even cursory glance at the Hermitary article gives up the concept eremiticism, the life of the hermit.  Ippen was a hermit and a monk, who ultimately traveled widely spreading his belief in  Pure Land Buddhism.   The speaker here, too, exhibits hermit-like qualities - all life is honed down to 3 cardboard boxes and teeth, maybe just 3 of those, too.

how much time
do you need
morning glory

In terms of modern haiku, it just doesn't get much better than this.  There is certainly a touch of Issa here, a perfect balancing between the comic and the serious.  It is, as is life, both at the same time.  The same principle underlies the following:

everywhere after
a good sleep

Here the speaker begins with misery and ends with happiness - how many of us would think of the good sleep we had after an onslaught of bed bugs?  We might even think the two elements of the haiku are backwards, when it is us, our lives, that are backwards, or at least our perception of them.




Their is something at once contemporary and timeless about this observed scene.  Virtually all of us have seen a variation of the same, yet how often does it call to mind something nearly mythic, evoked by the simple circle.

prairie grasses
a human being
also standing upright

Classic haiku often compares/contrasts seemingly disparate elements; the resolution of these disparities (a mountain in a dragonfly's eye, a snail climbing, climbing, climbing Mount Fuji) evokes the oneness of all things.  Here the oneness of all life, the life essence, is perfectly conjured.

chimney swifts stitch a day's end

There is a beautiful, imagistic, Buson-like quality to this - it is almost as if the insect-hunting swifts are actually gathering pieces of darkness together into night (all in 6 brief words).

watching that spider
you wash yr hands

One of Issa's most popular haiku - the fly wringing it's hands, wringing it's feet - is thought of here; though not as pyrotechnic, this haiku is even better, because it drops out the anthropomorphic quality and connects all beings in a simple gesture.

not one word
a night song

This perfectly evokes the hermit life - there is such a wonderful quality to the idea of song without words, be it bird, animal, or person.

in an apartment under the moon

Sensing the presence of the moon in an enclosed, sealed building also reminds us of the hermit experience and what it must be like for someone who lives alone in a remote area to experience living with others.  A less talented poet would be tempted to "finish this poem."

fossil hunting
my life
of the spirit

As lovers of haiku know and as mentioned above, many a great poem in this form derives from disparate elements.   What does fossil hunting have to do with the life of the spirit?  Well, here is a perfect example of a poem in which the denouement takes place in the reader's head or, if you will, the reader is left to complete the poem.

So I'll leave that one to you, with only the thought that I enjoyed it very much.



This last poem throws us back on a single word, a word we think we know, a word that, if we don't encounter it daily, we certainly encounter with great frequency.  What, oh what, does romance mean?

It means so many things and is such a lovely way to end a book, and a blog post, that I'll end as John Martone ends - right here.


By way of explanation: with a fair amount of regularity, I post on Fridays and Sundays.  Friday concentrates on poetry related issues, Sunday, leans more toward music of a literary bend, with a healthy dose of poetry.  In both postings I feature a poem (or poems) from back issues in the Lilliput archive.  Somehow, I got two separate strands going with the postings for the different days.  Currently, the Friday post, as with this one, is featuring issues counting down from the current issues; the Sunday post contains poems from issues counting up from #1.  Two different strands, which occasionally pass through the night, which is exactly what happened recently.

Just a few weeks ago, I featured two poems by Albert Huffstickler from issue #117.  Here's a third from the same issue.  Wave as we pass by.  A braid of two contiguous time travel strands, if you will.
Note to self: ease up on the Doctor Who reruns.


I imagine my mother
seated at the yellow table
in her kitchen
sunlight touching
her still face:
so few people
we ever really know.
Albert Huffstickler

burning mosquitoes--
in the paper lamp
my dear one's face
translated by David G. Lanoue

Happy New Year, everyone.


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Anonymous said...

I remember not too many full-moons ago
this Hermitary site thanks for re-finding it for me


lots -uve KNEW 'stuff' I have not read before from ...them.... actually
lots and lots and lots of NEW 'stuff' I have not since read ...or will

JM ... a National Treasure

truly an anyboddhi

this Urban Hermit .... K.

Fred said...

thanks for introducing me to John Martone. I had not heard of him before.

Happy New Year!

WV: bless--must be significant.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


As always, thanks - glad you reconnected with Hermitary site ... John "anyboddhi" Martone, indeed.


Well, John is too well kept a secret. I forgot to include a link to a boatload of his poems. I've corrected that in the first line of the post.

Read him - I'm sure you will be overwhelmed with the resonance of simplicity.


Poet Hound said...

Thanks for sharing more of John Martone's works, I enjoyed his poem in issue #177 of Lilliput Review. I also enjoy the discussion on poetry and hermits as I often wish I was a hermit to have more time to myself.

Anonymous said...

this goes di-rectly t'it:

the secret is
there is no secret

Anyboddhi CAN "just do It!"


Charles Gramlich said...

This introduced me to something new I hadn't seen before. Very interesting.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks for the deep link, Ed ...

Paula, glad you like John's work ...

Thanks, as always, for visiting, Charles.

Anonymous said...

January 1st
step outside into
yr new skin

For JM from KTW

thanks for this post, don. john really is a treasure.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, KTW - I feel blessed with your work, also ...


Frank Parker said...

Hi Don -
Thanks for the LR. Came in the mail and I've been meaning to thank you.

Thanks too for extolling John Martone's new work. Always a pleasure.

A few more of his poems can be found on my web site:

31 December 2010

flowers frost
flute notes sky
moon the year


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

You are welcome, Frank - always a pleasure. And thanks for the tip over to more work by John. He is incredible. And for the ku - very nice.