Saturday, March 31, 2012

John Bennett: Rainy Day Rag Man (for Gregory Corso)

Rainy Day Rag Man
John Bennett

(for Gregory Corso  1930 - 2001)

He's barking at the moon. He's barking up the wrong tree. He's tangled up in blue. He's shoplifting dialects and dangling them with hangman's rope from his crash-pad ceiling. On come the black lights, the strobe lights, the bright lights, the stage lights--let there be light! he cries out, naked as a blue jay and flat-out on the shag rug, throwing darts at the ceiling.

He's seen rumors flying like wounded bats and false evidence stuck like gum to his shoe soles. He's seen dreams go up in smoke, grave conclusions dumped in body bags from hot-air balloons, fist-sized monkeys nailed to fence posts. He's grown gun-shy of false promise, mauled hope, pontifications and the fine-print of love. His soul is like an ironclad Merrimack sending volleys over the bow of a Nantucket schooner. The Lie is self--perpetrating, the dark stain is everywhere.

He's a rainy day rag man with a push-cart mind, a midnight tailor in the attic stitching pockets shut. He's the mutant love child of our unabashed sham.

He's the weather vane that tells how the wind blows, the dimpled vulva of the wicked queen, the death throe of our whacked self-importance as we prance around like wind-up toys with our chests puffed out. He's the last train to Brooklyn, the last prophet before Humpty-Dumpty takes the dive.

He has other names too if you're interested, but of course you're not, this being Sunday, a time for worship and contact sports.

-- John Bennett


What simple profundities
What profound simplicities
To sit down among the trees
and breathe with them
in murmur brool and breeze —

And how can I trust them
who pollute the sky
with heavens
the below with hells

Well, humankind,
I’m part of you
and so my son

but neither of us
will believe
your big sad lie
Gregory Corso

Finally Corso reading from Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues, the 230th and 19th choruses, from the Salen State Archives:

spring breeze--
a thicket mouse
caught by the dog
     translated by David G. Lanoue


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

M. S. Rooney & Edgar W. Hopper: Wednesday Haiku, Week 60

Great Bronze Buddha at Kamakura

morning snow flurries
have covered the bronze Buddha
hidden reflections
M. S. Rooney 

old photograph
i smile
at my mother's smile
Edgar W. Hopper

in the great bronze
Buddha's nose chirping...
sparrow babies
     translated by David G. Lanoue


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Saturday, March 24, 2012

R. H. Blyth: Two Views of a Paper Lantern, Pen Nib, & Eel Catcher

 Two Views of a Paper Lantern (Kano, Nov. 1878)

Yet it still remains true that the squeaking of the nib I write with it has more meaning and less error in it than anything I can write down.
     R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1, pg 195

a long day--
the eel catcher writes pictures
on the water
     translated by David G. Lanoue


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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gary LeBel and Aditya Bahl: Wednesday Haiku Week 59

Photograph by Carolyne Rohrig

sunlight on the water
between the angler and the river
the line so thin
Gary LeBel

Photograph by Dobromila

winter morning-
mother steam irons a shirt
the wrinkles on her face
Aditya Bahl


without seeing sunlight
the winter camellia
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Theresa Williams: The Galaxy to Ourselves

More than a few moons ago, a poet I know asked if I would look over her manuscript of a forthcoming collection, with the possibility of providing a back cover blurb.  Since I've always enjoyed her work, I was happy to do so.

The book, The Galaxy of Ourselves by Theresa Williams, was a volume of haibun.

I've never been a big fan of haibun.  There is a very fine balance between the prose and poetry elements of haibun and, usually, I find one, the other, or both deficient.  Rare, indeed, are the times when the two click and become that rare thing: a true haibun.  Though I probably couldn't come up with a decent definition of prose poetry, it is a form that, when done well, I love.  I probably know that it is unfair to ask the prose part of a haibun to be up to the level of a prose poem, but I do it anyway.  At the very least, the prose should build up to the ecstatic haiku moment.  I believe there should be some otherness, some building toward transcendence that requires a more charged language or imagery (or both) than is found in standard prose.

Think of The Great Gatsby, followed by the ultimate haiku:

So we beat on,
boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly
into the past.

Yes, I know, it's not a haiku, but you get the idea.

In most haibun I read, the prose is either an explanation or extension of the haiku.  For me, the measurement for this is simple: can the haiku stand alone?  If it can't, the bottom drops out.  No true haiku, no true haibun.

The Galaxy of Ourselves, thankfully, repeatedly, proves me wrong.

As with many wonderful books of poetry,  The Galaxy of Ourselves is the chronicle of a journey.  In some books, the journey is figurative, in others quite literal.  Like the haibun, Theresa Williams' journey is a blend, a fine blend of the figurative and the literal.

If the theme of The Galaxy of Ourselves were a heavenly body, it would be one which we, the readers and the poet, circle around again and again.  In this case the theme or leitmotif is the loss of a companion, a friend, a husband, a lover, whose absence is as if a physical presence, with the weight of gravity, which we constantly parallel and are drawn to, to which we constantly return.

The haibun that chronicle the poet's journey do not stick strictly to a particular approach.  Sometimes the haiku comes at the beginning, sometimes in the middle, sometimes, as is more traditional, at the end.  This approach feels natural, feels organic: the haibun overall is what it is, it comes into being in its own right and, as it result, it feels, as it should, precisely so. 

The journey, with the poet Ryokan and a dog as occasional companions, goes up and down rivers, across plains, and through the vast landscape of memory.  It celebrates the mystery of not knowing, the pain, joy and suffering of the journey, the bedrock certainty of the unknown.  Here are three fine examples:

Out There

The great steamship Arabia was built here in
Brownsville, the city that dies beside the Monongahela
River, the city where my own journey begins.  I will
float a thousand miles to Cairo, faring better, I  hope
than Arabia, which disappeared in Missouri mud in
1856. More than a century later, when the ship was
found, the trappings of daily life were intact: cooking
pots, shoes, flasks, and pipes. But where the beloved?
This human sadness, no one is immune. Even Ryokan
sleeps with his sleeves turned back to show his grief.
And, traveling by boat, Princess Kagami once said,
"Even a breeze may fail me when I desire it." And now
my own boat is ready. I push off. Out there: remnants
of the Teays, salt licks where mammoths died beneath
the muck, earth tombs of the mound builders.

veiled stars
a coal train clattering
on the tracks


In Repair

In 1878, the Steamer John Porter, up from New
Orleans, suffered a broken rocker shaft and stopped at
Gallipolis, bringing the yellow fever that killed 66-
people. Today a man comes into the shoe repair
wanting new soles on his cowboy boots and the scuff
marks doctored. He's middle-aged, tired and thin. His
wife was sick a long time before she died.  "I got
married again," the man says, making an uncomfortable
sound deep in his throat. He takes out his wallet. "See,
here's a picture of her right here." The cobbler takes a
deep, long look at the photograph and nods his approval.
Then he delicately slips a boot over a metal form.

sandstone pillar
it marks the height
of prior floods

Parting with Grief

We live a life of emotions, moving from one to another
sometimes with great difficulty. Parting with grief, for
instance, might be like trying to go through a river lock
for the very first time. One imagines getting stuck
outside the impossible gate, forever circling. One
imagines cutting the motor, drifting toward the bank,
watching the stag come to drink. How he burns. The
wound is red, the skin transparent over the ribs. The
clenching heart can be seen.

a figure passing by
a lighted window


One thing I like very much about these poems is the room that they leave the viewer, the reader, the listener, to wander.  The emotional arena opens up like a Midwestern field on a crystal clear, cold evening or, better still,  the sky above that field, a vast emotional canvas filled with stars.

A galaxy.

Looking back on the blurb I wrote so many months ago, I wondered how I would feel now, rereading the book many months later.  Here's that blurb:

Beyond form, beyond style, there is a great wisdom here -
in the mundane, the everyday, in sorrow, in grief, in joy,
in ecstasy - which is the essence of the word, the essence
of poetry.  It deserves the greatest compliment any book
might receive: this is life.

So long ago these words were written: did they still ring true?  Reading the blurb again, I remembered I originally read the book again and again and again, not so much for the little details it might give up through close attention as to let the pure feeling wash over me again and again, a feeling of wisdom and love and wonder.

Turns out this is one of the very rare times, indeed, when I wouldn't change a word.


to my window
he comes as usual...
thin mist
                    translated by David G. Lanoue


Wednesday Haiku will return next week.

Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 129 songs

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Leonard J. Cirino: 1943-2012

I'm sorry to report, another fine small press poet has died: Leonard J. Cirino.  Over the years, I've published a few pieces by Leonard in Lilliput Review.  He was unique; what appealed to me about his work was a lyrical quality that displayed a fine mix of detail and philosophy, with a faintly Eastern sensibility.  Indeed, he loved the classic Eastern poets, as in the following:

The Road Going Nowhere after So Chongju

The road going somewhere always leads to an end.
Sadness, like a red blossom, also comes to an end.
The limbs of a willow bend to the stream, the moon
descends. Sorrow, an ache laced with opium, and joy
that never ends. The floating worlds go on in a dream.
What of the taste and stiff scent of blood?
Its stain? The road long coming home?

                Leonard J. Cirino   
                Lilliput Review, #176

The poet and friend of Leonard, RD Armstrong, has done a fine tribute over at the Lummox Writers' Press Club.  Check it out if you get a chance, it's a fine modern elegy.  In addition, listen to Leonard  being interviewed by RD over at Blog Talk Radio on The Jane Crown Show or via the following widget:

A couple of Leonard's poems, the first from his last book and the second, originally published in America back in 2007.

Forty Years of Nightmares
   Here the clouds are great churches – Deborah Diggs
Judged harshly by my enemies, I say,
Let them cast the first stone.
I’ll know
the last judgement when my time comes;
with the clouds and seas as my proper
form of worship, along with the streams,
mountains, the trees and stones.
I never had to stay in the dark of my room
or stand in a corner. Life never punished me
until madness ran amok with my body,
my brain. i could have been Frida
struck by a bus, or Deborah falling,
jumping from the stadium’s heights.
Let them cast lots among the shadows like ghosts.
I know my place in the dark and the light.

    from Leonard's last book The Instrument of Others
   Pygmy Forest Press

Accept the Gift A Letter to James Wright, Deceased
Like snow, the poem breaks into petals
and crystals, sharp things like stilettos.
It is just now April, or mid-May,
the shadows of flowers lie neglected
in the garden while cedar and fir hang
lovely in the long-gone frost of March.

Why does it take some happiness
and a loneliness one can only cry for
to make these poems? I’m sorry you had
the gift. It makes for a miserable life.

How Ohio lived in you, your verse freed
and standing on its own, like a colt,
or an orphan removed from the nest
only to have its illusions shattered
in the world wide enough that you can’t
know yourself, or any part but Ohio,
and all things west, north, south, the distance
from home one calls a map of the earth.

Published in America Magazine April 30, 2007

Leonard reading "I Dream Your Voice":


And these 3 are for Leonard.  I believe he would like them very much ... rest in peace.


The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.  
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
There they are, the moons young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
James Wright

Saying Good bye to MenHao-jan
at Yellow Crane Pavilion

You said goodbye at Yellow Crane Pavilion
and sailed west, down into the valley
through the flowers and the mist of spring
until your lonely sail vanished
in the blue sky's horizon.

and I was left watching the river
flowing gently into heaven
Li Po
translated by Sam Hamill

you're growing old...
but what a voice!

                    translated by David G. Lanoue


Wednesday Haiku will return next week.

Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 129 songs

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Neal Cassady: The Denver Years & Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill: Athair

A couple of items of interest: a new public television special, Neal Cassady: The Denver Years and a reading of Athair (Father) by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.   Enjoy.

my father saw
this same damn mountain...
winter seclusion
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 129 songs

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Susan Diridoni & Stella Pierides: Wednesday Haiku, Week 58

"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. 
Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. 
Do not build any homes below this point." 1.

rhythm-robbed surf spilled on stone-carved kanji
                                        Susan Diridoni


autumn wind –
the weight of loneliness
Stella Pierides 


autumn wind--
Issa's heart and mind
translated by David G. Lanoue



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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 129 songs