Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chen-ou Liu & Scott Terrill: Wednesday Haiku, Week 69

Pacific shore...
a tidal wave speaking
my mother tongue
   Chen-ou Liu

Gravestone/Monument Dealer, Jackson, Ohio, 1936


etched in names
etched in stone
my shadow
   Scott Terrill

 LW & DW

my dead mother--
every time I see the ocean
every time...
    translated by David G. Lanoue


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Saturday, May 26, 2012

R. H. Blyth and D. H. Lawrence: Flower and Fade

Last Saturday, I wrote a little about R. H. Blyth, his philosophy and style, and his approach to haiku.  A little further along in volume 1 of the 4 volume masterwork, Haiku, that I was discussing, under the section entitled "No, Ikebana, Cha no Yu," is the following:

It should be noted once for all, that art and poetry and drama, learning and religion, architecture and music, are far closer to one another in the East than in the West. In this sense, the East is easy to understand; if you know one properly, you know all,-but an understanding of western architecture  is no guarantee of an appreciation of Bach, nor that of Kantian metaphysics.  The multifarious incoherence of the various forms of Western culture gives them a kind of vitality and indeterminate direction of development which makes Eastern culture seem a little monotonous, a little lifeless in comparison. The truth is that that the East knows how to live, but does not do it; the West does not know how.  As D. H. Lawrence said,
Life and love are life and love, a bunch of violets is a bunch of violets, and to drag in the idea of a point is to ruin everything.  Live and let live, love and let love, flower and fade, and follow the natural curve, which flows on, pointless.

Often Blyth makes gross generalizations, some spot-on, others marginally off, and others to make the point at hand and simply move on. Many of the seeming contradictions in his work stem from this approach. At times, it seems that perhaps his writing style itself might best be described as Zen.

For some folks, there is lots to disagree with here.  What really is the point he is trying to make, and does the DHL quote make it for him, or is that something else altogether?

When thinking on Eastern thought, nf the Tao and Zen, we must realize that it isn't one of the other when it comes to duality: it is both, it is all.

As Whitman sang:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


Bruce Springsteen's Rocky Ground

We don't often think of the art of the music video, that it can, in fact, be film, engaging and creative, same as the music it attempts to capture. Above is the perfect dovetailing of two art forms. Quite a video, quite a song.

whichever way I turn...
    translated by David G. Lanoue


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Carolyne Rohrig & Rehn Kovacic: Wednesday Haiku, Week 68

Photo by Carolyn Rohrig

the weight of one blossom
on the old man's head

          Carolyne Rohrig

                                                        Artwork by Utagawa Kuniyosh

Watching birds
    on the computer screen,
       the cat types her own haiku.
                       Rehn Kovacic

Photo Courtesy of Flower Pictures

fluttering their way
into my head...
plum blossoms

    translated by David G. Lanoue


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Saturday, May 19, 2012

R. H. Blyth: The Aim of Haiku

Original brass dies for 1860 version

Sometimes, it seems that R. H. Blyth is to modern American haiku as Sigmund Freud is to modern psychology: a bit of a dotty old granddad, overdressed in a woolen suit on a hot, humid day, crumbs of this and that all down his front, with a glint in his eye of philosophical shenanigans none too pleasing to the parents in attendance.

Of course, all the grand kids are jumping up and down in his lap like there's no tomorrow.

Perhaps the comparison to Freud seems a stretch, though for many, I suspect, it is spot on.  Tracing the root of all things to infantile sexuality and the heart of haiku to Zen is quaint, indeed, for many, but consider, at least in the case of Freud: we are all, famous, infamous, and other, products of our time.  Could there have been any other time in history aside from the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century (think: Victorian England, for example) when all might be traced back to our murderous instincts for ma and pa?

Though this all seems very antiquated, it got me to thinking about what Joseph Campbell observed concerning fundamentalists of all religious denominations.  He noted that all the trouble starts (i.e. the purges, the wars, the torturing, and the deaths) when the metaphoric scripture of any particular sect (he was thinking predominately of the 'desert religions') was taken literally.  Literally, there was a Virgin Birth, literally an ascent to Heaven, literally a parting of the seas etc.

If one turned to the dottering grandfather and didn't mistake the metaphor for the reality, one might recognize a little something other in that glint.

Mr. Blyth beats the drum loud and long for Zen and haiku and, to my ears, at least, it is a most pleasing sound.  One can no more divorce spirituality from the origin of haiku than one can from life itself.  Notice the particular use of the "S" word, as opposed to the "R" word.

Participating, as I have recently in a weekly book discussion group concerning volume one of Blyth's four volume work Haiku, all this was underscored for me emphatically.  What exasperated the group, some of whom were coming to haiku study for the first time, was the myriad contradictions one encounters from page to page and from chapter to chapter throughout.

Delightfully, exasperation transmuted into something like a humorous acceptance: it would seem the teacher was also a practitioner.  This was most definitely a case of do what I do, as well as what I say.  So, throughout, one encounters many, many definitions of haiku, as well as poetry in general, and Zen, and philosophy itself, some complementary, many contradictory, all informative, and some even enlightening. 

In the complementary area, comes the following two quotes, within 10 pages of each other, working toward defining the "aim of haiku."

Coming now to the general differences between waka and haiku, we may say once more that waka aim at beauty, a somewhat superficial beauty sometimes, that excludes all ugly things. The aim of haiku is not beauty; it is something much deeper and wider.  It is significance, a poetical significance, "a shock of mild surprises", that the poet receives when the haiku is born, and the reader when it is reborn in his mind.  (pages 113-114)

In his second take on the aim of haiku, Blyth takes off from a quote from Master Bashō:

Haikai has for its object the setting to rights of common parlance and ordinary language.

Blyth comments:

This is one of those profound sayings which can and should be interpreted in a variety of ways. Bashō wanted our daily prose turned into poetry, the realization that the commonest events and actions of life may be done significantly, the deeper use of all language, written and spoken.  Our lives are slovenly, imitative. We live, as Lawrence said, like the illustrated covers of magazines.  Comfort is our aim, and dissatisfaction is all we achieve.  The aim of haiku is to live twenty four hours a day, that is, to put meaning into every moment, a meaning that may be intense or diffuse, but never ceases.  (page 119)

Significant, indeed; never mind that, for clarity, we might slip in 'reality TV' for 'the illustrated covers of magazines' for relevance.  For me, what is most important here is what Blyth specifically does not say, and in how he universalizes his point.  His first statement, re: significance above, is about process and, I believe, it goes right to the heart of the form that is haiku.  The second has a little more of that glint in his eye, also alluded to above. As such I find it magnanimously inclusive and not a bit exclusive at all.

Just a little further on, in another 'definition' of the haiku form, we get a bit of a hint at the fact that Blyth's own approach to his subject is analogous to how he perceives the form itself:

Waka began as literature, haiku as a kind of sporting with words.  Bashō made it literature, and yet something beyond and above literature, a process of discovery rather than creation, using words as means, not ends, as a chisel that removes the rock hiding the statue beneath. (page 121) 

Again that certain something is not said and, so, to, for me:

'Nuff said.

         People are few
Leaves also fall
        Now and then
          trans. R. H. Blyth


into the sunken hearth
they're swept...
red leaves
translated by David G. Lanoue

Photo by earl53


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dawn Bruce & James Krotzman: Wednesday Haiku, Week 67

Photo by Theodor Horydczak


new year's day
last year's grime
still on the window
     Dawn Bruce

Photo by James Krotzman

calm autumn evening
a fish jumps into a tree
on Lake Mendota

      James Krotzman 

Photo by T.Voekler

the grime of a thousand
houses floats too...
lotus blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Saturday, May 12, 2012

William Killen: Haiku 1, Second Version

A few weeks back, I received the unique item pictured above from the poet William Killen.  I've published his work previously, and so was intrigued by the little volume he sent.

And I was not disappointed.

First of all, there was the uniqueness of the little chapbook itself - as William let me know, each copy of the book is unique.  Each is hand painted and, as such, different from all the rest; the only thing the same from copy to copy is the 24 haiku.   Below, you can see two pages at the books center, which happen to contain two poems I like very much.  Click on the image and you can see the design close up, as well as the poems.

Click on image to enlarge

Each run of the book is limited to 2 dozen, 24 books in all, and if and when they run out, he does another run of 24, again completely unique.

Though I very much enjoy craft, I must confess it is content that I focus on.  What I find in Killen's work is a quietness, a sense of image and observation, that is very reminiscent, for me, of the spirit of original haiku, the spirit of hokku.  There are poems that remind me of the masters, particularly Bashō and Buson in their more contemplative modes.

I love the poem pictured on the left hand side of the above page:

fog at first light
a distant dog barks

Sound, sight, and touch all converge here: first light brings the condensation that forms the fog which, in its density, softens the dogs bark.

Dare I say a perfect moment?

A number of poems here unite the human and natural worlds and the one pictured above right is a good example:

in gray light
he sips tea
watches horses graze

The horses grazing and the human sipping, all enveloped in the gray light, are exactly captured, equal in what they do: here all things are one.  Again, in the following, the interaction of human and animal world underscores oneness:

gray winter evening
crone collects herbs
crows scatter

On one level, there is the wise old woman and the crows sharing a space; it is possible to read the 2nd and 3rd lines as enjambed and a different take may be perceived. At another border of human and natural, we see the overlapping of sentience:

bowl still empty
she furrows her brow
flops down

I'll quote one more as I don't want to give away the show, just a taste:

dogs bark
at the car coming
pansies flutter

Once again, there is an interaction, a fusing of worlds.  This poem might be seen as an unconscious updating of a Buson classic:

     the heavy wagon
rumbles by:
     the peony quivers
                   tr. R. H. Blyth

The more modern poem adds, appropriately, an extra dimension: there is the human (car), animal (dogs), and natural/plant (peonies), all affecting, one and the other.

Ah, what a world, and what fine, perceptive poet's vision we get to see it through.

If you'd like read more and hold this beautiful little volume in your hands, contact the poet directly: Bill Killen, 33 Valley River Drive, Murphy, NC  28906.  The chapbooks are $10 apiece, plus $1.10 shipping.   


pounding the seven herbs
doesn't drown him out...
translated by David G. Lanoue

Crow and Heron by Suzuki Harunobu


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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Larry Barak & Aditya Bahl: Wednesday Haiku, Week 66

Photo by Elliot K.

in syncopation
with the hooting of the owl –
dripping tap
        Larry Barak

Bashō - Horohoroto

mountain behind mountain behind mountain
petals of a rose

                         Aditya Bahl

The poem in the above artwork by Bashō may be translated:

quietly, quietly
yellow mountain roses fall -
sound of the rapids


 Photo by Yann

tonight's moon--
no mountain not like
the ones back home  
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lenore Kandel: Collected Poems

Due to a confluence of circumstances - being a woman in the male-centric mode of Beat literature, being involved in a motorcycle accident that abruptly postponed a burgeoning career, and virtually disappearing from the public eye altogether - the work of one of the Beat Generation's most talented poets has been virtually forgotten.

Until now.

The publication of The Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel, published by North Atlantic Books, is a major milestone in the history of Beat and I'm here to report, after finishing the volume, that it is everything an enthusiastic reader might anticipate and much, much more.

If you go through the literature - the anthologies, the studies, the critiques - you will find a real paucity of material by and about Lenore Kandel.  In some cases, her work is completely neglected.  She is missing, for instance, from Bill Morgan's recent The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete Uncensored History of the Beat Generation, from Anne Waldman's The Beat Reader (though she is in the Waldman edited The Beat Book) and minimally mentioned in Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation and Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers and The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.  For some, her late arrival on the SF scene, coupled with her relative obscurity (in one interview Anne Waldman characterized her as "a recluse"), may have led to this exclusion.

She is fairly represented in Women of the Beat Generation by Brenda Knight, Rick Peabody's A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and there are interesting interviews with her in The Beat Generation by Bruce Cook and Voices from the Love Generation edited by Leonard Wolf.  There are plenty of more resources out there, both lacking and representational on Kandel, if you're willing to dig.

All this goes a long way to why this collection is so welcome.   A great majority of the poetry published in this volume is over 40 years old and has never been gathered together in one place until now.

A very fine piece on Kandel, by John M. Carey, can be found in Beat Culture:Lifestyles, Icons and Impact by William LawlorAs recounted by Lawlor, from the early age of 12 she was interested in poetry and Buddhism.  Her first published work appeared in 1959, collected in Complete Poems in the section "Poems from Three Penny Chapbooks."  In San Francisco she met other Beat poets interested in Eastern culture at the East-West House, notably Lew Welch and Gary Snyder.  Soon affiliated with SF Renaissance writers, she went to Big Sur with Welch and Jack Kerouac, and was later portrayed by Kerouac as Romana Schwartz in his novel Big Sur.

There are number of penetrating quotes from her about this period in Jack's Book, the oral biography by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee, in which she perceptively portrays Kerouac as at once deeply troubled yet still notably giving and generous to those around him. A voracious reader, she was greatly influenced by Kerouac's poetics and his deep interest in Buddhism  She spent a number of years studying at the East-West House and became an important figure in the emerging Hippie movement, being the only major woman participant in the Summer of Love's Human Be-In and a member of the infamous Diggers.

The Love Book, published in 1966, became victim of a symbolic crackdown by newly elected California governor, Ronald Reagan.  In a raid of the Psychedelic Shop and City Lights Bookshop, the chapbook was confiscated and subsequently prosecuted as obscene.   Though the decision was eventually overturned, The Love Book was found by the jury to be obscene and, according to Charles Perry in The Haight Ashbury, the chapbook, which had sold only 50 copies up to that time, went on to sell over 20,000 after achieving notoriety. Kandel accordingly announced that she would donate 1% of the profits to the SF Police Retirement Association.

As can be seen from the cover below, a detail from a Tibetan scroll, her focus on sex and love was based in part on Hindi/Buddhist sources, something of a philosophy of transcendence as may be found in Tantricism as it is thought of in the popular imagination.  If ever there was a poetic document that might be thought of as representational of the Love Generation, the Sexual Revolution, and what was the hippie incarnation of the Free Love philosophy, this would have to be given due consideration as it.  Certainly it was in fact less a product of its time than it was in the vanguard of bringing these ideas to the attention of the artistic community and later the culture at large. 

The two primary volumes published during her lifetime - one being the transcendent, controversial chapbook The Love Book, as mentioned above, and the other the fine monograph Word Alchemyare here both in their entirety in the Collected Poems, along with over 150 pages of poetry seeing book publication for the first time.  The uncollected material is gathered into 4 sections: "Poems from Three Penny Press Chapbooks (1959)," "Poems from Little Magazines and Broadsides (1960-1992)," "Unpublished Works," and "A Fictional Sketch (1953)."

The Collected Poems is worth having just for bringing the first two volumes back into print, both of which are major works in the Beat canon.  What is found in the other four sections, however, will delight long-time Kandel fans and those new to her work.  Though there are a number of fine brief poems, it is the longer lyrical work, running from 1 to 6 pages, that is her forté and there are plenty of fine examples in Collected that have either never seen the light of day or were only published once and disappeared.

I've been a big fan of Kandel ever since I picked up a copy of Word Alchemy in a used bookshop many, many years ago.  Her work is, if you had to chose between one of the essential four elements, fire.  It is ecstatic, numinous, tapped into the original source. The love she writes of is highly erotized, highly sexualized, done in a manner which was shocking for the time and still might raise eyebrows today.  Her themes and style serves as a perfect bridge between the Beat movement poets and those of the Love/Hippie generation that followed.

What is of great importance is the context within which she worked.  There is a mystic quality to her musings, a struggle for transcendence that at once mirrored that of the 60s generation and prefigured the massive interest of things Eastern that the Beats were bringing to the cultural fore. She was balls out before the men even thought of showing up, and, though this may end up being her claim to renown, it is hardly all she encompassed.  Her work is straight forward, superbly paced and a bit surreal, with an occasional sweet, slightly dated naivete, but never more so than any of her contemporaries.  Erotized love is grounded with Kandel in Eastern spirituality; as mentioned above, there is a distinct Hindi flavor to her work, with Buddhist tones, and I found myself thinking of the Tantric tradition more than once while immersed in her work.   As such, "The Love Poem" reads and serves as a kind of sexualized/spiritual manifesto, one that continues in poems such as "The Love-Lust Poem," "Three/Love Poem," "Baby listen ..." and "Fuck/Angel" (From the Little Magazine section).

Sometimes, reading through the volume felt like working a dig site, excavating the past, its concerns, its excentricites and its delights.  As one progresses through, side by side with her love manifesto and the pursuit of a new way of engaging the world is the drug culture in its positive and negative aspect, the gradual dissolution of the 60s dream, and a world peopled with junkie angels.  A fine example that captures both sides of that dream may be found in the following:

Poem for Tyrants
sentient beings are numberless-
         I vow to enlighten them all
-The First Vow of Buddhism
it seems I must love even you
easier loving the pretty things
the children   the morning glories
easier    (as compassion grows)
to love the stranger

easy even to realize      (with compassion)
the pain and terror implicit in those
who treat the world around them
with such brutality     such hate

but oh   I am no christ
blessing my executioners
I am no buddha   no saint
nor have I that incandescent strength
of faith illuminated

yet   even so
you are a sentient being
breathing this air
even as I am a sentient being
breathing this air
seeking my own enlightenment
I must seek yours

if I had love enough
if I had faith enough
perhaps I could transcend your path
and alter even that

forgive me, then 
I cannot love you yet

One of her oft anthologized poems, First They Slaughtered the Angels, captures the darkness, head-on.  Here is the first of 4 sections:

First They Slaughtered the Angels


First they slaughtered the angels
tying their thin white legs with wired cords
opening their silk throats with icy knives
They died fluttering their wings like chickens
and their immortal blood wet the burning ground

we watched from the underground
from the gravestones, the crypts
chewing our bony fingers
shivering in our piss-stained winding sheets
The seraphs and the cherubim are gone
they have eaten them and cracked their bones for marrow
they have wiped their asses on angel feathers
and now they walk the rubbled streets with
eyes like fire pits

This is a poem from the section "Poems from Little Magazines and Broadsides (1960-1992)," dealing with transcendence in an almost matter of fact manner, with sometimes the eye of a botanist, at other times the eye of an archeologist, always the eye of All:

Hawaiian Mountain

Up here on the mountain there is nothing to forget
whatever is is incontestable
The sun rising over the eastern trees
starts the earliest birds
spiraling their songs against the sky
and the luminous light of dawn exposes the land
the coarse thick grass of the pastures glows with a living green
lush, vibrant, a brilliance that accosts the eye
the trees are various,
groves of a darker green edging the hilly ridge
silver leaved solitaires, and dead bare branches
mock foliated with pale green and vivid orange lichens
not many flowers grow this high
small crimson secrets that bloom hidden in the grass
a million insects scuttle through the larder of the day
the spider hanging watchful in his web
Full moon and the sun illuminates my mind
I sit on the edge of the cliff, trying to discern the difference
between my body and my thought
watching the white waves of the ocean stand frozen
twenty six hundred feet below my toes
brown-and-white and black the cattle dot the pastures
eating their way through bovine eternity
chewing oblivion with their grass-pale white lashed eyes
The clouds blow white across the sky
descending now and then to hang in the tree tops
or drift across the valleys below the mountain
and I look down on clouds
At evening the sun rolls below the ocean horizon
banners of light across the sky-glass of the Pacific
black lava coast, and the waters roll out
toward the sunset horizon
At night I listen to the stars, articulate prisms of the night
the resonance of light is music
and the air vibrates with rainbow flickers
connecting star and star across the plains of space
the moon hangs liquid in the sky, mad mirror of my dreams
sweet silver light chime-tinkling in my brain
later the wind blows, playing the planetary harp
arpeggios that echo in my breath

Up here on the mountain there are no façades to the universe
defenses of the civic mind negate themselves
and the search for the spirit totem claims the star
not earth alone has built this mountain nor this me
but earth one facet of the universal jewel
this light that pulses through the sky is part of me and I of it
this mountain and myself, life-rooted in oceanic earth
I stand upon its slopes of dormant fire
learning to listen
one more expansion of the unexpectant eye

Lastly, here is a poem from Word Alchemy, one that marries the erotic and the philosophical to the lyric, followed by a reading by Lenore from The Love BookThose who are language sensitive or easily offended (how you ever made it here, or this far, is a wonder) be forewarned:

Invocation for Mitreya

to invoke the divinity in man with the mutual gift of love
with love as animate and bright as death
the alchemical transfiguration of two separate entities
into one efflorescent deity made manifest in radiant human flesh
our bodies whirling through cosmos, the kiss of heartbeats
the subtle cognizance of hand for hand, and tongue for tongue
the warm moist fabric of the body opening into start-shot rose
the dewy cock effulgent as it burst the star
sweet cunt-mouth of world serpent Ouroboros girding the
as it takes its own eternal cock, and cock and cunt united
        join the circle
moving through realms of flesh made fantasy and fantasy made 
love as a force that melts the skin so that our bodies join
one cell at a time
until there is nothing left but the radiant universe
the meteors of light flaming through wordless skies
until there is nothing left but the smell of love
but the taste of love, but the fact of love
until love lies dreaming in the crotch of god. . . .

This is but the merest taste of what will prove to be one of the major original primary source documents of 20th century Beat culture published in the 21st century.  If you are at all inclined to the Beat ethos, don't miss this one, folks: it is poetry, it is culture, it is history, it is religion, it is life.  Kudos to North Atlantic Books, to Vicki Pollack, to Evan Karp, and to Lisa Kot for all helping to bring this fantastic volume together.

And most of all to Lenore Kandel for a spirit, a love, and a creativity that continues to reverberate down through the years.

The following youtube video is of Kandel reading from (and commenting on) her poem To Fuck with Love, Phase 2 from The Love Book.  


Along with the main text of Collected Poems, there are some other aspects of great interest.  First and foremost is Kandel's wonderful other manifesto, published separately and later in Word Alchemy, usually known as Poetry is Never Compromise, which is one of the finest statements of purpose to come out of the Beat Movement and is provided here as an introduction and is essential reading.  Diane di Prima, a long time friend of Kandel, provides a lyric, anecdotal, stream of consciousness preface entitled "Invitation to the Journey: An Homage for Lenore Kandel."  Also there is a necessarily brief biography, an index, and a Notes section which contains bibliographic info that is particularly helpful with the Three Penny Chapbooks and Little Magazines and Broadsides section.


from one corner to another
his searching eyes
  translated by David G. Lanoue


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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Valli Poole & Chen-ou Liu: Wednesday Haiku, Week 65

Photo by Karen Johnson

I stop to speak
a tiger lily
nods agreement
      Valli Poole

 A Philosopher (Chuang-Tzu) Watching a Pair of Butterflies by Hokusai

winter solstice...
two monarchs flutter
out of my dream

     Chen-ou Liu

Photo by Vreni Welser

one came
and two left...
garden butterflies
  translated by David G. Lanoue


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