Sunday, June 29, 2014

Issa's Sunday Service, #190: Sufjan Stevens, O'Connor, Springsteen, and Robert Bly

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There have been any number of songs with the title "A Good Man is Hard to Find," many that have no association with the writer, Flannery O'Connor.

Sufjan Stevens's version is definitely not one of them:

A Good Man is Hard to Find

Once in the backyard
She was once like me, she was once like me
Twice when I killed them
They were once at peace, 
they were once like me

Hold to your gun, man 
and put off all your peace
Put off all the beast
Paid a full of these, I wait for it, 
but someone's once like me
She was once like me

I once was better
I put off all my grief, I put off all my grief
And so I go to hell, I wait for it
But someone's left me creased 
and someone's left me creased

Bruce Springsteen has also expressed great admiration for the writer Flannery O'Connor, who was just last week referenced in a William Stafford poem. For all the details of the Springsteen connection, check out this article at Dappled Things entitled "Naming Sin: Flannery O'Connor's Mark on Bruce Springsteen." 

Here's the Boss with a live rendition of "A Good Man is Hard to Find," performed right here in Pittsburgh

A Good Man Is Hard to Find  (Pittsburgh)

It's cloudy out in Pittsburgh, it's raining in Saigon
Snow's fallin' all across the Michigan line
Well she sits by the lights of her Christmas tree
With the radio softly on
Thinkin' how a good man is so hard to find

Well once she had a fella
Once she was somebody's girl
And she gave all she had that one last time
Now there's a little girl asleep in the back room
She's gonna have to tell about the meanness in this world
And how a good man is so hard to find

Well there's pictures on the table by her bed
Him in his dress greens and her in her wedding white
She remembers how the world was the day he left
And now how that world is dead
And a good man is so hard to find

She ain't got no time now for Casanovas
Yeah those days are gone
She don't want that anymore, she's made up her mind
Just somebody to hold her as the night gets on
When a good man is so hard to find

Well she shuts off the TV and without a word
And into bed she climbs
Well she thinks how it was all so wasted
And how expendable their dreams all were
When a good man was so hard to find

Well it's cloudy out in Pittsburgh

As you may have noticed, the song has a sub or alternate title: "Pittsburgh." It seems that, beyond the title and its appearance as a line in the song, there is little here that relates to O'Connor except perhaps tone. At a Springsteen lyrics site (Lebanese!), Bruce is quoted about the song and he mentions the first time he met Ron Kovic, the author of "Born on the Fourth of July." 

If you haven't read the original, it's here - for how long, who knows.


I ran across this Robert Bly poem this morning in his collection Talking into the Ear of a Donkey - this is my 3rd or 4th time reading the book over the last 3 years or so and it just gets better and better. 

At first there didn't seem to be a connection to the above song, then I started to think more closely about the original story and it seems my mind is, as usual, making connections that on surface I'm not immediately aware.

It's life and life only:

Keeping Quiet

A friend of mine says that every war
Is some violence in childhood coming closer.
Those whoppings in the shed weren't a joke.
On the whole, it didn't turn out well.

This has been going on for thousands
Of years! It doesn't change.  Something
Happened to me, and I can't tell
Anyone, so it will happen to you.
Robert Bly

Photo by Danny Hammontree via fotor


swatting a fly
but hitting
the Buddha

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

William Stafford and Hafiz

    Ultimate Problems

    In the Aztec design God crowds
    into the little pea that is rolling
    out of the picture.
    All the rest extends bleaker
    because God has gone away.

    In the White Man design, though,
    no pea is there.
    God is everywhere
    but hard to see.

    The Aztecs frown at this.

    How do you know He is everywhere?
    And how did He get out of the pea?

            ~ William Stafford


As I've noted in passing, over the last couple of months I've been reading Eastern mystic poets: Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz, and Ghalib, to mention just a few. My current morning practice involves a stack of some 7 or so books, from which I read 1 to 4 poems each. In this rotation of wonder are the translations of Robert Bly (as well as others) of the above mystics, the poetry of William Stafford, and the new translation of the collected haiku of Buson, by W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento.

As one might imagine, sparks have been flying.

One early morning, I was struck by a poem of William Stafford's, thinking: "That sounds like Ghalib." I also thought, I'm probably not awake enough to be discerning and this is my mind just goofing around or, worse, nodding off. After all, the poem was entitled "A Song in the Manner of Flannery O'Connor."

I had to be way off base.

Ghalib, along with Kabir, have been the two mystics who have struck me deeply, the latter in a Krishnamurti finger-wagging kind-of-way, and the former in a down-to-earth, challenged in my faith, all-too-human manner. 

As a result, I've been searching out various translations to get more and more of a feel for these two poets. One day, I ran across a little pamphlet of translations of Ghalib by Ahmad Aijaz, which I later found out was excerpted from a larger book, entitled Ghazals of Ghalib. The translator had help from a number of distinguished English language poets, including Adrienne Rich, W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, David Ray ... and William Stafford. 

Ah, my instinct, and my ignorance, revealed.  

The question remains, for me, why exactly I thought of Ghalib when I read this Stafford poem:

Song in the Manner of Flannery O'Connor
Snow on the mountain--water in
the valley: you beat a mule and
it works hard, Honey.
    Have a cigarette?

Where is the guidepost? Written on
your hand.  You point place with it
and everyone understands.
    Like to dance, Honey?

Country folks used to talk to us
like this. Now they're wiser
than the rest of us.
     So long, Sucker. 

I'm guessing that it is a combination of direct address - "Like to dance, Honey?" - and an unabiding realism about what's what on this little spinning pea of ours. Ultimately, it may be tone - in the following case, perhaps the flip side of the same coin:

        Pulling Out the Chair

        Pulling out the chair
         Beneath your mind
And watching you fall upon God--

         What else is there
           For Hafiz to do
  That is any fun in this World!
translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Though a bit of a free associative ramble, I hope some of this makes sense. If not, perhaps the poems themselves will pay my fine for indulging a bit too long and a bit too discursively. 



Woodblock by Sügakudö

the nightingale sings
with a country twang...

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seánan Forbes & Rehn Kovacic: Wednesday Haiku, #183

 Woodblock by Utam0ro

cherry blossoms
springtime falling
through our hands
Seánan Forbes

 Detail of Kacho-e woodblock

between notes--
     cricket song.

Rehn Kovacic

Scholar Gazing at the Moon (19th century)

spring moon--
if I touched it
it would drip

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

K. Ramesh and Kala Ramesh: Wednesday Haiku, #182

Van Gogh

nothing to lose
nothing to gain...
starlit sky

K. Ramesh

Photo by Bob Jenkins

a beggar
lifts her palms to passersby 

hardened earth
Kala Ramesh

 Kashira of Tanabata Festival by Oishi Akichika

my stars--
a gang of old men
in the Milky Way

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Learning to Bow: Kabir

Photo by Paul Synott

What has death and a thick body dances before
   what has no thick body and no death.
The trumpet says: "I am you."
The spiritual master arrives and bows down to the
   beginning student.
Try to live to see this!

               ~ Kabir
                  version by Robert Bly 

What follows is a video of three poems by Kabir, read by Robert Bly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Photo by Tony Hammond

                            to the old woman
                            doing laundry, the evening
                            willow bows

                                       translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shloka Shankar & Ramesh Anand: Wednesday Haiku, #181

winter chill...
the patchwork quilt smells
of memories

Shloka Shankar

 Photo by NJ

train pane mist
she rubs
on the other side

Ramesh Anand

grumble, grumble
in the winter quilt..

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Prodigal Son: Issa's Sunday Service, #189

Prodigal Son - Rolling Stones & Rev. Robert Wilkins
Hard to believe that I've managed 188 some sessions of the Sunday Service and the Rolling Stones "Prodigal Son" hasn't appeared. 

Those who are old enough, or who are music aficionados, remember "the confusion" when the band failed to credit the composer, Rev. Robert Wilkins, back in 1969, when it appeared on Beggars' Banquet. The original cover pictured, front and back, was a graffiti covered bathroom, with credits to Wilkins for Prodigal. Somehow, the replacement cover dropped the credit to Wilkins (you can see it here) and simply credited Jagger/Richards in the usual fashion. Here are the two covers side by side:

Be these things as they may, here is the Rev. Wilkins himself, bringing Sunday to the Sunday Service. As you will note, the arrangement, as well as the words, are largely as the Stones would use.

Why wreck perfection?

For those needing a Bible refresher, here's the original.


 Photo by Sunfrog1

the lost child
clutches them tightly...
cherry blossoms

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.