We have a snow day today in Albuquerque so I'm taking the time to post my first of 52 Haiku. It's not much by East Coast standards but there's not a snow plow or a salt pile in this city and so the drive in is treacherous with even a half inch.
That's my front pinon tree and Mexican feather grass hunkering down outside my office. I've always loved Mexican feather grass from my days of working at Marina Del Rey in the left white tower. The corner there, bordering Ralphs grocery store, is lined with it and I loved to watch it blowing in the wind.
Anyway, this week's prompt comes from the Zen by the Brush book by Myoshi Nancy O'Hara.
Calm yourself with breath-
Dip the brush, hold gently, draw.
Whatever comes, comes.
So the first task is to meditation that for 5-10 minutes or however long you feel is good.
I did a drawing on a sumi-e board, which is just water as ink that fades within a minute or two. This is supposed to teach you about letting go and impermanence. But I'm struggling with that so I took photos with my phone. :-)
Right after drawing it and after propping it up on its stand (which made the ink run as it faded away).
Then I wrote a haiku inspired by the drawings.
River rising fear
Turtles drying in the sun
Then swimming away
It was a day of anxiety at work when I did this exercise. We have new leadership and old wounds. And I still feel sad for all that happened last year. Hopefully the kus will help me work through it.
Now you try it.
Even though my life was out of control last year, I did manage to keep reading...to keep sane! These books below were worth talking about.
This slim book is an anthology of essays from Poetry magazine, non-poets who read poetry and what they get out of it, from scientists to doctors to war correspondents. It was a bit dry but interesting to me. I like that Poetry magazine is searching for relevance outside of poetry writers. I'm not sure what was missing for me, but something was. I'll keep thinking about it. The essays are filled with great thoughts though, lots of quotable material. A few examples:
American Philosopher Richard Rorty talks about poetry as friendship, “I now wish I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose...rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts--just as I would have if I had made more close friends.”
Tex expert Xeni Jardin talks about poetry like a machine, “Poetry is, you might say, the command-line prompt of the human operating system, a stream of characters that calls forth action, that elicits response.”
PBS NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown quotes Haitian poet Frankétienne with a very pragmatic view, “Words cannot save the world” and Brown continues, “Look around you, see the destruction, the stupidity, the despair, and you have to believe he’s right. And yet an account must be given.”
Residuum by Martin Rock was finally a poetry experiment worth reading. These are cross out experiments that read like real time edits. Poems go in multiple directions at once. Some edits are around truth or specificity or political correctness or just the political. My first fear was this is gonna suck. It did not suck. The branches were illuminating. There are not so many poems in the book that it feels overwhelming. Also, each poem is framed by a black and white photo of a machine circuit and a body circuit which plays on the idea of circuits in thinking and the writing process.
There are probably many strategies for reading these, but I approached it by reading the crossed out words first and then backing up and reading the rewrite. It can be read like conscious corrections of the unconscious. They’re impossible to quote, but here are some examples (click to enlarge):
Taking about Residuum to a friend, we also discussed how tired we were of reading generic confessionals from the 80s, the cryptic one and a half pagers we all used to write (and I still do!). The form is dead and old, we decided. We were hungry for experiments done well.
When I picked up this book I thought it would be more of that. And there are poems like that, Muske-Dukes process the death of her husband and a childhood in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. But there were some great things in here too, like “Condolence Note: Los Angeles” about sending condolences in the modern era, “River Road,” a compact thing of grief, “Heroine” a poem essay about Jane Eyre and Rochester and the problems of this couple:
"Except for the matter of the thread, the breath-colored
Filament linking two hearts with pretty much nothing
In common. The thread pulses like a Bronte umbilical,
Which it is.."
There’s also a great poem about hate mail, called..."Hate Mail.” And the best poem was almost a kind of response about the limits of confessional poems, a poem called “Parrot” which ends:
I think I know, the Parrot protests. I honestly think
I know, but I am so tired of squawking the same
Profound shimmering insights--& nobody listening!
So the old style does not lose value with the new.
Early last year while visiting Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, for a hot springs soak at Fire Water Lodge (they accept pets), I found this used book, Poetics, Essays on the Art of Poetry, edited by paul Mariani and George Murphy. It’s filled with the essays of poets extolled in my undergrad and graduate classes and is filled with the au courant thinking about poetry circa the late 70s and early 80s.
Jonathan Holden talks about “where we are now” with modernism and postmodernism: “...the revolution has left the poet in America a bureaucratic specialist isolated in a university as in a laboratory, conducting endless experiments with poetic form, and in an adversary relation to general culture.”
Paul Breslin talks about how to read a contemporary poem: “It has a stock rhetoric of portentousness, and all too often its mysteries are only the trivial mystification of cant and code.”
Charles Simic talks about negative culpability, uncertainties and the positions you take as a poet: “One can say with some confidence that the poet writing today can no longer be bound to any one standpoint, that he no longer has the option of being a surrealist or an imagist fifty years after and to the exclusion of everything else that has been understood since.”
Brendan Galvin writes about compassion and writing “close to the bone” that becomes self indulgence: “...real frisson doesn’t come from hyperbole, but from understatement.”
Galway Kinnell writes about self absorption and the school of self dissection: “The poetry of this century is marked by extreme self-absorption. So we have been a “school” of self-dissection, the so-called confessional poets, who sometimes strike me as being interested in their own experience to the exclusion of everyone else’s.”
Tess Gallagher writes about poetry as a reservoir for grief and the communication of poems to their audiences: “Poems, through ambiguity and the enrichments of images and metaphor, invite our returns.”
Sandra Gilbert talks about the poems of self-definition and modern views about female confession and the madwoman trope: “Men tell her that she is a muse. Yet she knows that she is not a muse...men tell her she is the angel in the house, yet she doesn’t feel angelic, and wonders, therefore, if she is a devil, a witch….Men tell her that she is Molly Bloom, Mother Earth, Istar, a fertility goddess...They tell her….that she should not mean but be.”
Alicia Ostriker talks about the female divided self and covers poets from Anne Bradstreet to Lucille Clifton in four categories: authenticity, anatomy, sexual politics, and love poetry: “Raised up to be narcissists, which is a game every woman ultimately loses, we must laugh that we many not weep.”
Howard Nemerov talks about image and metaphor (loved this so much I bought his book of essays): “I will add that one can love a poet without being either cajoled or bulldozed into believing his theories.“
Robert Hass talks about rhythm and prosody: “Free-verse poems do not commit themselves so soon to a particular order, but they are poems so they commit themselves to the idea of its possibility, and, as soon as recurrences begin to develop, an order begins to emerge.” and “Two is an exchange, three is a circle of energy, Lewis Hyde has said, talking about economics.”
Stanley Plumly talks about silences: “That remarkable tension between how and why, the lyric and the dramatic, between lingering and needing to go on, between the horizontal rhythm of the line and the vertical rhythm of the story, with the balance always favoring the movement down, is what gives free verse its authority."
Stephen Dobyns talks about metaphor and memory: “...it is the ability of metaphor to elicit large non-verbal perceptions that is one of the great strengths of poetry and what can make a poem immediately convincing.”
William Matthews writes about poetry as knowledge: “A writer who speaks of having something to say is almost always doomed by that obligation to bad writing, unless he or she is willing to append: ‘but I don’t yet know what it is.’”
William Stafford writes about diction: “Where words come into consciousness, baffles me.”
Michael Ryan talks about primordial images: “I think if there is anything in us that is purely preliterate and unconscious, it is rhythm. We are subject to its influences incessantly, and our lives depend on it”
Lisel Muller talks about germanic and romance words (my copy is missing the final pages of this essay but I really enjoyed it): “The tradition of French poetry, Bonnefoy says, is abstract; it deals with essences. French poets want generic words, unlike English ones, who want the specific.”
Robert Pack talks about silences, Caesuras, and ellipses.
Denise Levertov writes about the function of the line: “The fact is, they are confused about what the line is at all, and consequently some of our best and most influential poets have increasingly turned to the prose paragraph for what I feel are the wrong reasons--less from a sense of the peculiar virtues of the prose poem than from a despair of making sense of the line.”
Marvin Bell writes about re-reading and learning about rhetoric: “...the great achievements of American poetry have been essentially rhetorical, those of rhetoric rather than of image and metaphor, or of imagination, structure and vision” and “...the poem is primarily a set of rhetorical maneuvers.”
When I was in New York City recently I found a Walt Whitman finger puppet at the Museum of the City of New York. They're made by Magnetic Personalities and so I went online to try to collect more. They're finger puppets with little magnets in the backs of their heads. I’m trying to figure out how to get a fridge into my home office.
I had a real hard time choosing my puppets. There were so many, literally hundreds of writers alone! I decided to focus on American writers, and mostly poets or other writers who have inspired me. I wanted as many women poets as I could find. I also looked for puppets of color and there were only three (James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston and Langston Hughes), a depressingly small number.
Where’s Richard Wright? He’s one of my favorite writers. I’m not a big fan of Hurston and I haven’t read enough of Baldwin, unfortunately. But I snapped up Hughes. I’m hoping more puppets of color are created, including some American Indian and Hispanic puppets. And more women.
Synopsis of the ones I just purchased (in order of those pictured above):
Edgar Allan Poe
“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins?
His bio: Lifetime of disappointment, illness, poverty, mental anguish, dark genius, classic horror stories, helped define his genre, “his haunting poem of love lost, The Raven, is among the most famous in the world," father of the short story, the detective story "as well as an early innovator of science fiction."
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
His bio: Spirited, self published, continued to revise and augment Leaves of Grass, introduced a "distinctive American voice extolling his country’s democratic spirit," critics dismissed his original style and sexual themes, admirers included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Bram Stoker.
“Against the assault of Laughter nothing can hold.”
His bio: "Led a life of adventure, both real and invented," Mississippi steamboat pilot, prospector, journalist, "humorous writings and flamboyant personality made him one of the most popular celebrities of his time," Mark Twain is a Mississippi river pilot term meaning two fathoms deep (12 feet), the depth required for a steamboat to navigate through.
"As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.”
Her bio: Brilliant, unconventional punctuation, poems have no titles, 2,500 poems survive and about 1,000 letters and her herbarium.
“I, too, sing America.”
His bio: A playwright, newspaper columnist, novelist, best known for his poetry, was the first African American poet to earn his living by writing and lecturing, was "discouraged by both black and white critics—for different reasons—but found his audience….”
“Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.”
Her bio: Founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, wrote poems, short stories, screenplay, theater reviews, sarcastic wit, model for independent, intelligent literary women.
Her bio: Pulitzer Prize winning poet, semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar has never gone out of print over 50 years.
“So it goes.” –Slaughterhouse-Five
His bio: Harsh, humorous portrayal of modern society, counter-culture hero, a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden, anti-war, pro-civil liberties humanist, novels best sellers and classics.
I love these little guys. And I guess this gives you something to aspire to. Someday I can only hope to be a finger puppet too.
I’m starting a new online class Monday on Digital Storytelling, which I’m hoping will lead to a series of hands-on classes on Digital Storytelling that I can twist into poetry projects. I loved my last digital lit class, Electronic Literature, which led me to one or two books about digital lit. But I’m half experiment-lover and half Luddite so whenever I do this electronic lit stuff I always want to try to ground myself in something very physical around writing. This usually turns out to be haiku, which can be very quiet and tactile.
So I haven’t forgotten my 52 haiku project (which got shafted in last year's drama) and I hope to start this in the next few weeks: one haiku prompt a week for 52 weeks. I’ve added the component of Sumi ink drawing to it (for something even more tactile: haikus with little drawings. Truth: I utterly suck and drawing but I’ve purchased two things for the project:
So once a week I’ll post the prompt, my haiku and drawing and any other experience with it. Anybody can work along with me now or in a few months down the line or in a few years when you come across this post in the backwaters of the Internets.
This will be the instruction each week:
Researching this project, I came across a very cool Aliens Sumi ink drawing by a modern Sumi artist who attributes this work to Qi Baishi (齐白石). Read more about it.
I haven’t been blogging but I have been reading. Here's a roll-up of some of the books of poetry I've read this year.
Looking Back to Place
This is a very small run of an anthology of New Mexico poets, published by the Harwood Arts Center in Albuquerque. I couldn't even find a photo of the book jacket online. Lame. The back cover talks about people’s relationship to place and how place is sacred, etc. But it wasn’t a very satisfying look at the place that is New Mexico. There were few good NM poems but the scope was not limited to this state. Jill Battson had two good poems: “Lightning” and “As Seen from New Mexico” and Maresa Irene Thompson’s “What Water Means to Desert People” was great. I probably has higher expectations since the project was such a locally produced one.
I found the complete opposite result with Inez Hunt’s High Country Poems. Obviously self-published but I managed to find that cover online! This is a book I found in Las Vegas, New Mexico, at the very fine local bookstore there, Tome on the Range. Yes, the book looks awfully self-published and by that I mean bad graphics, bad layout, bad titles and really distracting backgrounds. The book practically reeks of bad design ideas. Did I mention the complete font overdo on every poem? But guess what? Looks are deceiving. Yes, the poems are classic, stereotypical western poems. But the writing was so much better than your average cowboy poet. I now wildly speculate that Inez Hunt was simply out of print and some friend or family member put together this anthology of her best poems out of kindness and respect. I’m not 100% on this theory but she apparently did leave poems to her daughter and now here we are with this great thing.
Excerpts from "Ghost Town House"
...storms strike hard
To shake the chinking loose
And cold settles in a down-draft
Through a sodden flue.
Glass shatters or is stolen,
Leaving hungry holes.
The floors break through
Where memory grows too heavy for the joist.
The rats gnaw tediously along with Time
In little bites.
On a recent trip to Arizona, I picked up With the River on Our Faces by Emmy Perez at the University bookstore in Tuscon. Perez’s poems of place depict Southern Texas and El Paso. Perez also writes Rio Grande poems and poems about border politics. “The History of Silence” was the best poem inside and I wished I could find the long poem transcribed online so I could include it in my Poems for Dictators list. Her poems are meandering like rivers and occasionally remote. Some of her gaps are too mystifying and obscure, but there’s a 2016 poem that mentions Trump’s wall.
Pat Mora books always feels like a good poetry deal to me. This book covers all forms of water topics: the sea, rivers, rain, birth and general wetness. It’s about women and water, about danger, slyness, erotica, Frida Kahlo. The poems have some great titles, like “Coatlicue’s Rules: Advice from an Aztec Goddess” and “Malinche’s Tips.” This poem invokes the landscape of the southwest that I feel and smell everyday. Mora also gets political about borders in poems like “La Migra” ("Let’s play La Migra /I’ll be the Boarder Patrol.”)
The amazing poem “Let Us Hold Hands” is often posted online as a healing or political poem performed in a convocation.
I also picked up the book Buzzing Hemisphere by Urayoan Noel in Tuscon under the faculty authors section. This is an amazingly experimental book about translation. Poems are in Spanish and English but never strictly translated. Noel takes liberties with his own poems! The book is also about borders between hemispheres, politically speaking, and the hemispheres of the brain. Noel uses language experiments with word play, spacing, bolding, layout, numerics, letter casing, and experiments in word choice for his translations. For instance, in English the word might be “musicians” but in Spanish the word is “mercenario.” So translations become inter-textural! And some of these experiments are no small feat (pun intended). There’s a form he calls a Sunnet in there, a syllabic staircase sonnet that manages a mono-rhyme poem with the correct syllabics in both Spanish and English. There are also poems that use Google Translate, anagrams created with anagram apps (one called United States shaped into a concrete poem), poems translated from spoken word. English and Spanish are shuffled around.
For anyone interested in the art of translation, this is a great book for you.
Recently, my parents moved from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania (where they retired) to Cleveland, Ohio, where my brother lives. I spent two weeks in late 2016 helping them comb through 30 years of stuff and stage it for removal to local charities or trash. My mom and I have never particularly shared the same interests in books. She likes historical fiction and I like experimental fiction (as a kid I liked scary fiction!). But anyway, in her stack of books to give away she had a book called Poe & Fanny, a novel by John May, an historical novel about a literary figure, Edgar Allan Poe, about a particular time in his life. So as historical fiction, the story is highly speculative but it portrays a very historically detailed account of Edgar Allan Poe’s time in New York City.
It takes place right at the time his most famous poem, “The Raven,” had been published. Poe was living with his wife and mother-in-law (who were also his cousin and Aunt) and explores an affair he was having with one of his admirers, up-and-coming poet Fanny Osgood. The novel doesn’t really prove an affair happened but offers an interesting possibility.
Chapters switch points of view between Poe, Fanny, his mother in law and his editor friend Willis.
The books reads like a historical fiction but there are interesting parts of academic considerations, like on page 25 where you learn in detail about the feud between Poe and Longfellow, which apparently was more of a paid editorial intended to drum up subscriptions for the offending paper. Author John May considers what Poe might have really thought of Longfellow as a writer, his meter, awkwardness and poetic ambition.
Pages 39 and 52 talk about “The Raven” specifically, it’s reception and explication. Fanny meditates on the poem’s sorrow, finds it emotionally compelling, and appreciates its vitality and gravitational pull. She insists the meter is a reflection of the heartbeat. Poe’s friend Willis later considers the poem's use of the name Lenore as a rhymed code word for Poe’s wife Sissy. Willis explores connotations and word derivations in the poem and about Poe’s wife’s impending death of tuberculosis.
Page 64 depicts Poe’s famous recitations of the poem and his affinity with women.
The end of the book includes real poems from Poe and Fanny both referenced in the novel and poems that might reveal evidence of an affair.
The violence and violent rhetoric in America has been very depressing this year. So it was comforting to read the book Revolutionary Memory, Recovering the Poetry of the American Left by Cary Nelson. I learned about this book from a MOOC I took last year on Modernism from the University of Illinois. Nelson hasn’t published an anthology of labor poems yet (and most of these poets are out of print) but this book serves as a veritable introduction to leftist poetry and how it was suppressed out of public consciousness in the 1950s.
Many of the new MOOCs on Modernism are starting to explore more marginalized poets as a refreshing alternative from the academic canon. This includes poets of color writing at the time, not just the Harlem Renaissance but writers who are Asian and American Indian. Nelson also explores the political writers who were all persecuted during the McCarthy Red Scare era which hit hard both Hollywood and academia. Turns out, McCarthyism is still hitting academia hard because these poets are never taught as part of the Modernist era, although they were published in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Langston Hughes is the exception that proves the rule. He is taught widely as part of the Modern Harlem Renaissance but his most most political poems are always excluded.
Nelson reintroduces many poems written about and during the early 20th century labor movement, poems about the Spanish Civil War, and poems about political speech, all which have been essentially erased from our social memory but also from the history of American poetry.
This is a fascinating look at a whole lost genre of poetry, which oddly wasn’t even recovered and repurposed during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
So last May I took a four week, online class called Reading Literature in the Digital Age on the Future Learn platform. It was taught by Philipp Schweighauser at the University of Basel. It was great, except that Schweighauser was doing a Simon Schama impersonation in every video.
The class was about different reading strategies people employ when reading academically or surfing on the web or in social settings. I learned more about deep reading, distant reading and hyper reading. And I’m a practitioner of all of it, for better or worse.
In fact, I've been noticing reading trends particularly around work groups for almost 30 years. When I started working in offices, desktop computers were rare and windows wasn’t even widely available yet. This was before email and the end of paper memorandums delivered into in-boxes actually sitting on corners of desks. I remember hand delivering stacks of memos.
My job now depends on a light understanding of a plethora of web and project management tools. And instead of seeing an increase in customer service with CRMs, better decision making with data-gathering tools, or quicker decision making with mobile access, I've seen a steady decline in productivity, efficiency and customer service and a steady increase in decision paralysis as each year goes by.
This is primarily because tools (and the frantic drive to develop the next hip one) have become a distraction from the work itself and, more specifically, a distraction from deep thinking and solving problems. We are now so pressed for time due to these "time-saving" tools that we’re forced into a reading survivor mode: skimming, winging-it, the bullshitting that has become prevalent in offices everywhere, the bullshitting that signals immediately: I haven't read it. Add to that the attention deficit introduced when spreading our eyeballs over various online media sites and indulging in fun online things which require even more skim-reading. We're now inundated with noise and a barge of "you should read this."
And it’s causing already bureaucratic organizations to crack from the lack of deep consideration over real business problems. Hyper-reading seems to me both the cause and the symptom of our online agonies. Here's an interview with Schweighauser about the class.
XKCD published this cartoon last year about the Digital Resource Lifespan:
Visit the hosted cartoon at https://xkcd.com/1909/ and roll over the graphic for some funny.
I keep coming back to this graphic and sending it around because it's all about intellectual perishability. The Father of the Internet, Vint Cerf, once warned us that decades of intellectual property would someday perish because it's stuck on outmoded formats. Electronic Lit is particularly vulnerable and perishable.
The quote above says it all: “It’s unsettling to realize how quickly digital resources can disappear without ongoing work to maintain them.”
Digital is more labor intensive and perishable than books are for this very reason. And as corporations constantly ask us to switch to new media, we spend money re-buying the same things we already have. And why? As a cross-over example from my other blog interest in Cher, one early Cher album from 1965 has since possibly seen six formats: mono lp, stereo lp, 8-track tape, cassette tape, compact disc and mp3. I have a box of my mother's old 78-records but I can't play them. I have many odd boxes of various types of computer storage systems: 8-inch floppy discs, 3 1/2-inch floppy discs, backup zip cartridges, writable CDs, SD cards, external hard drives, memory sticks. I even have some of my mother's recipes printed on the back of old fortran punch cards my Dad used to bring home from work. Read about the history of removable computer storage.
I also find it interesting that retail stores are now finding “the digital space so crowded” they’re going back to printed catalogs.
It's good we're not killing trees anymore, no doubt. But how to invent a permanent device that beats it for durability; it's hard.
Many thanks to Ann Cefola for her kind review of CMP in annogram.
"Poet Mary McCray’s astonishing second book, while reading like a novel, integrates highly crafted poetics. A gorgeous immersion into southwestern landscape, the Primer is as much a spiritual as external journey. Easterner Silas Cole finds camaraderie in the company of the mysterious Coyote, the quiet cook, and gambling cowboys who teach him to reel in his soul as well as the herd they drive. While Silas can “extract the holes of bullets” and “save them like buttons”, he ultimately learns "nothing but earth wants your bones.” This is a gritty and lyrical narrative I could not resist."
This year I was catching up on old New Yorker issues and I found this very funny wild west mashup, "Frontier Squad Goals."
Some funny samples:
Avoid feeling guilty for saying no to future social plans that would be difficult to attend because we will be living in a new place, for which we have no map.
Eat more unprocessed, clean food, with no mold, no obvious discoloration, and no parasites.
"Incapable of true poetical originality, Whitman had the cleverness to invent a literary trick, and the shrewdness to stick to it."
Peter Bayne, Contemporary Review, 1875
"No, no, this kind of thing won’t do…The good folks down below (I mean posterity) will have none of it."
James Russell Lowell, quoted in The Complete Works Vol 14, 1904
"Whitman is unacquainted with art as a hog is with mathematics."
The London Critic
"Of course, to call it poetry, in any sense, would be mere abuse of language."
William Allingham, letter to W.M. Rossetti, 1857
"Mr. Whitman’s attitude seems monstrous. It is monstrous because it pretends to persuade the soul while it slights the intellect; because it pretends to gratify the feelings while it outrages the taste…Our hearts are often touched through a compromise with the artistic sense but never in direct violation of it."
Henry James, The Nation
"Whitman, like a large shaggy dog, just unchained, souring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon."
Robert Louis Stevenson, Familiar Studies, 1882
"…his lack of a sense of poetic fitness, his failure to understand the business of a poet, is clearly astounding."
Francis Fisher Browne, The Dial, 1882
"He was a vagabond, a reprobate, and his poems contain outbursts of erotomania so artlessly shameless that their parallel in literature would hardly be found with the author’s name attached. For his fame he has to thank just those bestially sensual pieces which first drew him to the attention of all the pruriency of America. He is morally insane, and incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, virtue and crime."
Max Nordau, 1895
Wes Anderson released his beautiful Isle of Dogs this year. Fabulous animated version of a Wes Anderson movie (in look, humor and tone). I own the DVD. I have the giant poster. I wear the t-shirt.
But there were two satirical haikus to open and close the movie.
I turn my back
On human kind
Frost on window pane
And then at the end:
To man’s best friend
Falling spring blossom.
I loved it. I also tracked down Issue 47 of Rattle Magazine for its catalog of Japanese forms. In the back, there's an excellent dialogue on haiku between Timothy Green and Richard Gilbert. They specifically discuss Allen Ginsberg’s famous translation of the Basho frog in a pond poem, explicating its last line, “Kerplunk!” Gilbert says, “the wetlands of Connecticut have bullfrogs and they do kerplunk! And Allen’s from New Jersey and they kerplunk there, but in Japan they don’t kerplunk.” And he goes on to discuss why this translation, however charming, accidentally and significantly changes the meaning of the original poem by altering the size and sound the frog makes when diving into the pond.
And I finally finished a book about translations of a Chinese poem by Weng Wei, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, How a Chinese Poem is Translated by Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz. This overpriced, 50-page book had been on my wish list for a while. And it was an interesting dissection of translation problems with examples of 19 attempts to translate a 1200-year-old 4-line poem that was part of a landscape scroll. The authors provide notes on the Chinese language and how word choice and meter may affect reading. They start with Ezra Pound’s contributions, explain transliteration (word for word or character by character) and then dive into translations chronologically by W.J.B. Fletcher (1919), Witter Byner and Kiang Kang-hu (1929), Soame Jenyns (1944), G. Margoulies (1948) which was French so even the translation needed a translation, Chang Yin-nan and Lewis C. Walmsley (1958), C.J. Chen and Michelle Bullock (1960), James J.Y. Liu (1962), Kenneth Rexroth (1970), Burton Watson (1971), Wai-Jim Yip (1972), G. W. Robinson (1973), Octavio Paz (1974), William McNaughton (1974), Francois Cheng (again French, 1977), H.C. Chang (1977), and Gary Snyder (1978).
Here is a succinct quote about the situation:
“…translations are relatives, not clones, of the original. The relationship between original and translation is parent-child. And there are, inescapably, some translations that are overly attached to their originals, and others that are constantly rebelling.”
But Weinberger and Paz were way too dismissive about the translations they don’t like and too laudatory over translations they themselves contributed. Their was a glaring unfairness built into the project: all the other translators didn’t nearly the same amount of space to describe their choices as the authors provided themselves. And then they used highly subjective judgement words like “dull.” They made inexplicable leaps, attributing to a translator “unspoken contempt for the foreign poet” if the translation stayed too far from the original. Weinberger and Paz called for the “dissolution of the translator’s ego” (as if such a thing were possible) all while ignoring the fact that their own statements were rife with ego. Later in the book they insist of Kenneth Rexroth that he “ignores what he presumably dislikes.” There's a shitload of presuming is my point.
I appreciate the detail and close readings this book provided but some comments were willfully enigmatic like this one
“…taken from a three-volume set, all by the same translator, and published, oddly, by Columbia University Press...”
The fact may indeed be odd but you’d have to be an insider to understand why.
But there was a wonderful keeper quote from poet Gary Snyer:
“The point is that translation is more than a leap from dictionary to dictionary; it is a re-imagining of the poem. As such, every reading of every poem, regardless of language, is an act of translation: translation into the reader’s intellectual and emotional life. And no individual remains the same, each reading becomes a different—not merely another—reading. The same poem cannot be read twice.”
You can't dip your foot in the same river twice. The same poem cannot be read twice. Wow. Given that sentiment you’d think the authors would have been more open to the personalities of these translations that were different than their own.
I hope to get "52 Haiku" back on track next year.
I’ve been majorly waylaid from blogging about poetry by a punishing amount of life events. But I’ve kept on reading. Like Nettie sobs to Celie in The Color Purple, "Nothing but death can keep me from it."
The difficult book club has kept moseying along, which is all you can do with difficult books. My third turn running it, I picked the interactive novel House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. And for those of you who haven’t read this novel about monsters and academia, there are plenty of poems in it. First of all, the character Zampano has a whole appendix of them, Appendix 1-F, pages 558-565, which feel like satirical send-ups of contemporary confessional poems.
The book is about overthinking, the plethora of ways to overthink and over-research (I scored high in 'Input' in the Strength Finders test so I'm a particularly bad case), information overload, all as a sort of avoidance of the heart and its useful information. And posturing, lots of posturing. Poems fit smack right into this hot mess.
There’s one poem in another appendix set called The Pelican Poems, Appendix II-B, pages 574-580, that explains the inspiration for the title "house of leaves" (page 563) and another poem there exploring roots of a tree as an idea for both family tree and the scary labyrinth under the house (page 565). I never did find out who Pelican was or how those poems tied in to the book; but frustrations over fragmentary information is also a theme of the story. The Pelican Poems themselves are also satirical but in a formalized, jet-setting, European style.
There are also appendices that read like poems, a chapter of letters from Johnny's mother reminiscent of long prose poems and an appendices of quotes full of found poems (pages 645-656). 656! Yes, this was a long book.
There are also excerpts of real poems from Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and Jane Hirshfield which further clarify the book’s themes and Danielewski's inspirations. The book is full of narrative layers, footnotes and typographical accents. Danielewski's sister, rock artist Poe, also created a companion album that provides yet another source of narrative input.