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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Spreading oneself east and west - two poems

November 3rd


Neither yielding to rain

nor yielding to wind

yielding neither to

snow nor to summer heat

with a stout body

like that

without greed

never getting angry

always smiling quiet-

ly

eating one and a half pieces of brown rice

and bean paste and a bit of

vegetables a day

in everything

not taking oneself

into account

looking listening understanding well

and not forgetting

living in the shadow of pine trees in a field

in a small

hut thatched with miscanthus

if in the east there’s a

sick child

going and nursing

him

if in the west there is a tired mother

going and for her

carrying

bundles of rice

if in the south

there’s someone

dying

going

and saying

you don’t have to be

afraid

if in the north

there’s a quarrel

or a lawsuit

saying it’s not worth it

stop it

in a drought

shedding tears

in a cold summer

pacing back and forth   lost

called

a good-for-nothing

by everyone

neither praised

nor thought a pain

someone

like that

is what I want

to be

- Miyazawa Kenji



You are drunk and i'm intoxicated

you are drunk
and i'm intoxicated
no one is around
showing us the way home

again and again
i told you
drink less
a cup or two

i know in this city
no one is sober
one is worse than the other
one is frenzied and
the other gone mad

come on my friend
step into the tavern of ruins
taste the sweetness of life
in the company of another friend

here you'll see
at every corner
someone intoxicated
and the cup-bearer
makes her rounds

i went out of my house
a drunkard came to me
someone whose glance
uncovered a hundred
houses in paradise

rocking and rolling
he was a sail
with no anchor but
he was the envy of all those sober ones
remaining on the shore

where are you from i asked
he smiled in mockery and said
one half from the east
one half from the west
one half made of water and earth
one half made of heart and soul
one half staying at the shores and
one half nesting in a pearl

i begged
take me as your friend
i am your next of kin
he said i recognize no kin
among strangers

i left my belongings and
entered this tavern
i only have a chest
full of words
but can't utter
a single one

- Rumi

Monday, April 1, 2019

The muscle of metaphor - over the shallowness of simile

When we read memoir, or journalism, because it is “true” it is not happening to us. In reading fiction it happens to us, and keeps happening to us after we are finished with our reading, because it is not “true.” We are not precluded from its truth. The muscle of metaphor is transformative, interpersonal, complete [unifying]. The apprehension of experience via metaphor is a completion [unifying]. She “walked, then rode in a daze, still not quite free of the dog [she] had killed.” “I had felt it die, and yet I had not died.” There is a technical, writerly shaped hole in this parable.

And then there is the tripe of relateability. I’m sorry, the trope. The shallow idea, currently ruling acquisition decisions at Big Five publishing houses, that we like to read memoirs, listen to true stories, because we can “relate,” because something like that has happened to us or we are “like” this person whose true story we read. More insidiously, that fictions must repeat back to us our familiar contexts in order for us to wish to buy them. The shallowness of simile over metaphor.

Self-narratives are normalizations of selfhood, reifications of the discontinuity between one self and one other self through capital investment – the value of the self as distinct content producer.

I am not a writer because I assume that my life is so snowy, so flakey, that I will entertain others with those stories in their various forms, or that the qualities that they are imbued with need or deserve to be shared for their uniqueness.

If the writing in a book is such that it moves the heart, stimulates the intellect, and enlivens the spirit, we can conclude that it is a work of literature –

Period – and as such is entitled to make its own laws.

~ Rebecca Wolff

(from: “Our Love of True Stories Has Destroyed Our Sense of Truth”)

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Weissers and the Grand Dragon

     A cantor named Michael Weisser and his wife, Julie, had moved with their family from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska. They felt that their children probably would be exposed to less anti-Semitism there than they experienced in the big city. As it turned out, the Grand Dragon of the White Knights of Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska, Larry Trapp, lived there. When he found out that the Weissers were living in Lincoln, he turned his ongoing campaign of hate mail and phone threats against them.
     Of course the Weissers were alarmed to experience such violent prejudice and were at first quite angry. However, after some time, the cantor had a change of heart, because he felt his faith taught him to love his enemies – and he wanted to put his faith into practice. Julie agreed and they contacted the Grand Dragon by phone with friendly intentions.
     The Weisser family found out that Larry Trapp was a diabetic, confined to a wheelchair, and gradually going blind, so they called and kindly offered to help him with his grocery shopping. His first response was an angry no, but after a pause his mood changed, and he thanked them for offering. The Weissers continued in their attempts to embrace their enemy. Finally, Michael suggested that they prepare a dinner and take it to Larry Trapp’s apartment. He reluctantly accepted their offer.
     When one of the cantor’s friends heard about their plan, he admonished Michael for going too far. Nevertheless, the Weissers did go to Larry Trapp’s apartment. It was a dark and sad place, with pictures of Hitler on the wall, but the dinner went fairly well. Gradually, Larry Trapp softened and his hostility subsided. He told the Weissers how his father had taught him to hate everything that was different from his white, Christian family.
     Later, when speaking of that dinner, Larry Trapp explained that he just couldn’t resist the Weissers anymore. He had never known love like that before in his life. Larry Trapp completely let go of his hatred and was transformed. He resigned from the Klan and wrote formal letters of apology to groups representing African-Americans, Native Americans, and Jewish-Americans. When diagnosed as terminally ill, he even moved in with the Weisser family and converted to Judaism before his death. 

– Reb Anderson (original source: Kathryn Watterson)

Friday, February 1, 2019

"First days of spring – the sky" by Ryōkan

First days of spring – the sky
is bright blue, the sun huge and warm.
Everything's turning green.
Carrying my monk's bowl, I walk to the village
to beg for my daily meal.
The children spot me at the temple gate
and happily crowd around,
dragging to my arms till I stop.
I put my bowl on a white rock,
hang my bag on a branch.
First we braid grasses and play tug-of-war,
then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air:
I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.
Time is forgotten, the hours fly.
People passing by point at me and laugh:
"Why are you acting like such a fool?"
I nod my head and don't answer.
I could say something, but why?
Do you want to know what's in my heart?
From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Haiku Selection


click on the image to enlarge

Monday, December 3, 2018

Letter to a samurai poet

When it comes to the Way of Poetry there are generally three grades of people, as I see it. There are those who run around, trying day and night to make points, vying to win, with no attempt to see the Way. These may be called confused noise-makers in poetry. But because they help fill the stomachs of the wives and children of the judges and replenish the money-boxes of their landlords, what they do is better than doing evil things.

Then there are those who, though wealthy, refrain from engaging in ostentation pleasures. Looking upon haikai writing as better than gossiping about other people, they compose two or three sequences for winning points, day or night, but do not boast when they win, nor become angry even when they lose. Whatever may happen, they at once set out to work out a new sequence and try to come up with clever ideas during the brief space of time that a fifth of an incense stick takes to burn. When it’s finished they delight in the points given instantly, just like boys playing cards. These people nevertheless arrange food and provide adequate wine, thereby helping the poor and fattening judges. In that sense they, too, in some way contribute to the establishment of the Way.

Then, there are fellows who work hard for the goal of true poetry and soothe their hearts by doing so. These do not easily take to criticising others, and with the thought that poetry writing is another vehicle for entering the True Way, explore the spirit of Teika, trace the intent of Saigyō, examine the heart of Po Chu-i, and enter the mind of Tu Fu – all of the remote past. There are so few of these that, the ones in the capital and the ones in the countryside combined, you can readily count them with your ten fingers. You are to be one of those few. It is understandable that you should take great care and work hard at it.

- Bashō, 1692

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The whole concept of empire is based on fake news

Our history, especially the military-industrial complex – the whole concept of empire is based on fake news. All of colonization is based on fake news. I mean, really? You know, we’re invading other people and killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in order to free them? You don’t kill people by freeing them. The whole idea that we have the right to invade other countries, because we’re better, is based on mythology and based on – I mean, colonization doesn’t work unless you have this myth of being better. So whenever you find the massive military incursions justify, that clearly do terrible harm to other countries, you have done under the banner of, oh, we’re spreading democracy or spreading civilization or spreading Christianity, you’re going to have myth, you’re going to have fake news.

But I also want to emphasize in my work that, no, America has never been great. But the idea of America can be great. It’s a future thing, our greatness, not a past thing. The past is something we’re trying to overcome, and we’re trying to realize our greatness with certain ideals. But of course, our past is replete with fake news; we are an empire, we’re a military empire. Whenever you find a military empire, it’s going to justify its invasions on the basis of fake news. Think of the European invasion of the United States that resulted in the genocide of our native population. That was based on complete fakery, that the Native American population was somehow uncivilized, and the barbarian savages who were slaughtering them were civilized. When you have mass violence, it’s going to be based – because humans need this in order to justify mass violence – it’s going to be based on these deep myths and fake news. And so since we’re an empire, we have this long history of fake news.

And a particularly dangerous moment is when the empire starts to lose its status; when it starts to lose its status, then the myths are no longer so comforting, and a fascist leader can come and say, look how we used to be great, we used to be happy with our myths. So, that’s how the structure works. The structure wouldn’t work if you didn’t have an empire that was based on fake news. We had this past. And sometimes Trump shows his hand; so he said, you know, we’re not so great; look at the Iraq War. So he was very explicit about that. What you have happening with some of these figures is they want to say, well, let’s go back and not fake it; let’s just say we’ll invade people and take their oil, let’s not pretend. And so that’s seen as more authentic. Like any military empire, we’ve had a titanic amount of fake news. And what I’m hoping is that people can now recognize how dangerous that is. Because the danger is that then someone can come and say, the mainstream media? Really? Look at the Iraq War, look at all the lying we’ve done in the past. So insofar as elites care about even the simulacrum of democracy that we’ve had in the United States, even the sort of vague shadow of democracy that we’ve had in the United States, even keeping up the pretenses – they shouldn’t lie anymore.  

– Jason Stanley

Monday, October 1, 2018

A way to experience the experience

I don’t think poetry is a particularly good form of expression. Photographs are more accurate. Theatre is more eloquent. But poetry is a superb, powerful and true form of experience. I don’t write a poem to express an experience. I write it to experience the experience. And the unforgettable poem I read, the one I remember, is the one that manages to convey the experience to me, which someone else once had – maybe hundreds of years ago – and, by a poise of music and language, convey it almost intact. 

– Eavan Boland

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

On the way to a spark of the divine tiny fish eye

     Jung discovered in his descent into the psyche that opposites comprise the unconscious. When neurosis unbalances us, consciousness carries some of these opposites in conflict with their counterparts in the unconscious. Treatment amounts to gathering into consciousness the opposites split between conscious and unconscious so that we suffer consciously what before warred interminably between our conscious reason and our unconsciously derived symptom, our conscious resolve and our unconscious compulsion…
     On the way to such expanded consciousness, moments arise in the field between analyst and analysand that illumine the reality that holds us in being. We are transplanted to a depth where we see the radical congress this reality conducts with us. We still keep mindful of the tasks of analysis…But alighting it, making an entry through this ego work is a spark of the divine come into the human, a tiny fish eye in the vast dark of the cosmos, that yields glimpses of unending light existing there in the depths and in the heights all the time. One is moved to act in surprising ways. – Ann Ulanov

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Poetry: a model or a theory of the person

When we describe a poem as having a “speaker,” or as giving “voice” to a person, we are not assuming anything about what a person is. Rather, we are taking the artifice of voice in the poem to offer something like a model or a theory of the person, or even a pedagogy of personhood. In its orchestrations of perception, conception, and affect, a poem elaborates upon or expands the possibilities of what a person can see, think, and feel. Through its constructive work with the sound and matter of language, the poem gives shape to the concept of the person who can think, say, and make these things. Likewise, it has often seemed intuitive to see poems as fostering recognition and solidarity between persons. As public objects, poems strive to make their ideas or conceptions of personhood perceptible and durable – if not always immediately legible – to others. In their scoring of the voice, or in their stretching of the word beyond or beneath the horizons of ordinary speech, they produce opportunities for readers and hearers to extend and expand their sympathies, and to identify even the most baroque utterance or repulsive sentiment as the testimony of a fellow mind. – Oren Izenberg

Monday, July 2, 2018

The giant in the window

I thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes + barrens + wilds. It still dwarfs + terrifies + crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens + orchards + fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless. – Wallace Stevens

Friday, June 1, 2018

Virtuosity with language is not enough

Virtuosity with language by itself is not enough for poetry. A poem has to sustain a strong connection to the suffered world, and any intelligence that dares call itself poetic needs to be penetrated and informed by the life of the emotions. The ego must be breached by the fire and flood damage of experience. At the same time, plaintive wailing will not suffice. Successful poems have grace and vivacity - sometimes even power - of language, mobility of mind, and I think not a straight­faced, deadpan earnestness, but a brave freedom of feeling. – Tony Hoagland

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

French Pleasure & American Pain

     Both Barthes and Derrida understand the great seriousness of pleasure, the profundity of pleasure. We generally think of pleasure as being Q.E.D. superficial or transitory. They understand that pleasure is the most profound of human experiences. If literature is to be profound, then the text must be a kind of pleasure – just as the flesh of your beloved is profound. That’s what makes marriage, or any kind of friendship, sacred. Because there is pleasure. Auden had that great line, “My friends, people I like, I like for different reasons, but everyone I love, I love for the same reason – they make me laugh.”
     We have to re-adjust our understanding of pleasure. I admire and revere Barthes and Derrida for the seriousness with which they treat pleasure. Their understanding of the pleasure of the text is nothing flippant or irreverent, but really a form of reverence. We should approach our pleasure with reverence, which we seldom do in this country. We approach our pain with reverence. We revere our suffering. A lot of people think contemporary French writers are flip. That’s because the French are revering something we perhaps haven’t the maturity to revere. – Donald Revell

Monday, April 2, 2018

“They Knew What They Wanted” by John Ashbery

They all kissed the bride. 
They all laughed. 
They came from beyond space. 
They came by night.

They came to a city. 
They came to blow up America. 
They came to rob Las Vegas. 
They dare not love.

They died with their boots on. 
They shoot horses, don't they? 
They go boom. 
They got me covered.

They flew alone. 
They gave him a gun. 
They just had to get married. 
They live. They loved life.

They live by night. 
They drive by night. 
They knew Mr Knight. 
They were expendable.

They met in Argentina. 
They met in Bombay. 
They met in the dark. 
They might be giants.

They made me a fugitive. 
They made me a criminal. 
They only kill their masters. 
They shall have music.

They were sisters. 
They still call me Bruce. 
They won't believe me. 
They won't forget.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The experience of contact

Poetry is most deeply a way of doing philosophy – not as mere juggling of abstractions, but as lived and felt experience. This is how the twentieth century avant-garde used it, as a way to construct and inhabit a worldview. Ancient Chinese thought is a crucial influence driving the innovations of that tradition – and it makes perfect sense, for the Taoist/Ch’an conceptual framework represented a fuller and more coherent account of the radical insights that were ripe for realization in the West. And like China’s ancient artist-intellectuals, that avant-garde took contact as its central concern, certain that only in empirical immediacy was it possible to achieve authenticity in living, and clarity in who and where we are.

Contact, the primacy of the immediate: it is not such a difficult idea, but in terms of actual experience, the stuff of life and poetry, it is a difficult lesson we must learn over and over. Contact itself is unsayable precisely because it lies outside all concepts, but…poets, each in their own way, guide us to the experience of contact. They show us new ways of being alive to the world in the tangible here and now. And from that beginning point, they explore the implications of that elemental experience, most importantly a different sense of self-identity: Thoreau’s who we are. This line of poetic thought represents a lived form of deep ecology, the “rewilding” of consciousness. It involves ways of knowing ourselves outside of received Western assumptions; and so, not surprisingly, it is often informed by other cultures, especially ancient Chinese and primal cultures. Hence, the poets in this innovative tradition establish consciousness as wild each in their own way, together creating their own wilderness: “the wilds of poetry.”

Central to this for most poets is the way they push language into wild forms in various ways: organic and open-field, breath-driven, text-interspersed with fields of open space/silence, fragmentation and collage. Language is the medium of thought, essence of self-identity, so by rewilding language they rewild identity. And it makes sense this rewilding often takes place in the context of wilderness, where the cocoon of human culture is absent and the vastness of the Cosmos is most dramatically and immediately present. As a philosophical instrument, poetry is especially powerful because it can operate in that wilderness, open experience to the silent depths outside of language and thought, reveal areas of consciousness outside our language-centered day-to-day identity. Prose can talk about this, but poetry can enact it through its reshaping of language. It can create wild mind as immediate experience for the reader. 

– David Hinton