Saturday, August 27, 2005

ADDENDUM TO JACKET REVIEW OF LYRIC POETRY AFTER AUSCHWITZ

Out of bed & onto the porch early this morning—nursing a slight headache, the residual effects of having had too much gin several hours earlier—I skim absent-mindedly through Dorn’s Gunslinger, coming across the following passage:

here — we were in Smyrna
together, now called Izmir
when they burned the place
Down, we were
Very young then


Smyrna. Xtian city invaded and razed by Moslem Turks in 1922. The U.S. silently watched on, reluctant to intervene and threaten the delicate international relationships upon which so many American economic interests (especially those surrounding oil) depended.

Three thousand years earlier, appx 1000 BCE, “the Aeolians lost Smyrna.” Robin Waterfield’s translation of Herodotus, I.150:

They [the Aeolians] took in some men from Colophon who had come off worst in a political dispute and had been banished from their homeland. These Colophonian exiles waited until the Smyrnans were involved in a festival to Dionysus outside the town walls, and then closed the gates and took control of the town.

& a couple of lines from Theognis, translated by Gregory Nagy:

hubris ruined the Magnesians, and Colophon
and Smyrna; and it will assuredly ruin you too, Kyrnos!

This coming around, of course, to Kent Johnson’s poem “The Mission,” included in Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz. An early incarnation of the same poem appears in The Miseries of Poetry, Johnson’s translations of the Greek with Alexandra Papaditsas. The poem, within the framework of Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, appears in many ways to set a chilling tone which unlocks the thematically cohesive collection. That the poem, written “after Archilochus,” is informed by and speaks to present political issues with such sophistication and subtlety is clearly a testament to Johnson’s remarkable skill & ability as a poet:

We decamped from Pylos, barbarian town smack in a boulder field
and set oar to lovely Asia, making fair Kolophon our base. We gathered
our strength for a fortnight, writing poems and sharpening our swords
by the sea.

[…]

Aided by the gods, we stormed Smyrna, and burned its profane temples to the ground.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PETER MAKIN'S "HAGOROMO"

Better known as one of the world’s finest Pound and Bunting scholars, Peter Makin is surprisingly presented as a poet of some import in Issue 62 of Shearsman Magazine. The title of the longish poem featured in the magazine is “Hagoromo,” the title of a well known and widely translated Noh play—a play in one act which has been translated by, among others, Arthur Waley and, not surprisingly, Pound. Nor is it surprising that Makin would draw from the well of both his scholarship (Pound) and his living (Japan) for the longish poem. What is surprising, however, is that the poem is as powerful and moving as the play from which the title is drawn. It’s not often that people who have first established themselves as scholars or critics later prove themselves to be fine poets. Indeed, more than a few accomplished and distinguished scholars have been found to be, even if only in their youth, aspiring or failed writers and artists. Hegel, for example, was a terrible poet. Makin, on the other hand, is clearly not.

In short, I’ve wanted to write about this poem—even if only to draw attention to it—for quite some time now. Makin’s splendid book, Bunting: The Shaping of His Verse, is one of the finest (of the wretchedly few) critical works on the Northumbrian poet. Aside from work published by Peter Quartermain and Richard Caddel, very little insightful and reliable scholarship on Bunting is available. Moreover, Makin is one of the key critical voices that guided me through many a frustrating read of The Cantos. Reading “Hagoromo” served only to add to my appreciation of Makin as scholar and, now, poet.

Makin’s poem corresponds loosely or, more accurately perhaps, draws from the Noh play in much the same way that, say, Joyce’s Ulysses corresponds with and draws from The Odyssey. Waley’s introductory note to his pioneering (and painfully faithful) 1922 translation of the Noh play offers the following summary and information:

The story of the mortal who stole an angel's cloak and so prevented her return to heaven is very widely spread. It exists, with variations and complications, in India, China, Japan, the Liu Chiu Islands and Sweden. The story of Hasan in the Arabian Nights is an elaboration of the same theme.

More specifically, Pound’s introductory note states:

The plot of the play Hagoromo, the Feather Mantle, is as follows: The priest finds the Hagoromo, the magical feather mantle of a Tennin, an aerial spirit or celestial dancer, hanging upon a bough. She demands its return. He argues with her, and finally promises to return it, if she will teach him her dance or part of it. She accepts the offer.

In the Noh play, often credited dubiously to Seami (or Zeami, b. 1363 – d. 1444), the central figures are a mortal man inexorably bound to the world and an “aerial spirit” merely visiting, her return to heaven jeopardized by the man’s insensitive and reckless behavior. Likewise, the Makin poem features a narrator, man bound to the earth, and a woman, dead, her spiritual essence driven from the tangible soil and into a realm beyond what is concrete, what is earth.

Divided into seven sections, a stanza in the first section of the poem guides the piece and contains the central theme of the poem:

Motif: the monotone
(steppes: Mali wastes)
where the plough turns
under the digue;
comes, and returns
unendingly.

Turn and return. Cyclicality. Here a universality in the allegorical inclusion of turning seasons, turning years, tilled soil from which cycles of growth repeat themselves in an unending stream of life given then taken then given again—this is the “motif” of the poem. Yet Makin dresses the old skeleton (fertile earth as sustained metaphor) in clothing specific to his time and place, specific to the details of his own individual life and experiences.

This theme of organic cyclicality is further supported by images of flowing water “ribbed” and “rushing” which occur frequently throughout the poem’s seven sections. The poem is complex, the complexity of the work deceived by straightforward language, a diction that cleverly conceals its punch. Mention of “ribbed” and “rushing” water is countered by mention of bamboo, at which point the poem suddenly becomes charged with a sexual tension:

The road snakes round the hill
and hugs it
the bamboos fall off the mountains
flopping in curls.

In the dark valley no movement.

Later, in Part VI of the poem, the tension escalates between water (fertility) and bamboo (virility), stock allegorical images specific to the literature of East Asia, a region that has been home to Makin for over twenty-five years:

the green not vivid but virulent
the flat mirror of water with the border of mud
with ragged banks
so flat, so delicate
waiting to be disturbed
with feet and with plantings.

And under the roughened, fast-moving
water
the shadow of a frond, waving.

The frond drowning, helpless, just as the narrator of the poem was helpless in preventing the death of his partner, revealed shortly thereafter:

never bent
she knew she was a nuisance
never gave myself up to her
till 2 – 3 days before she died.

The halberds on the bronzes like these leaves;
the silvery-green fly-like creatures
flit about them intently.

The natural world, to include the world of human civilization, goes on unimpeded by the loss the narrator suffers, he penitent in lamentation, keenly aware of his inability to save her, to give her back her bright feathered cloak, the mantle needed for flight, for deliverance & salvation:

“Why did you take my bright cloak?

I will never get back to heaven-road now; wander
this keck-end of world
lonely for brightness;
give me back my bright cloak?”


Though the narrator of this poem feels the same shame the priest of the Noh play feels for having taken the feathered cloak of a Tennin, the wings of an angel, the priest is able, within the framework of lore & legend, to give the Tennin back her cloak while the narrator of the poem is clearly not. Instead, the narrator’s wife:

will have to wait
..........in the land of nothing
while your sister eats.

There’s so much more to be said for and about the poem, though in the interest of time and space I encourage you to read the work for yourself. In order to read the poem in its entirety, visit:

http://www.shearsman.com/pages/magazine/back_issues/shearsman62/makin.html

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

RECENT TITLES IN SHORT

ANNE-MARIE ALBIACH, Two Poems: Flammigere & The line the loss. Translated by Peter Riley. Shearsman, 2004. Widely translated into English, Albiach’s work is sorely under-represented in the 2004 Yale Anthology of Twentieth Century French Poetry. Albiach’s verse—like the prose of Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva—explores the power of language and its connection to the psychological landscape of a western consciousness mired in conventional conceptions of womanhood, a place “where the language/ goes back on its word”.

BOB ARNOLD, Cairn. Tel-Let, 2004. Written in commemoration of poet and editor Cid Corman (1924-2004), the book is both extended eulogy and private journal recording the construction of a cairn in memory of Corman. While the central thread tying each poem together is the memory of Corman, the work begins with the life-affirming act of making love and ends in common prayer amongst family and friends.

ROBIN BLASER & MEREDITH QUARTERMAIN, Wanders. Nomados, 2002. Quartermain responds to poems faxed her by Robin Blaser, line for line, breath for breath, syllable for syllable, recording the experience of reading Blaser. Blaser’s faxed poems lie on the left-hand page while Quartermain’s lie on the right like an ethereal shadow following an image bent against the sun, a call and subsequent echo.

KATHLEEN FRASER, Hi ddevioleth I dde violet, 2003. Per Marjorie Perloff: “Fraser’s linguistic play and typographical invention have never been more assured or brilliant. This is a poem to read, hear, and look at again and again: Fraser’s Easter ode represents one of our most inventive poets writing at the top of her form.”

STEFAN HYNER, 10,000 Journeys: Selected Poems, 1977-2003. Skanky Possum Press, 2005. Per Joanne Kyger: “Pungent playful leaps of language, jumping continents like the Monkey King, Stefan Hyner travels onward, spins the globe, and returns to the familiar woodpile of home.” Anglophone poems by a poet/translator that has delivered many American poets to European readers and many European poets to American readers.

KENT JOHNSON, Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz. effing press, 2005. The title poem, published last year by BlazeVox has created quite a ruckus. Using Adorno’s well-known statement as a springboard, Johnson discusses the current war in Iraq and the concurrent insularity of the sympathetic but unscathed, seemingly radical American intelligentsia.

JOHN MARTONE, Dogwood & Honeysuckle. Red Moon Press, 2004. The short poem driven by syllable, by an acute understanding of the relationship between phoneme and morpheme. In many of the short poems contained within this collection line break is determined by phoneme, by accent and stress—words busted up and broken down like the petals of the varied flora discussed in the work. The collective cognitive understanding which binds syllables together to form words mirrors the delicate threads that secure people to one another within the text. The poems are arranged on the page in a seemingly haphazard manner—as might be people standing in a crowd or flora growing in the wild.

FRANK SAMPERI, Spiritual Necessity. John Martone, ed. Station Hill Press, 2004. A much needed collection of Samperi’s work which speaks to the interiority of spiritual meditation so characteristic of Samperi. Using classical literature and scholarship as a foundational point of reference, Samperi moves into and examines the contemporary world, the world of clamorous city streets too often devoid of spiritual calm and intellectual reason.

DALE SMITH, My Vote Counts. effing press, 2004. Written, of course, after the outrage, after the shocking reelection of GWB in light of corporate scandal, economic recession, government corruption, the waging of an unwarranted and unpopular war-- after the largest mobilization to register voters in recorded history.

DALE SMITTH, Notes No Answer. Habenicht Press, 2005. Here Smith explores the contemplative possibilities of the short poem, informed perhaps by the legacy of Corman, Samperi and others—their work itself deeply influenced and shaped by classical East Asian poetics, particularly the variant forms of the Japanese short poem. Smith’s work here, however, pulls into the ring broken bits of western culture, a sort of globalization in verse where “boogie-woogie” is found lying a few feet away from a “punk rock juke box” pumping out Pogues’ tunes.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


DAMN THE CAESARS is a hard-copy quarterly journal which features new writing and visual art by both established and lesser known writers and artists.
Issue I includes work by Clive Faust, Dale Smith, MTC Cronin, Bob Arnold, Jan Bender, Scott Watson, James Lorubbio, William Owens, Richard Stremme and Ken Knabb.
Issue II includes work by Roger Snell, Guy Birchard, Janet Sutherland, Kent Johnson, John Vieira, Clayton Eshleman, Amiri Baraka, Dale Smith, John Phillips, Robert Saxton, MTC Cronin and Attila the Stockbroker.
While we aim to have a webpage up and running shortly, this webblog is an augmentation to the magazine geared expressly toward calling attention to recently published small press writing. For further information regarding DTC bounce inquiries or concerns to:
Copies of DTC are $5.00 each and can be purchased via snail mail by writing to:
Richard Owens
810 Richmond Avenue
Buffalo NY 14222-1167
N.B.-- Issue II contains an editorial error in Kent Johnson's "Helen Vendler and Strom Thurmond Cook Up a Post-Avant." John Ashbery appears in the piece as "John Ashberry." The error was made by the editor and not the contributor. Apologies all around.