Cement Angels – Brief poems by Nelson Ball

Nelson Ball (1942-2019) was a poet, editor, publisher, and bookseller specialising in the small press in Canada. He was born in Clinton, in Huron County in southern Ontario. He moved to Seaforth, Waterloo, then Kitchener for the first 20 years of his life. In Toronto, in the 1960’s, he was part of an enormous wave of poets and small press editors and publishers. He created Weed/Flower magazine, which later became Weed/Flower Press, publisher of books and chapbooks by many Canadian poets which ran from 1965-1974.

In 1965 he married Barbara Caruso, a visual artist from Kincardine. The couple enjoyed their bohemian existence, but found it difficult economically, so they moved to Toronto in 1967, where Nelson Ball found steady work as a library assistant at the University of Toronto and made extra money as a cataloguer at the Village Book Store. That allowed him to launch William Nelson Books, with a shop and extensive mail-order catalogue. However, he needed ever-larger quarters and was being priced out of the Toronto real estate market.

Nelson Ball’s home in Paris

He and Caruso searched from Owen Sound to St. Catharines for the right property. One afternoon, they were driving through the town of Paris, once named “the Prettiest Little Town in Canada” by Harrowsmith Magazine. (The town, established in 1829, is named, not after the French city, but for the nearby deposits of gypsum, used to make  plaster of Paris.) They discovered an advertisement in a real estate broker’s window for a three-storey structure built in 1928 as the head office of Canadian Gypsum and Alabastine. The office/laboratory, owned by Domtar, had been deserted since 1984, an industrial relic in a residential neighbourhood. It was a perfect home for the couple with plenty of room for Ball’s vast collection of books plus a large studio – with a view of the Grand River – where Caruso could paint and store her completed art. A convoy of two tractor-trailers and a special fine-art van was needed to transport their possessions to their new home at 31 Willow Street. Catherine Stevenson has made an interesting documentary about the house 

He ceased writing poetry during the 1980s as he concentrated on his bookselling business, but reemerged to enjoy a second chapter as a poet with the publication of With Issa: Poems 1964-1971 (ECW Press, 1991), Bird Tracks on Hard Snow (ECW Press, 1994), The Concrete Air (The Mercury Press, 1996), Almost Spring (The Mercury Press, 1999), At The Edge Of The Frog Pond (The Mercury Press, 2004) and In This Thin Rain (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2012), as well as a large array of smaller publications. He eventually retired from bookselling to devote more of his time to his poetry. In 2016, he was awarded the bpNichol Chapbook Award for Small Waterways (Apt. 9 Press). A selected poems, Certain Details (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017) edited by Stuart Ross, offers a major overview of the breadth of Nelson Ball’s poetry over six decades. This selection of his work includes his trademark minimalist poems in addition to longer works and sequences; it spans nature poems, homages, meditations, narratives, found poems, and visual poems. The book contains selections from all of Ball’s major collections as well as works that have previously appeared only in chapbook or ephemeral form.

On December 30, 2009, Barbara Caruso died of cancer. Nelson Ball continued to live in the house on Willow Street. In the summer of 2019 he opted for a medically assisted death at the Brantford hospital, near Paris, where he had been ill for about six weeks. He died August 16th, 2019. His ashes were laid to rest, next to his wife, artist, Barbara Caruso (1937-2009) in Paris, Ontario. There is a dedicatory bench, overlooking the Nith River and Penman’s Pass.

Dedicatory bench in Paris, Ontario

THE POETRY OF NELSON BALL

Nelson Ball has spoken of his admiration for other practitioners of the brief poem, in particular the work of Robert Creeley and Lorine Niedecker. Their influence is evident in the poems available below. Cameron Anstee has referred to Ball as Canada’s greatest practicing minimalist poet. Stuart Ross, in his introduction to  Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, has claimed that Nelson is what might be called a poet’s poet: he is widely revered by many Canadian and international poets. But Nelson is also a people’s poet: his work is instantly accessible, plainspoken, direct.

Nelson Ball, himself, has written: I liked haiku as simple nature poems. But I didn’t want to restrict the forms of my poems, so I didn’t try to write haiku. In truth, I had difficulty identifying and counting syllables. I had a strong desire to write poems of pure description, letting the image reveal itself without any direct statement of idea or emotion. I found it difficult to make this kind of spare expression work. My observations of both the world and of words and language were too generalized, not particular enough. I was looking for some kind of magic rather than looking at the particularities of words and the world.

Brief Poems by Nelson Ball

Authenticity

A new headstone
at the cemetery

awaits certification
by birds

***

Tracks

Words
on this white paper

bird
tracks

on

hard 
snow

***

Dry Spell

storm
clouds

roll 
past

tease 
these

rattling
aspens

***

Centipede at Midnight

startled
it fell

off
the wall

startling 
me

****

Longevity Assured

cement
fence
posts

***

Ahead

In the distance
on a roadside hill

either 
tree stumps

or
gravestones

***

Idleness

On this hot day
I feel languid

watching
the south wind

bend
grasses

towards an
oncoming storm

***

Shore Song

Wave folllows wave over stones
turning over & over & over

from sunrise to sunset
sunset to sunrise

for ever & ever & ever

***

Trying to See What’s There

I’m 
troubled by

how 
much

I didn’t see
before

that now 
I see

Briefly

Lighning’s
spike

ties
sky

to 
earth

***

Fall Sky

Swallows
dart

back and forth

like 
hyphens

on grey paper

awaiting
words

***

Heron

A heron
stands

stalk-
still

in
water

waiting

***

Pissing On An Electric Fence

The main text of this poem
as yet unwritten

is likely
to remain so

with
good aim

and
luck

***

Anomaly

Cement
angels

***

Some Mornings

Some mornings
as I awaken

I compose a poem
in my head

usually gone
when I get to my desk

this morning
I caught one

***

In My Time

short
trees

grew

very
tall

***

The Meaning of Death

It’s 
the 
end

of 
morning 
coffee


***

Together

In the low breeze
two trees squeak

LINKS

A Rattle of Spring Frogs by Nelson Ball (complete text of this chapbook)

Cameron Anstee writes about his friend Nelson Ball

Nelson Ball & Barbara Caruso / Home Project / A Photo Documentary

Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, ed. Stuart Ross, reviewed by rob mclennan

rob mclennan blogspot on Nelson Ball

A review by Michael Dennis of  Minutiae from Apt. 9 Press

A review by Michael Dennis of  Some Mornings from Mansfield Press

A review by Michael Dennis of A Gathering, an elegy to the Canadian poet, David W. Harris

The Paris Museum Blog page on Nelson Ball

Nelson Ball: His Last Day

Images of the dedicatory bench in Paris, Ontario

Dewdrops – Brief poems by Kobayashi Issa

KobayashiIssa

Kobayashi Issa (小林 一茶, 1763 – 1828) was a  Japanese poet and lay Buddhist priest known for his haiku poems and journals. He was born in 1763 with the name Kobayashi Yatarô to a farmer and his wife in the village of Kashiwabara, a village of approximately one hundred houses in the highlands of the province of Shinano, close  to the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. He would have been expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, raising buckwheat, rice, and other crops on the nearly two acres of family farmland, but a different destiny unfolded for him, following the death of his mother. His grandmother, Kana, reared him with deep affection until, when he was eight years of age, his father remarried. Although his stepmother, Hatsu, treated him well for two years, upon the birth of her first child, his step-brother Senroku, she relegated Issa to a role as a subordinate and began to abuse him, often physically. He has described in his memoirs how he was expected to look after this brother, often finding himself soaked in the child’s urine, and how he was punished when the baby was unhappy. Issa’s local schoolmaster, noticing the boy’s unhappiness, encouraged him to write haiku: With haiku you can show what you are feeling inside. His grandmother died when he was 14 and, soon after, he left his small village and went to the city of Edo, the present day Tokyo. Little is known of his life there,  other than that he began to study haiku and donned monk’s robes.

In 1790 he was elected to a position at an academy of poetics, the Katsushika school, but, as his innovative instincts clashed with the more traditional curriculum already in place at the school, in 1792, he resigned, proclaiming himself Haikaiji Issa in a declaration of poetic independence. His literary signature literally translates as Haikai Temple One-Tea. As he explained, In as much as life is empty as a bubble which vanishes instantly, I will henceforth call myself Issa, or One Tea. Thus he compared his life to the bubbles rising in a cup of tea – an appropriate image in Japanese cultural life.

His father died of typhoid fever in 1801 and, in his will, divided his estate equally between Issa and his half-brother. When the poet’s stepmother, Satsu, and his half-brother,  Senroku, contested the will, Issa was obliged to leave his home town once again, despite the fact that (according to Issa) his dying father’s request was for him to come home permanently. He spent the next thirteen years living in Edo while he attempted to convince the local authorities to carry out his father’s wishes.  His frustrations are reflected in a poem he wrote when he was in his forties

古郷やよるも障るも茨の花
furu sato ya   yoru mo sawaru mo   bara no hana 

the closer I get
to my village, the more pain …
wild roses

After sorting out the will, Issa managed to secure rights to half of the property his father left. He returned to his native village at the age of 49 and soon took a wife, a young woman called Kiku. After a brief period of happiness, difficulties returned. The couple’s first-born child died shortly after his birth. A daughter died less than two-and-a-half years later, inspiring Issa to write the haiku for which he is best known

露の世は露の世ながらさりながら
Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

This dewdrop world —
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

In May, 1823, Issa’s wife, Kiku, died when he was sixty-one. He remarried almost immediately. His wife, thirty-eight-year-old Yuki, was the daughter of a local samuri. The marriage lasted less than a year and the couple were divorced soon after that marriage. Perhaps for purposes of continuing his family, Issa married again in 1825, his bride this time a young farmer’s daughter named Yao.  His wife was pregnant when their house burned down in a fire that destroyed most of the village and the couple had to move into a renovated grain barn on the property. Issa had a stroke and died in the winter of 1828, and his only surviving child, Yata, was born five months his death. The building in which he last lived, a windowless clay-walled storage shed, has survived, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1933. 

Water Dripping off of Leaf

Photo: Tim L. Lanthier (Getty Images)

Issa’s Haiku

Issa was very prolific. He composed over 20,000 haiku on a variety of subjects. R. H. Blyth notes that Issa wrote dozens of haiku featuring small creatures: 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs, about 230 on the firefly, more than 100 on fleas, nearly 90 on the cicada, and about 70 on various other insects. There are almost one thousand verses on such creatures.  When you key in the word “dew” on David G. Lanoue’s Issa site, which contains 11,750 originals and translations, you come up with 304 poems. Two of these are included below. The most famous, the most frequently translated, is featured in the first selection of translations below.

Water Dripping off of Leaf

“a world of dew”

In 1817 Issa wrote a haiku on the one-year anniversary of the death of his first child, a boy named Sentarô. It has a one-word headnote: “Grieving.”

露の世は得心ながらさりながら
tsuyu no yo wa tokushin nagara sari nagara

it’s a dewdrop world
surely it is…
yes… but…

(translated by David G. Lanoue)

Two years later, in 1819, Issa revised his haiku to write about the death from smallpox of another child, a one-year-old daughter named Sato. 

露の世は露の世ながらさりながら
tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

The world of dew
is the world of dew.
……And yet, and yet —

(translated by Robert Hass)

In one text Issa prefaces this brief poem with the note, “On losing a beloved child.” This haiku, written after the funeral, on the occasion of burying his child’s ashes, originally appeared at the end of the following prose passage from his book A Year of My Life (1819).  Here he is writing about Sato, his one-year-old daughter, who had contracted smallpox. 

After two or three days, however, her blisters dried up and the scabs began to fall away — like a hard crust of dirt that has been softened by melting snow.  In our joy we made what we call a ‘priest in a straw robe.’  We poured hot wine ceremoniously over his body, and packed him and the god of smallpox off together.  Yet our hopes proved to be vain.  She grew weaker and weaker and finally, on the twenty-first of June, as the morning glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever.
Her mother embraced the cold body and cried bitterly.  For myself, I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return, and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall.  Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not, cut the binding cord of human love.

                                        The world of dew

                                   is the world of dew.

                                        And yet, and yet —

(prose translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa; haiku translated by Robert Hass)

The word tsuyu (‘world of dew’) is a distinctly Buddhist concept. In Japanese literary tradition, drops of dew are used symbolically to represent human life and its transience, in reference to the Buddhist allegory between the fleeting nature of dewdrops and human life. Art Krumsee, commenting on the poem, writes What gets lost, I think, is the utter beauty and perfection of the dewdrop metaphor. If you really look at a dewdrop closely, it is profoundly beautiful. Life, too, including the life of Issa’s daughter is profoundly beautiful. What’s more, given the spherical, mirror-like quality of a dewdrop, this small thing reflects all of life. Buddhist purists focus on overcoming grasping in an impermanent world, but Buddha did not ask followers other than monastics to live a life without love and relationships. Loving someone means suffering when they are gone. Issa perfectly captures here the contradiction within which Buddhists outside of the monastery live. Rather than running from that contradiction, Issa embraces it. (Quoted by David G. Lanoue in his comment on the poem in his Haiku Guy collection of Issa’s poems.)

The final word of the poem is nagara. R. H. Blythe notes that Issa was very fond of using nagara which Blythe translates as “nevertheless”, although, like Robert Hass, he translates its use in this poem as “And yet – and yet -“. (See below).

Over time this brief poem has attained almost the same iconic status as Basho’s celebrated poem about a frog. It has been extensively translated and I include a variety of such translations below. My own favourite remains that of Robert Hass.

Water Dripping off of Leaf

Brief Poems by Kobayashi Issa

“a world of dew”

露の世は露の世ながらさりながら
Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

The world of dew
is the world of dew
……and yet, and yet–

Robert Hass

***

This world of dew
is only a world of dew—
and yet

Sam Hamill 

***

this world of dew
is only a world of dew—
and yet….and yet….

Makoto Ueda

***

This dewdrop world —
It may be a dewdrop,
And yet — and yet —

R. H. Blyth

***

the world of dew
is the world of dew,
and yet . . .
and yet . .

Nobuyuki Yuasa

***

The world of dew
Is a world of dew, and yet
And yet. . .

Donald Keene

***

This dewdrop world—
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

Lewis Mackenzie

***

Dew evaporates
and all our world is dew…
so dear, so fresh, so fleeting

Peter Beilenson

***

this world
is a dewdrop world
yes… but…

David G. Lanoue

***

This Dewdrop World …
a dewdrop world it is, and still,
although it is …

Harold Henderson

***

This dewdrop world-
yet for dew drops
still, a dewdrop world

Leon Lewis

***

Granted this dewdrop world is but
A dewdrop worlds, – this granted, yet

Basil Hall Chamberlain

***

This dewdrop world,
is a dewdrop world,
and yet

Timothy L. Jackowski

***

World like a dewdrop-
Though it’s only a dewdrop,
Even so, even so-

Glenn Shaw

***

it’s a dewdrop world,
nothing but a dewdrop world,
this is true, and yet…

Jan Walls

***

This world of dew
is a dew-drop world indeed;
and yet, and yet …

Michael R. Burch

***

This dewdrop world
is dew, adieu.
Renew… Adieu …

Conor Kelly

Water Dripping off of Leaf

OTHER POEMS

露の世の露の中にてけんくわ哉
tsuyu no yo no tsuyu no naka nite kenka kana

amid dewdrops
of this dewdrop world
a quarrel

David G. Lanoue

***

in every dewdrop
in this dewdrop world there is
raucous squabbling

Jan Walls

***

a world of dew
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Sam Hamill

***

a world of dew –
but even dewdrops
disagree

Billy Mills

***

かたつぶりそろそろ登れ富士の山
katatsuburi   soro-soro nobore   fuji no yama

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

R. H. Blyth

***

little snail
inch by inch, climb
Mount Fuji!

David G. Lanoue

***

Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
……but slowly, slowly.

Robert Hass

***

tiny snail
in your own snail way
climb Mt Fuji

Billy Mills

***

隅の蜘案じな煤はとらぬぞよ
sumi no kumo anjina susu wa toranu zo yo

corner spider
rest easy, my soot-broom
is idle

David G. Lanoue

***

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
……casually.

Robert Hass

***

目出度さもちう位也おらが春
medetasa mo chû kurai nari oraga haru

my “Happy New Year!”
about average…
my spring

David G. Lanoue

***

New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom
……I feel about average.

Robert Hass

***

New Year greeting-time:
I feel about average
welcoming my spring

Sam Hamill

***

人先に鷺の音する氷哉
hito saki ni sagi no oto suru kôri kana

before people do
herons raise a clamor
“Ice!”

David G. Lanoue

***

heron sees
the lake ice over
before we do

Billy Mills

***

痩蛙まけるな一茶是に有り
yasegaeru makeru na issa kore ni ari

scrawny frog, hang tough!
Issa
is here

David G. Lanoue

***

skinny frog
don’t give up the fight—
Issa is here

Makoto Ueda

***

Lean frog,
don’t give up the fight!
Issa is here!

Harold Henderson

***

Skinny frog,
……hang on …
Issa to the rescue!

Michael R. Burch

***

蝿一つ打てはなむあみだ仏哉
hae hitotsu utte wa namu amida butsu kana

while swatting a fly
“All praise to Amida
Buddha!”

David G. Lanoue

***

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
……killing mosquitoes.

Robert Hass

***

All the while I’m praying to Buddha
I’m continually killing mosquitoes.

Michael R. Burch

***

古郷やよるも障るも茨の花
furusato ya yoru mo sawa[ru] mo bara no hana

the closer I get
to my village, the more pain…
wild roses

David G. Lanoue and Shinji Ogawa

***

At my home everything
I touch is a bramble.

Asataro Miyamori

***

Everything I touch
with tenderness alas
pricks like a bramble.

Peter Beilenson

***

The place where I was born:
all I come to-all I touch-
blossoms of the thorn.

Harold Henderson

***

My old village calls-
each time I come near,
thorns in the blossom.

Leon Lewis

***

my hometown-
all I approach, all I touch,
flowers of the thorn

Makoto Ueda

***

My native village
on approach and to the touch
a bramble rose.

Glenn Shaw

Water Dripping off of Leaf

LINKS

The Wikipedia page on Issa

The Haikupedia page on Issa

David G. Lanoue’s website presents over 11,000 of Issa’s haiku in a searchable archive

Kobayashi Issa – Selected Haiku

Haiku by Kobayashi Issa

Some poems by Issa discussed on the First Known When Lost blog

Kobayashi Issa: Modern English Translations of the Japanese Haiku Master

That Lovable Old Issa by Earle Joshua Stone

An Essay on Issa by Leon Lewis

Issa’s Untidy Hut from a Poetry Blog

About a Poem: Pico Iyer on a haiku by Kobayashi Issa

Issa: My Life Through the Pen of a Haiku Master

Issa’s Dew: From the Hermit’s Thatch Blog

Kobayashi Issa and the ‘And yet…’ of Human Existence

Gabriel Rosenstock on Issa

KobayashiIssa

Short Walks – Brief poems by William Bronk

c Photo by Kelly Wise

William Bronk (February 17, 1918 – February 22, 1999) was born in a house on Lower Main Street in Fort Edward, New York. He was a descendent of Jonas Bronck, after whom the Bronx is named. His family moved to Hudson Falls in New York where Bronk grew up and lived for most of the rest of his life. His mother was a homemaker and his father ran a business, Bronk Coal and Lumber, in Hudson Falls. He attended Dartmouth College, beginning in 1934, where he studied under the critic and poet Sidney Cox and met Robert Frost. After graduation he studied at Harvard for a semester but decided I couldn’t take any more of that. He left to write a study of Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman that was published 30 years later as The Brother in Elysium: Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States.  He taught English briefly at Union College, Schenectady, New York, and enjoyed it a great deal, but he knew he would need a graduate degree to continue. During World War II, Bronk served, first as a draftee but later, after a military education, as an officer. It was the only time in his life that he ever drove a vehicle.  He served as an army historian during the war and wrote A History of the Eastern Defense Command and of the Defense of the Atlantic Coast of the United States in the Second World War. He was honourably discharged from the army in October 1945

Bronk Coal and Lumber Company

His father had died unexpectedly in 1941 and William inherited the business. In January 1947 he took over management of the Bronk Coal and Lumber Company as a temporary measure. He stayed for over thirty years, enjoying the work as it gave him both financial security and the creative energy to write without having to worry about book sales.  I never had to calculate the effect … I could write what I wanted to write without worrying about all that. He said that the poems emerged in his mind as he went about this daily business. When a poem  was ready, he wrote it down, preferring to work on paper rather than at a typewriter.  I hate to type. I’ve never really learned to use the typewriter. He seldom rewrote or modified a poem once it was put on paper. He retired from the business in 1978.

William Bronk’s house in Hudson Falls, 1974

Aside from extensive travelling, which he enjoyed, he spent most of his life in his home in Hudson Falls, Washington County, New York where he lived alone in a large Victorian house with an Aga stove.  The house is a frequent metaphor with me. I think very likely that when I die it will be torn down. It has a two-wire electrical system. It’s inadequately insulated. The plumbing is old. No modern person would put up with it.  He never held a driver’s license, and only drove a vehicle once, an Army Reconnaissance vehicle at an Army post in Virginia during the war. He preferred to walk or cycle around his locale.  His childhood home became a pilgrimage point for many young poets and artists, who enjoyed his hospitality and his renowned cooking.

His first book of poems, Light and Dark, was published by Cid Corman’s  Origin Press in 1956. He explains the title thus: But the theme is always light and dark and ‘The light of that darkness and the darkness of that light’ as Melville talks about in Pierre. A subsequent publication The World, the Worldless (1964) published by New Directions did not achieve much success. In 1981, when the University of New Hampshire began collecting Bronk, he had had ten books of poetry and three books of essays published by small presses. He won the American Book Award in 1982 for his collection Life Supports: New & Collected Poems. During his life he published 30 collections of poetry with significant small presses including Elizabeth Press, New Directions, North Point, and Talisman House. A Selected Poems was published in 1995. 

William Bronk died of respiratory heart failure on Sunday, February 22, 1999 at the age of 81 in his home in Hudson Falls, New York. He is buried in Union Cemetery in the Hudson Falls/Fort Edward area of Washington County, New York.

Gravestone in Union Cemetery

THE POETRY OF WILLIAM BRONK

To know you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with. That quotation from Beckett, a writer much admired by Bronk, may serve as an epigraph to the poetry. That optimism, countered by pessimism and superseded by a mordant abnegation could serve as a means of entry to the poetry, even if Bronk lacks Beckett’s remarkable bleak humour. True, there are difficulties. Explaining Why Nobody Reads William Bronk, Daniel Wolff offers four succinct reasons:

1: It’s hard.

2: It’s hard. (Repeat)

3: The tone of voice.

4: It’s unknowable.

1: It’s hard

There are many ways in which the poems are hard to fathom. Kay Ryan, in an essay on Bronk for Poetry Magazine, puts it this way: Bronk’s poems are almost entirely abstract and disembodied ….  his language desiccated but also conversationally halting and embedded. There is no flesh, no world, precious little metaphor—as though every human attachment is cheating.  If one were to apply the W. C. Williams rubric “No ideas but in things”, Bronk’s poetry almost always subverts it. His motto could be “No things, but ideas.” 

In one poem he claims that “Ideas are always wrong,” but, ironically that is an idea. A relentless sense of abstraction makes for difficult reading and the difficulty is viewed as an irrelevance. As Daniel Wolff puts it in the essay mentioned above, Bronk was writing in an age of mostly personal and confessional poetry, where the recipe seemed to be: take sensations, describe in detail, simmer till they reach an implied conclusion, serve warm. Instead, Bronk baldly states that your (and his) impressions of the world are of no importance. No wonder the poems are hard. They may not be hard to read but they are often hard, as I say, to fathom.

2: It’s hard (Repeat).

In an essay by Ty Clever entitled Ruin Bares Us: William Bronk and the Poetics of Demolition, he discusses the manner in which the poetry deviates from certain common assumptions: think “poetry” and its typical associations—lush language, music, metaphor, description—and you’ve just described everything a Bronk poem is not. However he see this as a benefit rather than merely a difficulty. But that’s precisely the reason we should be reading him. The value of Bronk is his relentless skepticism regarding almost all conventional poetic means. Or as Daniel Wolff puts it Whatever slight music these lines have is in the repetition …. (of) this almost clinical voice ... It’s the voice of someone who sounds like they’re looking at humankind from a distance.

3: The tone of voice

Christian Wiman in a Poetry Foundation article entitled The Drift of the World has an unusual description of the tonality of the poems: one tone that has no more range than the hum of the fluorescent lighting. That lack of range is an impediment if you read too many of the poems at one sitting, but read individually, or heard in Bronk’s resonant voice (two examples are cited below) where he sounds like an actor in a Beckett play, there is a wonderful suggestiveness in the tonal monotony. Daniel Wolff speaks of a flat declarative voice . The poems, as is evident below, move between the first person singular and the first person plural with a lugubrious insouciance. And that insouciance applies to the reader. In the poem below entitled Note For The Kitchen Table he says to those reading the poems Pass them on if you will or leave them unread./They speak of only what would still be there.

If that sounds portentous, it fits an established pattern. At times the portentousness of the utterances can be overbearing but, especially in the shorter poems, the flat statements can imbue the poems with a surprising resonance. Another poem, Bid, bids the reader to engage and then steps back : Come into the poem, reader. The door will close /itself behind you. You can leave whenever you will. It is as if the reader is almost an irrelevance. That monotone which Wiman identifies is often off-putting but, in small doses, as in many of the poems below, it has its own peculiar attraction.

4: It’s unknowable

Christian Wiman in the article noted above puts it like this: Bronk is all hedgehog. He knows one thing, which is that he does not truly know one thing. He sometimes seems determined not to be inspired. While he is constantly communicating through a cloud of unknowing or unknowingness, the poems themselves are not unknowable. Wallace Stevens, with whom Bronk has often been compared, begins one of his poems with a celebrated sentence, The poem must resist the intelligence/Almost successfully. Everything in Bronk’s poetry hovers around that “almost”. It is as if the poems interrogate the intelligence rather than resist it, as if the intelligence, while unknown, is seeking to become known. Interestingly Steven’s poem, Man Carrying Thing, ends with a couplet that could almost be a Bronk poem in itself:

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.

There is no doubt that Stevens is more eloquent, more evocative, more imaginative and more popular than Bronk. Part of the fascination of Bronk’s poetry is the persistence, even in the face of the unknowable: It is by our most drastic failures that we may perhaps catch glimpses of something real, of something which is. (His account of these failures is from an essay Copan: Historicity Gone.) I began with a Beckett quote, so it may be appropriate to conclude with one: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Brief Poems by William Bronk

Short Walk

Awake at night, I walk in the dark of the house.
Bare feet are quiet. The rooms are undisturbed.
What else had anyone’s days and nights been like?
I think, now, not any more than this.

***

Forget It

Don’t remember; all this will go away:
the good, the bad, will go. We’ll go away.
And something already is that still will be.

***

The Informer

I overhear the poem’s talk to itself.
Is that what it said? I write it down to try.

***

At Hand

Things
are just
out
of reach
and
as we stretch
for them
we push them
farther
away.

***

After Bach

In cello suites we learn the way despair,
deepest sadness, can and must be phrased
as praise, thanksgiving. Of course we knew
this anyway but mightn’t have dared it on
our own.
And the way the sadness can be in part
to accept the absence of One to say it to.

The World

I thought you were an anchor in the drift of the world;
but no: there isn’t an anchor anywhere.
There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world. Oh no.
I thought you were. Oh no. The drift of the world.

(Listen to William Bronk read this poem.)

***

Estrangement

One way I think we don’t exist
is that we would be such a strange thing
for it to use. What a strange thing it is.

***

Matins

Early, before the day has been, I know
the day. I lie with it in the unspoken dark.
Sometimes, I doze again to mark its coming.

***

Foresight

I lie in bed
practicing dead;
it may take some
getting used to.

***

The Drawing

Art’s care
discriminates
not art 
not life
but art’s desire
and life sees 
itself there
and is drawn.

***

Compensation

To live without solace is possible because
solace is trivial: none is enough.

What You Can Do 

I used to think it was impossible with boys.
It is impossible with girls too.
Oh, you can do it but if you think that that’s what it is
you have to deceive yourself. It isn’t that.

***

The Writer

Truth has a story it tries again to write.
Over and over again it writes it off.
There aren’t any stories that aren’t true.

***

Easy Company

Knowing your solitude is there,
my solitude consents here
not needing what it needs.

***

The Conclusion

I thought
we stood at the door
of another world
and it might open and we go in.
Well,
there is that door
and such a world.

***

Epiphany

We learn not to expect so much of days;
even more, mornings are beautiful.

***

Of Poetry

there is only the work.

The work is what speaks
and what is spoken
and what attends to hear
what is spoken.

***

Untitled

The truth has many forms which are not its form
If it has one. What has a form of its own
Or, having, is only it? There is truth.

***

Who’s There

We need to separate ourselves from ourselves
to be ourselves. All that pain and power:
that isn’t us. All that busyness,
the alienation and hate, those love affairs.

The Passage

People are passing; I look in passing at them.
Look, how the light comes down through them: they glow:
Once, I grasped at one. Oh, it was sweet.
It had nothing to do with me, or anyone.

***

Note For The Kitchen Table

I left the poems where you would find them.
Pass them on if you will or leave them unread.
They speak of only what would still be there.

***

Vicarious

Except from our
mortality
how should
infinite
eternal know
how beautiful 
the brief world
is to us?

***

Bid

Come into the poem, reader. The door will close 
itself behind you. You can leave whenever you will.

***

 The Wall

Watching the curve of the long line of your back,
desiring, I said in my mind that each of us
is alone forever, forever. We live with this.

***

No Way

You know, I am told my tenderness for you
is for me, really, that if I treat you gently, I replace
a harshness I suffered from, the roles reversed.

***

Visionary

Poems don’t make by added post and beam
the whole barn or see the barn as built.
The most the poem can do is know within
itself, in a certain joint, this fits with that.

***

Coming to Terms 

When I had love it felt like cigarettes,
like alcohol, it was like sleep.
Wasn’t it good. Now I still have sleep.
Life keeps hold of me now in its terms.

***

The Lullaby

Howl, world, in your hurt: that certainty
always to bear, be born. Never to fail.
Hearing the wind, I hear the world’s wail.
Let me go sleep on it. Sing, sing.

(Listen to William Bronk read this poem.)

LINKS

Poems

Three poems on the Poem Hunter site

Five poems on the Modern American Poets site

Reading from his  Selected Poems at his home in Hudson Falls

Life Supports: New and Collected Poems: New Edition. (Talisman House Publishers)

Biography

William Bronk biography on the Famous Poets and Poems site

Interviews

At Home in the Unknown: an Interview with William Bronk by Mark Katzman

Excerpts from an interview with William Bronk by Edward Foster

William Bronk – interviewed by Henry Lyman for Poems to a Listener (1986 series)

William Bronk – interviewed by Henry Lyman for Poems to a Listener (1994 series)

Essays

Why Nobody Reads William Bronk by Daniel Wolff

Ruin Bares Us: William Bronk and the Poetics of Demolition

Neither Us nor Them: Poetry Anthologies, Canon Building, and the Silencing of William Bronk by David Clippinger

Christian Wiman on the poetry of William Bronk

Kay Ryan on the poetry of William Bronk

William Bronk’s Path Among the Forms

A review of the letters between Cid Corman and William Bronk

Daggers of Light – Brief poems by Andrea Cohen

Photograph: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Andrea Cohen grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and has written poems, she says, for as long as I can remember. I used to walk with my dog through the woods, making up little songs. It was what I loved to do––and my days haven’t changed too much since then. Of the same dog she has said, I hung out with my dog in the woods and would recite poems to him. He was a very good dog and did not let on that the poetry was very bad. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she was also a Teaching-Writer Fellow.  Andrea Cohen is the author of the poetry collections Everything (Four Way Books, 2021), Nightshade (Four Way Books, 2019), which was included on The New York Times “Best Poetry Books of 2019” list, Unfathoming (Four Way Books, 2017), Furs Not Mine (Four Way Books, 2015), Kentucky Derby (Salmon Poetry, 2011), Long Division (Salmon Poetry, 2009), and The Cartographer’s Vacation (Owl Creek Press, 1999) which was a winner of the Owl Creek Poetry Prize. She has received several fellowships to MacDowell and directs The Blacksmith Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Blacksmith House, site of the village smithy and spreading chestnut tree of Longfellow’s poem The Village Blacksmith. She also writes about marine research at MIT.

GRIEF IN BRIEF

There is a persistent sense of loss and deprivation in many of the brief poems which accumulate in the recent collections of Andrea Cohen. A Refusal to Mourn (see below) condenses Dylan Thomas’s plangent and verbose lament into a seven-word cry of pain. First Love is a dark joke on the darkness of love. The “dagger of light” referred to in one poem illuminates the spectral world the poet inhabits. The ability to constrain dark emotions in small spaces is central to the achievement and ambition of these poems. I do want to say as much as I can in a few words, and many of these very short poems tend to find their way to me pretty much whole. Like a fruit falling from a branch. Though like a fruit that gets some leaves clipped, or gets polished. The world, like some fruit, may be “bitter-sweet”, as the title poem of Nightshade has it, but, as it concludes, “what living isn’t?”

Brief Poems by Andrea Cohen

First Love

She was
always
leaving
the dark on.

***

Refusal to Mourn

In lieu of
flowers, send
him back.

***

Love

It’s an extreme
sport – like in-
door beekeeping.

***

Light

It looked like something
you could pick up, that

dagger of light.
He left it there,

not trusting what
he might do with it.

***

Night

Someone was talking 
quietly of lanterns –

but loud enough
to light my way.

***

Nightshade

It trades in
poison and

in balms. We
call it bitter-

sweet – what
living isn’t?

***

How Sound Travels

You said goodbye and I
heard good and I, and

only later, the buzzing
b, its lethal sting.

Summer Lake

You can’t fish
for light, or

you can, but
you have to

throw it back.

***

Fellow Traveler

She went everywhere
with an empty suitcase.

You never know when
you’ll need to leave

swiftly with nothing.

***

Wedding Dress

Look closer:
she sewed it

from a hundred 
tattered flags

of surrender.

***

Prayer

Dear God, give
me the strength –

in the presence
of deaf gods –

to stop praying.

***

Silence

Not an absence
of blackbirds

singing, but
an abundance

of blackbirds
listening.

***

Diaspora

I carry 
everything

my people
lost.

***

Bunker

What would I
think, coming

up after
my world

had evaporated?
I’d wish

I were water. 

LINKS

An interview with Andrea Cohen on Redivider.

A large selection of poems are available through her website.

Andrea Cohen reads a selection of her poetry at the 2017 Nantucket Book Festival.

The Salmon Poetry page for Long Division.

The Salmon Poetry page for Kentucky Derby.

An interview with Andrea Cohen in Memorious.

An interview with Andrea Cohen in The Arkansas International.

Kate Kellaway reviews Long Division in The Guardian.

Jackson Holbert reviews Furs Not Mine in The Adroit Journal.

White Sound – Brief poems by Julie O’Callaghan

Author photo: Katie O’Callaghan

Julie O’Callaghan was born in 1954 in Chicago. Her great-grandparents had emigrated there from Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan. She was the second of seven children. Her father, Jack, whom she has written about extensively, was a High School teacher of English in the Chicago Public School system. She visited Ireland in July 1974, two days after her twentieth birthday. She was supposed to spend her third year of college studying abroad in Trinity College Dublin, and then go back to the United States. Instead, having written some poetry, she attended a poetry reading where, subsequently, she met the Irish poet, Dennis O’Driscoll whom she was later to marry. She never went back to live in the United States: I went back and told my parents that I was moving to Ireland. And I never finished my degree, which was a bit of a thing.

She took a job in the library in Trinity College, and continued to write poetry. In 1983 she had her first book of poetry, Edible Anecdotes, published by Dolmen Press. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.  Her second collection, What’s What, published by Bloodaxe Books in 1991, was a Poetry Book Society Choice.  No Can Do (Bloodaxe Books, 2000), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and Tell Me This Is Normal: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008) was also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. A chapbook, Problems (Pressed Wafer, Boston), appeared in 2005. Her most recent collection, Magnum Mysterium, dealing with the untimely death of her husband, Dennis O’Driscoll, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2020.

Her poetry has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and 2, BBC Radio 3 (including a commission for Poetry Proms 2002), BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Ulster, Public Radio International (Garrison Keillor), and RTE and BBC television. She has also written poetry for older children. These include Taking My Pen for a Walk (Orchard Books, 1988), Two Barks (Bloodaxe Books, 1998) and The Book of Whispers (Faber & Faber, 2006). She received the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award in 2001 and was awarded Arts Council of Ireland Bursaries in 1985, 1990 and 1998. She is a member of the Aosdána, the Irish association of artists which was created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland.

John Register, Untitled

THE POETRY OF JULIE O’CALLAGHAN

I first discovered the poetry of Julie O’Callaghan when I was asked to review her first collection, Edible Anecdotes. This is what I wrote at the time: The voice of the mid-West on vacation – crude, colloquial and demonstrative. It is the brash voice of the American salesman promoting freedom, free enterprise and enterprising garbage. It is the voice of returned emigrants, lamenting their loss. It is the mixed voice of Irish people at tea-break overheard in snatches of conversation. All these voices are captured in dramatic moments or demotic monologues, and their vibrancy sings. Subsequent volumes amplified the range of that voice as it retained its demotic thrust while extending its emotional range. The heart-breaking poems about her father’s death that were included in No Can Do, particularly in a sequence entitled Sketches for an Elegy, continue to use a colloquial timbre but imbue it with a depth of grief that fuses the disparate sketches into a coherent threnody. And that voice achieves a desolate plangency in her latest collection, Magnum Mysterium where the concluding sequence, After Dennis O’Driscoll, strips the anecdotal technique to a bare and brutal account of an almost unbearable grief with the burden of her husband’s loss borne with a wry irony and an  indefatigable grace.

In a modest comment, in an interview with Trinity News, she confesses to her poetic weaknesses. I have no notions whatsoever. I don’t know anything about poetry. Rhymes, metres and all that. It’s just not happening up there.  While that may be true – and it may not – she has an unerring sense of poetic rhythm that propels the poems in diverse directions. And there is something else resonanting through the poems, something learned perhaps from her lengthy engagement with The Pillow Book  of Sei Shōnagon, a court lady to the Empress of Japan, completed in 1002. In a set of poems collected under the title, Calligraphy, and included in Tell Me This Is Normal: New and Selected Poems,  the American slang and the Irish incidentals give way to a purer sense of oriental decorum. Unlike the Canadian poet, Suzanne Buffam, who uses the pillow book to compile contemporary lists to update the Japanese poet’s style (see my account of this on the Suzanne Buffam page) Julie O’Callaghan offers a more wistful, more allusive homage (although she does, in a poem called 21st Century Pillow Book, teasingly introduce a set of urban lists). This Japanese influence adds an emotional depth and a technical breadth to a poetry that may, at times, seem slight but is, in fact, and in the words of Wendy Cope, poetry you can understand: lively, entertaining, well-observed.

 

 

Brief Poems by Julie O’Callaghan

Bag

I have here 
a plastic bag with handles

inside I carry a few pieces of myself 
a spare arm, replacement vein, extra skin

they do come in useful
on days like today.

***

Time

Only a moment ago
he lay beside me
saying silly poetic things.
The mat is still warm,
incense from his robe
haunts the air.

***

White Sound

When rain
whispers
it is snow.

***

Skinny

All I ever eat is cake.
I eat it at every meal.
Oh and I drink Snapple.
First I take a forkful of cake,
then I wash it down with Mango Cocktail.
That’s my secret 
on how come
I’m so skinny.

***

Facing West

Walls of twinkling skyscrapers
need all the help they can get.
They soak up the colours of dusk.

People quit cooking
or stop laughing at the TV
and turn peach, violet and pale blue

– they are facing west.

***

Over

When he saw geese
gathering on a lake in Wisconsin
he said, ‘Oh no – summer’s almost over.’

Over? It was still hot.
Summer thunderstorms still pounded
nightly on the roof.

***

Island Life

I live on an island.
But that’s not the worst part.
Water sloshes uncontrollably
at the edges
of this entire geological formation.
You can hardly
go anyplace
without falling off.

***

The Day

When the day came
(oh it comes)
and the big old horse
is too stiff
to be ridden
his owner
carries a little chair
into his stable
and reads him poetry
instead.

***

Once When I Visited the Mall

I bought a magnificent floral-skirt
the one I had been searching for
which I knew woud be perfect
for every occasion.
But at home
the flowers seemed faded.

***

Train Music

this is what
I was trying to remember:
sad train moan
in the heat
howling
to the nation.

***

Solitary Confinement

The rattling keys
in my hand
I come 
to our front door
enter
and 
lock myself in
set the alarm
and commence
my Life Sentence.

***

After Dennis O’Driscoll

I had everything:
a cozy house
a genius husband
a happy life
a Sunday roast
a flower garden with gravel paths

and then one day…

***

All poems © Julie O’Callaghan
Publisher: Bloodaxe Books

 

LINKS

Julie O’Callaghan’s website.

The Julie O’Callaghan page on the Bloodaxe Books site.

Interview with Julie O’Callaghan in Trinity News

Julie O’Callaghan reads a selection of her poems in the  Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin. 

A review of Magnum Mysterium by Fred Johnston.

A review of Magnum Mysterium by Enda Coyle-Greene.

Julie O’Callaghan reads her poem “After Dennis O’Driscoll” at the UCD Special Collections Reading Room.

 

All poems © Julie O’Callaghan
Publisher: Bloodaxe Books

Watching Rain – Brief poems by Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781 – 1878)

Ono no Komachi (小野 小町, c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese waka (now known as tanka) poet. Very little is known of her life other than a broad date of birth and that she was active in the mid-9th century. Despite extensive research attempting to discover her place of birth, her family and her life, she remains a mystery and a legend. Some believe that she was a lady-of-the-bedchamber in the service of Emperor Ninmyō, others believe that she was a low-ranking consort of the emperor. She had romantic entanglements with various men and these poetic exchanges are preserved in the Kokin Wakashū,  a collection of “Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times”, an early anthology of the waka poetry dating from the Heian period. Her poetry is so well regarded that she is listed among the Rokkasen (Japanese Poetry Immortals), as well as in the introduction to the Kokin Wakashū, which contains her only surviving works. She is also one of the Sanjūrokkasen (the Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry) and the Nyōbōsanjūrokkasen (Thirty-six Immortal Lady Poets).

She was famous for her beauty and passion; she likely served at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, and her poems were a success in her own lifetime. The legends that have developed about her life have eclipsed the historical Ono no Komachi. One such legend is that concerning her harsh treatment of her admirer Fukakusa no Shosho, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi warned her suitor that he would have to visit her every night for 100 nights before she would submit to his charms. Fukakusa set about his task with determination and turned up each evening at Komachi’s house in all weathers. Tragically, though, the strain proved too much and Fukakusa died on the 99th night. Further legends tell of an aged Komachi living to be one hundred, forced to wander in ragged clothes, her beauty faded and her appearance so wretched that she was mocked by all around her, as punishment for her earlier mistreatment of her lovers. Another legend concerns her dying in poverty, her skull lying in a field; when the wind blows through the skull’s eye socket the sound evokes Komachi’s anguish. The true facts may never be known. 

The poetry, however, continues to endure. She is, arguably, the earliest and best example of a passionate woman poet in the Japanese canon commencing a tradition continued by Izumi Shikibu in a later age and Yosano Akiko in the modern one. Those poems, usually sad, deal with such subjects as lost love, unrequited love, loneliness, and the passing of time symbolised by changes in nature, especially fading blossoms and the changing colour of leaves in autumn. In his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, translator, critic and literary historian Donald Keene said that The intensity of emotion expressed in Komachi’s poetry not only was without precedent but would rarely be encountered in later years. The poetry of the Kokinshu was usually pitched in a lower key, and the ingenious use of language was a mark not of overpowering emotion but of a kind of intellectuality. Komachi’s poetry, however extravagant in expression, always seems sincere. 

The poetess Ono-no Komachi in the rain by Utagawa Toyokuni II.

TRANSLATORS

Helen Craig McCullough (1918 –1998) was an American academic, translator and Japanologist, best known for her 1988 translation of The Tale of the Heike. Her translations are included in Kokin Wakashū: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry (1985)

Donald  Keene (1922 –2019) was an American-born Japanese scholar, historian, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature. While staying at Cambridge, after winning a fellowship for Americans to study in England, Keene went to meet Arthur Waley, one of whose translations is included below, who was best known for his translation work in classical Chinese and Japanese literature. For Keene, Waley’s translation of Chinese and Japanese literature was inspiring, even arousing in Keene the thought of becoming a second Waley. He discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi in his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (see above).

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) often regarded, much to his disdain, as one of the central Beat poets was also a prolific reader of Chinese  and Japanese literature. Some of the translations below are from his collection One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. Oddly there are two translations of one poem: a translation he did with his collaborator, Ikuko Atsumi, and one credited only to himself. I prefer the latter. More of his Japanese translations are available on the Kenneth Rexroth post on this blog.

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet, essayist, and translator who has received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her poetry reflects her immersion in a wide range of poetic traditions, both Asian and Western. She has edited and co-translated, with Mariko Aratani, a collection of the work of the two foremost women poets of classical-era Japan: The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990). Through these, and other translations, she was instrumental in bringing tanka  to the attention of American poets.

Michael R. Burch is an American, poet, columnist, essayist, and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He also edits The HyperTexts  a literary website which has been online for two decades and currently gets around 1.5 million page views per year. On this site he includes translated poetry from Old English and numerous other languages into modern English. One page on his site is devoted to the poetry of Ono no Komachi where he offers numerous translations of her brief poems. More of what he calls “loose translations” of Ono no Komachi are available on the Michael R. Burch post on this blog.

Brief Poems by Ono no Komachi

花の色はうつりにけりないたづらにわが身世にふるながめせしまに

Hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
wa ga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni

Alas! The beauty
of the flowers has faded
and come to nothing,
while I have watched the rain,
lost in melancholy thought.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

The flowers withered
Their colour faded away,
While meaninglessly
I spent my days in brooding,
And the long rains were falling.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

While watching
the long rains falling on this world
my heart, too, fades
with the unseen color
of the spring flowers.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Without changing color
in the emptiness
of this world of ours,
the heart of man
fades like a flower.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 

***

Watching the long, dismal rains
inundating the earth,
my heart too is washed out, bleeds off
with the colors of the late spring flowers.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Aki no yo mo
na nomi narikeri
au to ieba
koto zo to mo naku
akenuru mono o

Autumn nights, it seems,
are long by repute alone:
scarcely had we met
when morning’s first light appeared,
leaving everything unsaid.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

The autumn night
is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
than gaze at each other
and it’s already dawn.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Autumn nights are “long”
only in verse and song:
for we had just begun
to gaze into each other’s eyes
when dawn immolated the skies!

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Hito ni wan
Tsuki no naki ni wa
Omoiokite
Mune hashiribi ni
Kokoro yakeori

This night of no moon
there is no way to meet him.
I rise in longing:
My breast pounds, a leaping flame,
my heart is consumed by fire.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

On such a night as this
When no moon lights your way to me,
I wake, my passion blazing,
My breast a fire raging, exploding flame
While within me my heart chars.

Translated by Earl Miner

***

You do not come
On this moonless night.
I wake wanting you.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart burns up.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth 

***

He does not come.
Tonight in the dark of the moon
I wake wanting him.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart chars.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 

***

When I cannot see him
In the dark of a moonless night,
Fire rises in me—
Leaping in my burning breast,
Charring my heart with its flames.

Translated by Steven Carter

***

Nights when the moon hides
All hope of seeing you leaves me
Desire lies smoldering
Within my breast flames burn wild
Fire scorching my sleepless heart

Translated by Charles Cabell

***

On nights such as these
when no moon lights your way to me,
I lie awake, my passion blazing,
my breast an inferno wildly raging,
while my heart chars within me.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

わびぬれば身をうき草の根をたえて誘ふ水あらば去なむとぞ思

Wabinureba
mi o ukikusa no
ne o taete
sasou mizu araba
inamu to zo omou

In this forlorn state
I find life dreary indeed:
if a stream beckoned,
I would gladly cut my roots
and float away like duckweed.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

So lonely am I
My body is a floating weed
Severed at the roots.
Were there water to entice me,
I would follow it, I think.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

This body
grown fragile, floating,
a reed cut from its roots . . .
If a stream would ask me
to follow, I’d go, I think.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Wretched water-weed that I am,
severed from all roots:
if rapids should entice me to annihilation,
why not welcome their lethal shoots?

Translated by Michael R. Burch

色見えでうつろふ物は世中の人の心の花にぞ有りける

Iro miede
Utsurou momo wa
Yo no naka no
Hito no kokoro no
Hana ni zo arikeru

The flowers and my love
Passed away under the rain,
While I idly looked upon them
Where is my yester-love?

Translated by Yone Noguchi

***

A thing which fades
With no outward sign—
Is the flower
Of the heart of man
In this world!

Translated by Arthur Waley

***

How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

Imperceptible
It withers in the world,
This flower-like human heart.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

***

Two things wilt without warning,
bleeding away their colors:
a flower and a man’s heart.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

思ひつつぬればや人の見えつらむ夢としりせばさめざらましを

Omoitsutsu
Nureba ya hito no
Meitsuramu
Yume to shiriseba
Samezaramashi wo

Thinking about him
I slept, only to have him
Appear before me—
Had I known it was a dream
I should never have wakened.

Translated by Donald Keene

***

Was it then because
I fell asleep with yearning thoughts
That he appeared to me?
Had I known it was a dream
I never would have awakened.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston

***

Was it that I went to sleep
Thinking of him,
That he came in my dreams?
Had I known it a dream
I should not have wakened.

Translated by Geoffrey Bownas

***

I fell asleep thinking of him,
And he came to me.
If I had known it was only a dream
I would have never awakened

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

***

Did he appear
because I fell asleep
thinking of him?
If only I’d known I was dreaming,
I’d never have wakened.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani

***

I nodded off thinking about you
only to have your appear in my dreams.
Had I known that I slept,
I’d have never awakened!

Translated by Michael R. Burch

いとせめてこひしき時はむばたまの夜の衣をかへしてぞきる

Ito semete
Koishiki toki wa
Mubatama no
Yoru no koromo o
Kaeshite zo kiru

When longing for him
Tortures me beyond endurance,
I reverse my robe —
Garb of night, black as leopard-flower berries —
And wear it inside out.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough

***

When love presses me
Relentless in the glistening night
I take off my robe,
Then lie down to sleep again,
Wearing it inside out.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston

***

When my desire
grows too fierce
I wear my bed clothes
inside out,
dark as the night’s rough husk.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

***

I feel desire so intensely
in the lily-seed darkness
that tonight I’ll turn my robe inside-out
before donning it.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

LINKS

The Ono no Komachi page on the Waka Poetry site with links to poems in original Japanese.

Ono no Komachi: Modern English Translations by Michael R. Burch.

Japanese and English quotations from the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

Jane Hirshfield discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

An e-text of her poems (in Japanese).

Ono no Komachi and the Standard of Japanese Female Beauty.

Ono no Komachi: A Waka Poet Renowned for her Beauty.

Burning in the Fires of Longing: The Kokinshu Poetry of Ono no Komachi, an essay and translations by Charles Cabell.

Summoning the Spirit: Poems of Komachi

The Wikipedia page on Ono no Komachi.

Beach Sandals – Brief poems by Anna Swir

Anna Swir (1909-1984), the name by which the Polish poet Anna Świrszczyńska is known in the English-speaking world, was born in the capital city, Warsaw. Her father, Jan Świrszczyński, was an avant-garde painter and her mother was a former singer who had given up a professional career to take care of her family. Anna Swir’s Poems About My Father and My Mother (unpublished until after her death) relate the story of her early childhood  as the family moved from home to home within Warsaw. She grew up in virtual poverty and had to interrupt her education in order to work. She supported herself as she grew older, managing to attend university where she studied medieval and baroque Polish literature. By the 1930s, when her first poems were being published, she was working for a teachers’ association. In 1934, her poem “Noon” was awarded first prize in a poetry competition sponsored by Literary News. In 1936 she published her first book, Poems and Prose. These early brief poems, writes Czeslaw Milosz in his introduction to Talking to My Body, bear the marks both of her upbringing in the artistic milieu (images taken from paintings and albums of reproductions) and of her fascination with the Middle Ages. In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland, precipitating World War II. Anna Swir joined the Polish resistance and worked as a waitress and as a military nurse in Warsaw while continuing to write for underground journals and participating in clandestine poetry readings. In 1944, while working as a nurse treating soldiers at a military hospital she expected to be executed for her resistance activities, as she recounts in her collection Building the Barricade. Milosz quotes Swir’s summary of this period of her life: War made me another person. Only then did my own life and the life of my contemporaries enter my poems.

One crucial impact of the war on her life was her displacement from Warsaw to Krakow.  For a time, she worked as a literary supervisor at the theatre there where she wrote and adapted plays. She also wrote children’s books, producing over 50 titles—an accomplishment that won her a literary prize in 1973. During the Stalinist years her plays written for adult audiences reflected the spirit of socialist realism, though after Stalin’s death, in 1953, she was able to turn to more psychological and political drama. She also wrote contemporary comedies for popular entertainment, translated poetry, produced opera librettos, and adapted literary works for the stage, radio and television while continuing to write her own poetry privately. She would eventually collect and publish these poems in a series of volumes, beginning in 1958, and these poems established her literary reputation.

When she was 44, she met and married actor Jan Adamski. (The priest who married them, and who later baptised their daughter, Ludmila, was Karol Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II.) Her Catholicism is evident in the poetry in its incarnational matter where the centrality of the flesh and the joys and agonies of embodiment recur throughout the poems, so much so that Milosz would eventually use the phrase, Talking to My Body, as the title of his volume of English translations of Swir’s poems. Of her personal life at this time Milosz once said, The marriage didn’t last long. Then she separated and she had some lovers.

She never married again, but she eventually entered into a lasting relationship with another man, whose identity is known only as “Jozef,” the life companion to whom she dedicated her book, Happy As a Dog’s Tail  (1978). In later years she became a vegetarian and practiced yoga and gymnastics on a regular basis. She also enjoyed jogging and long cross-country walks, activities that served to set her further outside the literary mainstream, both in terms of her life and her work. She wrote unadorned poetry of physical experience in a direct style. In 1984, Milosz, who was in the process of translating a book-length selection of her poems, wrote to inform her of the project. Though she told him that she was pleased that he was translating her poetry, she did not disclose that she was in the final throes of the cancer from which she would die on September 30, 1984. She is buried in the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow.

Her final poem, Tomorrow They Will Carve Me, written while on her deathbed, reads

Death came and stood by me.
I said: I am ready.
I am lying in the surgery clinic in Krakow.
Tomorrow
they will carve me.

There is much strength in me. I can live,
can run, dance, and sing.
All that is in me, but if necessary
I will go.

Today
I make account of my life.
I was a sinner,
I was beating my head against earth,
I implored from the earth and the sky
forgiveness.

I was pretty and ugly,
wise and stupid,
very happy and very unhappy
often I had wings
and would float in air.

I trod a thousand paths in the sun and in snow,
I danced with my friend under the stars.
I saw love
in many human eyes.
I ate with delight
my slice of happiness.

Now I am lying in the surgery clinic in Krakow.
It stands by me.
Tomorrow
they will carve me.
Through the window the trees of May, beautiful like life,
and in me, humility, fear, and peace.

 

 

ANNA SWIR: POETRY AND TRANSLATION

I do not speak Polish. I do not read Polish. Yes there is something clever, caustic and evocative in the poems below and in the longer ones available on the Poetry Foundation site that transcends translation. Anna Swir is like a more carnal Emily Dickinson or a more spiritual Sylvia Plath. As she put it memorably, A poet should be as sensitive as an aching tooth. There is an ache and an acute sensitivity to body and soul in her best poetry as is evident below and in the more extensive poems. She was not well-known or much celebrated in her native Poland. (Even today the Wikipedia page on the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow, which also contains the graves of Georg Trakl and Wislawa Szymborska,  does not mention her in its list of notable internments.) Czeslaw Milosz explains why he introduced her work to a wider, English speaking audience: he translated her poems in order to repair injustice, because she was underestimated. I consider her a very important poet. But she was somehow in the shade. First of all, she had great difficulty in finding proper expression for her experiences, her war experiences. And then later she had difficulty finding this proper expression also for her love experiences. So she was a latecomer in a way. And for that reason she was not highly known. In 1985, Milosz published Happy as a Dog’s Tail, the first collection in English to consist solely of Swir’s poems. All of the poems were translated by Milosz, in partnership with Leonard Nathan, and consisted of poems from her mature volumes . In 1996, Milosz and Nathan re-edited the volume, adding an additional 65 poems and removing 31 that had been in the first edition, and renamed the book Talking to My Body. New translations of the poems have appeared in  Building the Barricade, translated by Piotr Florczyk in 2009. I leave it to Milosz, in a posthumous tribute, to sum up the enduring appeal of Anna Swir’s poetry: Opening myself to her verses, I have been more and more conquered by her extraordinary, powerful, exuberant, and joyous personality . . . her calm in accepting reality, whether it brought bliss or suffering. A mood of detachment is visible in her late poems. To have met such a person through her poems has inclined me to faith and optimism . . . In her later poems it was apparent that she had been gradually moving toward a supreme quietude.

 

Brief Poems by Anna Swir

TRANSLATED BY CZESLAW MILOSZ AND LEONARD NATHAN

BEACH SANDALS

I swam away from myself.
Do not call me.
Swim away from yourself, too.

We will swim away, leaving our bodies
on the shore
like a pair of beach sandals.

***

LOVE WITH RUCKSACKS

Two rucksacks,
two grey heads.
And the roads of all the world
for wandering.

***

A DOUBLE RAPTURE

Because there is no me
and because I feel
how much there is no me.

***

I PROTEST

Dying
is the hardest
work of all.

The old and sick
should be exempt from it.

***

ANXIETY

You make among the trees
a nest for our love.
But look at the flowers
you’ve crushed.

***

I AM FILLED WITH LOVE

I am filled with love
as a great tree with the wind,
as a sponge with the ocean,
as a great life with suffering,
as time with death.

***

I CANNOT

I envy you. Every moment
You can leave me.

I cannot
leave myself.

 

THEY SAVED ME

Twenty-four hours
I was dying of fever.

Twenty-four hours
mother knelt
and prayed by my bed.

Twenty-four hours
father lay, face down
on the floor.

They saved me.

***

SAD LOVERS

Like an eye and an eyelid
United by a tear.

***

FOUR VERY FAT LEGS

I am jolly as if I were
very fat.
As if I had four
very fat legs. As if I jumped very high
on my four very fat legs.
As if I barked
cheerfully and very loudly
with those four very fat legs.
That’s how jolly I am today.

***

THERE IS A LIGHT IN ME

Whether in daytime or in nighttime
I always carry inside
a light.
In the middle of noise and turmoil
I carry silence.
Always I carry light and silence.

***

THAT WOULD NOT BE GOOD

When I am alone
I am afraid to turn
too quickly.

What is behind my back
may not, after all, be ready
to take a shape suitable
for human eyes.

And that would not be good.

***

SHE DOES NOT REMEMBER

She was an evil stepmother.
In her old age she is slowly dying
in an empty hovel.

She shudders
like a clutch of burnt paper.
She does not remember that she was evil.
But she knows
that she feels cold.

***

THE GREATEST LOVE

She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
“You have hair like pearls.”

Her children say:
“Old fool.”

***

THING INDESCRIBABLE

Out of suffering, power is born.
Out of power, suffering is born.

Two words for one
indescribable
thing

***

TO THAT WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT

Were I able to shut
My eyes, ears, legs, hands
And walk into myself
For a thousand years,
Perhaps I would reach
—I do not know its name—
what matters most.

 

TRANSLATED BY OTHERS

TWO POTATOES

I carried two potatoes
a woman came up to me.

She wanted to buy two potatoes
She had children.

I didn’t give her two potatoes
I hid two potatoes.

I had a mother.

translated by Piotr Florczyk

***

MAN AND CENTIPEDE

I will survive.

I’ll find the deepest basement,
shut myself inside, won’t let anybody in,
I’ll dig a hole in the ground,
chew out the bricks,
I’ll hide in the wall, I’ll go into the wall
like a centipede.

Everyone will die, and I
will survive.

translated by Piotr Florczyk

***

LET THEM COUNT CORPSES

Those who gave the first order to fight
let them now count our corpses.

Let them go through the streets
that are not there
through the city
that is not there
let them count for weeks for months
let them count our corpses
till death.

translated by Piotr Florczyk

***

You Died

You really died in me, not when
another gave me joy.
You died in me
when another gave me pain.

translated by Margaret Marshment and Grazyua Baran

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

POETRY COLLECTIONS IN POLISH

Wiersze i proza (Poems and Prose) (1936)

Liryki zebrane (Collected Poems) (1958)

Czarne słowa (Black Words) (1967)

Wiatr (Wind) (1970)

Jestem baba (I am a Woman) (1972)

Poezje wybrane (Selected Poems) (1973)

Budowałam barykadę (Building the Barricade) (1974)

Szczęśliwa jak psi ogon (Happy as a Dog’s Tail) (1978)

Cierpienie i radość (Suffering and Joy) (1985)

 

COLLECTIONS IN ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS

Thirty-four Poems on the Warsaw Uprising (1977), New York. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Building the Barricade (1979), Kraków. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Happy as a Dog’s Tail (1985), San Diego. Transl.: Czesław Miłosz & Leonard Nathan.

Fat Like the Sun (1986), London. Transl.: M. Marshment, G. Baran.

Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) Transl.: Czesław Miłosz & Leonard Nathan.

Building the Barricade and Other Poems of Anna Swir Tr. by Piotr Florczyk (Calypso Editions, 2011).

 

LINKS

Poems and a brief biography on the My Poetic Side website.

Anna Swir & the Poetics of Embodiment by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell.

Poems by Anna Swir on The Gladdest Thing.

Poems by Anna Swir on A Longhouse Birdhouse.

Czeslaw Milosz discusses his translations and her poetry with The San Diego Reader.

The Anna Swir page on the Biographies II site.

An interview with Piotr Florcyz on translating Anna Swir.

Pearls and Toads, Yeast and Froth: Relationships in Anna Świrszczyńska’s Poetry; an essay by Laura Miller-Purrenhage.

Antenna – Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson (October 9th, 1948 – October 6th, 2019) was born on the Lower Falls Road in Belfast into an Irish-speaking family. His father, William, was a postman and an Irish language enthusiast from whom he inherited his love of Irish, and of traditional music and storytelling. His mother, Mary, also an inspiration for his poems, worked in the linen mills. He spent his early years in Andersontown where he attended Slate Street School and, later, St. Gall’s Primary School. After attending St Mary’s Christian Brothers grammar school in Belfast, he studied English at Queen’s University where Seamus Heaney was one of his tutors and where poets Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon were fellow students. After graduation, he worked as the traditional arts officer of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1998 with responsibility for traditional Irish music and literature. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he travelled all over Ireland, playing the flute and the tin whistle in public venues, often accompanied by his future wife, Deirdre Shannon – herself a gifted fiddle-player. In 1998 he was appointed a Professor of English at Queen’s University and in 2003 was appointed director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at the university. 

He was the author of fourteen poetry collections and six prose books including Last Night’s Fun (1996), a book about traditional music where each chapter bears the title of a beloved song; The Star Factory, (1998) a memoir of Belfast which The Chicago Tribune called “a positive, loving, even celebratory evocation, the work of a man determined to live an ordinary urban life, and to clear in it a place for the imagination”; Shamrock Tea, (2001) a novel longlisted for the Booker Prize which, as The Guardian reviwer put it “claims to be a novel but might equally be filed under History, Philosophy, Art, or Myth and Religion”; Fishing for AmberA Long Story, (2000) which weaves, in an elaborate manner, Irish fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the history of the Dutch golden age into the form of a magical alphabet; a novel The Pen Friend (2009) and a literary thriller set in Paris and Belfast, Exchange Place (2012).  His translation of Dante’s Inferno (2002) was awarded the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize and in 2003 he was made an honorary member of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association. He also translated Rimbaud into alexandrine lines in his collection In the Light Of  (2012) and the lesser-known French writer, Jean Follain, in From Elsewhere (2014) where he accompanied each translation with his own individual response. Unsurprisingly, given his Irish-language background, he also translated the Irish classic The Táin (2007) and Brian Merriman’s classic The Midnight Court (2005).

Ciaran Carson lived in Belfast his whole life. He died of lung cancer on 6 October 2019 at the age of 70, days before the publication of his last collection, Still Life.

 

THE POETRY OF CIARAN CARSON

Although it has long been superceded by better-known and better-celebrated collections, Ciaran Carson’s first book The New Estate (1976) was, to my mind, a remarkable debut and this first edition with its intriguing woodcuts holds a special place in my collection. A poem like The Bomb Disposal where “The city is a map of the city” prefigures themes that were to be developed, explored and extended throughout subsequent volumes: and a poem like Soot is still, decades on, a memorable and intricate poem. That fascination with maps, a constant throughout his career, is further indulged in his second collection, The Irish for No (1987) where a central section recreates the map of Belfast – the collapsing city – in words. Obliterated streets, bombed-out hotels and demolished facades are recalled and reconstructed in verse. A vibrant and decaying city is celebrated in an explosion of proper nouns. There is a new and frightening maturity at play here as evident in a poem like Campaign. Yet it is in the longer poems, in a style that owes much to the influence of the American poet, C. K. Williams, that Carson was to find his own mature voice. The subsequent collection, Belfast Confetti (1989) which, intriguingly, does not contain that evocative poem Belfast Confetti , further develops the long poem, the nine line poem, the prose poem and, interspersed throughout, a selection of translations of Japanese haiku (see below.) It also begins with a poem about maps, about Belfast, about street names, about directions, about history and, in typical Carson fashion, elides and aligns all together.

Breaking News (2003) is fascinating for the manner in which Carson manages to develop a fragmentary style to convey his typical concerns. That brief and fragmentary style is less successful, to my mind, in later volumes. On the Night Watch (2009) consists of over one hundred and twenty slimmed down, pared down, sonnets dealing with a siege of sickness. It is ingenious but somewhat repetitive. Ever more ingenious, if also repetitive, is the subsequent collection Until Before After (2010) which is about his wife’s hospital stay for a serious illness. The book is divided into three sections (until, before, after) and each poem in each section includes the relevant preposition from the title of that section. Brief poems are also included in his penultimate collection From Elsewhere (2014) a response to the French poet Jean Follain or, as he put it in an introductory note: This book consists of translations of the French poet Jean Follain, faced by “original” poems inspired by these translations: spins or takes on them in other words. Translations of the translations as it were. If many of the translations are a little flat, the translations of the translations, the original poems, some of which are included below, are far more interesting. There are no brief poems is Carson’s last posthumous publication Still Life (2019) but it is a remarkable swan song, one of the best poetry books of the decade, a superb concluding look at life, death and the streets of a Belfast that nourished this remarkable poet throughout his life.

 

Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson

from THE NEW ESTATE AND OTHER POEMS (1988)

Eaves

Rain in summer –
it is the sound of a thousand cows
Being milked.

In winter
The eaves are heavy with ice,
Their snowy teats drip silence.                             

from the Welsh

***

Epitaph

Now I am bereft of answers
Your questions have gone astray –

Your roofs are open to the wind,
My roof is but cold clay.

after Dafydd Jones

 

 

from BELFAST CONFETTI (1989)

Plains and mountains, skies
all up to their eyes in snow:
nothing to be seen.

-Joso

***

I know the wild geese
ate my barley – yesterday?
Today? Where did they go?

-Yasui

***

These are wild slow days,
echoes trickling in from all
around Kyoto.

-Buson

***

I’ve just put on this
borrowed armour: second hand
cold freezes my bones.

-Buson

***

In Kyoto, still
longing for Kyoto: cuck-
oo’s two timepworn notes.

-Basho

***

Darkness never flows
except down by the river:
shimmering fireflies.

-Chiyo

 

 

from BREAKING NEWS (2003)

Belfast

east

beyond the yellow
shipyard cranes

a blackbird whistles
in a whin bush

west

beside the motorway
a black taxi

rusts in a field 
of blue thistles

***

Trap

backpack radio
antenna

twitching
rifle

headphones
cocked

I don’t
read you

what the

over

***

Breaking

red alert
car parked

in a red
zone

about to

disintegrate
it’s

oh

so quiet

you can
almost

hear it rust

***

Wire

I met him
in a bar

he shook

my hand

spoke
of coffee-grinders

this

and that

time
and place

by now

he’d lit

a cigarette

he reeked of
explosive

***

Waste  Not

birds flock
above the field

near
dark

women with sheaves
attend

the dead
harvesting

gold braid
and buttons

***

Fragment

from a piece of
the Tupperware
lunchbox that hold

the wiring
they could tell
the bombmaker wore

Marigold rubber gloves

***

Campaign

shot
the horses fell

a crow
plucked the eyes

time passed

from a socket
crept

a butterfly

***

Siege

the road
to Sevastopal

is paved
with round-shot

the road
from Sevastapol

with boots
that lack feet

 

 

from ON THE NIGHT WATCH (2009)

It Is

never
as late as

you think
you think

you know
the small hours

grow
into decades

measuring
eternity

or dawn
to the chink

chink
of the first bird

***

Snow

that we two
looked at

last year
does it fall

anew
or what is this

a blinding
dazzle

dark & stars
we wonder which

is yin
which yang

what then
what now

***

Rank

divested
of his gear

a soldier
by his neck

tag
all 33

vertebrae
intact

the body
laid out where

he went kaput
a bullet

through
the occipital bone

***

Night after Night

in room
after book-

filled room
upon storey

after storey
I scan spine

after spine
upon shelf

after shelf
trying to locate

a volume
lodged at

the back
of my mind

 

from UNTIL BEFORE AFTER (2010)

So it is

as when
death draws

nigh death
draws a hush

upon the house
until the one

who is about
to die

cries open
the door

***

Whatever

imponderable
toll time

takes we
cannot tell

the order
of our going

hence until
the next

not even
then

***

It is

as if another city
dark as this one

dwells in this one
as before now that

you hear it through
the helicopter

beat that swells
from where

the city meets
the city

***

Time and

again time
after time to

play in time
as we did with

each other for
the last time

before now that
after without you

I still keep
your time in mind

***

The tag

round your wrist
bore a number

your name
and DOB

two weeks after
two stone less

the day you
came home it

slipped off
no need to snip

 

 

from FROM ELSEWHERE (2014)

Reverberation

From time to time
following the rumble of thunder
or a bomb
upon a mantlepiece
a Dresden vase crowded
wIth open-mouthed flowers
trembles about
to topple
over.

***

Then

Fallen from some
unknown tree
the leaf stuck
to the mushroom
trembles
in a moonlit glade
a horseman passes by
vanishes
into the gloom.

***

Revolution

Amid the nosie of gunfire
only the blind man
hears his cane
as he taps his way
through streets thronged with rioters
to the printing press
where they cast bullets
from type.

***

What Light There Is

By night
a flotilla of helicopters
circles above a city
never seen but heard
a noise indistinguishable
from that of the world
beyond its waves
from time to time
pierced by
a lightning stroke
the shriek of a night bird.

***

All poems: ©The Gallery Press.

 

 

LINKS

 Poetry Foundation page on Ciaran Carson.

The Gallery Press page on Ciaran Carson.

An interview with Ciaran Carson in The New Yorker.

Michael Hinds discusses the poetry of Ciaran Carson in the Dublin Review of Books.

Still Life: a review by David Wheatley.

The Triumph: In memory of Ciaran Carson, a poem by Paul Muldoon.

Irish Times Obituary.

The New York Times obituary.

Wild Geese – Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo

Takaha Shugyo (鷹羽狩行) was born in the mountainous Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, on October 5th 1930. Due to the work of his father, he spent his youth in Onomichi (Inland Sea). He began writing haiku when he was 15 years old, studying with Yamaguchi Seishi and Akimoto Fujio. He received the Minister of Education’s Young Poets Award in 1965 for his haiku collection Birth and in 1975, the Mainichi Newspaper Art Award for Wing Lights and Thirteenth Day Moon. He is founder and leader of the haiku magazine KARI (Hunting) established in 1978. In 1979 he resigned from the company for which he had been working since graduating from university and now heads a group called Kari and earns his living as a selector and commentator. Since then he has devoted himself to haiku, providing guidance in the composition of haiku for the Kari Haiku Society’s thousands of members as well as publishing a monthly magazine, also called Kari. To this day he is the President of the Haijin Kyokai (the Association of Haiku Poets), which is the largest association of haiku poets in Japan and has some 14,000 members. Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haiku and at the same time has been an enthusiastic exponent of the art of composing haiku overseas. He is also an executive director of HIA, a haiku judge for the Mainichi newspaper and NHK television’s national haiku contest, a director of the Japan Writers’ Association, and has won many awards for his haiku.

As a professional haiku poet, he has been known to judge some 30,000 haiku each month. That works out at  about 1,000 haiku per day, just the ones he’s judging, mostly for publication. He has even written a poem about this amazing achievement:

the chirping of tree crickets—
after having judged
a thousand verses in one day

He received many prices for his numerous haiku collections and has also written many educational texts about haiku. As one of his translators, Hoshino Tsunehiko has noted, Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haikuand may be said to be one of the busiest and most productive professional haiku poets active in Japan today.

HAIKU CONVENTIONS

Takaha Shugyo preserves the convention of the 5/7/5 sound symbol pattern and, also, the use of a season-word. He places great importance on tradition and on classical haiku while also adding a contemporary touch to his own compositions. This is evident in one of his best-known poems, the first in the series below which is accompanied by four different translations. This was written in 1969, he explains, on a visit to New York, while looking down from the Empire State Building. During a month-long business trip to America in 1969, I wrote one hundred and seventeen haiku. I looked down on Central Park’s verdure (336 hectares) from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. Expressing it just as a miniature garden would be trite like a cheap picture postcard. From this height it looked like the parsley served on a dish in Western cuisine. I felt that this expression could convey my feeling. With the advance of internationalization, this verse was regarded as a groundbreaking example of haiku composed overseas by Japanese haikuists, but many people criticized it for that reason.

Hoshino Tsunehiko explains that the “contemporary note” that Takaha adds to his poems is an “intellectual lyricism” and a skill for “composing haiku overseas”.  He further remarks that this latter tendency “has provided us with many works which can serve as guides or models as to how to adapt season-words—poetic terms which were originally born from Japan’s climate, geography and culture—to the different seasons and climes of foreign countries.

Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo

摩天楼より新緑がパセリほど

matenrō yori shinryoku ga paseri hodo

from the skyscraper
the fresh greenery of the trees—
just like parsley

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

From a skyscraper,
nothing but so much parsley—
springtime’s new greens

translation by Jack Stamm

___

from a skyscraper 
fresh green trees 
look like parsley

translation by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita

___

Seen from the skyscraper
the trees’ fresh greenery:
spring parsley

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

落椿われならば急流へ落つ

ochitsubaki ware naraba kyūryū e otsu

fallen camellias—
if I were one,
I’d throw myself into the torrent

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

if I were a fallen camellia
I would fall
into a rapid stream

Translation by Fay Aoyagi

___

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I’d leap into the torrent!

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

スケートの濡れ刃たづさへ人妻よ

sukēto no nureba tazusae hitozuma yo

O, somebody’s wife!
carrying ice skates
with wet blades

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

ハート型彫られて一樹はや芽吹く

hātogata horarete ichiju haya mebuku

one tree,
a heart carved on its trunk,
buds early

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

A single tree,
a heart carved into its trunk,
blossoms prematurely …

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

美しき五月の汗を拭はずに

utsukushiki gogatsu no ase o nuguwazu ni

sweat in May—
too beautiful
to wipe it off

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

 秋暑し籠のひしめく小鳥市

aki atsushi kago no hishimeku kotoriichi

autumn heat—
the cages jostle
at the bird market

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

***

馬小屋の一頭で満ちクリスマス

umagoya no ittō de michi kurisumasu

one horse fills
the nativity stable—
Christmas

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

 

kurumi waru kurumi no naka ni tsukawanu heya

cracking open a walnut —
inside the shell,
one unused room

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Inside the cracked shell
of a walnut:
one empty room

translation by Michael R. Burch

***

道化服ぬがずてんたう虫の死よ

dōkefuku nugazu tentōmushi no shi yo

still wearing
its clown’s costume,
the ladybird has died

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Still clad in its clown’s costume—
the dead ladybird.

translation by Michael R. Burch

 

雁渡るらし燭の火の揺れつづけ

kari wataru rashi shoku no hi no yuretsuzuke

geese seem to be flying south—
the candle’s flame
continues to flicker

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

___

Are the geese flying south?
The candle continues to flicker …

translation by Michael R. Burch

***

kari sugishi ato zenten o miseitari

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed

translation by Michael R. Burch

___

Wild geese pass
Revealing
The whole of heaven

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington

 

 

LINKS

A brief profile and five poems on the Haiku International Association website.

Arriving Geese: Learning from Shugyō Takaha

The Takaha Shugyo page on the Introducing Haiku Poets and Topics site.

Translations by Michael R. Burch of poems by Takaha Shugyo are included on the Haiku: the Best of the Masters page on the HyperTexts site.

The image used on this page is a woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, Full Moon at Takanawa.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Michael R. Burch in providing original Japanese poems and his translations for this post.

Garlands – Brief Poems by Meleager of Gadara

Meleager the poet (Μελέαγρος), not to be confused with Meleager the Greek mythological hero, lived during the first century BC (c. 140 BC.-c. 70 BC). He was born in the city of Gadara, now known as Umm Qays in modern Jordan. He was raised and educated in Tyre and, later, lived on the Aegean island of Cos where he died, it is believed at the age of seventy. He claimed to speak Greek, Syrian and Phoenician. His satirical and philosophical essays, based on the beliefs of the Greek Cynics, have not survived. However his sensual poetry, in the form of 134 epigrams, continues to find new translators and new readers. He is famous for an anthology of poetry entitled The Garland, the first anthology of epigrammatic poems written over the previous two centuries. In the preface he names all his contributors and assigns each one the name of a flower, shrub or herb –  hence the title. This work was subsumed into what has become known as The Greek Anthology.

Meleager included his own poems in the anthology. These are primarily erotic epigrams, often written in the first person, dealing with his own experience and emotion. Most of the experiences and much of the emotion derives from the difficulties and distractions of love, sometimes concerning a woman, sometimes concerning a young boy. These brief poems are neatly constructed in a strict metre with a tone varying from the affectionate to the cynical and a language, at times simple, and at times imbued with the traditional imagery of bows, torches, cupids, thunderbolts, honey, light flowers and insects (in one epigram he asks a mosquito to be the messenger to his unfaithful beloved). His poems influenced he epigrammatic tradition which flourished during the Roman Empire and they continue to be translated today. In the 1830’s, J. H. Merivale, in an edition of The Greek Anthology, wrote of Meleager that “as a … composer of epigrams he was very far superior” to the authors he included in The Garland. Some 140 years later, scholar and translator Peter Jay stated, Meleager’s poetic authenticity lies in the mastery of every aspect of his medium.

TRANSLATING MELEAGER

The epigrams of Meleager have been extensively rendered in English and continue to inspire translations. Walter Headlam brought out Fifty Poems of Meleager (1890); W. R Paton translated them in The Greek Anthology (1916); Richard Aldington translated 128 of them in The Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1920): F. A. Wright translated The Complete Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1924); Peter Whigham produced verse translations of the poems along with prose translations by Peter Jay in The Poems of Meleager (1975); Baron Frederick Corvo (aka Frederick Rolfe) produced The Songs of Meleager (1984). However all the translations below are taken from one source: Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of The Greek Anthology edited by Daryl Hine (Princeton University Press, 2001) which translates most of the twelfth book of The Greek Anthology. That book, the so-called Musa Puerilis, is given its first complete verse version in English by the Canadian-born poet. Richard Howard had this to say of these translations: Daryl Hine’s translations from The Greek Anthology are the liveliest, frequently loveliest, and certainly the most libidinous versions of these celebrated texts that I’ve ever seen. I know from years of teaching that American students, even of the Classics, are quite vague about what The Greek Anthology was really like—particularly the salacious aspect of those poems. Hine alone gives a fair (or is that foul) sample.

DARYL HINE

Daryl Hine (1936 – 2012), a Canadian poet and translator, was born in Burnaby and grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia. Having attended McGill University in Montreal, he then went to Europe on a Canada Council scholarship, where he lived for three years. He moved to New York in 1962 and to Chicago in 1963 where he taught courses in poetry and comparative literature at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago. He was the editor of Poetry from 1968 to 1978. Hine was a highly regarded translator of classical writers such as Homer, Hesiod, and Ovid, among others. His translation of Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns (2005) won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. He was also  the recipient of a Canada Foundation-Rockefeller fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, an American Academy and Institution of Arts and Letters Award and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was the author of fifteen books of poetry and six works of verse translation. Following the death of his partner of more than 30 years, the philosopher Samuel Todes, Hine lived in semi-retirement in Evanston, Illinois. In 2012 Daryl Hine died of complications of a blood disorder at the age of 76.

 

Brief Poems by Meleager of Gadara

TRANSLATED BY DARYL HINE

Ἠγρεύθην ὁ πρόσθεν ἐγώ ποτε τοῖς δυσέρωσι 
κώμοις ἠιθέων πολλάκις ἐγγελάσας: 
καὶ μ᾽ ἐπὶ σοῖς ὁ πτανὸς Ἔρως προθύροισι, Μυΐσκε, 
στῆσεν ἐπιγράψας ‘ σκῦλ᾽ ἀπὸ Σωφροσύνης.’

I used to laugh at young men who were not 
Successful in their wooing. Now I’m caught; 
Myiscus, on your gate winged Love has placed 
Me, labelled as, “A Trophy of the Chaste.” 

***

ἦν καλὸς Ἡράκλειτος, ὅτ᾽ ἦν ποτε: νῦν δὲ παρ᾽ ἥβην 
κηρύσσει πόλεμον δέρρις ὀπισθοβάταις. 
ἀλλά, Πολυξενίδη, τάδ᾽ ὁρῶν, μὴ γαῦρα φρυάσσου: 
ἔστι καὶ ἐν γλουτοῖς φυομένη Νέμεσις.

A peach was Heraclitus when — don’t scoff! — 
Still Heraclitus; now he’s past his prime 
His hairy hide puts all assailants off. 
On your cheeks too the curse will come in time. 

***

οὐκέτι μοι Θήρων γράφεται καλός, οὐδ᾽ ὁ πυραυγὴς 
πρίν ποτε, νῦν δ᾽ ἤδη δαλός, Ἀπολλόδοτος. 
στέργω θῆλυν ἔρωτα: δασυτρώγλων δὲ πίεσμα 
λασταύρων μελέτω ποιμέσιν αἰγοβάταις.

No, Theron’s beauty does no longer please 
Me, nor Apollodotus’ burnt-out charms. 
I like cunt. Let bestial goatherds squeeze 
Their hairy little bumboys in their arms! 

***

κεῖμαι: λὰξ ἐπίβαινε κατ᾽ αὐχένος, ἄγριε δαῖμον. 
οἶδά σε, ναὶ μὰ θεούς, καὶ ^ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρειν 
οἶδα καὶ ἔμπυρα τόξα. βαλὼν δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐμὴν φρένα πυρσούς, 
οὐ φλέξεις: ἤδη πᾶσα γάρ ἐστι τέφρη.

Yes, kick me when I’m down, you spiteful sprite! 
I feel your weight, I feel your fiery dart. 
But if you try to set fire to my heart, 
You can’t: it is incinerated quite. 

***

ἢν ἐνίδω Θήρωνα, τὰ πάνθ᾽ ὁρῶ: ἢν δὲ τὰ πάντα 
βλέψω, τόνδε δὲ μή, τἄμπαλιν οὐδὲν ὁρῶ.

When I see Thero I see everything; 
But when he’s absent I can’t see a thing. 

***

ἤν τι πάθω, Κλεόβουλε, ῾τὸ γὰρ πλέον ἐν πυρὶ παίδων 
βαλλόμενος κεῖμαι λείψανον ἐν σποδιῇ:᾿ 
λίσσομαι, ἀκρήτῳ μέθυσον, πρὶν ὑπὸ χθόνα θέσθαι, 
κάλπιν, ἐπιγράψας ‘ δῶρον Ἔρως Ἀίδῃ.’

If, Cleobulus, I should expire 
Being cast on the juvenile pyre, 
As to ashes I burn 
Sprinkle wine on my urn 
And inscribe it, “ To Death from Desire.” 

***

εἰ μὴ τόξον Ἔρως, μηδὲ πτερά, μηδὲ φαρέτραν,
μηδὲ πυριβλήτους εἶχε πόθων ἀκίδας,
οὐκ, αὐτὸν τὸν πτανὸν ἐπόμνυμαι, οὔποτ᾽ ἂν ἔγνως
ἐκ μορφᾶς τίς ἔφυ Ζωίλος ἢ τίς Ἔρως.

If Cupid had no bow, no wings, and no 
Quiver filled with fiery arrows of 
Desire, by looks alone you’d never know 
Zoilus from the winged god of love. 

***

ἁ Κύπρις θήλεια γυναικομανῆ] φλόγα βάλλει: 
ἄρσενα δ᾽ αὐτὸς Ἔρως ἵμερον ἁνιοχεῖ. 
ποῖ ῥέψω; ποτὶ παῖδ᾽ ἢ ματέρα; φαμὶ δὲ καὐτὰν 
Κύπριν ἐρεῖν: ‘νικᾷ τὸ θρασὺ παιδάριον

Lady Venus generates our lust 
For females; Cupid pricks desire for males. 
Which shall I turn to? Even Venus must 
Admit her cheeky little brat prevails. 

***

ἠοῦς ἄγγελε, χαῖρε, Φαεσφόρε, καὶ ταχὺς ἔλθοις 
ἕσπερος, ἣν ἀπάγεις, λάθριος αὖθις ἄγων.

Hail, morning star, fair messenger of dawn! 
As evening star, bring back the sweet cheat gone. 

***

Κύπρις ἐμοὶ ναύκληρος, Ἔρως δ᾽ οἴακα φυλάσσει 
ἄκρον ἔχων ψυχῆς ἐν χερὶ πηδάλιον 
χειμαίνει δ᾽ ὁ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, οὕνεκα δὴ νῦν 
παμφύλῳ παίδων νήχομαι ἐν πελάγει.

My skipper’s Venus, Cupid mans the helm, 
Holding my spirit’s rudder in his hand; 
Desire blows hard enough to overwhelm 
Me, breasting a sea of boys from every land. 

***

χειμέριον μὲν πνεῦμα: φέρει δ᾽ ἐπὶ σοί με, Μυΐσκε, 
ἁρπαστὸν κώμοις ὁ γλυκύδακρυς Ἔρως. 
χειμαίνει δὲ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, ἀλλὰ μ᾽ ἐς ὅρμον 
δέξαι, τὸν ναύτην Κύπριδος ἐν πελάγει.

Myiscus, despite this wintry wind I’m swept 
Away by Love’s sweet tears to pay you court. 
Desire is like a hurricane. Accept 
This loving mariner into your port. 

 

LINKS

All of the epigrams of Meleager in a prose translation by W. R. Paton.

Ten of the poems translated by Thomas McEvilley.

A large selection of the poems in the original Greek from Maleager: The Poems edited by Jerry Clack.

The Poems of Maleager: Verse Translations by Peter Whigham; Introduction and literal translations by Peter Jay.

Full text of Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of The Greek Anthology Translated by Daryl Hine.

A review of Puerilities by Otto Steinmayer.

The Canadian Encyclopaedia page on Daryl Hine.