Michael R. Burch (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor of The HyperTexts www.thehypertexts.com a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Takaha Shugyo, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.
Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.
PEARLS – BRIEF POEMS BY MICHAEL R.BURCH
Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site for such honesty.
He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.” He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).
Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch
Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
―for the children of Gaza
I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Piercing the Shell
If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.
It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.
Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.
half the Bible
Nun Fun Undone
are not for excesses!
don’t forget …
don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.
for the Religious Right
Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)
The Whole of Wit
If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.
A snake in the grass
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks
Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:
blesses my knuckle
with affectionate dew
Dry leaf flung awry:
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve
Duet, Minor Key
Without the drama of cymbals
or the fanfare and snares of drums,
I present my case
stripped of its fine veneer:
behold, thy instrument.
Play, for the night is long.
is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.
Warming Her Pearls
Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.
The Poem of Poems
This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SAPPHO
You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.
That enticing girl’s clinging dresses
leave me trembling, overcome by happiness,
as once, when I saw the Goddess in my prayers
Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.
A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ATHENIAN EPITAPHS
Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
after Leonidas of Tarentum
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.
Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF PABLO NERUDA
You can crop all the flowers but you cannot detain spring.
While nothing can save us from death,
still love can redeem each breath.
As if you were on fire from within,
the moon whitens your skin.
Please understand that when I wake up weeping
it’s because I dreamed I was a lost child again,
searching leave-heaps for your hands in the darkness.
I am no longer in love with her, that’s certain,
but perhaps I love her still.
Love is so short, forgetting so long!
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF ONO NO KOMACHI
As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?
I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.
Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.
the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF MATSUO BASHO
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid
An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw
This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)
The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.
High-altitude rose petals
the melody of a waterfall.
LOOSE TRANSLATIONS OF SELECTED HAIKU AND TANKA
After the French of Patrick Blanche
One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter
After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita
This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain
After the Japanese of Issa
Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.
After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
After the Japanese of Yosa Buson
White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn
(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)
After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin
just snow eternally falling …
After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako
The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.
after the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo
Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?
More of his translations of Takaha Shugyo are available on the Takaha Shugyo page on this briefpoems blog.
All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.