Blue Aerogrammes – Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman (1924 – 2004) was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of the magazine Origin. He was a seminal figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century. Cid Corman was born to Ukrainian parents in Boston where he grew up and was educated. From an early age he was an avid reader and showed an aptitude for drawing and calligraphy. He was excused from service in World War II for medical reasons and graduated from university in Boston in 1945. He studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood poetry award.  After a brief stint at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he spent some time travelling around the United States, returning to Boston in 1948.

Cid Corman ran poetry events in public libraries and started the country’s first poetry radio program. In 1952, he wrote: “I initiated my weekly broadcasts, known as This Is Poetry, from WMEX in Boston. The program has been usually a fifteen-minute reading of modern verse on Saturday evenings at seven thirty; however, I have taken some liberties and have read from Moby Dick and from stories by Dylan Thomas, Robert Creeley, and Joyce.” This program featured readings by Robert Creeley, Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke and many other Boston-based and visiting poets. He also spent some time at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. It was about this time that Corman changed his name from Sydney Corman to the simpler “Cid.”

In 1951, Corman began Origin in response to the failure of a magazine that Robert Creeley had planned. The magazine typically featured one writer per issue and ran, with breaks, until the mid-1980s. The magazine also led to the establishment of Origin Press, which published books by a wide range of poets as well as by Corman himself and which remains currently active. In 1954, Corman won a Fulbright Fellowship grant and moved to France, where he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He then moved to Italy to teach English in a small town called Matera. By this time, he had published a number of small books, but his Italian experiences were to provide the materials for his first major work, Sun Rock Man (1962). At this time he produced the first English translations of Paul Celan, even though he didn’t have the poet’s approval.

In 1958, Corman got a teaching job in Kyoto in Japan where he continued to write and to run Origin magazine. There he married Konishi Shizumi, a Japanese TV news editor and began to translate Japanese poetry, particularly work by Bashō and Kusano Shimpei. In Kyoto they established CC’s Coffee Shop, “offering poetry and western-style patisserie.” He was a prolific poet until his final illness, publishing more than 100 books and pamphlets. In 1990, he published the first two volumes of his selected poems, OF, running to some 1500 poems. Volume 3, with a further 750 poems appeared in 1998 and further volumes are planned. Several collections of wide-ranging essays have been published. His translations (or co-translations) include Bashō’s Back Roads to Far TownsThings by Francis Ponge, poems by Paul Celan and collections of haiku.

Cid Corman did not speak, read or write Japanese, even though his co-translation with Susumu Kamaike of Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi is considered to be one of the most accurate in tone in the English language.

He died in KyotoJapan on March 12, 2004 after being hospitalized for a cardiac condition since January 2004.

 

 

BLUE AEROGRAMMES, POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS

I am old enough to remember aerogrammes, those thin sheets of  blue paper which, when folded neatly, could be used to send fairly lengthy letters to international destinations. They preceded the rise of the internet and the development of email. Cid Corman used them regularly and with great ingenuity. Billy Mills, in an article in the Guardian, describes  “the role Cid played as the hub of a global virtual community of writers and artists, one that far pre-dated the advent of the internet and email. He orchestrated this community through the good old postal system by following a very simple rule he set for himself: every letter he received was either answered within 24 hours of arrival or not at all. He typed his answers on blue Japanese aerogrammes and every square inch of space was used, down to the poems specially written for the occasion and placed on the front of the envelope, next to your name and address.” Bob Arnold has selected  and edited some of these poems and printed them, with an introduction, in  The Famous Blue Aerogrammes. Longhouse, 2004. Some are reprinted below.

Cid Corman described his own poems as direct. In conversation with Philip Rowland he had this to say,  I write what I call direct poetry: if you have to ask somebody to explain the poem then I’ve failed. As mentioned above, he was very prolific. His literary executor, Bob Arnold, (whose own poetry features in  Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold) has done much to keep his reputation alive. Not only has he published The Famous Blue Aerogrammes (Longhouse 2016) but he has also published  a selection of poems and translation in The Next One Thousand Years (Longhouse, 2008). He is due to publish the final volumes of OF (Longhouse) containing 1,500 poems over 850 pages.

 

Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Some Haiku

If these words
dont remember you—
forget them.

***

The leaf at last gets
the drift of wind and so
settles for the ground.

***

Azaleas gone and
hydrangea trying to make
a show of it yet.

***

HELLO!
How do you do? How
do you? How-do-you-do-you?
You’re asking too much.

***

I wear the mask of
myself and very nearly
get away with it.

***

In the shadow of
the mountain the shadow of
any bird is lost.

***

There is no end and
never was a beginning – so
here we are – amidst.

***

Your shadow
on the page
the poem.

***

Rain-drops. Each
makes a point
of silence.

 

Some Poems

Poetry becomes
that conversation we could
not otherwise have.

***

Assistant

As long as you are here –
Would you turn the page?

***

The Call

Life is poetry
and poetry is life — O
awaken — people!

***

There’s only
one poem:
this is it.

***

What were you
expecting?

What more is
there than this?

***

We are all
part of what’s

going on
to have gone.

***

THE COUNSEL

Live with the living
Die with the dying
And there you are: here.

***

What have I
to do with

you beyond
being with?

***

A COUPLE

She keeps coming home
to me – of all things – and I
remain home for her.

***

It isnt for want
of something to say—
something to tell you—

something you should know—
but to detain you–
keep you from going—

feeling myself here
as long as you are—
as long as you are.

***

 

from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes

Has it ever
occurred to you
you’re what is oc-
curring to you?

***

You are here – just as
I had imagined –
imagining me.

***

Nothing ends with you —
every leaf on the ground
remembers the root.

***

We wear out
but the sky

looks as new
as ever

***

Everything is
coming to a head — meaning
blossoms yet to fall.

***

WOMAN

She waters
the plants downstairs
from upstairs —
so does the rain.

***

The cry
of all cry –
silence

***

So that

when

was

now

will be

***

FIREFLY

I wonder. Is it
mere curiosity or
just a quiet glow?

***

The sun is
my shadow

I shall not
want — it

leadeth me

***

OMENKIND

The weight of

a falling

leaf upon

your shoulder.

***

So many black flies
getting into the house and
making us killers,

***

When am I going
to lose my leaves and find I
am the poetry?

 

Translations from Sappho

You make me think
of a sweet
girl seen once
picking flowers

***

Spring dusk

Full moon
Girls seem

to be

circling
around

a shrine

***

Come and I’ll
have fresh pillows
for your rest
***

Overjoyed
yes, praying
for such a
night again

***

Am I to
remind you,
dear

that complaint
aint right where
poetry

lives?

***

Further translations of Sappho by Cid Corman, together with the original Greek, are available on the Sappho (fragments) page.

 

Translations from the Japanese of Sengai (1750-1837)

Crown or grid iron —
there’s nothing to think about —
only all to use.

***

Over Everest
the same old moon shares its light
as clear as ever
but only for eyes ready
to see the darkness clearer.

***

Moon empty
sky shine
water deepened
darkness

***

Yes or no —
good or bad —
you have come

to this house.
Here is your
tear — your cake.

 

Translations from the French of Philippe Denis

I was present this morning when a
blossoming tree sweetly escaped.

For what refusal or acquiescence
was the head of the tree nodding
over my page?

***

The word snow used wildly.
I feel the difficulty of it.

Those mornings when we toss about
on one wing!

***

To be enchantingly alone. But does
that make any sense?

What we are, we are, most of the time,
thanks to what hasnt completely occurred.

 

LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Cid Corman with an extensive bibliography.

The Wikipedia page on Cid Corman.

Some haiku by Cid Corman on the TAO site.

A selection from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes.

Original Cid, an article in the Guardian by Billy Mills.

An obituary by Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part One

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part Two

Gregory Dunne on Cid Corman and translation.

A selection of Cid Corman books from the Longhouse Press.

 

Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold

bobarnoldBob Arnold is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including two train-traveling books American Train Letters and Go West. As he explained in an interview, I grew up as a small town boy in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts in a lumber family that taught me immediate allegiances amongst an Irish working-class family on the one hand, as opposed to the lumber magnet and those influences. I early on sided with the working-class, the Irish, the carpenters I saw come and go in our house, as a toddler, the same ones I would work with as a boy. Later, he moved to Vermont where he began writing poetry. I moved from the Berkshires to southern Vermont and set up a cabin in the woods and met my next community of happy souls in the tattered network of backwoods mechanics, loggers, carpenters, jack of all traders, barely built farmers. All way older than me. All dug in with their lives because there was nowhere else to go, or happy as they are, or that’s all they knew generation after generation. I began to make many poems surrounded and working from this livelihood, lasting for years.

In 1971 Arnold founded Longhouse, as editor and publisher. Along with his wife, Susan, he has overseen the development of that publishing house for over four decades and also managed to run a bookshop from their home. He continues to make a living as a stonemason and builder in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Bob Arnold is literary executor both for Cid Corman, whose poetry I have featured in the Blue Aerogrammes  post, and for Lorine Niedecker whose short poems are featured in an earlier post, Mourning Doves. His most recent book, Yokel, is what he calls a long Green Mountain poem. He also produces a regular bog, A Longhouse Birdhouse.

I have called this post Fortune Cookies, not to disparage the poems but to point to the manner in which pithy and pungent statements are contained in a brief space, a brief package. At times they have the concision and the wit of the classic epigram; at times they have the allusiveness and imagistic power of the classic haiku. I enjoy these poems. I hope you do.

 

 

fortune-cookies-1

Brief Poems by Bob Arnold

IDYLLIC LIFE

Even though we felt like shit
After he said we both looked great
We both felt great

***

COUNTRYSIDE

Where there are tall maples and oaks
There once was a barn

Nothing left where it was
But sunshine

***

LOCAL

Spring snow melt —
River rushing through
One ear and out the other

***

AFTER THE CHILD

the swing

swings

***

FIELD GUIDE

Blue jay never leaves —
Just changes
Its call

***

VISTA

All the empty boats of the harbor
doing nothing but
being boats for us

***

VISITOR

Enough moon

To awaken

The room

***

BEING HUMAN

Seeing this –
let me today

if only for a
few moments

twirl like
this autumn

leaf, midair
just like

that, with-
out a care

***

BACKYARD

I knew I wasn’t alone –
This all day presence of raindrops
On the flat stone step

***

UP IN THE AIR

Well I’ll be –
Finishing the ridge cap roofing job
An ant walks toward me

***

DEVOTION

Those seem to be the finest birds –
The ones that sing
Through the rain

***

FORTUNE COOKIE

All things

being
equal

hardly
ever

happens

***

MESSAGE

Owl calling out
Of nowhere at dusk
Was as good as spoken

***

All poems © Bob Arnold

 

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LINKS

Some poems from Bob Arnold’s booklet, Devotion (Longhouse 2006).

My Sweetest Friend – an intriguing and engrossing set of 38 short poems on his sister’s suicide.

Twenty-eight Poems and Two Interviews from Coyote’s Journal

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Vermont Poet (2007)

An interview with Bob Arnold in Jacket Magazine  (2010).

An interview with Bob Arnold concerning Cid Corman’s ‘of’

A Longhouse Birdhouse; Bob Arnold’s blog.

Longhouse : Publishers and Booksellers.

Oyster Boy Review on some Bob Arnold books

 

bobarnold