Monday, October 25, 2010

Japanese Poetry on the Evening Train

The poems in the Japanese poetry anthology (see previous post) made me remember the late poems from Denise Levertov in Evening Train. The shorter poems here often have the succinct nature imagery and the "aha!" moments  (no, not the swedish band A-Ha) that the Japanese poetry favors.  Here, for example is "Idyll."

The neighbor's Black Labrador, his owners
out at work, unconscious anyone
is watching him, rises again and again
on hind legs to bend with his paws
the figtree's curving branches
and reach the sweet figs with his black lips.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What I Don't Know about Japanese Poetry Could Fill a Book

For instance, there's this work of classic Japanese literature that everyone who knows about these things knows, the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, a compilation a Japanese poems from the seventh through twelth centuries. I was given a contemporary translation (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, translated by Peter McMillian) from the very nice gent at the Columbia University Press booth at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers conference last weekend.  (one thing that is so pleasant about the book business is all the free books.) Since then I have opened the book time and again, just letting the page pick itself at random:

How the night deepens.
As lovers part
a white ribbon of frost
is stretched along
the Bridge of Magpie Wings
                                                  --Otomo No Yakamochi


I can only pluck at random
for I cannot tell apart
in all this whiteness--
white chrysantemums
from the first frost
                                                        --Minamoto No Muneyuki

Both the forward and afterward are valuable in giving the ignorant reader like myself some context and history. This book makes me want to write nothing but short and sad nature poems, containing the moon, and frost, and fallen leaves. I want to walk along the Bridge of Magpie Wings.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mr. Allan Gurganus

I found his collection of novellas. The Practical Heart in a thrift store.  It cost a dollar. Here's the paragraph on page 45 that made me decide it was a dollar well-spent:

" Someone should eventually write the truth: there is always something embarrassing about love. All of it. That's because there's always something wrong with the beloved. Because one's motives for loving are never as pure as love itself. It's too good for us. That's why our hearts stay broken."