To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, November 24, 2014

Amish Trivedi: A Thousand Years of Staring I-VIII, with A Note on Permutational Art

A NOTE ON PERMUTATIONAL ART.  I am bringing in permutation, a math term, as a way of thinking about the biographical relation between the author and the work. The term “permutation” refers to all the possible combinations of a set of numbers.  For example, if you had the numbers [1, 2, 3], then there are five other permutations of it: [1, 3, 2], [2, 1, 3], [2, 3, 1], [3, 1, 2], and [3, 2, 1]. What the mathematical permutation does not allow for is any change in the ultimate outcome. No matter how you arrange the set of numbers, they are still the same numbers. However, the part I am interested in is the process in which the numbers are rearranged. How the numbers are arranged, I believe, can change the perception of those numbers. A permutation in a creative sense is the reorganization of existing events in order for there to be a new outcome. Permutations exist not only in poetry, but in other artistic forms as well. I believe these other art forms can be looked at as a text. Film, for example, is in many ways the modern equivalent of the mass produced lyric voice because film attempts to address many of the same issues as the lyric has historically covered by giving us the sense of experience versus only being a list of events. Permutational art is an offshoot of the idea of an author's surrogate, which of course allows the creator to exist in a work as a character or narrator. I believe that taking this a step further is a permutation, the manipulation of that character to fit the ideal of the creator.


In the distance, there is nothing in particular,
depending on which direction you face. In my
next example, I’ll be using metaphor to show
how I’d rather lock myself in a room than be
surrounded by other people: a stationary wheel
won’t rust if you don’t spin it. As if first eyes
touching could be repeated, if you’re going to
be there, I’m not. Dear you, I lust you, but I’m
better when loathed. Feet make up only small
percentages of bodies but carry so much
pressure that mine have dissolved from a
desire to move, but with no target in mind,
they ache for compression.


Tell me a lie so I can rub it into my skin:
moving slowly is the only way to avoid picking
up direction. Your scopophobia gets better as
minutes wear on. I’m afraid to admit I haven’t
looked you near long enough to see a real face.
People appear one way to me immediately, but
then I see them: a look in the eyes to indicate
a passing feel, a curl in the lip that shows disgust
or mutation. Don’t fear your shamefacedness
as a peak in terror arises.


Admit you’re more willing to look down than
meet my eye. We’ll say this amounts to a fear
of crossing roads, of being or going anywhere.
I assume being washed is being stabbed, but
with no sensation that gives us an antecedent.
These are not sexual questions, but a desire to
know how twists of wind become disaster spaces.
In making up my mind, I ignored all advice to
stay and reimagine myself as a direct descendant
of people who lined mass graves. I don’t have
a hard time getting to sleep, but a hard time
waking up. Going unnoticed is no punishment:
to go seen and ignored is real hell, though. To
go is a verb that implies motion, but
directionality is ignored.

As we walked through hallways, our figures
were pressed into service as figments in a novel.
My greatest pleasure comes from failure and
my euphoria levels are topped off daily. You
were waiting in a lobby and tapping on glass to
signal me. If someone has their brights on, look
to the white stripe at the edge of any road for
a sense of boundaries and closure. This is my
emotional conclusion: I cannot be happy when
I am supposed to be, only when everything
around me is becoming dead cells. Nothing
matters in this measure, only notes which lead
us to the next space, even if there’s no ending
in sight.


We need only to know where we are at, not
where we’re going, to feel secure in absolution.
I’m not Catholic, but I play one on the cross.
The only difference between you and me is the
words that we use and in which order we place
our sighs and discontent-laden notions. We
could bring a sense of sultry admonishment to
our work if we only knew how to draw the letters
that make it. At times we look out and at times
we see, but most often, we hear edges of our
space before we can sense it.


I’ve been in denial about a great many things
and I know that your eyes upon me is just one:
across tables, behind backs we imagine there to
be someone who can complete our form of
language. In the first few seconds, contact is
made only by temperature and sensing heat, we
move closer but when our eyes meet, we move
back to our positions at the start and try to
conquer again. Send your queen and let me cut
her and admit to nothing at all. “Don’t doddle,”
you’ll say, “we’re heading nowhere and we’re
late!” but all street noises have ceased and all
lights are off and the people who were rushing
before have stopped to look at us.


Even in a somber moment, with my retinas
detaching, I can make out the outline of your
hair on your shoulder or a way to say my name.
Rods and cones are a form answer to why I can
no longer find edges in the room or on our faces.
The world for the blind must be the sensation
of a dream and flying through it but then finding
themselves at the funeral of a friend and reading
an ill-prepared eulogy to mourners gathered
because of their need.


We imagine death as God looking back at us
from an abyss we’ve reached into, but nerves
don’t stop firing right at the last signal: they
fire as they degrade into soil or immolation
clears us. These sensations are just body
fighting evolutionary return. As we begin
again, we see adoration and want it to be
every day, but you end up nostalgic for

[Extracted from Amish Trivedi’s Your Relationship to Motion Has Changed, a work in progress.  The first six sections of “A Thousand Years of Staring” are forthcoming in The Laurel Review's issue of prose poems & are posted here with permission.  Trivedi is also the principal contributing editor to Poems and Poetics.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From the Nihon Ryoiki of the Monk Kyokai (An Oral Narrative), with an additional found poem of praises for the Buddha

Hiromi Ito and Jerome Rothenberg, with Jeffrey Angles (left)

Translation from Japanese by Hiromi Ito & Jerome Rothenberg

It was Sugaru of the Little Boy Clan who was the chancellor of the Emperor Yuryoku, as vital to him as his heart and liver.  One day when when the Emperor was residing at Iware-no-Miya palace and was having sex there with his wife, Sugaru burst into the chamber and the Emperor, feeling shame, broke off his foreplay.  At that moment they heard thunder and the Emperor told Sugaru: Go forth now and send a summons to the God of Thunder.  Sugaru replied that he would go.  The Emperor then proclaimed: Go forth and send a summons to the God of Thunder.  Following his sovereign’s orders Sugaru set forth.  He left the palace, wreathed his head with garlands, raised a lance from which a red flag flew, and started out on horseback.  As he rode between Toyura Temple and the Abë fields he reached the sacred Tsuji crossroads, where he cried out in a loud voice to the sky: O you celestial God of Thunder our Emperor has summoned you to him.  And having spoken so, he came back to the road where he had started, thinking: When the Emperor once speaks, even a god can’t spurn his summons.  And so, somewhere between Toyura Temple and I-Oka hill, Sugaru found the God of thunder who had come to earth.  He summoned the shrine’s guardians, who brought a palanquin on which they sat the God of Thunder, and they bore him to the Palace.  Sugaru told the Emperor: I’ve brought the God of Thunder for you.  At that the God of Thunder radiated gobs of light, at sight of which the Emperor felt shock and awe.  He offered him a wealth of goods and had his people bring him to the place where he had come to earth, which to this day we call the Hill of Thunder. 

Years passed and Sugaru grew old and died.  The Emperor had his body laid in state for seven days and seven nights, and all that time he mourned his loyal chancellor.  He made a grave for Sugaru there where the God of Thunder came to earth and carved a monument on which he wrote: This is the grave of Sugaru who caught the God of Thunder.  But the God of Thunder raged on hearing this.  He danced around it, kicking, trampling it until he broke the monument in two, which closed around him trapping him again.  The Emperor when he heard of it released him, but the God of Thunder was bereft.  For seven days and nights he lay there senseless.  Then the Emperor sent forth an emissary to that place and had the monument restored.  And on its side he wrote once more: This is the grave of Sugaru who caught the God of Thunder both alive and dead.

This is the story of the place called Hill of Thunder.

NOTE. The preceding is an attempt by Hiromi Ito and me to translate the first of the curious pre-Buddhist narratives gathered by the Buddhist monk Kyokai in a three volume work, Nihonkoku genpo zen'aku ryoiki (Miraculous Stories of Karmic Retribution of Good and Evil in Japan), dating between A.D. 810 and 823. Writes Helene Bowen Raddeker in the Journal of Religious History (Vol.22 No.2,June 1998, pp.246-248): “The very modest Kyokai could not have imagined that the ‘future generations’ for whom he so painstakingly recorded these miraculous tales from Japan's oral tradition would extend so far into the future. … One reason for the later recognition of the importance of Kyokai's Nihon ryoiki has been its contribution to an understanding of religious belief and practice in early Japan. Even in the title of his work, Kyokai made quite clear the didactic intent of his project, which was to convince his contemporaries of the Buddhist maxim that ‘good and evil cause karmic retribution [in this or in subsequent lives] as a figure causes its shadow, and suffering and pleasure follow such deeds as an echo follows a sound in the valley’ (preface to vol. 1, 101).
       In addition the following found poem was also assembled by me & dedicated to Hiromi Ito, in whose presence I was then working:
from Daichidoron: 32 Ways of Looking at the Buddha

 (1) When the Buddha walks. his feet are so close to the ground that there is not even a hair's space between his soles & the earth;

(2)  the imprint of a wheel appears on the soles of the Buddha's feet;

(3)  the Buddha's fingers are exceptionally long & slender;

(4)  the Buddha's heels are broad, round & smooth;

(5)  the Buddha has a web-like membrane between his fingers & toes;

(6)  the skin of the Buddha’s hands & feet is soft & smooth;

(7)  the Buddha’s feet have unusually high insteps;

(8)  the Buddha's calves are rounded & firm like those of a stag;

(9)  exceptionally long arms,when standing, the Buddha's hands reach his knees;

(10) the Buddha’s genitals are hidden inside the body;

(11) the Buddha's body height is equal to his armspread, considered to give a classically proportioned body;

(12) the Buddha's body hair grows in an upward direction;

(13) one hair grows from each pore on the Buddha’s skin;

(14) the Buddha's body gleams with a golden light;

(15) the Buddha emits a halo of light which frames his body & extends outward about three metres;

(16) the Buddha’s skin is extremely smooth;

(17) seven regions of the Buddha's two feet, shoulders, & neck are full & rounded;

(18) the sides of the Buddha’s body under the Buddha’s arms are full, not hollow as on an ordinary person;

(19) the upper part of the Buddha's body is majestic, like a lion;

(20) the Buddha's posture is firm & perfectly erect;

(21) the Buddha’s shoulders are full & rounded;

(22) the Buddha has forty teeth, as white as snow;

(23) the Buddha’s teeth are straight, without gaps, & equal in size;

(24) the Buddha also has 4 canine teeth which are larger, whiter, & sharper than the rest;

(25) the Buddha’s cheeks are full & firm like those of a lion;

(26) the Buddha's saliva imparts a delicious taste to everything he eats;

(27) the Buddha’s tongue is long & flexible, when extended it reaches to the Buddha’s hairline;

(28) the Buddha's voice is pure, strong & deep, has an exceptional ability to communicate to the listener, & can be heard from a long distance;

(29) the pupils of the Buddha’s eyes are a deep blue color, like the blue lotus flower;

(30) the Buddha’s eyelashes are long & regular;

(31) the Buddha has a protuberance on the top of his head, representing wisdom;

(32) the Buddha has a light emitting clockwise curls of hair on his forehead.

NOTE.  The lead to the poem came, like much else, from conversations with Hiromi Ito, herself a major figure in contemporary Japanese poetry & for some years a neighbor & close friend in southern California.  I had recently written & published a series of poems, The Treasures of Dunhuang, many of which were my own takes on images of the Buddha from the great painted caves of Dunhuang in western China.  My first sighting of those was in an exhibit of that name at the Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, in 1996, reenforced by a visit to Dunhuang in 2002.  What struck me then was the surprising twist given to images that we thought of as familiar – much like images of Jesus when one sees them in out-of-the-way regions of the Christian world.  I had long had in mind, & more so recently, perceptions about the nature of poetry enunciated by poets like Novalis – “The art of estranging in a given way, making a subject strange and yet familiar and alluring, this is romantic poetics” – & referential too, I thought, to how we come at poetry today.
              It was Hiromi’s sense of other images, other places, though, that led me to the Daichidoron - the Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra, discourses on the-Great Wisdom Scriptures, attributed to the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (circa 150-250 a.d.).  The 32 lines, as they appear here, are a found poem that in some sense completes the work for me.  (For which see also China Notes & The Treasures of Dunhuang, published by Ahadada Books in 2006.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rafael Alberti (1902-1999): Buster Keaton Searches the Woods for his Sweetheart a Genu-ine Cow

[Translation from Spanish by Jerome Rothenberg, first published here & dedicated to Heriberto Yépez, who originally showed me the experimental, almost Dadaist range of Alberti’s early poetry.]

1, 2, 3 & 4.
These four footprints don’t match my shoes.
If these four footprints don’t match my shoes,
whose four footprints can these footprints be?
Can they be from a shark?
from an elephant babe? from a duck?
from a flea? from a quail?

(Pee, pee, pee.)

Where have you gone?
I don’t hear you, Georgina!
What will your papa’s moustachios think of me?


Art thou or aren’t thou?

Firtree, where are you?
Alder, where are you?
Pinetree, where are you?

(Did Georgina pass by here?)

(Pee, pee, pee, pee.)

She passed by at 1:00 eating grasses.
The crow caught her eye with a mignonette blossom.
The screech owl with a dead rat.

Pardon me, boys, but I can’t keep from bawling.
(Wah, wah, wah.)

Now you’re missing only one horn
for a doctor’s degree in a usefully surefire bike race
with a mailman’s cap as a prize.

(Scree, scree, scree, scree.)

Even the crickets take pity on me
& when I’m in pain the ticks will come with me.
Have a heart for me in this tux
out here looking for you bawling in between rain squawls
with a derby too & so tender
to display you from bush unto bush.



Are you a sweet little girl or are you a genu-ine cow?
My heart always told me that you were a genu-ine cow.
Your papa that you were a sweet little girl.
My heart that you were a genu-ine cow.
A sweet little girl.
A genu-ine cow.

A girl.
A cow.
A girl or a cow?
Or a girl and a cow?
I never knew nuttin.
Bye bye, Georgina.
(Biff bam!)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rochelle Owens: Hermaphropoetics / Brown Dust

[What follows is the sixth installment of Rochelle Owens’ Hermaphropoetics, a work in progress that continues the poetic & mythopoetic reach of her oeuvre as it has come to us since the 1960s.  For me she remains, as she was when we first came to know her, a poet who bends the resources of language toward the revelation & creation of a new & always startling vision of the real & more-than-real.  As I wrote of her back then: There is a voice in Owens’ work … like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature. Sharp and visual, she combines a landscape with a poetics, the domestic with the mythic, machines with the organic living world from which arises a construct and a fused vision: poetry and life.”  The photo image of the field on Mars that accompanies “Brown Dust” is a good example of what her work makes possible. (J.R.)]

The camera zooms and pans
blinking in and out   sunlight/blackness
a glass of ice water sparkles

The hermaphrodite
seated on the stump of a tree
his teeth overlapping
out of her mouth protrudes his tongue

Hibiscus   goose grass   leaves   mango
she could feel the shape of colors
the flesh of the apple   drinking colors
Blood of the months of the year

Four bearded elders linking arms
circling clockwise
every day bears the data   sweat   mucus 
tears   urine   corkscrews of earwax

A strange rain   vertical/horizontal
layers of brown dust   light   heat
see the subjects
spectacular the photos  

Photos of a master photographer
focusing her lens
the physical poetic   eyes seeing
an asymmetrical form

Blinking in and out   sunlight/blackness
eyes seeing
the size of the skeleton   the bones  
the shape of the head  

Micrographic photographs 
eye sockets   thickness of fat layers
eyes seeing a slit in the stalk  
blood seeping

The hermaphrodite emptied of allegory
 seated on the stump of a tree
The hermaphrodite
her/his body swaying side to side
one foot sunk in mud   a hand dangling
out of the frame

A flush of wet hot air burning
her neck and face
five musicians chanting   drumming
squatting on their heels

Sinuous the rhythms beneath the skin
the nerves   spirals of veins
fibrous tendons
twisting   zigzagging

Six bearded elders linking arms
circling   circling clockwise
a boy warrior with pierced nipples
Her soaring paper thin shoulderblades 

green and pale the scrotal lily

The muscles of his onion-shaped calves
spasmodic in the dust
an impure creation captured after the siege

Teasing femme/homme
her henna-dyed palms   his fingers
working black kohl  
the inner and outer eyelids

Rose gold the eyes of the hermaphrodite  
molecular the creeping tension
the flow of hormonal forces

Every day bears the data
a master photographer  altering
perception   the ruinscape disappearing
signs and wonders

In the concrete space   audio recordings   
fluorescent bulbs protruding  
a little girl dangling
a  vinyl mask

A little boy wearing harem pants
fickle he saunters by   the taste of her sweat  
seawater   his/her body  

Wedding bells   Wedding cake  
berries and apricots under the veil 
joyful the bridegroom
lifting the veil

A long curved fingernail
tracing the cleft  
pale and red the folds   slashes
of color seeping

the flower vulva cut away

Eight warlords singing
linking arms   circling   circling clockwise
bulbous and blood-packed
 their lips

Nine chanting the legend
waxing poetic  
a legend of a child falling out of the sky
see the photos   sunlight/blackness

A white swan shimmering
in scene after scene   a strange rain   vertical
/horizontal   blinking in and out
piles of rocks

Fluorescent bulbs protruding
a figure trussed and lying down
A camera flash

a glass of ice water sparkles

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hiromi Itō: from Wild Grass on the Riverbank (just published)

Translation from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

[Two years after the first publication of the following extract in Poems and Poetics, Hiromi Itō’s Wild Grass on the Riverbank has now been published by Action Books in a definitive English translation by Jeffrey Angles.  One of the most important poets of contemporary Japan, her impact has been summarized by fellow poet Kido Shuri as follows: “The appearance of Itō Hiromi, a figure that one might best call a ‘shamaness of poetry’ (shi no miko) was an enormous event in post-postwar poetry.  Her physiological sensitivity and writing style, which cannot be captured within any existing framework, became the igniting force behind the subsequent flourishing of ‘women’s poetry’ (josei shi), just as Hagiwara Sakutarō had revolutionized modern poetry with his morbid sensitivity and colloquial style.”  More on Itō and this important new work follows the excerpt from the work itself. (J.R.)]


By late summer, everyone on the riverbank was dead,
Not just the once living creatures, but the summer grass, the rusted bicycles, the summer grass,
Cars without doors or windows, the warped porn magazines, the summer grass,
Empty cans with food stuck inside and empty bottles full of muddy water,
Girl’s panties and condoms, the dead body of father, and so much summer grass
The riverbank meant only to control you
The summer grass touched our bodies
The seeds falling down onto our bodies
Recently, on the bank, I noticed a kind of grass that multiplied conspicuously
It is about one meter high and stands like some kind of rice
It has ears
It is everywhere
It glimmers white in the dim evening light
Sticky liquid oozes from the ear
The dogs get sticky
The dogs smell terrible
The dogs agonize and rub their bodies onto the ground
The man from the riverbank appears in the evening
Every evening he appears, sits in an arbor
Completely alone
Aged, unpolished and shabby, pale as a corpse
When his penis rises up
A smell rises like the one from the rice-like grass on the bank
The penis in his hands shines and shines

The flowers of the kudzu also rise up, I notice the arrowroot flowers rising up here and there, one day, we became tangled in the tendrils of the kudzu plants, I heard something slithering along abruptly, no sooner had I heard this when a tendril trapped my heel, it hit me, and knocked me on my back into a bush, there the Sorghum halepense rattled in the wind, an unfamiliar grass shook releasing its scent, then the tendril stretched all the further, crawling onto my body, getting into my panties, and creeping into my vagina, I…  I inhaled and exhaled, I exhaled and the tendril slid in, I inhaled and the tendril slid out, I exhaled again and it slid further in, like the leaves of the kudzu my body was turned this way and that, my body was forced open and closed over and over, and Alexsa watched all of this, Alexsa was watching, watching and smiling, I became angry, so angry, I got up and shoved Alexsa away, she fell down on her back, the tendrils clung to Alexsa too, Alexsa also turned this way and that, the tendril also went inside her vagina, deep inside, and she started to cry

Everyone was dead
Mother and me

Ahh…I think to myself
Think I'll pack it in
And buy a pick-up
Take it down to L.A.
Find a place
To call my own
Or maybe a hot sprint
One that heals eczema, dermatitis, neuralgia
Menopausal disorders, diabetes, infectious diseases
A hot spring in a hot sprint to fix you up right away
To soak yourself, open your pores, scrub your body, swell up
And then start a brand new day

Hey I’m itchy, so itchy, my younger brother cried, I told him not to scratch, but he did it anyway, the place he scratched soon turned into a blister, I didn’t scratch it that much, only a little, brother cried, but even if he only scratched a little, the place he scratched turned into a blister, all over his body were blisters, after they ruptured, they got inflamed and full of pus
My little brother no longer seemed like himself, he was horribly swollen, he rolled all over the house, mouth open, wheezing, crying,


I want to take him to a hot spring, Mother said I’ve heard of a hot spring good for your skin, if we’re going, why don’t we take our dead father and dead dog along to put in, so just left everything as it was, dirty dishes, old clothes, wet towels just as they were, then we carefully laid my wheezing brother on the rear seat, and we stuffed some other things in the car, my little sister, spare clothes, dead bodies, dogs, plastic bags, pillows, food and drink (even some flowerpots), so much stuff, and then we took off, as I stared at the road from the passenger seat, I asked, how do we get there? Mother replied as she drove the car, it’s over that mountain

That hot spring is
A hot spring that fixes you up right away
Soak yourself, open your pores, scrub your body, swell up
And fix your eczema, blisters
Skin infections, ringworm
Dermatitis, infectious diseases
Atopy, allergic diseases
Dead bodies, death, dying, and having died
Try to fix you up and
And start a brand new day
Let’s go over that mountain, Mother said
The back seat was full, no space left
As for space, the car was old and rickety from the start
But still we stuffed it full with
Things, garbage, food
People, dogs, dead bodies
So there was no space
The dogs stunk
The dead bodies stunk
My brother was wheezing in the back seat
My sister sometimes cried out as if she’d just remembered
She’d left something back at home
Please go back, I forgot something
No, we never go back
We just go further
Beyond that forked road
Isn’t that Toroku?
Isn’t that Kurokami?
Isn’t that Kokai?
The Jyogyoji crossing
Through Uchi-tsuboi
Up Setozaka slope
Shouldn’t we go
All the way over there?
I know the way to the big tree
Where the samurai-turned-monk used to live
At his big tree, we turn right at the three-way intersection
We see the huge treetop of his big tree
From here, it looks so huge
If you go under and look up, it blocks out the whole world
There’s a path only for tractors and pick-ups
Turn right at the three-way intersection
There’s a small stone bridge, we cross it
Then another three-way intersection
Go straight
Go straight
Go up the road
Go through mandarin orange orchards on both sides
And when we come out
We come to mountainous roads
Where it’s dark even during the day
The road meanders through a forest with shining leaves
The road meanders
Comes close to a cliff
Then separates from it
Ahh… I think to myself
Think I'll pack it in, and buy a pick-up, take it down to L.A.
Mother started to sing in a key way too high for her
Ahh… Think I’ll…
A tangle of karasuuri flowers and fruits
Ahh, Think I’ll…
A flourishing bunch of worm-eaten leaves
A scarlet flower is blooming
It must be a garden species that escaped somebody’s terrace
In the shade of the plants, a large white flower is blooming
A flower pale and white
That can’t be a garden species
It’s so pale because it’s in the shade
Another car comes
We pass each other
That car must be coming back from the hot spring
All fixed up, the driver must have fixed his skin trouble
And come back, thinking this, I try to get a good look
But it disappeared into the distance in a flash
Much further and we’ll be at the seashore
The seashore facing west
Doesn’t look like there is a hot spring
Beyond this is the pure land, Mother said
The dog noticed the smell of the sea
It stuck its nose out the window, howling for the sea
We should’ve crossed a large bridge, Mother said
I forgot the name, but it’s a large bridge
There were big floods there late in the nineteenth century
And again in the mid-twentieth century
Lots of earth, sand, and drowned bodies caught on the bridge
‘Cause of that bridge, the floods downstream were even worse
We screwed up when we missed that bridge
All the water we’ve seen has just been small streams
We’ve definitely gone the wrong way, Mother said
We’ll never get there if we keep going like this, Mother said
The dog howling for the sea rose up in the rear seat
And walked across my little brother
Alexsa shouted
We’d better start all over, Mother said
She must have given up
My brother let up a sharp cry
You can’t give up
Is that the only option?
Shut up, Alexsa shouted
I told you, I told you, my little sister wept
The dog barked
Lots of dogs barked
Alexsa shouted, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t, I can’t
No one ever listens to me, she said
She sunk her face into her thighs, curled up, started to sob
Her voice grew louder, more childish than brother’s
More infantile than sister’s
Cried on and on, on and on
Nothing else
On and on
On and on
We should have turned around
But if we did, we’d just get more lost, mother said
Let’s keep going down the hill to the sea
Then go home round the cape
So that’s how we got back home
Nothing fixed
Nothing found
We failed
It’s no good
It’s all over

note.  The 140-page narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank (Kawara arekusa) represents Hiromi Itō’s dramatic return to poetry after several years of writing primarily prose works.  First serialized in the prominent Japanese poetry journal Handbook of Modern Poetry (Gendai shi techō) in 2004 and 2005, Wild Grass was published in book form in 2005. ... The critic Tochigi Nobuaki has said that in Wild Grass, “We, Ito's readers, are witnessing the advent of a new poetic language that modern Japanese has never seen.”                                                                                                       
                Wild Grass explores the experience of migrancy and alienation through the eyes of an eleven-year old girl who narrates the long poem. In the work, the girl travels with her mother back and forth between a dry landscape known in the poem as the “wasteland,” a place that resembles the dry landscape of southwestern California [where Itō now lives], and a lush, overgrown place known as the “riverbank,” which resembles Kumamoto, a city in southern Japan where Itō’s children grew up and where Itō still spends several weeks each year.

note on the subtitle. Michiyuki are lyric compositions that feature prominently in bunraku and   
kabuki dramas of the early modern era.  Typically, they describe the scenery that characters   
encounter while traveling—sometimes while eloping or traveling to a site where they will commit  
suicide.  For this reason, michiyuki typically come at the climactic moment of a drama.  In Itō’s
poem, however, the michiyuki sequence is profoundly anticlimactic as the characters travel and
travel in search of a place they cannot find.  This chapter contains quotes and passages loosely
based upon the lyrics of Neil Young’s song “Harvest” from 1972.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pierre Joris: From "Barzakh" (Poems 2000-2012)

[It is astonishing to me how Pierre Joris, whom I’ve known going back into his jeunesse (& almost into mine) has emerged as an exemplar of a total poetics, at the heart of which is that nomadic poetics which he’s been delivering to us over the last three or four decades with such singular force.  As with many of us who have tried to define ourselves as poets & sentient beings, it is the poetry itself that precedes and determines what we later say about it.  The wonder, then, in Joris’s twenty-first-century book, Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press), is how that poetry has continued to stake out new territory & to demonstrate over & again his ability to seed his work with a wide & meaningful range of times & places, yet with an awareness, never faltering, of the immediate world around him.  In announcing Barzakh on Poems and Poetics, I’ve chosen to excerpt from a longer poem in which a form of traditional alphabetic mysticism (a key source of poetry outside of the normative poetry nexus) is the principal subtext for the work as a whole.  Here in its Arabic/Islamic form it resembles what I’ve pursued as Hebraic gematria in other contexts.  (J.R.)]


preamble to an alphabet

letters arose
says Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Bhuni
letters arose
from the light of the pen
inscribed the Grand Destiny
on the Sacred Table

after wandering through the universe
the light transformed
into the letter alif,
source of all the others.

another arrangement of letters
into words and words
into stories has it
that Allah created the angels
according to the name & number
of the letters so that they should
glorify him with an infinite
recitation of themselves as arranged
in the words of the Quran.

and the letters prostrated themselves
and the first to do so was the alif
for which Allah appointed the alif to be
the first letter of His name & of the



Adam is said to have written a number of books three centuries before his death. After the Flood each people discovered the Book that was destined for it. The legend describes a dialogue between the Prophet Muhammad and one of his followers, who asked: ‘By what sign is a prophet distinguished?
   ‘By a revealed book,replied the Prophet.
   ‘O Prophet, what book was revealed to Adam?
   ‘A, b… ‘ And the Prophet recited the alphabet.
   ‘How many letters?
   Twenty-nine letters/
   ‘But, oh Prophet, you have counted only twenty-eight.
Muhammad grew angry and his eyes became red.
   ‘O Prophet does this number include the letter alif and the letter lam?
   Lam-alif is a single letter…. he who shall not believe in the number of twenty-nine letters shall be cast into hell for all eternity.


and Alif has many seats
under which he is silent
though you cannot call it suffering
suffering rhymes with zero
at least initially
a sweet round perfection
as we like to draw it
doodling one into the other

(newspaper margins of the b&w middle fifties
at Mme Cavaiottis  where I wrote
or learned to daily at 5 p.m. whose husband
told me that in the last war (which wasnt
the last at all) he had been
forced to drink his piss from his boot
in the desert of Libya, his wife linking
zeroes, rounds, in the margins of the daily
Wort,” making, making writing

a chain of nothingness
that is something
and that is our fate und Fluch:
that we have to do something
            even to achieve the nothing
            even if only we doodle
ourselves through life
            while talking on the phone
            to someone doodling elsewhere
            while all we mumble are
            sweet nothings chains
            of linked zeroes
step back &       focus shifts
                          a shape emerges             from the space created
                                      by the two     circles

                                    wherein stands
            the shape of Celans eye, of the fruit
of the almond tree,
            there stood, maybe,
the names of the six kings
of Madyan, make up the letters
of the Arabic

            The nothing, where does it stand?
It stands outside the almond,
it stands in the shells
of the sufferun
the zero-crescents
above & below

(“Human curl, youll not turn gray,
Empty almond, royal-blue”)

fall away
as the almond looms,
yet remain as links
of a chain,
sew mandorla to


What a place that must be,
a something at least, to be in
and if that nothingness
was the hamza
a sort of zag without a zig
a future breath half taken now
with always something more
solid, important coming right
behind it.
a kind of fishing hook.

which puts an odd occasion
on this table:
a fishing hook
a future breath
here lie the roots of another
surrealism yet to come
when we find the zig goes with
the orphaned zag.