Saturday, January 5, 2008


October 16th-30th, '07

Dear Bernard,
Back in the Shop, at the counter (my "desk") --journal, note-book, papers, your letter before me --I'm jet-lagged & more or less content.
I'm pleased you've committed some of your Stingy Artist Press history to paper, especially your relationship, as a book-maker/poetry publisher, to Salt Works & other American fine presses. I took the opportunity, while visiting you in Weymouth recently, to handle some of the lovely things stored in your shed (and what a pity they're not on display & available for purchase) --for example Cid Corman's tiny books, from Elizabeth Press & his own Origin press, with one or two word titles, haiku sequences, and one of Michael Tarachow's, an oblong-shaped book with a medieval manuscript feel to it... That's the craft, isnt it? One probably spends more time admiring the cover, the pages, the type, the sewing, the design than one does the text! One of your Stingy Artist editions is within reach of me as I write this : Franco Beltrametti's Three for Nado (1992), number 3 of a numbered edition of 175. It's one of your most elegant & tiny books : eight pages, endpapers, three of Franco's Trip Trap-like poems --constructions, throwaways, what you will --and your nick-name, Nado, which I've always spelt Naado, in the book's title (and didnt you tell me Franco liked the pun on nado / nothing?)...
Poor Franco, a Dharma Bum if ever there was, already dead 12 years. Searching for Dale Pendell a few months ago (following up on his Burning Man book, which I'd also sent to you), I reread Franco's Alleghenny Star Route Anthology (published by our great amigos, Tim Longville & John Riley, as a Grosseteste Review book, back in 1975), and then the Sperlonga Manhattan Express anthology (Scorribanda Productions, 1980), which got me thinking of Franco Beltrametti as a key European friend of the Beat idea if not also the Beats themselves. I found the website dedicated to him and read his autobiographical account there --as peripatetic an inventory as could be (enviably?) imagined! Poet, artist, traveller, --and I can hear you say "back-woodsman" in the 60s, 70s sense of do-it-yrself, build your own, well out of the work-consume-die rat-race.
Since returning to Melbourne from my 20 days with you & Mum in our dear old England (--the England I perpetually reinvent, not living there as you do, though how you do interests me given our migrant family upbringing in England following infancy in Egypt, thus English-half English childhood & beyond, until the time we must have decided to identify as English rather than exotic half this, half that), I've nibbled at Franco's legend some more. The other day the web took me to the blog of Pierre Joris --he'd posted that bonny photo of hirsute Franco with the comment that this August, Franco would have celebrated his 70th birthday. Doesnt that get you thinking? "Forever young" maybe but not Spring chickens either, any of us!
I sent an e-mail to Pierre then, greeting him after what might be thirty years (the inaugural Cambridge Poetry Festival, '75, in the company of Paige Mitchell, Allen Fisher?). I thanked him for remembering Franco and told him we'd been talking & thinking of Franco too, not that we'd ever met outside of correspondence & small-press publishing. I directed him to our correspondence on this blog --he replied the following day. While we're writing about Japhy & Co, he's "been teaching Japhy Ryder, his poetry & essays, & Kerouac's novel in my Ecopoetics course this Fall, also talking about Franco to my students --the crisscrossing is endless." Dont you love these synchronicities!
I was elated you didnt already own the Issa translations by Nanao Sakaki I brought to you. I'd ordered what was available of Issa in my wholesaler catalogue --Sam Hamill's Spring of My life, Lucian Stryk's The Dumpling Field, & the Sakaki of which I'd been ignorant. (I must interpolate here that since my return I've dug out some of your poetry including the beautifully made book, Cemetery Lodge Poems (Stingy Artist,1996), and was charmed by the 5th poem of the sequence : "the crying / of crickets / according to Issa / is like the / chirping of men - / easy to imagine / autumn's last song / in this place". I wonder which Issa translation you had read?)
I thought the cover drawing of the snail was also by Sakaki but it's John Brandi's. Like Sakaki's snail translation which you quote, the drawing crystalizes for me the Buddhist attitude (I'd say Zen but Issa is Pure Land I see) --it's humble & hilarious! We're invited into the snail's perspective --its relation to mountain, clouds, sky, universe --ludicrously incongruous yet no truer way of describing all living creatures', including the human, condition.
In his conversation with John Brandi & Jeff Bryan, Sakaki is asked about another snail poem ''just as he is / he goes to bed and gets up / the snail" --
Brandi : Did the snail show Issa how simple life can be in the middle of all our complications & things we need?
Sakaki : I guess so. That's a great understanding. He feels jealousy, ah yeah (laughs) "I must think about money & human relations, but the snail doesn't care, just goes to sleep, just walk around, eat . . . uh-oh, But not me, why? Why?" That is his point. Why is important, why is snail that way, why I'm this way. . . strange! why? Why are we, why is the sky so shiny, why trees so green?
Bryan : It's all beautiful, why am I so uptight?
Sakaki : Yeah, the surprisement, that is haiku.
Bryan : We laugh, but at the same time we get something.
Sakaki : Yes, something comes suddenly - wisdom! (laughs)

It's a beautiful little book; designed by Jeff Bryan, Sakaki's calligraphy --the Japanese characters & English haiku translation -- and the printed line of phoneticised Japanese adds another dimension. Sakaki talks like a medium, an inheritor & promulgator : "Many beings come to me, from me, many rivers going down, running down, -- sure."
The book brings us Issa & Sakaki and makes me hungry for a large volume of the latter. If still alive he's 83 (75 at the time of Inch By Inch's publication). I hope he is --forever young!


(22nd September,'07, en route Hong Kong from Melbourne)

Reading Nanao Sakaki's Inch By Inch : 45 Haiku by Issa (La Almeda Press, New Mexico, 1992), confirms one's long held idea of him as the "real thing" (--and I confess, vis a vis Gary Snyder whose name preceded him like sun & shower a rainbow --and having "missed" Ginsberg & Ferlinghetti on their 1970 Australian tour, being back in England at that time, I was more than ready for my appointment with the holy poets of the reading & imagining of my late youth --"Japhy Ryder" of course, after Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghett, Corso --one of the elect --and I'm suddenly remembering that flash of recognition, Japhy Ryder = Gary Snyder, very early 1966, and the poem I wrote to him, sitting with the College of Technology mates at the Red Lion pub in downtown Southampton --I'll have to retrieve it from the back pages of the particular exercise-book ["16.2.66 / I read my first Gary Snyder & Phil / Whalen & Michael McClure / its a night of history / historic night / man! wait til i tell colin t symes / about it / that ive read them / bhikku / means / buddhist monk / snyder who is in kerouacs / books im sure (japhy ryder?) / and michael mcclure & whalen / tho i dont know where exactly / its funny they talk & refer to so many / of their mates & acquaintances in their / poetry : which makes it beat / which makes the established schools / have acid indigestion / because just as whitman was buried / for writing I IN BIG broad / letters / so are these bringing back I & the / experience / of I as the centre & basis of poetry / the world now seems to be accepting / them / THEM / BEAT / its a pity! society licking their arses / bloody society - / but dont we know society DOESNT / WANT U?"] --O exercise-book of the era of exercise-books, hardly realizing outside of the school issue lined pages & blue covers how blessed one was, & how blessed was that time! (--and doesnt that sound like Aunty Lydia? --as though she knew much more than the platitude, the closest to that demon, Time, of all our relatives) --: Gary Snyder & Nanao Sakaki at Montsalvat, December,'81 --and for the hell of it (no, the full reference of it, being a fool for that sort of thing) I'll quote later from the report I published in my magazine, H/EAR, of that memorable Montsalvat Poetry Festival event, one glorious evening photo of which, by Bernie O'Regan, captures their souls for me and so it will be for the rest of my time! --: So, Sakaki, Sakaki's Issa : is it quirkily simplified or is it Issa's simplicity?
Sakaki's comparison of Issa & Basho begs the question, again, of the literary or learned as positive or negative influence upon poetry --Sakaki's certainty that the peasant is a better poet bespeaks a definition of poetry that would valorize testament, doubt the literary. Who has nothing & knows nothing (take note Mr Podhoretz!) is closer to the earth and can, therefore, sing the song of its elements & creatures, Sakaki implies.
If the poems arent tonic enough, there is his conversation with John Brandi & Jeff Bryan, jumping with mischief, witty & self-abnegating. He appears to relish denying his would-be explicators' Buddhist understandings, insisting naturalness against the esoteric (--no, he says, Pure Land explains nothing of Issa's poetics...). The repudiations are Zen-like. Appreciating the man, his New Mexican hosts accept his "no" for the answer every time.


(Hong Kong to London, 23/09/07) Is it the difference (Snyder in himself, Sakaki contrasted with Snyder) between the man when he's in the field, literally doing it, and the pundit who might not even realize a particular shot is ethically cheap?
Critics bemoan the Beats' allegedly suspended adolescence --they may well have a point but part of the debate would be the imperative of maintaining the capacity for adventure & the resulting joy in the encounter with the world --"in & out of the cities" as well as the "mountains & rivers without end"! --and how does that translate in English terms? --which is the jolliest question of all for us --pivotal --since we werent turned-on by the English things of those years of our coming out (--I called it "breakthru" after Ken Geering's mimeod mag of that name, which might even have published me? --I'd left Southampton for Oz just as I submitted poems to him --but a great concept despite oodles of poets probably & appropriately still-born) --and tho Wendy Mulford called me on that in 1970 [she wrote, "How do you mean, people here are afraid to speak? I think they speak like bells (...) When I speak of a syntax of survival , it's a personal metaphor. I have this conscious sense of being english inescapably (...) I want the energy you speak of alright, but for me it thrills as well through Blake or Cowper, Browning or Clare or Byron or Christina Rossetti or or or for example..."], even that advocacy was on the coat-tails of the make-it-new biff and all of that coming-through Sixties modernity --must have been, surely? --Ginsberg's Blake, Olson, Zukofsky, Duncan's Metaphysicals not to mention his Shakespeare, Purcell, and why is O'Hara in my head with the "Elizabethan Rose"? --all variations and not the pretence, however virtuous, of seamless tradition --


(29-10-07) Allow me to quote from my piece,Festivals of the Oppressed : An Account of the 1981 Montsalvat Poetry Festival, & the Foundation Meeting of People for Nuclear Disarmourment (both October, 1981), published in The Merri Creek, Or Nero #7, tHEAtRe issue, Winter, 1983.
"(....)Snyder's first reading, in the festival's first evening session, was distinguished by the theme of planetary being, aided by Thoreau-ian accounting & Pound/Olson historicising. He shared top-billing with the Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki. Snyder's was the scholar-adept's response to Sakai's "natural" earthliness. Snyder was truly Sakaki's sidekick in terms of langauge/being. They're exemplary comrades. Sakaki stole the show. There was more "meaning" in a single warble of Sakaki's rendition of a traditional Japanese boatman's song, for example, than in the entire festival's parade of buskers. Perhaps Ania Walwicz's riffs went some of the way with his non-sense, with his marvellous sound. Sakaki's awareness of the nuance of occasion (literary, linguistic & social) was admirable. In contrast, so many of the "performers" that followed were just there to do their bit... From Snyder to the least performance-poet, there was struck a consensus : that language was more or less the generalizing rather than the individualizing stamp of the poet; that this generalizing langauge afforded an externalization bereft of the slightest problematic; that the language was to deliver its predetermined load then & there. This attitude dominated the 1981 festival.
Snyder would dearly love to have been born one of those, to quote him, who are blessed with "looser, easier walk & gaze...They are Tibetans, American-Indians, Polynesians, 'Real People'..." I wonder why this should be? As white, American, Buddhist, he's heir to a New Age cosmopolitanism that relates him closer than most to most of the world. I wonder about this reverse racism : I sense the myth of perfect genes behind the transcultural sentimentality (....)
Snyder's second reading, on the afternoon of the second day, tended towards recollection of the Beat ethos. His brilliant reading of the long Route 99 hiking poem is comparable to the text of Kerouac's On The Road, albeit condensed & intensified. At both of his readings Snyder referred to Lew Welch. The thought struck me that Snyder is haunted by the ultimate asceticism of the other poet --that Welch's suicide (or, at the very least, his disappearance) pointed him out, accusing him of fellow-travelling, show-biz. Welch's Turkey Buzzard poem, one of the last he wrote before his end, in 1971, contains a Will & Testament, to wit, "on a marked rock, following his orders, / place my meat(...) With proper ceremony disembowel what I / no longer need, that it might more quickly / rot & tempt // my new form" --: a 10th anniversary siren's song for such a sailor as Gary Snyder."


A NOTE ON DALE PENDELL'S INSPIRED MADNESS : The Gifts of Burning Man (Frog Ltd., 2006)

(30.7.07-11.8.07) The rep shows me his list --a grab-bag of smaller Australasian & overseas presses including Bob Adamson's Paper Bark (prestigious Australian poets like Adamson himself, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Maiden, Martin Harrison), New Falcon (Crowlie, Regardie, Leary? et al), & North Atlantic --ring a bell? Remember Richard Grossinger's press? The wunderkind of our own time, born in that confluence of New American Poetry & the Counter Culture, with (reputedly) hotel-chain dollars at his disposal to support the wonderful Io magazine --not as literary as Stony Brook (I remember your copies, Bernard) but how exciting! Ecology, homeopathy, astrology, sci-fi, dream, baseball & poetry!
Every now & then something jumps out of the title-sheets, e.g., Tom Clarke's gripping biography of Ed Dorn (particularly for the English years in which Clarke also partook). I'm writing this as introduction to Dale Pendell's book published by Frog Ltd. / North Atlantic --there it was in the rep's checklist --Dale Pendell whom I instantly remembered as poet associated with Gary Snyder, possibly published in Eshleman's Caterpiller magazine?
As we've both since ascertained, Pendell isnt there (maybe Sulpher?) though he is in Jim Koller's Coyote Review & in Franco Beltrametti's Alleghenny Star Route Anthology, alongside Will Staple, Steve Stansfield, Peter Coyote & co. And Peter Coyote & Snyder claim him in blurbs for this book.
It's a rollicking story (no, this isnt Belloc's Four Men! --though quest it is however constituted) --an update on The Dharma Bums offering one outcome of Japhy's rucksack revolution : the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert --celebratory, sensory, sensual, ecstatic, never mind-dulling, nothing to do with getting on, some of the best of the 60s, 70s "alternative" scene...
Can one be nostalgic for a life one only peripherally experienced or be inspired by description of events & activities one'll not necessarily emulate? Same questions as posed by our enthusiasm for the subjects of our correspondence I think...
Dale Pendell's major reference is to Norman O. Brown, the mere mention of whom recalls our 1960s, full feathers & bells! And while not dreaming its reinstatement, Pendell is obliged by its revelation. Personal experience doesnt imply social process, indeed the chimerical is where eccentric reality might be happily held, suspended from time & social consequence. The historical faces-off the chimerical in Pendell's field-report of the Burning Man Festival. I'm sure he doesnt conceive an every day of the year/ every year of one's life festival a la Burning Man, but I do think he endorses its periodic eruption as crucial political & psychological benefice. Programmatic revolution & its totalitarian wellspring far less providential than democracy & the free market for, yes it's true, rock'n'roll does save your immortal soul!
Pendell, p78, "Living with some risk makes me feel more alive. I'm not saying that I'm against safety, or even security, or that I want more risk. There is already plenty of risk. But the attempt to eliminate all risk usually destroys what it was you were trying to protect in the first place."
p79, " In Brown's system, risk is Dionysus. Dionysian energy has its own violence --it's transgressive by nature --and Brown was against the attempt of many to sanitize Dionysian energy. But he was steadfast that the suppression of the Dionysian influence is far more tragic than the wreckage characteristic of the passage of the young god himself. For the rites of Dionysius, waste, fire, licentiousness, risk and drug-induced madness, are seemly. Burning Man is an experiment in healing, and it should be considered one of our current national treasures."
p.90, "Brown recognizes that in the era of HCE ("Here Comes Everybody"), the outcome depends on whether or not the masses settle for vicarious enetertainment,
Blake's "spectral enjoyment." Spectator. Here, watch the gladiator shed blood, right on your television. "The Grand Inquisitor is betting that circuses will satisfy. The Dionysian bets the Grand Inquisitor is wrong." (Brown,1996). Brown follows Blake, that the violence of Dionysius is preferable to the violence of Mars. That, following Euripides, the suppression of Dionysius leads to the sacrifice of children. And that, following the most ancient threads of religious and magical belief, the rites of Dionysius are prophylactic. Blake wrote : "I will not cease from Mental Fight."
For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the
Court, and the University : who would, if
they could, forever depress Mental and
prolong Corporeal War.
Blake, "Milton".

Naturally, the body of the book describes, indeed it witnesses, the Burning Man festival. The point of it, though, is cultural-political critique, so no matter how out-of-it the experience Pendell describes, it's always significant --the reporter always mindfully out of his mind!
p99, "Hope. It gives me hope. That tolerance and self-reliance have a chance in a world that seems headed in the opposite direction. Hope against idolatry, in all of its forms. Hope against bigotry, against all the false consciousness that says it can't be done, against all the false gods of modesty, taste, moderation and morality. That there can still be, in the twenty-first century, a Feast of Fools, a backwards day of love and heresy, a day for the god, lets just call him the god of the potlatch. His alternative worship is war."
Wonderful red flag of a declaration, one that speaks for large parts of my formative years, teens & twenties, thirties, but whose implications now pin me to what feels like a fundamental contradiction. In a nutshell, how can one support a war, military action, this or that country's or people's sovereignty, this or that set of conventions, be it Law or Tradition, while simultaneously subscribing to the libertarian agenda? At this very time I often feel I'm America's only friend in the poetry world! --the only poet who doesnt froth at the mouth when, for example, personalities or policies of the Australian federal government are mentioned or, more seriously, Israel discussed.
You told me years ago, after the first two or three of my second era of regular visits to England, that Dad had commented, "Kris has mellowed!" Well, we certainly discovered that we agreed about the propriety of the Gulf War --the first contemporary aggression I'd supported, believing there'd be a repeat of the Czeckoslovakian appeasement of 1938, and Israel in the firing-line not to mention Arab opponents of Saddam, were we not to defend Kuwait. We welcomed the end of the Cold War, happy that Britain & Europe in particular, the rest of the world in general, were delivered from the nuclear-war nightmare, and sure that the collapse of the Soviet Union & the anti-communist revolutions in the Baltics & Eastern & Central Europe proved, once & for all, that Communism was the Russian Empire's vicious counterfeit. Dad's anti-communist instinct was correct, my communist utopianism utter crap! Dad was probably surprised by the comprehensivity of my concession. And then came Yugoslavia, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq...
Our greatest agreement revolved about the despicable nature of terrorism, and the moral & political bankruptcy of its use to justify struggle for ethnic, religious or national freedom. For me this repugnance extended to the plethora of anti-globalist militancy around the world which seemed to me an echo of Cold War anti-westernism and whose language indulged a degree of self-righteousness which effectively released it from history & above humanity whilst purportedly acting in its name...
Ah well, Dale Pendell may or may not be "anti-globalist" & all that entails. But his approving quotation from (Situationist) Rene Riesel tickles me, especially this : "Radicalism means, literally, 'grasping things by their roots,' not rejuvinating a peremptory anti-capitalism adorned by cliches from Bourdieu." I'd punch the air & yell Right On were it not for thinking for many years now that whilst politics might be most people's best means of understanding & influencing the world, it isnt the only one.
Finding political agreement with Dad in the 1990s didnt mean I'd junked all my 1960s opinions & actions. Some of course; for example I'd now assumed a Churchillian view of the Second World War having realised the folly informing a statement like "Hitler was wrong but the Allies werent correct either". That was a comment I'd read by '60s poet Dan Georgakis somewhere --Margaret Randall's El Corno Emplumado or in something George Dowden had sent me? Have cake & eat it too --typical all across the radical board. What Dad called "antiism" though he neither understood or accepted our generation's sense of suppression & grasping for "freedom"... I'd also outgrown, by the late 1980s, the idea that the State owed me, as poet/artist, a living... Grants & the like are best thought of as a lottery; one should avoid becoming a creature of the State, a voluntary or involuntary dependent.
On which note I'll close,
Love, Kris


Mid-November, 2007

Dear Kris,
Oh wow! What a monster letter from you! A surfeit of candy -- spoiled for choice! Like my reaction to long poems (" a poem can't be short enough" -- predilection for haiku etc), I'll have to adjust my thinking!
The Michael Tarachow/Pentagram Press book you mention must've been Potterwoman by Barbara Moraff. I wrote to her years ago, sending her one of Simon Drew's cards -- a picture of the Dalai Lama with horns, entitled 'The Origins of Phrases' -- it read, "To be caught on the horns of a Dalai Lama." --there's a fish caught on his horns. I hope her Tibetan Buddhist sensibilities weren't offended! She never answered my letter!
As I said, too much candy... I haven't read the Dale Pendell book yet -- Inspired Madness. I know of the Burning Man festival through one of my 'girlfriends' -- Justine Shapiro (she's great) on Lonely Planet documentary.
The alternative scene, as with you, always beckoned -- but I passed, unlike you and the other sibs.
Not attending too closely to poetry at the moment because of my obsession with health & nutrition -- macrobiotics-McDougall meets Vegan-raw food diet. My favourite books right now areThe Great Life Diet, Danny Waxman (Pegasus Books, 2007); My Beautiful Life, Mina Dobic (Square One, 2007); The Miso Book, John & Jan Bellame (Square One, 2004); Japanese Foods That Heal (Tuttle, 2007). And I'm eating plenty of raw garlic. It helps with reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and blood viscosity.
But I do have Mad Dogs of Trieste : New & Selected Poems by Janine Pommy Vega (Black Sparrow, 2000) beside me as well. And a whole pile of other things including Thomas Merton...I've been meaning to have a good read of the Vega for a long time, and it's come to hand whilst sorting my books...
Janine Pommy Vega is definitely a traveller and seeker. I get the sense Beat but not Buddhist. Would she be a Dharma Bum? Seeker of the truth, no matter what tradition. Travelled through Israel & Europe in the early '60s, then South America in early '70s. All documented in her book, Tracking the Serpent (City Lights, 1997). At high school she "had been reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road. All the characters seemed to move with an intensity that was missing in my life. A magazine article about the Beats mentioned the Cedar Bar in New York City. We decided to check it out." (Tracking the Serpent, p2)
She met with Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac and other writers... "All that winter and into the spring I read. Emily Dickinson, Christopher Smart, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Catullus, John Weiners : anything anyone else was reading. This was my education."
Our friend Bob Arnold pops up in the dedication to that book : "for Bob, Susan & Carson Arnold and all fellow travellers." As I said, traveller -- from Glastonbury to Nepal. I'll have to read it again. Get some clues, maybe, for the journey. For my journey,


"Once delusion is extinguished your wisdom naturally arises and you don't differentiate suffering and joy. Actually, this joy and suffering -- they are the same." So starts the film I have on DVD. "Amongst White Clouds", film-maker, Edward A. Burger. Went to China on the strength of Bill Porter's book, Road to Heaven (Rider, 1994) -- decided to make a film on Chinese hermits. Not extinguished by Mao. Amazing that they're still there. He found a master with whom he's been studying for more than five years now. That would be something : to go to China.
But I've found a couple of gems. Firstly, an acupuncturist & healer called Sue Branch, here in Weymouth. And a Zen teacher in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives living in Aberwystwyth, Wales. As you always reproach me -- you don't have to go anywhere exotic. It's all around you wherever you are. Circumnambulate Radipole Lake. Everywhere/everything is sacred.
Rev. Master Myoho Harris has been very kindly in her(?) letters from Aberwystwyth in regard to my questions about practice. Very encouraging. "Just wanting to meditate is training. It will lead you forward. Help flows to meet us in many ways. Keep offering yourself to the boundless heart of the Buddha and, most importantly of all, listening deeply to what your own body and mind tells you." (Letter, 13th August, '07)
And Sue Branch has been offering Bu Qi -- acupuncture healing without needles as i had bad reaction to needles. Too sensitive. I'm looking forward to some tai chi training too.
Anyway, all for now. Too many Xmas letters to write.

1 comment:

mountain-ash said...

Dear Kris

Thanks again for the note about your blog, I loved reading it and it’s easy to see how much Issa’s humour comes through to everyone who reads him – but also a great sadness or at least, a sombre nature, he seems to have written in such a way as to express the deep pain in his own life without strictly personal references – a quality of a lot of haiku, it seems.

After doing a little research on Issa and reading about how rough his life was, I wrote my short piece 'Issa' published in my collection pollen and the storm (2008), because I thought that – no matter how bad things must have been for him – he still wrote with such a gentle and powerful eye/hand.

Here’s the translation I read of the famous haiku I referenced in the poem:

The snail climbs
Mount Fuji
slowly, slowly . . .

Which I first found in Haiku Inspirations by Tom Lowenstein (so I assume it was his translation) and I thought it was one of the clearest and most concise translations I’d ever seen (and it reminded me of Lucien Stryk’s – I only have his On Love and Barley)

And I compared it to the Sam Hamill’s from The Sound of Water:

O summer snail,
you climb but slowly, slowly
to the top of Fuji

which I didn’t like quite as much – it seems to have more of the ‘author as observer’ (Issa) directly mentioned, whereas the Lowenstein translation reveals Issa only so much as he comments on the snail, whereas in Hamill’s version we can see/read Issa commenting, ‘O summer snail.’

Having said that, it also seems more natural on one level – in that Issa might not need to call Mt Fuji anything other than ‘Fuji’ whereas Lowenstein’s adds the word “mount.”

The more time I spent seeking out translations, the more I believed that Biographical data must be crucial to the art – something I’d resisted in other writing, because during my degree, we looked at authorship in a post-structuralist critical way – where the author should not be seen as ‘hiding meaning’ in a text, and therefore, biographical information should not be used to uncover any meaning in a text. Let a poem stand on its own etc

And this seemed to be a backlash against the ‘self’ so prominent in the Romantics, (and to an extent the Beats?) but I now think that it must be impossible to translate from one language to another without biographical information of the author (at the least, not to mention the culture, history etc)

I loved this quote from the blog:

In his conversation with John Brandi & Jeff Bryan, Sakaki is asked about another snail poem ''just as he is / he goes to bed and gets up / the snail" --
Brandi : Did the snail show Issa how simple life can be in the middle of all our complications & things we need?
Sakaki : I guess so. That's a great understanding. He feels jealousy, ah yeah (laughs) "I must think about money & human relations, but the snail doesn't care, just goes to sleep, just walk around, eat . . . uh-oh, But not me, why? Why?" That is his point. Why is important, why is snail that way, why I'm this way. . . strange! why? Why are we, why is the sky so shiny, why trees so green?
Bryan : It's all beautiful, why am I so uptight?
Sakaki : Yeah, the surprisement, that is haiku.

In the quote I hear a lot of ‘talking for Issa’ but what else can a writer do, so far removed from the man himself? So translation and the way it both fixes and interprets meaning must have a great degree of the translator present – his ideas, his forms and ideas about language(s).

It seems like a great trust for one author to give to another, and a huge responsibility for one poet to take upon themselves. I’m constantly awed by the process and end result, it’s extremely pleasing to read about, so I’m really glad you pointed the blog out to me.