surviving & Ikkyū

This week I’m sharing a set of 5 poems by Japanese Zen Buddhist monk and poet, Ikkyū. I am unable to attribute a translator to these as they have come to this post in a haphazard way. Let me explain.

I wrote these poems down while at work one day back in 2011. More specifically, I caught them on a livejournal without attribution and scrawled them down on scraps of paper which I later transferred over to my journal. Years later, here they are.

Photo of a pine forest by Brandon Montrone

These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.

If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.

5 by Ikkyu

this ink painting of wind blowing through pines
who hears it?

*

it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one

*

ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains
the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin

*

your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh
green distances of your blindness

*

my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit
he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside

* wintering with tomas tranströmer

We’ve had some steady days of clouds making their way over us. The early mornings have been looking something like this:

* greyer days *
* greyer days *

In my work, I’ve been working with repetition in some recent poems of mine, trying to incorporate repeating words and images conceptually. The poem below by Tomas Tranströmer is a good model for what I mean. Each time a word or image is repeated, it is reembodied and adds to the overall effect. It’s almost as if the first “blow” in the beginning of the poem sets the details of the poem in motion.

A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer

The storm put its mouth to the house
and blows to get a tone.
I toss and turn, my closed eyes
reading the storm’s text.

The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark
and the storm howls for him.
Both love the swinging lamps;
both are halfway towards speech.

The storm has the hands and wings of a child.
Far away, travellers run for cover.
The house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm in our rooms,
where the echoes of all footsteps rest
like sunken leaves in a pond,
but the night outside is wild.

A darker storm stands over the world.
It puts its mouth to our soul
and blows to get a tone. We are afraid
the storm will blow us empty.

***

Happy emptying!

Jose

* Rilke, winter & the friday influence

I am almost done with The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.  Fascinating stuff.  Rilke wrote something like 400 poems in French towards the end of his life.  Basically a whole Collected Works in another language.  He approached his poems in French in the spirit of starting over in a way that he couldn’t in his native German.

What does it mean to start over?  Focusing on details.

Case in point, here’s one poem from his series The Roses:

II. *

I see you, rose, half-open book

filled with so many pages

of that detailed happiness

we will never read.  Magus-book,

opened by the wind and read

with our eyes closed…,

butterflies fly out of you, stunned

for having had the same ideas.

***

Those last four lines contain within them so much sensation – so much surprise – you read them and go back into yourself, recognizing an experience there in the words.

Rilke’s French poems are where he goes for it and basically becomes a modern version of Rumi – he sings within his praise for the world.

winter, yo
winter, yo

Continuing with last week’s theme of winter, here is Rilke’s take on it.

In the same spirit of starting over, Rilke also left some of his French poems imperfect.  The poem below is such an example.

The last line almost takes me out of the poem.  It is an unfinished thought.  But, read after so many lines of yearning and remembering, the line leaves us lost in as much thought as the speaker.

***

Winter – Rainer Maria Rilke *

I love those former winters that still weren’t meant for sports.

We feared them a little, they were so hard and sharp;

we confronted them with a bit of courage,

to return into our house, white, sparkling wise-men.

And the fire, that great fire consoling us against them,

was a strong and living fire, a real fire.

We wrote badly, our fingers were all stiff,

but what joy to dream and entertain whatever

helps escaping memories delay a while…

They came so close, we saw them better

than in summer…, we proposed colors to them.

Inside, all was painting,

while outside all became engraving.

And the trees, who worked at home, in lamplight…

***

Happy working!

jose

* as translated by A. Poulin in The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –