Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rejections 1

This is the first in a series of documenting rejected poetry, my own. The purpose is not to exhibit self-pity, but to show what in my view is not bad form, but bad luck. (Also I want to document that it is my own poetry, and not someone else's). I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the role of luck in a writer's career, good or bad.

I've read poetry of successful poets -- 'successful' defined as published in book form by regarded presses with good distribution, and wondered how it made the grade. It seemed to be printed not on the merits of the poetry itself, but because the poet had already made a name for him/herself.

Perhaps poetry, like music, cannot ultimately be objectively judged as good or bad, but depends on myriad subjective judgments -- moreso than music, however. Though our ears tell us when music is out of tune -- a faculty that seems to be innate -- we have a far lesser ear for the rhythms, cadences, tones of a poem. It could be that sense gets in the way; poetry is, after all, language. I'm thinking of the old dance of sound and sense, and which is the leader. I hold that they must be paired; there must be a formality to this dance, of some kind.

Anyway, I don't want to digress too much on general poetics. The following two poems were rejected recently. (By whom is not at issue, pun intended)



is brightly lit but spartan
like an improvisational night
and we see three stools
in free association

"Welcome, everyone,
we're going to say
whatever we think
and we need just a word"
and there is a pause as they whisper

"Artist" casts one
"Picasso" pipes two
"was not so upbeat" notes three
and backstage there is a row

We hear the audience shuffle
and a boy of nine
talking to himself
"Picasso" (downbeat)

"There is just enough
revision in this world"
whispers his father
"keep calm and carry on"


what are we saying
what are we
saying what we are

what we are saying
what we are
we are

Friday, July 22, 2016

Propaganda Is Subtle

The freer the society, the subtler the propaganda must be, in order to get citizens to think 'correctly'. Take this story in The Washington Post today. Note the non-sequitur of the second paragraph.
A video clip posted on Twitter showed a gunman opening fire outside the McDonald’s as people dashed for cover. The man appeared to fire on passersby with a handgun, seemingly at random. 
A U.S. investment adviser and blogger, Eddy Elfenbein, tweeted Friday that his brother was in Munich. “He was helped to safety by a young Syrian immigrant. The young man’s family called from Aleppo to see if he was OK,” Elfenbein wrote. 
In Washington, President Obama told a group of law enforcement officers at the White House that the United States is offering German authorities “all the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances.” 
He said the Munich attacks serve as a reminder that “our freedoms, our ability to go about our business every day, raising our kids, seeing them grow up .... that depends on law enforcement. It depends on the men and women in uniform every single day who are, under some of the most adverse circumstances imaginable at times, making sure to keep us safe.”
Secondly, note that the president must equate freedom with a state of law enforcement. By this logic, why not just have a police state to get even more freedom out of it? How does Trump differ here? I'll leave you to think.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Imagery of the Candle

First, this translation by Arthur Waley (1918)^


I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished: the candle is low: dawn not yet come.With sore eyes by the guttering candle still I sit in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
Second, this emendation of the same by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker (1996)*


I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished, the candle is low, dawn not yet come.My eyes smart; I put out the lamp and go on sitting in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
I've underlined the relevant changes. Aside from the two typographical changes in the line above, they cite the reason as follows: "Since Waley made these translations early in the twentieth century, some of their language now feels archaic, and we have slightly emended several of them to soften this effect." To my ear, however, "guttering candle" is unusual, but not archaic. It actually imparts a greater effect of the imagery of the candle. I'm no scholar of Chinese; I can't read or write or speak the language. But I'm guessing that the original does not really state that "I put out the lamp."

Waley notes in his introduction that "I have aimed at literal translation, not paraphrase. [...] Above all, considering imagery to be the soul of poetry, I have avoided either adding images of my own or suppressing those of the original."

For an excellent discussion of the art of translation, see this interview in The Paris Review.

^ A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, transl. Arthur Waley, Constable & Company Ltd.
* The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader, eds. Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, The Ecco Press

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology

The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology by Faubion Bowers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a 'thing' for Dover Press books, as well as haiku, so this was doubly fun to read. Dover books are often so well done for so little cost that they are like bop trio versions of big band standards. Informative introduction by Bowers, with many a helpful footnote on both biographical details and cultural context that reveal more than I can gather from the poems alone. This was also great for introducing me to haikai masters other than Basho, such as Buddhist nun Chiyo-ni (Kaga no Chiyo) (1703-1775) and Uejima Onitsura (1661 – 1738). Plus, for some of the poems, more than one translation is offered, which is a delight to see. Finally I also enjoyed the transliterations, giving a sense of the 5-7-5 sound in the original Japanese. There are even 'outliers' of 7-7-5 that make the grade. I will leave my opinion on haiku written in English for another time, heh.

View all my reviews