Saturday, June 27, 2020

A SALUTE TO STUART FRIEBERT AND LISTENING ALL NIGHT TO THE RAIN


Although my blogging has suffered a gradual demise, when notable books and events cause a stir in this isolated household, I feel an old impulse to write a few lines as I am doing this morning after receiving Pinyon Publishing’s latest book of poetry, Listening All Night to the Rain by Su Dongpo (Su Shi) and translated by Jiann I. Li and David Young.  This collection of poems arrived the same day as I received notice that a friend and “comrade in words” (as Stuart Friebert inscribed one of his books to me) had died. The Pinyon publication, Listening All Night to the Rain is a translated book of poetry from one of Friebert’s colleagues at Oberlin College where Friebert formed the Oberlin Creative Writing program and co-founded Oberlin College Press.

Friebert was a poetry pen pal of mine who endorsed several of my books and who was a master of poetic translations. He not only inspired poets and translators, he wrote precise and extraordinary poetry and prose and received The Ohioana Book Award for his book of poetry, Floating Heart published by Pinyon in 2014. In that collection of poems, he wrote about his own “Eve of the End:” “No one told us anything about/ this before we started out. When we’re out/of sight, you may go back to your reading,/but expect a bright light,/your eyes to blink.” I think he wrote his own wry epitaph. A man who loved word play, Friebert often sent e-mails to me that showed his playful and endearing personality. I valued his insights about writing poetry (“learn to be lightning”) and his willingness to be audacious about whatever vocation a person pursues in life. 

Jiann I. Lin and David Young, who translated Listening All Night to the Rain, must have pleased Friebert with their choice of poems from Su Dongpo that “combine simplicity with universality” David Young writes in the Introduction to this volume. According to Young, Taoism and Zen Buddhism helped show the 11th-century poet Su Dongpo the way to wonder and delight and reinforced his poetic sensibilities. Readers can visualize him wandering through remote Chinese provinces, living through exiles because of his political affiliations and writing quatrains about his excursions, sometimes involving heavy drinking during his explorations.

Su Dongpo’s brother, Su Zhe, was also a poet, and Su Dongpo exchanged poems, as well as gossip, with him in deeply emotional poems using brief and beautiful imagery that characterizes Chinese poetry: “The lamp drops cinders/the darkening candle wick/hangs down/I poke the ashes in the stove/over and over/sniffing the last fragrance…across the sea between us/the moon shies clear as crystal/I share it with him now.”

I enjoyed many of the temple poems; e.g., “At a temple, asked to help name a pavilion:” “Glory will flourish and decay/as transitory/as any wind or thunder./What lasts can be/as simple as/red blooming flowers./The master priest sits quietly/watching an empty shelf/thinking about a name,/observing the concept of ‘real’/and also the concept of ‘nothingness’/because they’re both the same.” Like most of the lyrics in this collection, this collection reflects the economy of Oriental poetry; but the compression still conveys time and place without exaggerated documentation.

The wandering and exposure to rain, snow, and seasonal changes sometimes troubles this vagabond poet, and he often expresses a weariness with which aging readers can identify: From “A Weary night”: “In this lonely village/one dog barks all night/the moon wanes/few people on the road/my thinning hair /has turned bright white/my years of travel have taught me/how to be homesick/out in the empty fields/spinster cicadas are buzzing/nothing to show for their labor/nothing accomplished.” 

For readers who’re drawn to Oriental poetry, Su Dongpo offers eloquent and peaceful reading during this time of stress and isolation due to disease and political upheaval in our country. The book is one that expresses the poet’s enduring spirit through adversities where he endures punishments for his political associations. In “At Spirit Mountain, touring with friends in rain,” he thumbs his nose at bureaucrats “off duty,” “…I’ve spent the day/ strolling around/with my two friends/here in the rain and mist/big magpies soar/rising up and diving down/while travelers cross/appearing and disappearing/among the groves of trees.”

Listening All Night to the Rain contains the Chinese version of all poems on opposite pages from the English version pages, and a look at the enchanting symbols made me wish that I’d learned another language to translate as Stuart Friebert once urged me to do.

The book could be viewed as another tribute to the master translator, Friebert. It’s a wonderful collection by Jiann I. Lin and David Young and emerges as another of Pinyon Publishing’s remarkable publications. Kudos to Susan Entsminger, who continues to carry the tradition of excellent literature established by her and her deceased husband, Gary Entsminger.

Copies available at Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403


Saturday, May 2, 2020

ENTERING THE DAY: POEMS BY MICHAEL MILLER. (Pinyon Publishing).

BACK TO BLOGGING BOOK REVIEWS…




Wars leave scars in the minds of those who serve in any military conflict, and survivors often share their experiences through journaling, drawing, writing poetry, and novels. In Michael Miller’s case, he records glimpses of several wars through his own experience and the engagements of his relatives in military conflict. Although he reflects on other experiences “entering the day,” his accounts of servicemen during several wars are the most arresting poems in this volume. 

In “A Different Time,” Miller reflects on the experience of  a Marine who landed on Okinawa during World War II during his walk across a meadow in Massachusetts, “far from the black sand of that island/Where he left his blood;/His Purple Heart remain[ing] in/the glove compartment of His Buick beside his pistol,…” this poem followed by  “Tide of Blood,” a powerful salute to those whose “lives deprived /Of their future, the letters/He was asked to mail, ‘In case,’/And with each whiskey and cigarette/Another comrade appears, his face/Still innocent across the table.” Although Miller, of course, did not serve in this conflict, he recounts the experience as if he had served alongside the narrator in a convincing unsentimental portrait of a WWII survivor.

Miller’s own experiences in war are encapsulated in Section V, Verse VII, a powerful retrospective poem familiar to many veterans of the Vietnam conflict: “Only once did we visit/The wall, move our fingers/Over the chiseled names,/The Marines we knew./Flowers, photographs,/Letters and crayon drawings/Rested before the wall./No one walked away with/Their head held high.” This poem invoked a poignant memory of an encounter with a Vietnam veteran when I attended The Sixth Day course in upper state New York. A survivor of the Vietnam War stood up among 300 participants at this event where we had been “processing” experiences all night, and as the sun came up, he confessed that he was deeply hurt because he had been maligned as a veteran of that conflict and never properly thanked for his service. The moderator told him to stand up and declared, “In the name of the president of the United States and all U.S. citizens, we thank you for your service and remember all who served in this conflict.” Two weeks later, after we had returned home, we read about the wall going up, and I’ve always believed we had something to do with this commemoration.

Miller does not leave readers suspended with dark reflections and redeems his experiences with a more hopeful poem entitled “On Nauset Beach,” where “beyond [his] limitations of old age…” “he strides through the surprise/Of an unswept morning/On a shoulder of Nauset Beach/Singing to the Atlantic,/The thrashing incoming tide,/the waves breaking onto the shore/Like sleeves of ruffled lace,/The gannets swooping/With black-tipped wings/Beating a welcome…” Here is Miller at his lyrical best, counteracting the darkness of war and old age with his insightful voice and an undaunted heart.

This poet is not without humor and is capable of a comfortable irony in “Morning Song in Amherst” (his home) where Miller encounters a street person, “In July, her hair a tangled nest/No bird would return to/Beside the Dickinson home/A cigarette between/Her dirty fingers…” He suggests that Emily Dickinson would have invited the woman into her home for “a bath and breakfast” and when the woman volunteers that she slept on a bench beside the home all night and no one bothered her, Miller writes that he offered her bath and breakfast, “almost hearing Emily say, ‘Yes, oh yes!’”

In Section IV of Entering the DayMiller’s poem about Virginia Wolfe entitled “Virginia,” shows that he can achieve that which he believes Virginia was capable of: “…her words/Were meant to be elsewhere,/In perfect sentences she could control.” That capability is shown throughout this volume, Miller’s meditations emerging with crafted control over his phrasing. Here is a true voice devoid of mawkishness in the delivery of difficult experiences — poems without cloying lamentations about the ravages of war and an uncertain future —conditions with which we are confronted in the wake of  Coronavirus, “a language wait[ing] to be heard” that Miller seems to be game for, despite…

Michael Miller has published nine poetry collections, and his first book The Joyful Dark was the Editor’s Choice winner of the McGovern Prize at Ashland Poetry Press. His poems have appeared in The Sewanee Review, The New Republic, The American Scholar, The Southern Review, and many other literary journals. In 2014 he became the First Prize Winner of the W. B. Yeats Society Poetry Award and was anthologized in Yeats 150 (Lilliput Press, Dublin).

I am proud to add that Michael Miller is a good friend and supporter of my work. Salut, Michael! We eagerly look for more. And kudos to Susan Entsminger for the lovely artwork on the cover of Entering the Day: “Protea from the Upcountry Farmer’s Market, Maui.”

Order online or from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose CO 81403


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Grandma's Good War Remembered Today


We are battling a virus, Covid-19, today which many refer to as "war." I'm reminded of WWII that happened during my childhood when significant sacrifices were required of all who lived during that time. My book, GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR, A Verse Retrospective of the Forties, published during the Great Recession of 2008, provides a point of identification with a period of reoccurring history that has become an important part of our modern life. One reader wrote about this book, “wherever we lived in this time our lives seemed to be almost identical, even to the knitting for war victims.” The title poem of the book recalls sacrifices of that time reminiscent of today's war against Covid-19 and the hopeful feelings we will experience about victory over this pandemic.

Grandma's Good War
I was a child during World War Two
burdened with adult tasks to do,
in backyard plots planted row after row of garden seed,
cleared away clump after clump of coco weed,
collected scrap iron by the wagonload
and stacks of newspaper, crinkled and old,
the iron to be melted for weapons of war,
the paper recycled and sent afar,
bought war stamps and war bonds from Uncle Sam,
savored lunches of Vienna sausage, tins of Spam,
complained about rations of chocolate kisses and coca-cola,
played thick, black records on an ancient Victrola,
sang “Off We Go” and war songs galore,
in air raid drills, lay stiffly on oily wood floors,
loved to say aloud “Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini,
Okinawa, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima.”
On V-J Day, celebrated war’s end in a dancing crowd,
ignoring the shadow of a mushroom-shaped cloud,
was proud to be a patriot who loved the victorious USA,
remembering WWII as the period of a better day,
at armistice, believed all wars would cease …
and the world would bask in the sun of peace.

Grandma's Good War is the only book among 52 I've written that contains rhyming poetry. Stay vigilant, stay well. Plant a Victory Garden.