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


1 comment:

MaryAnn said...

Very nice. Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well with you. Looking forward to seeing you when . . .

Blessings! MaryAnn Gay