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Martin Rock

43

The spider is genius. The celerity which moves — leading the air mass — the atmosphere level that falls higher than the clouds connecting the seasons. The spider is genius. The brilliance descending omnidirectionally is not a gravity-evading parachute, but striates the entire sky, guiding drops of light towards the ground. And it just lowers itself down along the way. How can there be such transparent bones — bones that flood over, even as they break. And plus he is a seed. With endurance and imagination as nourishment, the scheme is rather null. Sorcery is rather null. A light-handed evil which admits no glory, not even your own. The spider is simply genius.

______________________________________________________________________
Takashi Hiraide was born in Moji, Kitakyushu-shi in 1950. He has published numerous books of poetry as well as several books of genre-bending essays, including one on poetics and baseball. He is a prof. of Art Science and Poetics at Tama Art University. This poem is from For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut and is translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

3 Poems from “62 Sonnets” (1953)

30

I won’t let words rest.
At times they feel ashamed of themselves
and want to die, inside of me.
When that happens I’m in love.

In a world otherwise silent
people—only people— chatter away.
What’s more, sun and trees and clouds
are unconscious of their beauty.

A fast-flying plane flies in the shape of human passion.
Though the blue sky pretends to be a backdrop,
in fact there’s nothing there.

When I call out, in a small voice,
the world doesn’t answer.
My words are no different from those of the birds.

54

I grew unwittingly apart
from the world in which I was born
and can no longer walk again
among the things of the earth.

We know that even love is a possession,
but we can’t keep from praying
that life will go on.
And we accept the poverty of our prayers.

I can possess nothing,
though I love
trees, clouds, people.

I can only discard
my overflowing heart—
hesitant to call that an act of love.

58

It’s distance that makes
mountains mountains.
Looked at closely,
they start to resemble me.

Vast panoramas stop people in their tracks
and make them conscious of the engulfing distances.
Those very distances make people
the people they are.

Yet people can also contain distances
inside themselves,
which is why they go on yearning…

They soon find they’re just places violated by distances,
and no longer observed.
They have then become scenery.

_________________________________________
Shuntaro Tanikawa is a Japanese poet and translator. His book Floating the River in Melancholy (trans. William I. Eliot and Kazuo Kawamura) won the American Book Award. He has also translated Charles Schultz’s Peanuts into Japanese.

Secrets of the Garden of a Vacant House Seen in a Dream
(translated by Hiroaki Sato)

Things planted in the garden of a vacant house are
_______pine trees and such
loquat trees___peach trees___black pine trees___sasanquas
_______cherries___and such
prosperous leafy trees___branches of leafy trees that
_______spread around
as well under the leaves of those swarming branches
_______the plants that luxuriate continuously
all in all___ferns___bracken___fiddleheads___sundews___and
_______such
all over the ground they pile up and crawl
the life of these blue things
the garden of the vacant house is always in the plants’
_______shadows and dim
only what faintly flows is a streak of rivulet water
the sound of the running water soughing sadly and
_______low day and night
as well somewhere neat the soggy fence
I see the uncanny muculent forms of slugs___snakes
_______frogs___lizards___and such.
And above this secluded world
pale moonlight illuminates the night
moonlight flows in mostly through the planted groves.
Heart intent on thoughts of this late night deepening
_______ever funereal
my heart leaning on the fence madly plays the flute
ah___this secret life where various things are hidden
a world where boundlessly beautiful shadows___and
mysterious forms pile up one upon another
illuminated in moonlight: ferns___bracken___branches of
_______pine trees
the eerie lives of slugs___snakes___lizards___and such
ah___how I miss the secrets of the garden of this
_______vacant house I often dream of___where no one
_______lives
and its deeply suggestive seclusion its mystery ever
_______unsolved.

 

_______________________________________________________
Born into a wealthy family, Hagiwara Sakutaro (萩原 朔太郎, 1886-1942) was able as a young man to devote himself to poetry. Although he did not finish college, he read Western authors, including Poe, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Dostoevsky. His major works of poetry, written in 1917 and 1923, were Howling at the Moon and Blue, both collected in this volume, along with a substantial selection of poems from other books and a complete translation of Cat Town, a prose-poem roman. These works transformed modern Japanese poetry, and changed forever the face of the future poetic landscape in Japan.

More of these translations are available here.

Thin Kimono is a book of mistaken identities: a hallucinogenic wandering through a cocktail party the night before the invention of the internet.  The party is populated with individuals you may or may not know.  Your wife is a slightly altered version of herself.  There are horses, but even they have become something else. Michael Earl Craig’s acupuncturist is here too.  She tells us her “speakers are hidden in the jade plant” (The Bad Clown)  We get the sense she is struggling not to become evil.  We know there must be separate rooms, separate poem-rooms, but even with titles, often the only sense of demarcation comes from the turning of pages.  This is particularly true in the book’s second and smallest section, which is reminiscent of Matthew Rohrer’s “A Plate of Chicken” in that the section is comprised of short 8-line segments separated by asterisks (“A Plate of Chicken” is divided into 7-line segments).  Also like “A Plate of Chicken,” this section employs an uncanny use of dissociative observation as lens for self-reflection.

The innervated spatula, it
feels things even you don’t.
In 204 a couple humps briskly
like Great Danes, it’s textbook (had heard
what was probably a shoe hit the wall
with some force). We dream of perfecting life
somewhere else.  In space, let’s say.
Wearing Erik Satie stretch pants.

We are invited to enter the rooms of his characters, to observe their strange habits and quiet respect for the divinity in objects, and then we let them pass back into an interaction we can only assume continues to occur after our leaving. “The nitwit danced with the congresswoman/ at the spring picnic,” Craig writes in “Poem.” As a reader I take solace in the knowledge that this dance continues even once I have closed the book and replaced it on my bookshelf.  I’m equally glad to know that couple in 204 will be humping eternally, briskly.

In “The Neighbor,” one of the book’s most defiant and arguably self-aware poems, a dinner roll falls off the dining room table. “It [rolls] across the room and [passes] through the doorway into the bedroom and the door [slams] shut behind it.” Nothing about this act is portrayed as being out of the ordinary. To the contrary, we feel a very natural loss at the roll’s leaving, as though we, the non-participatory readers, have done something to cause it to throw a tantrum.  After all, this particular poem is about us: about Craig’s inability to imagine us as anyone other than exactly himself, and of course about our inability to fulfill that expectation.  Perhaps we feel an affinity to the roll in this poem because Craig has chosen the roll to represent our interests. While reading, there is always a recognition that we cannot enter the poem unless we are written into it, and so, like ghosts, we posses for a moment the body of the dinner roll and storm indignantly out of the room.

As with the proems of Francis Ponge, the objects in Thin Kimono are imbued with a kind of duplicitous consciousness.  However, where Ponge’s objects come across as insecure and terrified of the softness that is contained within them, Craig’s objects appear at times in a state of revolt against the very human hands that created them.  In “In The Road,” Craig tells us of a dream where he is shoeing a horse.

________________…Hitting
the nails was like trying to strike flies
from the air.  My hammer flashed in the sun,
striking the shoe to the left or the right of the nail.
One miss-hit busted my thumb open.
Blood trickled like a wet glove over my hand.

Even the blood here becomes an object capable of acting of its own volition.  And again, similar to the proems of Francis Ponge, there is a moment where the interior comes to the surface, transforms itself, and covers “like a glove” the exterior.  The blood in this instance is no longer an extension of the body but has become more an extension of the hammer that has revolted against the body.  The objects have overtaken consciousness.  Our grasping at them will lead to our own demise.  Here is a very clearly stated desire to turn away from our tendency toward possession of material goods and into a world of endless metaphysical fulfillment, the lucid dreamstate where surrealism and realism and absurdism all coexist.

These poems occur in the space between the stirring of consciousness and the awakening of reason, when our unconscious perceptions of the objects and characters that embody our lives are still dripping in the semiotic fluid of dreams and of language. In short, it’s a very fun book to read, and one that leaves you feeling more inquisitive and excited about the earth’s occupants (both sentient and non-sentient) than when you opened it.  Craig’s poems are as layered and thick as a well-made baklava.  They are equally accessible, rich, and nutty.  “THE READER CAN ALMOST BE DUMB REALLY AND STILL GET [THEM].”(Bluebirds) Also like baklava, they taste more of the Country Marm’s kitchen than of the Hostess factory, more of the earth than of the machines we have created to destroy it.  As with so many of the books put out by Wave, this one is quirky, intelligent, and entertaining, with leaps that sometimes require a great effort in the suspension of disbelief.  I for one am glad to go there, glad to learn of the disparities that can be stitched together by consciousness, and particularly glad to again crack the form I have built around cognition.  I hope this book does the same for you.