* oh, right – it’s spring!

What a pity! – Tu Fu

The flowers fly – why so fast?
As I grow old, I wish that spring would linger.
What a pity that scenes of joy
Came not all in my youth and prime!
To set free the mind there must be wine,
To set forth one’s feelings nothing is better than poetry.
This thought you, T’ao Ch’ien, would understand,
But my life has come after your time.

* hey *
* hey *

I can tell the semester’s over because I have begun going on walks in the mornings again. Doing so has allowed me to make the following observation which I will pose as a question: Did you know it’s Spring?

The semester ended last week and one telltale sign of how busy I’ve been is how I’ve neglected to look up (or around for that matter) and really take in what’s been happening. I mean, I haven’t been completely oblivious: I have found hyacinths sneaking into my daily writing. Ani’s good about pointing things out. There’s also been an increase of birds in our neighborhood. Cardinals and robins kinda point themselves out 🙂

This week, I share two poems from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse which I read last summer when we first landed here in Cincinnati. I like to start each season by reading the work of early Chinese and Japanese poets for their poetry’s ability to encompass not only the universe but nature, and not only nature meaning the outside world, but the nature of the heart.

While I may have neglected the official start of Spring, I like to think I’m up to date with the change of season in my daily life.

Bees – Lo Yin

Down in the plain, and up on the mountain-top,
All nature’s boundless glory is their prey.
But when they have sipped from a hundred flowers and made honey,
For whom is this toil, for whom this nectar?

***

Happy toiling!

Jose

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* questions with Pablo Neruda & Mary Oliver

XXXIII.

And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?

And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?

Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?

Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?

Pablo Neruda, from the Book of Questions

* sunsetular *
* sunsetular *

The above excerpts from Neruda are from a post I did last summer having some translation fun (see here).

It is my birthday month and so I am in question mode all sorts.  I believe questions can be their own genre of literature (ask Neruda).

There is the story of the Rabbi being asked by his son: What is the meaning of life? – to which the Rabbi responded with: Why would you ruin such a great question with an answer?  

The poem below by Mary Oliver turns on its questions, creates from a desire to know, a knowing.

***

Some Questions You Might Ask – Mary Oliver

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape?  Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

***

Happy grassing!

Jose

* rivers, Jim Harrison & you

In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it.

Jim Harrison

*ain't life Rio Grande*
*ain’t life Rio Grande*

Jim Harrison is one of my gurus.  His work opens me up every time I return to it.  There is a directness to his writing, a feeling of having whittled one’s self down to the essential.  Being a poet of rivers myself, his words above are kindred.

He may also be the closest we have to that other great poet of rivers, Li Po, who, legend has it, died embracing the moon – at least the reflection of it he saw one night on the face of a river.

In the following poem, from his book Saving Daylight, Jim takes us a littler further down the river, to where we may have been all along.

Water – Jim Harrison

Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the yard in front
of my green studio.  There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can’t do it anymore.
Born man, child man, singing  man,
dancing man, loving man, old man,
dying man.  This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.

***

Happy watering!

Jose

* one year later & three chinese poets

[the lyric poet] always says “I” and sings us through the full chromatic scale of his passions and desires – (Nietzche)

*duly noted*
*duly noted*

Think what you will of Nietzche, he goes overlooked as a poet – and I don’t mean his actual poems but more the spirit with which he approached his writing.  Like the quote above shows, the big N had a way with the aphoristic insight, a lyric way of understanding the world that showed in everything he said.

It is in this spirit that I started this blog a year ago.

Along with having a place for people interested in my work to find me and connect, I wanted a forum with which to share some of what feeds me creatively with fellow readers and writers.

In the past year, I have shared not only poems I admire but other things as well (philosophy, songs, etc.) that have stirred me and made me think – always with an eye towards how it relates to poetry, the writing of it, the spirit of it.

I recently admitted to fellow poet and blog buddy Miriam Sagan that only now, a year later, have I begun to understand what an ever-evolving animal a blog can be.  The Influence has more and more come out of my notebooks, out of my thoughts on a given week.  This approach feels right.

This blog, ultimately, is a reader’s blog.  The enthusiasm that drives me to share is that of a reader, and what insights I stumble upon are due to reading well.  I hope to continue appealing to the reader in all of you.

Lyric poetry is often defined as short and personal.  In many ways, our very lives can be defined as such.  Reading is where these two worlds – where many worlds – meet.

*this, too, is reading*
*reading*

Here are three poems from Vikram Seth’s book Three Chinese Poets – translations from the work of Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu.  Each poem in its own way pays attention to the short and personal world we live in.

***

Birdsong Brook – Wang Wei

Idly I watch cassia flowers fall.
Still is the night, empty the hill in Spring.
Up comes the moon, startling the mountain birds.
Once in a while in the Spring brook they sing.

*

In the Quiet Night – Li Bai

The floor before my bed is bright:
Moonlight – like hoarfrost – in my room.
I lift my head and watch the moon.
I drop my head and think of home.

*

Thoughts While Travelling at Night – Du Fu

Light breeze on the fine grass.
I stand alone at the mast.

Stars lean on the vast wild plain.
Moon bobs in the Great River’s spate.

Letters have brought no fame.
Office?  Too old to obtain.

Drifting, what am I like?
A gull between earth and sky.

***

Happy drifiting!

Jose

* Linda Pastan, apples & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Linda Pastan!

What moves me about the lyric below is how it follows the turns of simple tone and lets the subtleties gleam.

What does that mean?

Peep the line: maybe the wind would wind itself – with its alliterative w’s, but also how the word wind turns over in meaning and pronunciations from noun to verb, seamlessly.

I’ve always marveled at Pastan’s way with the line.  Not every poem has to go for the jugular.  This one gets you at the sinew of mortality.

*manzanas*
*manzanas*

In the Orchard – Linda Pastan *

Why are these old, gnarled trees
so beautiful, while I am merely
old and gnarled?

If I had leaves, perhaps, or apples…
if I had bark instead
of this lined skin,

maybe the wind would wind itself
around my limbs
in its old sinuous dance.

I shall bite into an apple
and swallow the seeds.
I shall come back as a tree.

***

Happy appling!

Jose

p.s.  Be sure to check out the latest Stirring: a literary collection featuring work from past Influence feature Adeeba Talukder and a series of poems by yours truly.  Check out the work here.

* originally published in Plume.

** photo found here.

* Your guest is as good as mine…

Just a quick note to promote the latest issue of Stirring: A Literary Collection!

I served as Guest Editor for this issue and had the honor of reading through submissions.  Lots of good stuff.

Below is an example of some of the fine work to be found in this issue.

your nest is as good as - ok i'll stop...
your nest is as good as – ok i’ll stop…

Fontanelle – David Mohan

After your birth your head
lay in its nest,
a new laid egg.

It was flecked with hair
like straw. I felt
the crack beneath your skin.

At the centre
where the skull dipped,
the scalp went soft.

Each day 
we cradled the place
that smelt like sleep.

It had a name
like the first burst
of the source.

Out of the dark,
the stuff of birth,
you rested,

the wound
to your long quiet
beginning to seal.

***

Check out the rest here.

Special shout-out to Erin Elizabeth Smith for this opportunity!

Happy nesting!

Jose

* Eugene Gloria & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Eugene Gloria!

I have only recently become acquainted with Gloria’s work through his second collection, Hoodlum Birds.  Through the collection, he displays an ease and elegance with the line that is both admirable and engaging.

In the poem below, I’d like to point out two dynamic parts (among others) to watch out for while reading.

First, there’s what the word hat does in the fourth stanza, how it embodies a sense of loss, its suddenness and its power to shake us from the day to day.

Second, these lines from the penultimate stanza:

Fugitive as watercolor, 
the short walk to my maple trees dials light.

These two lines could be a poem on their own.  I pored over them when I first read them, engaged with just what the words were doing, what they evoked inside me.  How light can change subtly in even the shortest of walks – having the eye to notice that and then to put it into words is a gift.

More info on Eugene Gloria’s work can be found here.

check out them maples...
check out them maples…

Suddenly October * – Eugene Gloria

His wife had died from cancer. 
There weren’t enough details, 
only this reason to wear a dark shirt.

In February, you would’ve found him, 
hunchbacked, finishing nothing, 
warming his hands over a meager fire.

Then in March, 
pruning the vineyards. By September, 
making wine.

In my dream, I see him as my autumnal
father with a gray fedora, doing his chores, 
and then a big wind comes and steals away his hat.

The world is vast, 
more boundless than all that birds inhabit. 
It is a graspable earth where larks imply the sky

entire cities of breaths and vistas. 
Fugitive as watercolor, 
the short walk to my maple trees dials light.

What is October but the smell of bonfire smoke, 
when fathers leave and carry with them 
their scent of mild decay.

***

Happy scenting!

Jose

* previously published in Prairie Schooner & Gloria’s second collection, Hoodlum Birds.

** photo found here.