Tuesday, May 26, 2020

司空圖二十四詩品《高古》 / Sikong Tu's Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry, 5 - "Lofty and Ancient"

Since poem #4 of the Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry was posted a while back, here's #5. It's relatively straightforward, though I'm glad I had the Giles translation available to explain a couple points. The first is the reference to 東 the "Eastern Dipper," which Giles says is Ursa Major, but that doesn't seem right; the Chinese call that 北斗 the Northern Dipper. The only references I've found to an Eastern Dipper involve Daoist deities associated with various stars. Since I don't know what Sikong Tu was specifically referring to, I've left the phrase as is.

The other thing that Giles' translation helped with was the reference to 黃唐 Huang and Yao. The former is the mythical Yellow Emperor, which I figured out on my own. The second character is "Tang," which at first I thought was a reference to the Tang dynasty, so Giles' reading confused me. As it turns out, another mythical emperor, Yao, is also known as 唐堯 Tang Yao, so that explains that.

太華 Taihua is 華山 Huashan, one of China's most sacred mountains, located in Shaanxi province.

See y'all next time.







"Lofty and Ancient"
Sikong Tu

The uncommon man pursues the Real,
lotus in hand
floating across these endless kalpas
following the trail deeper into the skies

Moon rises over the Eastern Dipper,
following the strong wind
From Mount Taihua, blue in the night,
people hear the clear bell

Emptiness awaits the pure soul
that goes beyond earthly boundaries
Huang and Yao stand alone,
ever distant, yet profound examples

Monday, May 25, 2020

Plague Poems, XI: "Memorial Day"

"Memorial Day"

At first,
a junebug carcass,
doomed earlier than usual—
looked at properly,
after being kicked
across the porch,
a trefoil snapdragon pod,
brown, brittle,
perhaps dead from neglect
before it ever got
to grace the world
with pink.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

司空圖二十四詩品《纖穠》 / Sikong Tu's Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry, 3 - "Slender and Sturdy"

Poem #3 of 24, like many of its companions, has a somewhat cryptic title. Most classical Chinese poems have simple titles denoting the subject matter, or the circumstances under which they were written, but Sikong Tu's titles point to loftier concepts, discussed (with varying levels of obliqueness) in the poem's contents. I'm unsure as to exactly what the poet's getting at with this particular title, but maybe I'll understand it better after some more reflection and research.







"Slender and Sturdy"
Sikong Tu

Shimmer of flowing water
distant spring carried on the wind
secluded in a deep valley
when I see a beautiful woman

Peach trees bursting with green
a breeze along the riverbanks
willows shade the winding path
graceful orioles gather nearby

Pushing further, ever onward
ever closer to the real
that which is endless
renders the old new

Thursday, May 21, 2020

司空圖二十四詩品第二《沖淡》 / Sikong Tu's Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry, 2 - "Unassuming Tranquility"

Here's poem #2 from 二十四詩品 Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry by Tang dynasty poet 司空圖 Sikong Tu. I find that each poem calls for its own sort of punctuation in English; this one needs a little something extra, but I haven't gone back yet to really figure out what.

Assuming anyone's reading these, I'd be curious to know if they thought there was any connecting theme or approach across the poems. Obviously it's hard to discern such a thing when I've only posted three poems, but give it some thought, dear reader.
Enjoy, and stay safe during the pandemic. If you have to go out, keep your distance from folks, wear a mask, and wash your hands. Things aren't getting better anytime soon, and we've gotta adapt.






"Unassuming Tranquility"
Sikong Tu

Dwelling in silence, untouched, unadorned
subtle and imperceptible in its workings
drinking of the supreme harmony
flying alongside the solitary crane

Like a gentle breeze
that barely rustles one's robe
heard through tall bamboo—
beauty that calls out to be carried home

It is not difficult to come across
approaching it, it grows ever more scarce
free of form and appearance,
when grasped, it disappears

Monday, May 18, 2020

司空圖二十四詩品第一《雄渾》 / Sikong Tu's Twenty-Four Classes of Poems, 1 - "Undivided Strength"

So here's the first of the twenty-four poems that comprise 司空圖 Sikong Tu's 二十四詩品 Twenty-Four Classes of Poems. Like the other one I posted (#4, 沈著 "Deep in Thought"), this is just a draft. I don't like the working title, and I'm not terribly pleased with how a lot of these have been coming out—though as I work my way through them and get a sense of what the poet is going for, it's getting a bit easier. (Rendering them in to Portuguese is a whole 'nother set of problems. Nossa.)

The title of this collection is misleading, I think, at least in English. This isn't a series of examples of different styles of poetry, as they're all written according to an old four-character pattern (as opposed to the more common, at least when Sikong was writing, five- or seven-character patterns); instead, it's more like an exhibition of poetic themes. But of course it's not that simple; these aren't simply poems about the seasons, landscapes, parting, exile, or whatever. Paulo and I have talked about this, and we think what Sikong is doing, among other things, is providing examples of the motives for writing poetry, and the effects those motives and the act of writing itself has on the poet. The result is a lot of typical Chinese imagery interwoven with philosophical and cosmological ideas, but often without the grounding you find in other poets, which gives each poem, and the project as a whole, an unusual quality. Anyway, these ideas of ours, like the translations themselves, are pretty embryonic, so they'll probably change with time.

Before I forget, I've been reading David Hinton's Awakened Cosmos: The Mind of Chinese Poetry, which has provided a lot of food for thought. I'll talk more about that book at a later date, since I haven't finished it and I need to get my thoughts in order, but suffice to say that coming across it when I did has proven to be a textbook case of happy synchronicity.






"Undivided Strength"
Sikong Tu

Great effort, outer weakness—
the true form of inner completion.
Returning to emptiness, one enters the All;
gather strength and become powerful.

Possessing the myriad things,
cutting across the empty sky—
billowing clouds as far as the eye can see,
the wind rises in the undisturbed silence.

Going beyond appearances,
one attains the center of the All—
grasping without force,
one reaches the Endless.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Plague Poems, X: "porch beers w/ Scott"

"porch beers w/ Scott"

driveway beers, actually,
getting warm as quickly
as the days—
spring giving in to summer,
isolation giving in to connection.

precautioned connection,
of course—
masks on, fifteen-twenty feet
apart, nobody downwind,
hands sanitized, coconut-scented.

we jaw, bitch, see what's up
in our respective shrunken worlds,
worry, smoke—
pretty much like it was before,
but also not at all.

and then he's on his way,
hopefully as remoralized as me—
 because who knows
when we can do this again,
or even if.


Friday, May 08, 2020

Happy birthday, Tom.

Happy 83rd birthday to Thomas Pynchon, whose novels have meant a great deal to me for over twenty years. There are a handful of writers whose stuff makes me want to stop reading right then and there and go write, and Pynchon may be foremost among them (Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and William S. Burroughs also come to mind). Fortunately—mainly for any would-be readers, not so much for me with my now long-dormant delusions of literary grandeur—I figured out early on that I lack the talent, the eye, the humor, and the depth of thought required to successfully emulate, or at least take useful cues, from Pynchon, so it's been a long while since I tried my hand at writing that sort of detailed, intensely aware shit. Still, the idea is always there, and I'm not likely to give up on it entirely, seeing as how I have a permanent reminder of Pynchon's influence in the form of a W.A.S.T.E. tattoo.

I can't remember if I first read about Thomas Pynchon in Steamshovel Press, which published a good review of Mason & Dixon in 1998 or '99, or in this interview with William Gibson, which I read in 1998 or so and the actual existence of which I was unsure of until recently (hence my being stoked at finding that link, and seeing that the "reading Gravity's Rainbow in jail" memory I've had all these years wasn't just some neat misremembering or implanted memory). Whatever the case, it feels like fate, or at least in line with the idea that you find something when you're meant to. What I do know is that I started Gravity's Rainbow in the spring of '99 and was utterly overwhelmed, so returning it (in that blown-out orangey hardcover edition from, I think, the '70s) to the SHSU library for the summer break wasn't so bad. Over the next year and change, before I graduated, I finished it and read V., The Crying of Lot 49 (which I still re-read on a regular basis; it's a great way to spend a day otherwise blown off), Slow Learner, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon. Then came the latter-day books—Against the Day, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge, plus the cinematic version of Inherent Vice, which I saw as soon as I could, and while properly high. I got all the books the day they came out, much like I've done with Gibson's novels since All Tomorrow's Parties.

My take on almost everything has been shaped by Pynchon's work. His ongoing themes of entropy and paranoia have influenced my thinking, but don't define it; as Sortilege mentions in Inherent Vice (the book, not the film), shikantaza, the Zen practice of just sitting, plays the part of a corrective to all the bummer vibes of life in this sad-ass crumbling empire we call America. The relationship between the titular characters of Mason & Dixon remains my favorite depiction of friendship, and continues to buttress my belief that choosing to care about certain people because we want to, because we have a mutually-chosen bond, is more meaningful than caring about someone because they're simply related by blood. I don't fully share Zoyd Wheeler's status as a burnout holdover from days of revolution and hope, but I think I have an idea of what it feels like. My take on what little time I've spent in California (including San Narciso's probable inspiration/doppelgänger) has been influenced by the adventures of Oedipa Maas, Doc Sportello, and the rest. Etc. etc.

Anyway, Thomas Pynchon rules, and I wanted to say a little something as to why I think so. I hope he's enjoying his birthday with beer, tacos, and a joint of Acapulco Gold. I won't even do that thing where I hope for another novel, because writers don't owe us anything, and even if they did, he paid that debt decades ago.


“Fate does not speak. She carries a Mauser and from time to time indicates our proper path.” — Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Plague Poems, IX: "Intersection"


The intersection's always licking
its worn grey lips, waiting for disaster.
People blow through the stop signs
all the time, usually to a wild fanfare of
horns, screeching tires, me swearing
from the porch. But sometimes
cars and people get fucked up—
like ruined in the ditch fucked up—
and the intersection gets it way.

Stay-at-home orders and school closures
haven't changed shit.
Last week I watched a southbound
car and a UPS truck taking a way too
wide right unsuccessfully conspire
to turn a mom and her two kids on bikes
into the gory red paste
American statistics are made of.
The intersection nearly got its way.

It'll get its way again soon enough:
blood for the blood god.


Friday, May 01, 2020

"Vida" de Camilo Pessanha

Happy May Day, folks. I hope everyone's honoring picket lines both physical and digital, such as those at Amazon, Target, Whole Foods, Instacart, and Shipt. Don't be a fuckin' scab! Your convenience can wait; worker health, safety, and dignity can't. And while you're not buying shit online, you can celebrate Beltane in proper pagan fashion (within the limits of public safety, of course, since COVID-19 ain't going anywhere anytime soon).

Speaking of work, I've been translating like a motherfucker during the quarantine. I've got nine more 司空圖 Sikong Tu poems to put up, and I'm almost done with the first (very, very) rough draft of Virgílio de Lemos' Para Fazer um Mar. I also have another Camilo Pessanha poem for y'all. Once again, I owe this translation to Tashiro Kaoru, as I'm pretty sure I hadn't even read this poem before she wrote asking me about it.

Enjoy, caros leitores. Peace, land, bread, and roses for everyone. Solidarity forever.


Camilo Pessanha

Choveu! E logo da terra humosa
Irrompe o campo das liliáceas.
Foi bem fecunda, a estação pluviosa!
Que vigor no campo das liliáceas!

Calquem, recalquem, não o afogam.
Deixem. Não calquem. Que tudo invadam.
Não as extinguem, porque as degradam?
Para que as calcam? Não as afogam.

Olhem o fogo que anda na serra.
É a queimada... Que lumaréu!
Podem calcá-lo, deitar-lhe terra,
Que não apagam o lumaréu.

Deixem! Não calquem! Deixem arder.
Se aqui o pisam, rebenta além.
— E se arde tudo? — Isso que tem!
Deitam-lhe fogo, é para arder...


Camilo Pessanha

It rained! And then, from the damp earth,
the field of lilies erupted.
It was quite fruitful, the rainy season!
Such vigor in the field of lilies!

Trample, trample again, don't smother it.
Leave it be. Don't trample it. You invade everything.
Don't extinguish them, why do you degrade them?
Why do you trample them? Don't crush them.

Look at the fire moving across the mountain.
It's wildfire... what a blaze!
You can stomp it out, toss earth on it,
but it doesn't put out the blaze.

Stop! Don't stomp it out! Let it burn.
If you step on it here, it springs up elsewhere.
— And if everything burns? — So what?
Leave the fire alone, it's meant to burn...

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Plague Poems, VIII: "First Thing"

"First Thing"

When the virus rolled in,
I developed the habit of checking,
upon my grudging return
to consciousness each morning,
to see if I was dying.

Fever? Nope.
Sore throat? Maybe, since I
haven't kicked cigarettes.
Shortness of breath?
No, but if yes, see above.

I'm no longer checking my
AM vital signs first thing;
the heartbeat's horizon,
the imminence of non-return,
is everywhere now.