Book Review: Rexroth Translations

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Kenneth Rexroth had a complex life and career; just look at what he was doing as a teenager:

“Orphaned at fourteen, Rexroth moved to live with his aunt in Chicago, where he was expelled from high school. He began publishing in magazines at the age of fifteen [in 1920]. As a youth, he supported himself with odd jobs—as a soda jerk, clerk, wrestler, and reporter. He hitchhiked around the country, visited Europe, and backpacked in the wilderness, reading and frequenting literary salons and lecture halls, and teaching himself several languages.” (According to poets.org)

This longer Poetry Foundation Bio is also excellent. In this article I just want to recommend three volumes of Japanese short verse which Rexroth translated, mostly letting samples speak for their excellence.

The volumes mostly consist of tanka, which is a five line form, made of alternating 5 and 7 syllable lines – like haiku, but with 2 extra lines. As someone said, simplicity is the greatest elegance, and these tanka transform the world in a handful of sounds.

The three volumes are: One Hundred Poems From The Japanese; One Hundred More Poems From The Japanese; and Love Poems From The Japanese. The volume of love poems can fit in a shirt pocket, but a fair amount of it’s material overlaps the other two volumes. The original 100 is the strongest collection, and I’ll rely only on it these Tanka Excerpts, with one marked exception.

 

 

 

 

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Changing Grief, Changing Poetry

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June Hunt, who has a dynamic Christian counseling program online and on the radio in many cities, has said that depression can be pictured as a heavy weight on the heart, like a brick on a pillow. If it lies there too long, the pillow may not take its old shape anymore.

When I met June she was so kind and joyous with me, but I could tell she wondered why I couldn’t at all bring that energy to her, despite my love for her.

She asked me my name and I told her, they call me it, which. Or they did. They said I was a preposition. Then I found out my name meant happy, but I almost never am – maybe someday, I said.

What device does nature have to enlarge our sense? What things strewn on our path give us pause and help us answer the questions we’ve been collecting? I know these things happen sometimes in conversation. That is how women are heart doctors.

This post is not meant to be an elaborate psychoanalysis. I just wanted to say that my customary grief and heaviness seems somehow to be surfacing in my writing in a new way. Instead of writing poems that labor to express the whole burden of the sadness, as with some elegies, or sad love poems, here it seems like something fresh and living is sprouting from the old grief, like loam rich with black manure. The outward ornament is broken through, there is more wholeness psychologically to the writing, and a plainer style. Other styles are still cropping up, but with some of these new pieces there seems to be a natural mystery poking through. Instead of being “good with words” or “phrasing”, which is nice, these prefer something else, and I am realizing now that phrasing and such just doesn’t get one very far in real poetry.

And I am not very far. However, perhaps it will help to gravitate to where the writing wants to go, and learn from there. James Wright is a great champion in this plain style. He learned to repose on the facts of his lived experience as charged content the reader would find worthwhile. It is amazing that he does not just try to make himself goofy or puff himself with horror or any type of enhancer, but trusts in the plain truth.

Here is one Plain Style Poem by James Wright. Here are three recent Plain Style Poems of my own, though the middle one is a revision. Finally here is a wonderful Plain Style Tanka. Please enjoy.

Grumpy Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespearean Schemes, Japanese Surrender

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I’ve lately been reading Rexroth’s translations of Japanese poetry, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and this little essay is an attempt to reflect on the contrasting use of reason and subjectivity in the two poetries. Some of the info on Japanese poetry I believe I also got from translator David Hinton. Click here to read 2 pages comparing Eastern and Western poetry.