Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

When dream makers walk among us

by Taylor Mignon

Socrates’ bestial laugh washes into the cosmic map where Blake digs with his spade and Sam stands bathed in the sparks of his youth Among colored shapes, Sam embraces the warmest softest things a woman’s spirit in the shape of clouds in the shape of foam in the shape of a womb The white space of the canvas shines

Though abstract expressionist Sam Francis died in the early ’90s, his work lives in several ways — the excerpt above, “Dreaming Sam Francis,” composed by poet Makoto Ooka and translated by Janine Beichman, is one exemplary example. Not only is an exhibition of Francis’ work currently taking place in Tokyo, but his art graces the covers of the first two volumes of Kyoto-based Cid Corman’s “of,” and is also featured in the recently published third volume. Francis published the first two volumes through his own Lapis Press. These total over 1,500 pages, many of which contain just a few short stanzas, not unlike Francis’ utilization of open white spaces on his canvas.

In discussions with me, Corman said “of,” which took seven years just to edit, “brings all of human culture and action and life to bear. It goes back to the earliest periods throughout the world, throughout human history, and even before . . . The first part of each volume [is] translations of other people’s words, from deepest antiquity to a letter received yesterday . . . there’s a lot of Chinese poetry . . . Japanese poetry, old and new . . . there’s Rumi, Persian poetry and so forth . . . The second sections are my responses to other human beings, living and dead.”

He goes on to explain that the third section of each volume is all “I” poems; in the fourth section “you” are addressed and in the final fifth section of each volume no people appear in the poems. Once the whole set is completed, the fully realized work will present a strong claim to join the postmodern canon, alongside Pound’s “Cantos,” W. C. Williams’ “Patterson,” Charles Olson’s “Maximus Poems” and Gary Snyder’s “Mountains and Rivers Without End,” many of the poets Corman published in his influential journal “Origin.”

New Directions recently published a selection of Corman’s works called “Nothing Doing” (NDP #886). His photo appears on the cover of the latest American Poetry Review, and inside is an article on the poet by Kyoto- based poet Gregory Dunne.

For a catalog of Corman’s work (including “of”), the new APR and more literature, write to Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers, 277 Jacksonville Stage, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301, USA.

A retrospective exhibition featuring the abstract works of American artist Sam Francis, until Aug. 6 at Idemitsu Museum of Arts, tel. (03) 3213-9402.

Nearly 250 pages long, the just released “Nanao or Never: Nanao Sakaki Walks Earth A” is a collection of stories, poems, photos and reports of Nanao’s life. Poet Franco Beltrametti, in the story “Meeting Nanao,” also writes about meeting Corman, Kenneth Rexroth and Philip Whalen in the mid-1960s in Kyoto. Other writers in this anthology include John Brandi, Peter Blue Cloud, James Koller, Kyoto Journal’s Robert Brady and Ken Rogers, Allen Ginsberg, Maggie Tai Sakaki, Gary Lawless, Joanne Kyger, Trevor Carolan and Gary Snyder, interviewing Nanao.

“Nanao or Never: Nanao Sakaki Walks Earth A” costs $16.95 (plus shipping) and is available from Blackberry Books, 617 East Neck Road, Nobleboro, Maine 04555, or refer to the Web site at www.blackberrybooksme.com

Beichman, Ooka’s principle translator, has translated his “Oriori no Uta (A Poet’s Notebook)” column since 1990 for the Saturday-Sunday edition of the Asahi Evening News. The first collection of “Oriori no Uta” columns, titled “A Poet’s Anthology” in English, was published in 1994 by Katydid Books and prefaced by Donald Keene.

The second volume (1,300 yen), recently published by Kodansha, is subtitled “Poems for All Seasons.” Beichman’s preface is engaging, especially her comments on the art of translating. She wisely “preserves the order of images in the original” and avoids “adding words to make the meaning clearer” which would “dilute the effect of the original poem.” Also in the preface, she quotes Ooka on his “agenda” for “Oriori no Uta”: “I planned a kind of compendium of Japanese poetry, a storehouse open to everyone, that would include poetry in Japanese and classical Chinese, folk songs and modern poetry . . . Japanese poetry is traditionally divided into tanka, haiku and modern poetry, but I have my doubts about that . . . I have tried to weave together verses old and new, loosely linking them in a ‘tapestry of words.’ “

The format of this volume comprises the original Japanese of an author’s short poem, with romanized “furigana” and Ooka’s short commentary below on the same page, with the corresponding English on the facing page. The book is divided by seasons and includes the work of 115 individual poets. Personal favorites are Shinkichi Taka hashi, Chuya Nakahara and Santoka. Another major contribution to scholarship, besides the volume’s poetical offerings, are the biographies of all the poets, providing an indispensable reference. Also, Beichman’s critical biography of Akiko Yosano, with the working title “Embracing the Firebird,” is slated to be published this year by University of Hawaii Press.