Discussing ecopoetry in the East Bay Hills with Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Ryoichi Wago and Ayako Takahashi
Ayako and I are working on a volume of translations on ecopoetry in Japan after 3.11 (the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami the led to the nuclear meltdown). In our interview with Brenda Hillman and Wago Ryoichi we discussed activism, catastrophe and how poetry can help us engage with what feels insurmountable. Ayako had careful notes on ecopoetry from Anne Fisher-Worth’s volume and elsewhere. She asked about definitions of ecopoetry and Hillman offered ecopoetry as ‘worried nature poetry’. We’ll spend the winter working on the translating the poems.
In the car, after Jane Hirshfield gave us each a letterpress broadside of her poem, Ayako is explaining to Ryoichi, saying American poets exchange broadsides as though they were business cards. I only kind of agree, mostly because I don’t have a broadside. How would I choose just one poem to be my calling card? They ask me how often poets make broadsides and instead of clearing up the matter, I just say that they print one for each published book, at least. It’s Ryoichi’s first time in the U.S. and there are still Christmas lights up that he coos over as we drive the east bay hills at dusk. In each neighborhood, I say, these houses are expensive. I’m worried that we haven’t hosted him with the fanfare appropriate for a person who stayed in Fukushima after the meltdown. In the eerie isolation of catastrophe and his non-evacuation, he sent out a series of tweets as poems or a long poem. In the reading he moaned and shouted and let each sheet of paper drop to the floor as he read them. In the Q &A he cited Prince and Michael Jackson as influencing his work. Ayako was fixing the projector so I took on the pose of translator but simplified everything like a textbook or a one paragraph summary of an epic. In the car, he tells me he likes the Beat poets and that’s where he gets his reading style from. We are mostly in the car for our three day visit. Between the BART station, house visits and campus. Before the reading, we go to Terrapin Crossroads, meet Forrest and giovanni and Ash. I order pizza and hummus and fish. We were on campus before I realize that people might have wanted drinks and now for sure, Ryoichi is in Tokyo talking about the American poets who spent hours in a bar without drinking. My reputation, fragile as best.
Starting a new project for the Grace Hudson Museum with Ukiah poets Theresa Whitehall and Armand Brint. Archive letters arrived with these stamps.
I don’t write alone, I write in conversation or vision or imagined dream speak which is kind of alone but with something else — poem, song or image. I am writing with voices of long-ago poets or to someone I know or can envision. So, it would seem pretty straight forward to collaborate with a couple of living writers, people I know and like. But this takes a kind of stepping over into a new place and a new process which would be easy except for the letting go all the little nooks and crannies that are familiar to me. Despite my fears, I have been doing a collaboration with two Ukiah poets, Theresa Whitehall and Armand Brint, based on the lives, paintings and archival materials of Grace Carpenter, Edward Espey and Grafton Tyler Brown. We are writing round robin poems. A few years ago in Tokyo, I was invited to do a gallery exhibit with a group of poets. For the show, we wrote a collective poem that we called a renshi. There’s a long tradition in haiku/tanka of poets writing a renga together by taking turns writing 17 syllable and 14 syllable stanzas. Basho is celebrated as a great haiku poet but in this life time he was equally well known as a renga poet. Poets would spend an evening taking turns writing verses (or links). I imagine drinking was involved. There are many rules to renga including syllable count and topics of verses. However, a renshi is a free verse collaboratively written poem. With the Tokyo poets, we wrote one as a group years ago for that gallery show is Kichijouji. And now, with Theresa and Armand, we are writing long distance over email, each writing a stanza of not more than three lines and sending it off to the next poet. We have the archival letters of Edward Espey and letters to Grace Carpenter from her father and her friend Maggie in San Francisco. (Maggie would burn Grace’s letters as soon as they arrived to make sure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands). And of course, we sit with the paintings. Each of us is will take one of the renshi with 15 or so links and revise it for the reading February 13, 2019 at the Grace Hudson Museum. Read Carol Brodsky’s article on the event in the Ukiah Daily Journal.
Baby G’s first trip on the bus, the subway, at the San Francisco Public Library BookMobile for my very quick reading in LitCrawl.
Out now from Sixteen Rivers is a beautiful, mournful anthology on how to live in these times. Murray Silverstein has carefully assembled local poets and world voices in poems that address humanity, survival, resistance, and compassion.
It was lovely to be back in the foothills for the Sierra Poetry Festival. I read with Indigo Moor, who I've known since our Tuesday night workshops in Sacramento. Thanks to Eliza Tudor and other from the Nevada County Arts Council for putting on such a great event. Registration for next year starts in November.
Each month Dokkyo University holds a noon time poetry reading. I read at Lunch Poems at UC Berkeley last year and this summer I'll read in Dokkyo's Lunch Poems series. It was started by Shigeyoshi Hara, a wonderful scholar of California poetry.
After Zon Samine read yesterday, we had coffee and took the train to Senju with Megumi Watanabe, MIzuho Ishida, and Barbara Tomash (visiting Tokyo from Berkeley)
Jubilith Moore directed my play, The Weaver and the Dress, at Willamette University in Oregon. We're calling it a play but it's a little bit closer to some other form we haven't yet named. And these students can do it -- wonderful actors and dancers and singers. They have a great theatre program here. They performed the noh play, Hagoromo (The Feathered Mantle), paired with the Weaver. I started working on this piece as a five voice poem while the Artist-in-Residence at Theatre of Yugen in San Francisco. In 2011, we showed the work-in-progress at NOHspace. Since then, I revised the overall structure and put in more narrative frames and dialog. The play is inspired in part by Lady Rokujo in Tale of Genji and the dress used to represent Lady Aoi in the noh version of that story. It's one of a five play sequence that I am writing that looks at the art and love relationships left unresolved in the lives of artists Frida Kahlo, Emily Carr, Eva Hess and writers Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein.
Moore did a fantastic job bringing it to the stage.
I made it to Kalamazoo just in time for Bell's to release the summer beer, Oberon. Thanks to Kim, Bill and Nancy for bringing to me read in the Frostic Series.
I was delighted to read at Lunch Poems last week. Thanks to JD for this picture and for the many friends, old and new, who came.
March 24. Frostic Reading at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. I am looking forward to reading on campus with Adam LaFevre and hanging out with wonderful New Issues friends. Bernhard Center room 157-159 from 8pm.
February 28, Bagley Wright Lecture on Poetry at Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. I will give a public lecture titled "From Haiku to Collage: A Body-Based Poetics" where I discuss Basho's teachings on poetry and my attempts to cultivate a poetic practice following his advice.
February 18, Marin Poetry Center, San Rafael, California. This will be my first time reading with Gillian Conoley, a poet I greatly admire. The last time we were on stage together, I was on the blue team at the Poetry World Series and she was a judge. The reading starts at 7:30pm.
February 4, Lunch Poems in the Doe Library at University of California, Berkeley. I'm delighted to be reading in this noon hour series.
May 1 at Studio One in Oakland. A First Friday event when the whole city is out.
March 23rd at the Sacramento Poetry Center. I'll read with poet and translator Bill O'Daly.
January 28th, Wednesday from 6:30 pm at Rebound Books in San Rafael. I'll read with Dave Seter, a poet from Petaluma and Dominican graduate student.