April Diary 2: talking frogs and brush strokes

This entry is part 2 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April should I turn autocorrect back on or risk orthographic anarchy

for isn’t this what writing and publishing have become: apps instead of editors

search engine web crawlers are our most attentive readers and social media algorithms our most merciless critics

dear April I am typing this on my porch listening to the morning chorus and thinking about Ki no Tsurayuki’s 10th-century Preface to the first great imperial anthology of Japanese poetry the Kokinshu

We hear the bush warbler singing in the flowers or the voice of the frogs that live in the water and know that among all living creatures there is not one that does not have its song

(tr. Burton Watson, From the Country of Eight Islands)

that holistic vision in which humans are just one of a myriad sort of beings that have in common a fundamental drive toward song-making seen first and foremost as a spontaneous expression of joy

because to be natural is to be spontaneous in the Sino-Japanese conception of things. culture is therefore identified closely with constraint, such as the rules governing song/poetry

and since birds etc. also sing that means they also have culture (which many scientists would now agree with)

none of which has kept modern Japanese from wrecking the natural environment both at home and abroad, ancient forests of Borneo dating back to the Mesozoic logged flat to make disposable chopsticks and wrapping paper

the endless and beautifully tasteful packaging required by the cult of kirei — cleanliness and beauty

last night my phone glowed in the darkness like a florescent tombstone as I listened to the spring peepers all three of them making the loudest poem they could

night vision is incompatible with reading and it bothers me that i have to choose between gazing into the actual darkness and gazing at a printed or digital page

using night vision for revision is also impossible unless one can work entirely in one’s head like an oral poet

but light text on a dark background strains the eyes, most texts use dark fonts on a light background so in a sense the act of reading almost always entails parsing the darkness

on the 29th day of the twelfth month in 1308 the Japanese monk Nanpo Jomyo, having predicted that he would die on that very day a year earlier, picked up his ink brush for the last time wrote the following poem and allegedly croaked on the spot:

To hell with the wind!
Confound the rain!
I recognize no Buddha.
A blow like a stroke of lightning—
the world turns on its hinge.

tr. Yoel Hoffmann, Japanese Death Poems

say what you will about Hoffman’s translation it’s a hell of a lot less wooden than this one I just found on the web:

I rebuke the wind and revile the rain,
I do not know the Buddhas and patriarchs;
My single activity turns in the twinkling of an eye,
Swifter even than a lightning flash.

tr. Isshu Miura and Ruth F Sasaki, Zen Dust

a lightning flash illuminates the night for a second or two but who would risk such a potentially destructive vision

i like that he went out cursing though

I don’t know about frogs but for sure birds like crows know how to curse

Owner ship

(Lord’s day). Up, and by water over to Southwarke; and then, not getting a boat, I forced to walk to Stangate; and so over to White Hall, in a scull; where up to the Duke of York’s dressing-room, and there met Harry Saville, and understand that Sir W. Coventry is come to his house last night. I understand by Mr. Wren that his friends having, by Secretary Trevor and my Lord Keeper, applied to the King upon his first coming home, and a promise made that he should be discharged this day, my Lord Arlington did anticipate them, by sending a warrant presently for his discharge which looks a little like kindness, or a desire of it; which God send! though I fear the contrary: however, my heart is glad that he is out.
Thence up and down the House. Met with Mr. May, who tells me the story of his being put by Sir John Denham’s place, of Surveyor of the King’s Works, who it seems, is lately dead, by the unkindness of the Duke Buckingham, who hath brought in Dr. Wren: though, he tells me, he hath been his servant for twenty years together in all his wants and dangers, saving him from want of bread by his care and management, and with a promise of having his help in his advancement, and an engagement under his hand for 1000l. not yet paid, and yet the Duke of Buckingham so ungrateful as to put him by: which is an ill thing, though Dr. Wren is a worthy man. But he tells me that the King is kind to him, and hath promised him a pension of 300l. a-year out of the Works; which will be of more content to him than the place, which, under their present wants of money, is a place that disobliges most people, being not able to do what they desire to their lodgings.
Here meeting with Sir H. Cholmly and Povy, that tell me that my Lord Middleton is resolved in the Cabal that he shall not go to Tangier; and that Sir Edward Harlow [Harley], whom I know not, is propounded to go, who was Governor of Dunkirke, and, they say, a most worthy brave man, which I shall be very glad of.
So by water (H. Russell coming for me) home to dinner, where W. Howe comes to dine with me; and after dinner propounds to me my lending him 500l., to help him to purchase a place — the Master of the Patent Office, of Sir Richard Piggott. I did give him a civil answer, but shall think twice of it; and the more, because of the changes we are like to have in the Navy, which will not make it fit for me to divide the little I have left more than I have done, God knowing what my condition is, I having not attended, and now not being able to examine what my state is, of my accounts, and being in the world, which troubles me mightily.
He gone, I to the office to enter my journall for a week.
News is lately come of the Algerines taking 3000l. in money, out of one of our Company’s East India ships, outward bound, which will certainly make the war last; which I am sorry for, being so poor as we are, and broken in pieces.
At night my wife to read to me, and then to supper, where Pelling comes to see and sup with us, and I find that he is assisting my wife in getting a licence to our young people to be married this Lent, which is resolved shall be done upon Friday next, my great day, or feast, for my being cut of the stone. So after supper to bed, my eyes being very bad.

an ark in a white room
like the heart in a king

dead for all
his anger bread

and management so ungrateful
as to put a wren out of work

under the want of money
is a place that disobliges

people not able to do
what they desire to it

who chase a place like a world
broken in pieces

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 21 March 1669.

April Diary: premature encapsulation

This entry is part 1 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April I see you have arrived a day early wearing your gauze of showers and I have mistakenly put black pepper in my cereal instead of salt

Dear April I want to write to you each day of you about poetry and where it comes from and I don’t want to bother about whether I am writing proper prose nonfiction because time is short — your time, our time — and anyway it seems weird to get too prosey about poetry (sorry, scholars)

Dear April since we’re getting started early here’s something I posted just last night:

my poor extremities born the same day as the rest of me yet so much colder

am I always going to extremes because ambiguity is work

come to think of it my feet were born first

I had gone to extreme lengths not to leave home

but is that why I think best on my feet


A door 
to which your squint-
                   eye came as if called

You learned
        opulence of afternoons 

Rain against windowglass
                   could not diminish

Light a veil
          eyeleted with rare laughter

When you cross
your legs under the table
                     in your mind's eye you see

the hourglass 
room where bodies
                      swung toward each other

Types of war

Up, and to the Tower, to W. Coventry, and there walked with him alone, on the Stone Walk, till company come to him; and there about the business of the Navy discoursed with him, and about my Lord Chancellor and Treasurer; that they were against the war at first, declaring, as wise men and statesmen, at first to the King, that they thought it fit to have a war with them at some time or other, but that it ought not to be till we found the Crowns of Spain and France together by the eares, the want of which did ruin our war. But then he told me that, a great deal before the war, my Lord Chancellor did speak of a war with some heat, as a thing to be desired, and did it upon a belief that he could with his speeches make the Parliament give what money he pleased, and do what he would, or would make the King desire; but he found himself soon deceived of the Parliament, they having a long time before his removal been cloyed with his speeches and good words, and were come to hate him. Sir W. Coventry did tell me it, as the wisest thing that ever was said to the King by any statesman of his time, and it was by my Lord Treasurer that is dead, whom, I find, he takes for a very great statesman — that when the King did shew himself forward for passing the Act of Indemnity, he did advise the King that he would hold his hand in doing it, till he had got his power restored, that had been diminished by the late times, and his revenue settled in such a manner as he might depend on himself, without resting upon Parliaments, — and then pass it. But my Lord Chancellor, who thought he could have the command of Parliaments for ever, because for the King’s sake they were awhile willing to grant all the King desired, did press for its being done; and so it was, and the King from that time able to do nothing with the Parliament almost.
Thence to the office, where sat all the forenoon, and then home to dinner, and so to the office, where late busy, and so home, mightily pleased with the news brought me to-night, that the King and Duke of York are come back this afternoon, and no sooner come, but a warrant was sent to the Tower for the releasing Sir W. Coventry; which do put me in some hopes that there may be, in this absence, some accommodation made between the Duke of York and the Duke of Buckingham and; Arlington. So home, to supper, and to bed.

lone stone war

state fit war

own pain war

old ore war

Lord Chance war

heat hate war

news night war

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 20 March 1669.

Wordle on Wanting to be Seen

I got (and wrote to) this fun prompt from my former 
student, the excellent poet Lucian Mattison; looks like he's 
enjoying word games on his phone. 
Here are the instructions—

1) Do the day's Wordle
2) Based on the progression of guesses you used to arrive
 at the correct word (or not arrive), use those words in the order 
guessed as end words or beginning words of a line.
3) No line-length limits

Do you know what it's like to feel as if you have on a cloak

               of invisibility? No matter what perch or angle

you occupy on the grid of the domestic daily,

               your attempts to breach it just lead to  a stall,

a stutter, another version of feeling small. 

               You try other verbs: now, not later; will, not shall.


Up, and by water to White Hall, there to the Lords of the Treasury, and did some business, and here Sir Thomas Clifford did speak to me, as desirous that I would some time come and confer with him about the Navy, which I am glad of, but will take the direction of the Duke of York before I do it, though I would be glad to do something to secure myself, if I could, in my employment. Thence to the plaisterer’s, and took my face, and my Lord Duke of Albemarle’s, home with me by coach, they being done to my mind; and mighty glad I am of understanding this way of having the pictures of any friends. At home to dinner, where Mr. Sheres dined with us, but after dinner I left him and my wife, and with Commissioner Middleton and Kempthorne to a Court-martiall, to which, by virtue of my late Captainship, I am called, the first I was ever at; where many Commanders, and Kempthorne president. Here was tried a difference between Sir L. Van Hemskirke, the Dutch Captain who commands “The Nonsuch,” built by his direction, and his Lieutenant; a drunken kind of silly business. We ordered the Lieutenant to ask him pardon, and have resolved to lay before the Duke of York what concerns the Captain, which was striking of his Lieutenant and challenging him to fight, which comes not within any article of the laws martiall. But upon discourse the other day with Sir W. Coventry, I did advise Middleton, and he and I did forbear to give judgment, but after the debate did withdraw into another cabin, the Court being held in one of the yachts, which was on purpose brought up over against St. Katharine’s, it being to be feared that this precedent of our being made Captains, in order to the trying of the loss of “The Defyance,” wherein we are the proper persons to enquire into the want of instructions while ships do lie in harbour, evil use might be hereafter made of the precedent by putting the Duke of Buckingham, or any of these rude fellows that now are uppermost, to make packed Courts, by Captains made on purpose to serve their turns. The other cause was of the loss of “The Providence” at Tangier, where the Captain’s being by chance on shore may prove very inconvenient to him, for example’s sake, though the man be a good man, and one whom, for Norwoods sake, I would be kind to; but I will not offer any thing to the excusing such a miscarriage. He is at present confined, till he can bring better proofs on his behalf of the reasons of his being on shore. So Middleton and I away to the Office; and there I late busy, making my people, as I have done lately, to read Mr. Holland’s Discourse of the Navy, and what other things I can get to inform me fully in all; and here late, about eight at night, comes Mr. Wren to me, who had been at the Tower to Coventry. He come only to see how matters go, and tells me, as a secret, that last night the Duke of York’s closet was broken open, and his cabinets, and shut again, one of them that the rogue that did it hath left plate and a watch behind him, and therefore they fear that it was only for papers, which looks like a very malicious business in design, to hurt the Duke of York; but they cannot know that till the Duke of York comes to town about the papers, and therefore make no words of it. He gone, I to work again, and then to supper at home, and to bed.

I would cure myself
if I could
face my thorn

a captain
drunk in his cabin
over the loss of a ship

a captain on shore
in the woods
would not sing

confined to land
what other night comes
to be broken open

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 19 March 1669.

Botanical Pantoum

              They come into a store or café, heads bent slightly;
at their age, it's an effort to keep the spine straight.
              Still, they take pains  to look as they've always been.
Pay attention: you could imagine them petal-skirted, willowy.

              At their age, it's an effort to keep the spine straight.
But on one, a flowery scarf; on another, a stack of bright bangles.
             Look close: see them balloon-skirted, lighthearted, willowy—
The world still soft, uncrowded. No hard hours, children, lovers.  

             Sunflower scarves, bandannas; dark lipstick, stacks of bangles.
A book or cigarette in one hand; a languid flick of ash away. 
             Can the world be soft again, uncrowded with hours, children, lovers?
Sometimes they forget their names but not words for sound or color.

              Dark glasses, cigarette in hand. Flicking away the ash 
while leaning back in the front seat of a car, engine running.
             Who was in the driver's seat, what song was on the radio?
The road had no real horizon—it just seemed to go on and on.

            Lean back, have time for something delicious again; have time.
When they come into a store or café, their heads might nod slightly.
            When they speak, you might hear the deep voice of certain rare flowers.
Look close: imagine them bell-skirted. Uncreased or calyxed, willowy.

Woodrat photohaiku & more: a public service announcement

As Poetry Month looms, it occurs to me I should mention, for the benefit of regular readers who might not be aware, that in addition to my posts here, I’ve been posting haiku (with the occasional haibun or linked verse sequence) multiple times a week at Woodrat photohaiku, a blog I’ve maintained in one shape or another since 2007, with varying bursts of enthusiasm over the years. The current burst started in late December 2020 and shows no sign of letting up, partly because it’s a good fit with my current lifestyle: I spend a lot more time outside than I used to, mostly looking at trees and rocks and such, and I’ve gotten into the habit of taking and processing photos as well as composing and editing haiku directly on the phone, and even blogging the lot from the woods if there’s a strong enough signal. It’s a relatively frictionless experience compared to writing things down on a notebook and then later transcribing them into the computer, then moving the photos to the laptop via cable for processing, all of which requires my butt to be in my chair. With some of the stuff I post at the ‘Rat, I never even sit down.

Which may sound weird, but I am interested in seeing what kind of thoughts might come from a less sedentary, more ambulatory lifestyle. I’ve always liked walking, but over the years did less and less of it . . . and more and more blogging. But mid-way through 2019, when I was still in London, I began to rediscover the joy of long walks, and of course the pandemic situation accelerated that. Last year I made it my goal to spend at least four hours outside every day, and I’ve mostly stuck to that. The Pepys erasure project can only be done from my laptop, but that will wind up within the next couple of years (including re-writes; the diary runs out at the end of May). So eventually I hope to be able to write and post everything from the trail if I want to.

If you follow me on Instagram (or Facebook, where my photos cross-post), you’ll see much of this content anyway, and the website isn’t monetized so I’m not trying to gin up visitors or subscribers; I just want to make sure that anyone who might be interested is aware of the site, since I’m generally so crap at remembering to mention these things.

On which note I suppose I should add reminders that I also still blog at The Morning Porch every day I’m at home, and that after a lengthy hiatus we’re firing up Moving Poems again. All these sites have free subscription options if you prefer reading things in your inbox—though it must be said that the image quality on the email version of the ‘Rat is not great. But look how pretty it is on the web!

screenshot of the front page of Woodrat photohaiku