April Diary 18: cruelest month, new Rumi, carpe noctem

This entry is part 18 of 31 in the series April Diary


cold but clearing at mid-morning, Easter Sunday for many but not all Christians

not really reminiscing about the Easters of my vaguely Protestant childhood, but…

my parents gave me a kite most years because i think they enjoyed watching me run madly back and forth across the field, trying yet again to fly a kite in mountaintop winds because maybe this time would be different and it never was

so while other kids were being indoctrinated about Christ on the cross or bitter herbs and matzot, yours truly was learning hard but necessary truths about frustration, disappointment and the ultimate futility of existence

all in all a vital lesson internalized down to the level of muscle memory

but what i’m really thinking about this morning is how Poetry Month serves a more than secular function for some of us. like easter and passover it’s this annual opportunity to reconnect with our deepest motivations for reading and writing poetry, to recommit or adopt new practices

and yes it can be the cruelest month especially in years like this when we keep lurching from summery to wintry weather and a brutal war in the Ukraine is sending food prices through the roof and brutal sanctions are starving tens of thousands in Afghanistan

last night when i opened my laptop after midnight Poetry Daily was showcasing a new Rumi translation by a poet named Haleh Liza Gafori and i ordered that book immediately. PD handled the Rumi translation situation fairly diplomatically i think which is important because you don’t want to alienate misinformed fans of Coleman Barks’ BS, just convince them that this translation is even better. here’s the top blurb for Gold

Translating a 13th-century Persian poet whose work is deeply rooted in Islamic theology and Qur’anic language, infused with mystical vision, and laced with heretical imagery, is not a project for the faint of heart. Many of Rumi’s recent English translators or “para-translators,” have no knowledge of Persian, the work’s cultural context, or Islam. Many speakers of modern Persian lack the literary gifts to craft English poems of equivalent power. Despite all this, the core luminosity of Rumi’s work has shone through. It gives me great pleasure, and relief, to say that I think Haleh Liza Gafori’s translations are the closest an English translator has come to bringing it all together. . . . Gold is a perfect introduction to the illuminations in Rumi’s work, or an important addition to your Rumi bookshelf.

Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., Hyperallergic

got into the groove and banged out my 100th erasure for the year and then went on to Pepys’ entry for Easter Sunday 1669 which was on the 11th (doing my best to catch up before the dairy ends on May 31)

and in light of it being international haiku poetry day as declared by the Haiku Foundation i thought i’d see if there were any haiku in that entry… and got five of ’em including a couple that may actually be, you know, good

Jim Kacian was kind enough to include my recent haibun video in the online HaikuLife festival he pulls together each year

took the time to watch a few of the others but i ran up against my usual bêtes noires, generic-sounding classical/newage piano or acoustic guitar accompaniments to still images and overly fancy fonts. some great haiku there nevertheless. i was especially struck by this video by someone called Aztec Christ for its unconventionality (and pleased that my own video followed it in the lineup):

and the video following mine takes the interesting and effective approach of using a jazz-inflected ambient soundtrack for a series of very good haiku about various jazz musicians and singers by Tony Piccini:

and i suppose i should share an example of the sort of soundtrack i don’t like which i think i can do without going too badly negative because i do have great admiration for the haiku — Debbie Strange is a modern master. and i’m sure my musical tastes are a bit of an outlier among haiku people. but since Debbie’s text is on-screen i can simply listen to it with the sound off and enjoy it that way:

at risk of pointing out the obvious, I think it’s fair to say that one’s aesthetic preferences shape one’s ability to perceive haiku moments. Aztec Christ’s willingness to go dark and weird results in “a provocative and unusual gathering” as Kacian puts it. Debbie Strange’s love of gorgeous imagery keeps her in a more conventional place, though her keen eye and black-and-white design aesthetic keep cliche at bay. my favorite of hers here:

frosty pasture
a small boy admires
the cow pies

Shawna Lemay’s latest blog post A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now really lays out the case for poetry. but i particularly enjoyed this description of her reading habits:

I read a poem that arrives in my email, I read a poem on Twitter, I read a poem in the morning from a book that calls to me from my bookshelf while I have my first cup of coffee. I peel an orange and remember that poem about oranges and go searching for it, often finding three other poems in the meantime. I sit in the backyard, and remember Charles Wright. I see a painting by Vermeer and look at the Zagajewski poem. This poet leads me to that poet. I read a line I underlined in one book which takes me to a line I underlined and circled in another book. I dog-ear one poem and then another. Some days I read all the dogeared poems. Sometimes I turn to a page I’ve forgotten.

that all sounds very very familiar

had a great time reading the poetry blogs and pulling the digest together, but as the weather this afternoon turned increasingly fine, i began to feel chained to my desk. managed to keep nose to grindstone until supper after which i bolted out for a two hour fast walk getting back a half hour after sunset. i don’t usually enjoy walking more than two miles an hour but it seems to be my new sunday pattern. besides, tomorrow’s forecast looks pretty dire so carpe diem, i said to myself. or carpe noctem as the case may be

cold spring night
a small moth flutters past
in search of sap

Series Navigation← April Diary 17: comfort creaturesApril Diary 19: onion snow →

2 Replies to “April Diary 18: cruelest month, new Rumi, carpe noctem”

  1. Hello, this is the person behind the Aztec Christ haiku. A friend showed me where you’d mentioned me and, as its the first real response to my haiku that I’ve had from the older, established English language haiku community, it brought great joy to my day and I appreciate it a lot. Much love

    1. Hi! Don’t know how established I am as a haiku poet, but I guess I do sort of represent the videopoetry establishment, to the extent that one exists, so there’s that. Anyway, glad I could help brighten your day. Cheers.

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