April Diary 15: all my best friends are books

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series April Diary


sitting on the porch first thing in the morning going back and forth between Phoebe Giannisi and Zang Di: two cerebral humanist ecopoets both born in 1964

both reward slow reading are often tongue in cheek and discuss ideas in a very concrete, embodied way

they have different concepts of what’s most primal though: for Giannisi it’s smell or touch; for Zang Di it’s taste

both translators Brian Sneeden and Eleanor Goodman are highly regarded by their peers. imagine pouring so much selfless effort into a product that in the end may garner three or four glowing reviews and fewer than 500 sales i’m guessing. heroes

i now want to buy every contemporary Chinese poet translated for Zephyr Press not all at once but as i finish the previous one (though that means a lot more money on shipping)

though my previous such book was from those wacko hipsters at Ugly Duckling Presse, I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan a young Sichuanese Muslim poet whose work really took off in China after she topped herself in 2010, sigh. in her lifetime just two self-published collections drawn from her blog

hi my name is Dave and i’m a bookaholic

here’s a short poem by Ma Yan:


The butterflies climb against the wind,
they hobble on the cable.
Sunlight in mid-spring and
roadside trees smothered in dust
say hello to each other.
In this heavy Beijing,
the thick smell of oxygen,
the TV sign happens to cut out
like thunder at noon.

I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan, translated by Stephen Nashef

this is a perfect haiku pairing:

John Stevenson, from quiet enough

the problem with people who want to be poets i find is that they want to have written poems more than they want to write them. they are in love with the idea of being someone who loves to write

some of these people end up committing literal plagiarism. others limit themselves to passing off commonplace ideas, conventional wisdom and other such calcified thoughts as their own original insights

all of these people need to be encouraged. there’s too much good poetry getting published these days—one simply cannot read it all. it’s appalling

also i love me a good plagiarism scandal, although it’s a little sad when you know the plagiarist and had thought well of her. still, i stand with Ira Lightman all the way. he’s a genuine hero for exposing so many cases of well-published, reputable poets committing plagiarism. it raises so many questions about originality and why it matters (or doesn’t matter if you’re an idiot). and why the hell some people want so badly to have written that they can’t be bothered to write

Dear April when the high finally blew in late this afternoon, I was four-fifths of the way through my walk and drinking my tea up at the vernal pools. Great timing, as it turned out, because I suddenly found myself writing a poem that was neither a haiku-like thing nor an erasure poem. i know, i’m shocked too. the germ of it was a childhood memory, actually: a rare moment of pure happiness such as one has maybe a half dozen times in the course of an ordinary life.

of course, that was only the germ. it sprouted into something different and a bit darker i’m afraid:

pine trees say
a sigh can be happy

and the sky is bluest
in a mountain pool

between the parentheses
of salamander embryos

birds fly

one falling maple blossom
sends a shock wave

in this universe it’s easier
to talk to the dead

this blogging thing could become a habit. i’d better be careful