April Diary 2: talking frogs and brush strokes

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
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