April Diary 24: dueling banjos, a roomier Rumi, and some moving art

This entry is part 24 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April whippoorwills are back. two of them like dueling banjos out here as i cool down from puttering in the garden and going for the usual hike and puttering in the garden before that and going in town etc.

whipoorwhipoorwhipoor is what i’m hearing of their inane battle for vocal supremacy. once upon a time people in places as far-flung as Greenland and Yemen used to settle disputes with song contests though so i guess dueling banjos is better than an actual duel ya know?

this morning on the porch i finished my re-read of Elaine Equi’s Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems as part of my never-ending quest to keep the current reading pile to a reasonable height. it was as always a blast. Equi is such a fun poet. why aren’t more poets fun?

actually poked some seeds in the soil today. and it felt as futile and ridiculous as ever. it’s a good thing i like being wrong

but whilst hoeing openings in the straw mulch i wrecked a nest of field mice — didn’t hurt any i don’t think but they were still blind and pretty helpless scattering in random directions. i scooped one out of the path and it just lay on the straw trembling. i laid a bit more straw on top of it to give it a fighting chance until i left and mama could come back and move her babies

that was part of my excuse for heading out on a mid-afternoon walk. also i wanted the openings to dry out a little before i stuck seeds in

the new Rumi arrived so i tucked it into my pack

Dear April there are few sights in nature more entertaining than the sight of a wild turkey fleeing at a fast trot. it makes me think the cretaceous period would’ve been equally full of humorously dorky creatures that would also eat you

i did get to see wood frog tadpoles—the doomed ones in the too-small pools that always dry out too soon. they appeared to be feeding on the remains of the egg masses. it quickly became too disturbing to watch, all that teeming and thrashing of tails

i do not care for teeming. in fact i don’t hold with it. it may be natural but that doesn’t mean i have to like it. the buddha was right, life is suffering

don’t mind me i’ll probably go back to being a Daoist tomorrow

anyway so i get to the bench and take out the book and realize why it was so cheap on eBay

so i got a review copy of a New York Review book. seems kinda collectible, right? except for one problem

the entire introduction is missing

do publishers really send out review copies before the introduction is finished? might this in fact be an earlier author proof?

the translation by Haleh Liza Gafori seems absolutely credible in every way, it’s a Rumi that actually reads like a medieval Sufi, translated in modern poetry as good or better than anything out there, as such an enduringly popular poet surely deserves

after reading a dozen or so Rumi poems with great satisfaction at their beauty and power i realized i just wasn’t in the mood for what he was selling actually

so this book probably won’t go on the current reading pile just yet. but it’ll be on the shelf when the mood strikes

i wish i could be more like my mom and methodically read every new book i get plus many many more from the library but i’ll never be half the reader she is. few people today are, i suspect

insert punditry here re: what it might mean for a literate culture to slowly lose its great readers and lovers of books, might we in fact now be post-literate etc. ad nauseum

my relationship with books may not be entirely healthy at least if you accept the once common belief that greed is harmful to the soul. i like owning books even though or perhaps because i can’t really afford to buy them. the problem is with most of the haiku i read, the presses are so small and the entire scene so invisible to academic poets, huge university libraries like Penn State’s don’t acquire them. a lot of the other small-press stuff i read would be a bit easier to get on inter-library loan, but not all of it…

like an addict i clearly have my excuses all lined up

i think i found a winter wren nesting spot down in the hollow but i’m not sure yet. i’ll keep an eye on it

also while waiting for a train to clear our crossing i took some pictures because people don’t believe me when i tell them i can see traveling urban art galleries at the end of our lane

late in the afternoon i paused to admire this massive old wild grapevine, which seemed pretty damn big when i was a kid 50 years ago:

there’s probably a haiku in there. hmm…

brown thrasher
back for another spring
ancient grapevine

but even when this loop of vine dies as long as there’s forest here this individual will go on, sprouting roots as needed and adapting to the ever-changing forest conditions over the course of who knows how long? i don’t think there’s any way to date them. they could go back 8000 years. it seems just barely possible

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

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
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

Black snake moan

If you’re a regular reader of The Morning Porch on Twitter or elsewhere, you know I’ve been following the progress of a northern flicker nest in the dead elm tree on the other side of the yard. I first noticed the presence of a pair of flickers around the house back on April 30:

Continue reading “Black snake moan”