Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
A GRADUAL TWILIGHT: AN APPRECIATION OF JOHN HAINES. Steven B. Rogers. CavanKerry Press Ltd. Poetry. Criticism. Memoir. A Gradual Twilight is a wonderful book of reflections retracing the life of poet-naturalist John Haines. Tightly edited by Rogers, Gradual sews together contributions by Wendell Berry, Raymond Carver, Tess Gallagher, Donald Hall, and William Carlos Williams to bring this oft forgotten writer back into our midst. Haines was a mystic figure — a man of beauty and nature, an anthropologist of the natural mind– whose breadth of knowledge conjures thoughts of Jeffers and Gary Snyder. A man of beauty and deep thought. Gradual reconnects us with his vision.
Copper Canyon Press is on par with City Lights in San Francisco — a small press dedicated to publishing the most interesting and innovative poetry now being written. Accordingly, Copper Canyon circulates the kind of titles that the Electric Review hopes to bring its readers’ attention to. Aside from the Collected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (one of the best books of poetry to appear in the last several years and reviewed here last month), Copper Canyon has many other fine selections on its shelves. These include:
CA DAO VIET NAM. Translated by John Balaban. Copper Canyon Press. This is a wonderful little book of Vietnamese folk poems (or “ca dao” — literally meaning: “short lyrics passed down by word of mouth and sung without any instrumental accompaniment”).
At the end of the war, Balaban returned to Viet Nam and traveled along the villages and rivers there. In his journeys he was exposed to various folk poems — their sterling simplicity ringing through the outskirts of the mind these true bells of wisdom:
The French boats run in the new canal.
If you love me, don’t hesitate now.
If you love me, don’t question my faith.
The wild goose flies high, difficult to shoot.
The fish in Quynh Pond, hard to catch.
The poems collected in this slim volume are impressive for their clarity of consciousness and for their striking imagery. Like Gary Snyder’s best poetic interpretations of Asia and its literature, Ca Dao sets out to drink up the seas that separate the continents, drinking the blood of the mind and creating a timeless music. Ca Dao: Words into perfect bells of silence. Innocence overtaken by splendor and peace. Ca Dao — these poems mark centuries in their infancy. Ca-Dao: the deep wounds of wisdom consume us until this dirty human flesh has been reduced to the perfection of the evening mist:
“HUSBAND AND WIFE”
The oriole eats yellow berries.
A fighting fish knows its bowl.
Husband and wife know each other’s smell.
COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED (Poems 1960-2000). Carolyn Kizer. Copper Canyon Press. Cool is comprised of 4 full decades of Kizer’s best verse. A rich and thorough retrospective of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s work, the poems gathered here teem with spiritual awareness – timeless with universality, each line sticks to the tongue like sheets of wet rice paper:
“Dateline Saigon: Marines wait in the rain
For the Buddhists to rise.
It’s monsoon time: Marines in the water’s rush
Turn their carbines upside down
To keep the barrels dry.”
(From “The First of June Again”)