Japanese Poetry

As part of my 2015 International Poetry Cantos celebration, April (which is also National Poetry Month, and so quite crowded) is also my opportunity to celebrate Japanese poetry.

I’ll be attending the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, Saturday April 25, which is sponsored by “Cupertino Toyokawa” — the Sister City relationship between Toyokawa, Japan and Cupertino, established in 1978. Come by and chat, and if you’ve got Japanese poetry to share, please please please bring it by booth 15.

I can’t begin to link here all the splendor and history that is the poetry of Japan. Ancient and strong, the tradition is powerful and delicate at the same time. Here are a couple of links, however, to get you started.

Wikipedia does a good job of getting us started.

32_ban_Shokunin_utaawase_Sanoki-Komoso

Here are some biographies (in English) of famous historical Japanese (in America) poets:

  • Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) here and here.
iza saraba / yukimi ni korobu / tokoromade

now then, let’s go out / to enjoy the snow… until / I slip and fall! [1688]
220px-MatsuoBashoChusonji
  • Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828) here and here. Translated by Robert Hass here and here.
  • Yosa Buson (1716-1784)  translated by Matthew Rohrer here. And by Edith Shiffert here (below).

The light of a candle
               is transferred to another candle—
               spring twilight.

Read more about Japanese forms at these links:

Michael Dylan Welch (Japanese poetry aficionado and current PL of Redmond Washington) deserves his own shout out. Learn all about Japanese poetry at his website, Graceguts. This tanka is by MDW.

tanka from Graceguts

And, in case you are beginning to wonder if Japanese poetry ended with the death of Issa in the 19th century, or was only written by men, these links provides a wonderful orientation to modern Japanese poetry and poetry by Japanese women.

  • Poetry Kanto — Japan’s longest-running bilingual poetry journal. Really.

pksticky-652x300

Poetry at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Tomorrow is the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, at Memorial Park. The festival is both days, Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26, but I’ll only be there on Saturday, with my poetry booth and my poet friends. Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, and David Perez, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, will both be with me (in booth 15) after about 11 am. I’ll be there the whole day.

(Read about Japanese poetry before you come, if you’re new to the subject).

CBFflyer2015

Come by for a chat, for a free poem (written on the spot just for you by a real poet!), to play with my magnetic poetry or my Haikubes (highly in-authentic, but fun).

haikubes

I’ll have books of haiku and senryu, both by Japanese poets and by Americans. I’ll also have anthologies and lesson books from California Poets in the Schools.

I hope to see you there!

San Jose Poetry Festival

This was my first year at the annual San Jose Poetry Festival. It was a busy day, well attended, with many local poets, coming from Santa Cruz to Berkeley to join in the fun. I’m grateful to Pushpa MacFarlane for getting me involved, but the biggest kudos go to David Eisbach, who produced this year’s event.

sjpf building

It was also my first time visiting the (Le Petit) Trianon Theatre in downtown San Jose. A GREAT venue.

I missed the morning, so I missed my friends Erica Goss (and her metaphor workshop) and Renee Schell (and her poetry and music reading). I’m sure they were swell.

I enjoyed reading my work with two other fine poets, new to me, during one of the featured readings held after lunch. (The only problem was missing the other sessions in which other awesome featured readers read.) Here I am with Harry Lafnear (who read some wonderful poetry about animals, sweet and not at all sentimental) and David Sullivan (who gave a lecture later on the poetry of war). I wouldn’t have been able to make the mic work without them, and I enjoyed our camaraderie immensely.

jen with two others at sjpf

For some better photos of us, read this really friendly and fantastic write up of the day by Cupertino’s own Crystal Tai for Cupertino Patch.

After my joint reading with Harry and David, I slipped upstairs for the poetry slam portion of the afternoon. I have to confess, right now, that this was my first ever slam. The slam was hosted by Dennis Norren and MC’d by Scoripana X. It’s hard to describe how much fun this was. The format is very smart: judges picked on the spot from the audience, poets reciting their poems and following all kinds of rules (no hand gestures — or was it no props? and time limits and when your phone isn’t a prop and when it is…). Then the judging, which tends to “creep” as the slam goes on, so the scores get higher and that’s why the poets have to read in a randomly chosen order — any way, it was so much fun. Very much an audience participation event. I was amazed by the artistry, the passion, the voices! I didn’t catch everybody’s name, but you’ll recognize Kim Johnson, a past featured reader on Chaos Never Dies Day and winner of the Silicon Valley Reads 2014 poetry contest.

kim at sjpf slam

Kim Johnson

scorpiana x

Scorpiana X

another slammer other slamer red slammer

After the slam, I was energized enough to stay for another event. Pushpa MacFarlane created a truly wonderful reading, inviting poets from all over the world and the bay area to read what she very smartly called “World Poetry” — perfectly in keeping with my theme for National Poetry Month, these were poems written about what it means to be from all over the world. The poems were in most cases read in English either after or before being read in the language they were written in: Spanish, Mandarin, Persian/Farsi, Japanese, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Native American (by Joy Harjo) and Maori. What a splendid music.

crystal at sjpf

Crystal Tai reading her own poems in Mandarin and English

pushpa and japanese lady at sjpf

Pushpa MacFarlane reading the English translations of Japanese haiku, read by Shizuko Shands.

Okay. That’s about all I’ve got. Again, I’m so grateful to have been part of this lovely day. I hope it’s repeated next year.

Photos from Persian New Year Event

Wow. I took a chance on this event and tried something I hadn’t done before. But it was such a delightful experience and I’m so happy we went for it.

On Wednesday, March 25, we gathered in the delightful and perfectly-sized back banquet room of Village Falafel after work. We ordered food and wine, which lent a great relaxed feeling to the evening. There were about 15 of us, including two members of the Library Commission and the Mayor of Cupertino, Rod Sinks, and his wife! (Full disclosure — I’ve known Rod and Britta for many years, our children having gone to the same schools, swum at the same club, etc.). Joy of joys, there were also four people who had never attended a CupPL event before, three of whom saw our flier in the library and one who read about us in the Courier. Joy of joys, new poetry lovers in Cupertino.

To my utter delight, a lady came who studied languages and culture in Iran years ago, and she brought with her some poems by Rumi in Farsi, which she read to us, together with her own translations. It was thrilling to hear the meter of the ghazals, and to hear the repeated words at the end of each couplet, even though I didn’t understand the words. She performed with real gusto.

And even better, if possible, was the presence of three women, Iranian natives: two residents of Cupertino and their visitor from Iran. They brought their Hafez, in a bright blue and gold book, and also read in Farsi, several of the poems for which I had brought in English translations. It was so moving for all of us, to hear the poems in their original melodic language, then to read two different English translations and to all discuss together what we thought and felt. They spoke about how important Hafez was in Iran, and I was envious of the reverence the people still feel there for ancient poetry.

Hafez Roses

This is the poem Robert Bly translated as “One Rose is Enough” — the first line is translated by Dick Davis as “Of all the roses in the world.”

The photo above shows me with my Rumi reader on the left and my Hafez reader on the right. The other two photos I took from the book of Hafez’s poems my guest brought. They are the same poems I had translations of.

Hafez Angels

Bly titled this poem as “The Angels at the Tavern Door” (also the name of his book of Hafez translations). The first line, as translated by Davis, is “Last night I saw the angels.”

We talked about a lot of things that evening. About God, religion, spirit. About spring and nature. About love. About wine and food and the place poetry has in our homes. And we talked about Iran, both historically and today, while the world waits with baited breath to hear of possible movement toward diplomatic relations between the US and that great and complex country. I am so happy to say, it was a perfect evening of poetry and companionship for me, and I hope for my guests.

Side-by-Side Transltions of Rumi

For the Rumi and Hafez reading, I’ll have handouts of three poems by each poet: side-by-side translations into English. I’ll be using A. J. Arberry and Colman Barks for Rumi; Dick Davis and Robert Bly for Hafez. The books from which I’ve selected the poems are identified in my earlier post.

A very good read about the pros and cons of having different translations, read this article, “A Rumi of One’s Own,” at the Poetry Foundation website. Rachel Aviv discusses why some translations might be favored by modern Americans. Provocative.

Here is a selection of other internet resources for Rumi. Whew. It’s amazing.

This blog post offers some great side-by-side translations of some of Rumi’s poems. (There is also a nice selection of translations and context/background information on Rumi and Khayyam elsewhere in the website.)

This Yahoo Group has closed comments, but will still allow you to join over 4000 members to whose commentary you can them have access. Looks pretty intense.

This very cool index of Rumi translators includes only academic translators (does not include Coleman Barks or Robert Bly), but it does contain translations into many languages besides English, as well as a fascinating small selection of A. J. Arberry’s earliest translations (1949) alongside their Persian (Farsi) transliterations. Here’s an example (sorry for the crummy resolution — go to the site and check it out!!):

rumi with farsi transliteration

You can also peruse translations into English together with the Persian (in Arabic script). Here’s an example, again, badly snatched from the website. Translations by Shahriar Shahriari.

rumi in arabic

I found the Sufi dance image on several websites, all which attribute it elsewhere, but not to the original. Forgive me.

Persian New Year Poetry Background

As part of my International Poetry Cantos project in 2015, Canto Number 2 is Persian New Year Poetry. Persian New Year is celebrated on March 20, 2015 — the date of the Vernal Equinox.

On Wednesday, March 25, please join me in reading poems by Persian poets, in Farsi and in English. We’ll be meeting at Village Falafel, on Stevens Creek Blvd in Cupertino, at 6:30 pm to read poems together and to eat.

To prepare for this event, I want to introduce you to Persian poets of repute, but first a little background. Persian literature is one of the world’s most ancient literatures. You can read about it on Wikipedia for a fast overview, or at the Iran Chamber Society, or Encyclopedia Britannica.  Obviously a few websites can’t do justice to this rich tradition, but if you have no familiarity, I suggest spending a few moments to orient yourself.

When we speak of Persian poetry, we mean in general, poetry written in Farsi, also known as Parsi or Persian, or poetry written by people who live in the land currently known as Iran. An interesting source is Classical Persian Poetry: A Thousand Years of the Persian Book, a fascinating look at a Library of Congress exhibit.

The most famous (to Americans) Persian art form is the ghazal, described here by the Academy of American Poets. This link takes you to a lovely example of the form, in English, by poet Agha Shahid Ali on the Poetry Foundation website. Though a Kashmiri Muslim, Ali is well known for writing in this form for American audiences. While I am not an expert, I found this website, with literal and poetic translations of some of Rumi’s famous ghazals to be very enlightening and inspiring.

The most well know Persian poets in the U.S. are Rumi and Hafez. Here are some resources.

  • Poetry Foundation video, in collaboration with The News Hour, “Bringing Persian Poetry to Western Readers” about Hafez.
  • Hafez biography

hafez

Rumi

There are many books, translations, essays, fantasies about these legendary and vital poets. I’ll be pulling together a bibliography in the next week, getting us ready to read on March 25.

Stay tuned!

“Midnight Approaches” — Persian poetry with music and video

This suite of seven videos (an introduction to Persian poetry, five video poem performances, and an interview with the translator) is the production of my friend, Niloufar Talebi. Niloufar is a dancer, translator, opera librettists — a woman with an enormous love for language, music and imaginative discourse.

I thought I’d take a break from “straight” poetry today and let you indulge all your senses with music and dance; listen, read, enjoy.

Of course, today is Poem In Your Pocket Day, too, but I’ll put up another post about this.

World Poetry Movement

World Poetry Movement

I was recently asked to help a composer friend locate a “social justice poem” in the public domain for a song he’s been commissioned to write. My internet search located a “Public Domain Poetry” site, but even cooler than that, is this site, “World Poetry Movement” and the long long lists of international poetry festivals and poets who are joined in “poetic action” — for social justice and peace. Amazing really. Pretty good for a Monday!

Poetic action: Any activity designed socially, through the intervention of the poets making contributions with his creative art, from the perspective of audience development at the level of poetry readings and of training activities with the poetic culture. These acts may also be symbolic expressions of solidarity with movements that aim for causes that do benefit planetary life, inclusion, justice and diversity, generating cultural interactions and promoting an aesthetic and ethical sense of existence.

You can download a 21-page PDF “Poetry Planet” magazine, and read poems in Spanish, Farsi, Mayan, and English, and articles about poets from those countries, Israel, Turkey and the Netherlands. It’s a delight.

(Their site seems very slow, so be patient.)