Reading Ancients to Understand Ourselves

Posted: March 22, 2008 in Poetry Endorsements
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Li-Po
The Selected Poems of Li-Po
(buy).

A present project of my own has made me very haiku-hungry of late, so last night I decided to settle down with some Basho for inspiration and enjoyment. However, horror-upon-horror, browsing my poetry collection revealed that it was not only devoid of that banana tree-loving haiku master but all haiku masters, save John Nagamichi Cho’s “SPAM-ku” (buy), which is haiku and very humourous but not the kind of thing for which I was in the mood. Already nestled in a warm house with good music and comfort abounding, I decided, instead of going out to the local library or several bookstores which may/may not have some in-stack Basho, to sit down with a drunken Chinese modernist from 701 ad.

Li-Po, though born over 1,300 years ago, wrote what critics consider to be modern poetry. In these poems, he is a wonderer, wino, and philosopher; poet – observer, translator; and receptacle for all that all is offering. The style in which the poems are written is tight and distinctly oriental but shares the language relay of today’s poetry writers (no doubt with large help from the book’s translator, David Hinton). The poetics rely as much upon imagery as narration, and, more than any other poet or collection I can think of, the poems serve as a reminder of how not only experiences and feelings can transcend time, but styles of speaking as well.

Thus I offer you, good reader, the following poem to reiterate and illustrate that the collected wealth of written human history – as much (if not more) fiction as non-fiction – is worth (re)discovering:

Something Said, Waking Drunk on a Spring Day

It’s like boundless dream here in this
world, nothing anywhere to trouble us.

I have, therefore, been dunk all day,
a shambles of sleep on the front porch.

Coming to, I look into the courtyard.
There’s a bird among blossoms calling,

and when I ask what season this is,
an oriole’s voice drifts on spring winds.

Overcome, verging on sorrow and lament,
I pour another drink. Soon, awaiting

this bright moon, I’m chanting a song.
And now it’s over, I’ve forgotten why.

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