Spontaneous Poetics – (Blyth and Haiku)

AG: I got some complaints that last time (that) I was  getting up in the air, reading too much and boring people, (which is probably true, because my attention wavered occasionally when I was reading through the Wordsworth – most of the time I was there and present, but my attention waved too, as your attention must have –  partly out of desperation, because, actually, (with Wordsworth) I’ve sort of run out of things to teach! – except the things that I knew already, like “Tintern Abbey”, or “Intimations of Immortality..”  I would, if I had it, read through some of Christopher Smart, (since only five people in this class said they’d read Smart). Yeah?

Student: I’d like to hear some (D.H.) Lawrence and (Herman) Melville, if we’re coming on to it.

AG: Melville..

Student: Lawrence, Melville.

AG: Yeah, I’ll get to them. But today, I thought I’d leave things open and just talk, and leave some space for you to talk too. In fact, not have a subject today for a change. Because, my problem has been, I went to the doctor yesterday and found out, that I have slightly high blood-pressure, and that’s because I was constantly looking for a subject. Like, total anxiety! – I haven’t finished reading your blues (assignments), I haven’t gotten my paperwork together, I haven’t finished marking and grading last session’s poetry class.
I’m having a nervous break-down!  So, therefore I thought I’d have it in class, and let all structure fall!  So that anybody can say anything they want and (they don’t even have to) talk about poetry, (which will appeal, I guess, to the whiners in the class.. they’re the ones who were complaining). So I brought (along) a lot of books to read, anyway.. Yeah?

Student: I was wondering if you have, from the East, from the Orient, if you have any favorite authors?

AG: From the East?

Student: Yeah

AG: Well, one thing that we put in the library, the four volumes of haiku by R.H.Blyth. Have you seen that? – (Those who were not familiar with the Blyth books, would you raise your hand? – R.H.Blyth  – Haiku – four volumes). Well, Blyth was a Zen practitioner who lived in Japan. Maybe Phil(ip) (Whalen) can tell (you) about him?  There is a very beautiful series of books, published by (the) Tuttle Company, in pretty covers – pretty, a strange cloth, Oriental brown simple rough peasant cloth – dealing with (the) history of the haiku and then spring, summer, fall, winter – the haiku cycles, divided into the seasons. Blyth’s books are a fantastic anthology of all the great historic haiku by Issa, Basho, Buson, and others. Issa I like particularly, as being similar to William Carlos Williams, as an objective subjectivist [sic] – and he writes directly about himself – “Spring evening/There are thoughts in the mind of Issa”

Philip Whalen: There’s also a little separate volume called The Year of My Life”, translated by some guy at the University of California [Nobuyuki Yuasa], which is very beautiful.

AG: By Issa?

Philip Whalen: Yeah.It’s a combination of incredible diary and…

AG: It’s (they’re) a basic handbook of poetry, the Blyth haiku bibles, that Phil (Whalen) and I (and Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder) were all using, to my recollection, around 1955 to (19)56, in Berkeley, when we were all living together in a cottage. And the Blyth haiku books were one of the poetic bibles that we constantly referred to. They give you the Japanese writing script (writing, or whatever you call it), then they give you a transliteration (so you get the sound), then they give you a very good English translation, then they give you an explanation of all the private Japanese references, and show(ed) how it relates to the seasons. They say “uguisu”, which is a bird that’s crying, (and) then they’ll explain what the “uguisu” is.  And they have all the great classical haiku – so.. like, “Wiping my snot on the flowers, ah, the plum blossoms at their best” – [to Philip Whalen] – Do you know more about Blyth? I don’t know much about him

Philip Whalen: He died a few years ago. He was the English tutor to the Crown Prince, among other things. He somehow lived in Japan all during the war without being interned as an enemy alien or something.  How he got the job of being tutor to the Crown Prince, I don’t know, but he was, and he was very interested in.. he was a close friend of Suzuki Daisetsu, also (who helped) get him into Zen practice, (I think (he would) go down, take the train down...)…and, anyway, he lived in Japan for many many years. I’m not at all sure what his competence was in Chinese. He could probably speak it. In any case, you can compare his translations with a number of other ones. There’s a book of haiku brought out by the Japanese Cultural Ministry (with has many of the same things in it, so you can cross-check, in case you’re interested.

[Audio for the above can be found here, starting approximately nine minutes in and concluding approximately fifteen-and-a-half minutes in]

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