Spontaneous Poetics – (Ginsberg & Whalen – Oriental Influences)

R.H.Blyth (1898-1964)

AG: There’s another book by (R.H.) Blyth called Senryu Notes

Student: Called what?

AG:  Senryu Notes – S-E-N-R-Y-U – Is that right?  (Senryu – Japanese Satirical Verses)

Philip Whalen: Yeah, yeah

AG: Means what?

Philip Whalen: Senryu is the comical and obscene and..

AG: …vulgar?

Philip Whalen: ..vulgar, that type of thing. Also, there’s a..

AG:  A two-volume history of haiku

Philip Whalen: Yes, a two-volume history. Then there’s another book that’s called Oriental (Wit and) Humor (Oriental Humor), which is also..(a book of) senryu, and other jokes and song, and… (A) big book.

Student: Also this book – Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics

Philip Whalen: Yeah, only that one is a real drag-o-la, because  he says Basho is the same as (Johann) Sebastian Bach, and I don’t think that’s really (accurate), (or) to say that Basho is the same as Wordsworth and…

Student: When he says Don Quixote is the man who lives by Zen, also..

Philip Whalen: Well, that’s an interesting idea, but…

AG: It exists only in the realm of the ideas

Philip Whalen: Where Don Quixote existed

Student: (Michael) McClure mentioned something that he felt was the best book that had been published this year (1976)..

Philip Whalen: Well, there are  two, there are two good ones. There is one that we put together by Dr Yip Wai-lim  down at the University of San Diego just called Chinese Poetry and it has a long, very interesting, introduction about how Chinese poetry is manufactured, (put) together, and then, (in) the main part of the book, he gives you Chinese texts and he gives you a list of words (that gives you the full) meaning of all the characters, and then he gives you, finally, some sort of complete English version of each poem. And he has quite a wide selection of stuff… – And the other book, is the one I was reading from the other day, called Sunflower Splendor, a big anthology  big thick thick anthology (with) Chinese stuff from every period (from the earliest times down to Chairman Mao)

Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (A Midland book)

AG: That’s probably the best Chinese anthology ever made (so far in English translation). Super. I haven’t looked at that (yet) but..

Philip Whalen: Well, it’s been done by a number of people. It’s not done by just one guy. It’s done by a whole raft of scholars and so on, and other poets, and so forth, and it’s a very nice book.

AG: Prior to that book, I’ve been using The White Pony..

Philip Whalen: Yes

AG: ..by Robert Payne.  It’s a huge anthology..

Philip Whalen:  And then there’s our Arthur Waley.

AG: …of Chinese work. And Pound’s translations of the Odes are really interesting… both as  Pound’s poetry, and, sort of, his idea of Chinese manners and ideas..
My own favorite. I have a book called “Sufis, Yogis, the Saints of India” – the Poets” [Editorial note – correct title: Sufis, Mystics and Yogis of India”], put out by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (which I think I brought along, and I think it’s in the library, in my little reference shelf), which has one poem, which is always my favorite poem of the Orient, something like, let’s see – “Nivruttinath adorned himself with a neck-garland of smells,Sopan decorated her hair with water of pearls, Muktabai fed herself on cooked diamonds. The secret of all three have come into my hands. So says Changadeva” – So it’s about the lineage of some fourteenth-century Indian yogis. There’s where I got that phrase, “cooked diamonds”. That’s my favorite Oriental poem – by Changadeva. The book is in the library, I think. It’s a great anthology of Indian crazy poetry.

Philip Whalen: Yeah, but the more elegant kind of Indian poetry is available in paperback. Daniel Ingalls’ translation – An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry from Harvard Press. Very nice sort of book, but all about.. highlighted by.. more jewels and ladies sweating, and so on. It’s quite wonderful, elephants and bodices and armor. Very expensive to buy. It’s reminiscent rather of the goings-on that Lady Murasaki tells about in the Tale of Genji  about how these ladies.. Instead of the gentlemen, it’s the ladies slipping out of the house at night and tracking down the gentlemen that they’re interested in and coming home in the morning with scratches and what-not on their.. love- bites, and it’s beautiful. Quite elaborate descriptions of how they get themselves out of (their)…  about the weather and flowers..


AG: The opposite of that would be Kabir, who was a shoe-maker (with) a sort of Blakean intelligence – K-A-B-I-R  – (Robert) Bly’s translated  some of it  (but) I don’t know if they’re very good translations. And there’s a little tiny section of  translations of Kabir by Ezra Pound in Pound’s Collected Translations. And in the book I (just) mentioned, “Sufis, Mystics and Yogis...”, there’s a long excellent section of translations of Kabir. His line is “If love was for sale at the market-place for the price of a head, I’d cut off my head”. It’s a whole series of saint conceptions, but done by an illiterate shoemaker who’s words were taken down by others. Fourteenth or Fifteenth Century. But also Mirabai, the singer of songs, devotional songs to Krishna, Mirabai of Brindaban – M-I-R-A-B-A-I – And Kabir – so those of Medieval Indian..

What else, specifically do I like? I like Ho Chi Minh’s poems, actually. There’s little translations that are very good. Prison poems by Ho Chi Minh are accurate and exact and sharp. There is (also) a modern Japanese poet, translated in the New Directions series…

Student: Shinkichi Takahashi?

AG: No. Do you know the one that Gary (Snyder) likes a lot? There’s a…

Philip Whalen: There’s one guy that (has published translations from..

AG: Yeah, what is the name?

Philip Whalen: …and now there’s a paperback (but I don’t think it’s from New Directions, I think it’s from some other publisher, I can’t think of its name)

Student: Is that Kenji?

Philip Whalen: Yeah

AG: Yeah, Kenji Miyazawa

Philip Whalen: Yeah, yeah, that’s (it)..

Student: Yeah, he’s beautiful.

Miyazawa Kenji.jpg

Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933)

Philip Whalen: He has a whole book. And Gary just translated one poem… [“Kurakake yama no yukiThe Snow on Saddle Mountain” – included in The Back Country, 1967] ..and now there’s this little volume of..

AG: He was an engineer-agronomist, really.

Philip Whalen: Yeah.

AG: So he lived it, like Gary Snyder, actually. The forest, the forest man, agronomist, practical poems about going out and  working with peasants… and the intelligence and sadness of peasants, like losing their crops.

Student: There’s one poem by him about the snow on Saddle Mountain that’s really beautiful. He says, you know, “The snow on Saddle Mountain, everything else, woods, trees, changing all the time, but the snow on Saddle Mountan shifting, moving, changing, all the time, but still the only faint source of hope is the snow on Saddle Mountain, you know. It’s really…

AG: And one line – “All is Buddhahood to he who has said, even once, “Glory be!”” – I wrote a whole series of poems imitating his style, which is in a little book called Sad Dust Glories, which I think is in the library somewhere.

So there’s modern Japanese (poetry). I got turned onto that by (Gary) Snyder, originally, Gary’s (translations of) Japanese poems also. His translations of (quite a) lot of poetry. that’s right, (and) Chinese…

[Audio for the above, begins here, at approximately fifteen-and-a-half minutes in and ends approximately twenty-five minutes in]

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