Articles - December 2012

Bashō's Pheasant

Cid Corman and Kyōto

Sorting old papers, I found the fragment of a letter I wrote (and presumably sent) to poet, editor and translator Cid Corman shortly after we met during the summer of 1977 in Kyōto, Japan. He had been editing the small (nearly underground) but influential magazine Origin since 1950, publishing an international array of poets from the sort of subterranean worlds I unconsciously (though perhaps sometimes very conscientiously in adolescence) inhabited, basically stumbling into things by following my nose, more curious hick than knowing hipster.

Reclaiming Corman

Cid Corman's Dorchester past

Where exactly in Dorchester is the campus? Hard to think of a spot where it cd be, unless something else was removed. At least from my time. The old insane asylum? In Franklin Park golf course? Or the removal of Franklin field? The areas have changed a good deal, of course, since my childhood. Yes, it has little sense of my ever having been there.

The man who always was

On Cid Corman

Cid Corman in 2003. Photo by Bob Arnold.

                                                                          breath never left off

I’m of two minds about selecting Cid Corman’s poems, and no wonder given the man!

On the one hand we all know his output was tremendous, but I don’t necessarily believe that means we have to measure our own scale by his dimension. Cid could be redundant in his explorations, and I find no fault there; it merely meant he was ever cutting away, searching, drawing, sketching. Think of a skilled woodcutter shaping a forest. It brings up for a great deal of wonderful reading.

At the same time, he was a sharp editor, razor sharp, and would produce his own journal Origin at an even sixty-five pages each issue. The majority of his books were backpack marvels — packed light for the long distance traveler and the narrow trail. Scaled down. Plus his domain and mind was Kyoto and his practice amongst the natives was humility, silence, space, less is more. He wasn’t always wise with it and would blabbermouth into whole scale marketing of thousands of poems, but he meant to be wise. And quiet. I’d like to think we are not making as much a representative selection here, but a philosophical one practicing the less is more and at the same time presenting the highest quality of Cid’s poetry summing up that force of goodness. It’s definitely an edgy approach. What’s 500 poem pages of expanse, compared to the experience of reading Cid Corman in one warm flush sitting. As a poet, he would forever advocate how one poem can be enough, providing space around that one poem, so resonance be allowed. We, as editors, are simply allowing Cid Corman to practice what he preached.

The text as an image of itself

Historically, the content of a text has generally been considered as having a separate existence from its physical manifestation as print. Western Literature was originally oral, and though later committed to written form, the spoken word — the conditions of its utterance (or performance) — was long thought to precede, or to lie outside the parameters of, the physical text. This regard for the text as a convenient repository was reinforced by the traditions of dramatic and public speech.

Larry Eigner, an advertisement

Photo of Larry Eigner © Alastair Johnston.

The poets who appear in Donald Allen’s earthquake anthology The New American Poetry 1945–1960 got to write their own biographies. Here’s Larry Eigner’s: “Born in Swampscott, Mass. (out of the nearby hospital in Lynn); still living there, where after public school I took correspondence course from U. of Chicago. I’m a ‘shut-in,’ partly. In 1949, a couple months after finishing up the last course, I bumped into Cid Corman reading Yeats, on the radio, in his first program, I gather, from Boston.