10 Books in 10 Days

01 After Lorca by Jack Spicer
02 The Construction of Homosexuality by David F. Greenberg
03 Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
04 Funeral Rites by Jean Genet
05 Sunflower Splendor, ed by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo
06 Auto-da-fé by Elias Canetti
07 A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now, ed by Aliki Barnstone and Willis Barnstone
08 A Dream of Red Mansions/Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin
09 The Great Code/Words with Power by Northrop Frye
10 The First Scientist Anaximander and His Legacy by Carlo Rovelli

After my friend Jose Arroyo invited me to several challenges on Facebook,i.e. 10 Albums in 10 Days and 10 Films in 10 Days, I responded with an even more difficult challenge: 10 Books in 10 Days, with an explanation of how the book affected your life, thought, or work. Above are the ten books and below are the covers and write-ups for each.

I left out all childhood books, which would have included The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte’s Web and the Mushroom Planet books. I also left out tween and early teen books like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I, Robot, Childhood’s End and The Martian Chronicles. Finally I left out the late-teen, early twenties Russian literature phase Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol included in the exclusion. What emerged were books between the intersection of my life as a gay man and my own writing practice. I encourage others to make and post such a list on Facebook, Twitter and/or here on WordPress.

Book One of Ten


After Lorca by Jack Spicer, 1974, the gay, American poet, Jack Spicer imagines a series of letters about poetry written to the dead Federico Garcia Lorca. Interspersed are his “translations” of Lorca poems, some of which are actually completely new poems. He also has an introduction written by Lorca in which Lorca questions and dismisses the whole enterprise. “Even the most faithful student of my work will be hard put to decide what is and what is not Garcia Lorca, as, indeed, he would if he were to look into my present resting place. The analogy is impolite, but I fear the impoliteness is deserved.”

Playful and irreverent, Spicer’s slender volume combines gallows humour, gorgeous poetry and deceptively simple declarations bout the poetic method to make for a perfect gem of book that accorded with my existing sensibilities at the same time as it gently re-shaped them, ultimately producing new outlooks and approaches to poetry that I did not previously have.

As with many of the books on this list, it is a friend who introduced it to me and I am mortally grateful to Mark Sinnett for giving me a photocopied volume in the early 1980s, a scan of which is attached below. After Lorca is also included in the Collected Books of Jack Spicer.

Book Two of Ten


The Construction of Homosexuality, 1988, by David F. Greenberg.  An encyclopedic cataloguing of homosexuality across cultures and historical periods, Greenberg’s book is one of a number of scholarly works that came out in the 1980’s and 1990’s that expanded our understanding of what being gay had been, is and could be. It’s spirit, and that of its sisterly scholarly works, helped to infuse activist movements like Queer Nation, as well as artistic endeavors. It certainly consciously, and unconsciously, infused my journalism for gay newspapers in the 1990s, as well as my own creative writing, especially the performance piece Sodom etc/Sodam agus araile,  1992, Gallery 101, Ottawa. Its footnotes lead to a bottomless rabbit hole of writing and thought by and about queerness. Whatever scholarly bones one has to pick with Greenberg and his methods (In particular, I am sure his curt dismissal of Michel Foucault galls many.), this book remains a valuable resource for anyone interested in human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in all its particular peculiarities.

Book Three of Ten


Invisible Cities, 1972, by Italo Calvino. “Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have,” one of my favorite quotes from one of my most cherished books. The descriptions of cities encountered by Marco Polo, as related to Kublai Khan, exemplify what Calvino discusses in his collection of essays, Six Memos for the Next Millenium, literature as the flame refracted through the crystal, exquisite structures that reveal thought and emotion even as they refract it. WH Auden expressed a similar approach when he said that poetry was like a game; it is no fun if there aren’t any rules. In his essay entitled Exactitude from Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Calvino writes: “The book in which I managed to say the most remains Invisible Cities, because I was able to concentrate all my reflections, experiments, and conjectures on a single symbol [the city]; and also because I built up a many faceted structure in which each brief text is close to the others in a series that does not imply logical sequence or a hierarchy, but a network in which one can follow multiple routes and draw multiple, ramified conclusions.” Beautiful in its own right, Invisible Cities is also an example of an approach to literature that was deeply influential on my own writing. Once again, a shout must go out to Mark Sinnett for introducing me to this book in the early 80s.

Book Four of Ten


Funeral Rites, 1948/1953, by Jean Genet. Is it possible to imagine 20th century queer culture without the influence of Jean Genet? I could have chosen any of his books, as I was equally entranced by all of them, but I have selected Funeral Rites, as it most clearly explores a very gay-male aspect of queer culture: eroticizing the oppressor. Written to commemorate his lover, Jean Decarnin, a young communist killed by Nazi-collaborators in Paris at the end of World War II, Genet’s visceral, homoerotic fantasies/realities about desire, power, grief and violence would be much imitated, but never matched because Genet, unlike many, allows his vulnerability to shine through every dark page.  This eroticization of the oppressor would find a more joyous expression in the artwork of Tom of Finland, but Genet keeps us in the real world of stiff cocks, puckered asses, spit, sweat and cum. Genet was the first seriously queer writer I encountered as a young homo, and his writing is still the best for those wishing to shed the skin of “normalcy.”

Book Five of Ten


Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, Ed. By Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, 1975.  All of the books on this list have influenced me, but his book was life-changing. I had been writing poetry for about a decade and had some exposure to Chinese poetry, but when Michael Leon gave me this book, a whole new universe opened up. It fired my interest in Chinese poetry, culture and history, and the Chinese language itself, which would eventually lead to me to live in China for 5 years. Over 1000 poems that span 3,000 years form the Shi Jing (The Classic of Poetry) to Mao Zedong, Footnoted and with a brief bio for each poet, it remains perhaps the most accessible entry to Chinese poetry. It is inexhaustible, yet only a tiny tip of the iceberg that is Chinese literature, after reading it many times cover-to-cover, I can still dip in on any page and be amazed.

Book Six of Ten


Auto-da-fé, 1935, Elias Canetti, I love black humor, morbid fascinations, grotesqueries of all kinds, and no book combines them all with such dense, yet flowing prose, as does Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-fé. The main character, Peter Kien, is about as unlikeable a character as you are likely to find in fiction, a Sinologist who loves books more than he likes people and who hates women more than anything. His decision to marry his housekeeper, Therese, because of a hastily and mistakenly formed impression that she too respects and honors books, unleashes a chain of events that draws in a hunchback named Fischerle, Kien’s psychiatrist brother and a host of criminal elements, with all the characters driven by conflicting monomanias, and leads to the (anti)climactic event referred to in the title of book.  It is all as if Heinrich Boll’s The Clown was mashed up with Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy. I am fairly certain that it was Eduardo Cordeiro who introduced this novel to me in the 1990s.

Auto-da-fé inspired me to read Canetti’s most well-known books, Crowds and Power, and The Memoirs of Elias Canetti: The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, The Play of the Eyes, which, in turn led me to Los Sueños/Dreams, 1627, by Francisco de Quevedo, cited by Canetti as his favorite book. Particularly amusing are Quevedo’s descriptions of Poets in Hell: “Ah, What I saw and learned about poets! A devil approached and said to me: They celebrate their sins in the same way that others weep for them…If they love their ladies the most they give them is a sonnet or two, or a bundle of eight-liners…What’s more, poets seem not to have the least idea about whose flag they fly under; for instance, their names are those of Christians, but they have the souls of heretics, they think like Arabs but use the language of ancient pagans.” Sounds about right to me, but I think it is a good thing.

Vying for this spot on the list were, in addition to the Boll and Peake books mentioned above, The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić, which recounts the centuries of religious and ethnic strife in the Balkans through the history of a bridge, and Serbian Diaries, 1996, by Boris L. Davidovich, a gay man’s recounting of his cruising for sex in Belgrade as the then-Yugoslavia descends into war and ethnic strife.

Book Seven of Ten


Lullaby for My Dead Child
by Denise Jallais

You shouldn’t be afraid of the dark
Or of worms
Besides
Now you can play with the rain
And see the grass come up

You shouldn’t put dirt in your mouth
And sit still waiting for me
Besides
We’ve given you some flowers
To console you for being little
And dead.

(Translated by Maxin Kumin and Judith Kumin)

If it only contained this one poem, Book 7 of 10, A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now, 1980, Edited by Aliki Barnstone and Willis Barnstone, would make it onto my list, but this book contains worlds. Arranged  in an overlaying mesh of original language and historical period, the poems presented span from Sappho to Margaret Atwood [That’s some leap!], and from Emily Dickinson to anonymous folk songs from Morocco that express sentiments like: “To look at an ugly man/gives me a headache” and Algeria : “Be happy for me, girls,/my mother-in-law is dead!/In the morning I found her/stiff, her mouth shut./Yet I won’t believe it/till I see the grass/waving on her tomb.”

One of my favorite discoveries from the book was Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,  the 17th century Mexican nun, poet, philosopher and scientist whose poem titles are almost as long as her poem, for example: “She Proves the Inconsistency of the Desires and Criticism of Men Who Accuse Women of What They Themselves Cause,” which contains stanzas like “Has anyone ever seen/a stranger moral fervor:/you who dirty the mirror/regret it is not clear?” and the pithier but delightful, “In Which She Satisfies a Fear with the Rhetoric of Tears.”

In searching for an online cover shot of this book, I saw that at some point it was “Revised and with an Expanded Section of American Poets.”  I also notice it costs $35. In the 80s, mine cost me 95 cents at a second hand bookstore.  Second hand book stores in the 80s rocked.

Book Eight of Ten


A Dream of Red Mansions, as the title of is usually translated, the original Chinese being 红楼梦 red/storied building/dream, but the best available English translation goes by the title The Story of the Stone, which has basis in the text, if not in the original title.

Written in the 18th Century by Cao Xueqin (with 40 chapters added later by Cao E), it is a sprawling story of the decline of the Qing-Dynasty Jia family. It’s huge cast of characters and the breadth of its story makes War and Peace look like Daniel Steele.  Focused on the character of Jia Baoyu, the young adolescent male heir of the Jia family who spends his days surrounded by the women of the family, living a richly aesthetic and dream-like existence, as business concerns and political intrigue swirl around and eventually demolish their way of life. Slated to marry Xue Baochai, he forms an intense bond with his sickly cousin, Lin Daiyu, based on their love of music, poetry and nature. One of the most referenced scenes in the book being Lin Daiyu’s funeral for the flowers. She is so distressed at the sight of the petals that have fallen in the night that she gathers them up and gives them a burial.

It is impossible to overstate the influence of this book on Chinese literary and visual culture. It has inspired endless commentaries, imitations, paintings, poetry, as well as film and television. It is considered one of the four great novels of Chinese literature, the other three being The Romance of the Three Kingdoms/三国演义, The Outlaw of the Marshes/水浒传 (Also called Water Margins in English) and Journey to the West/The Monkey King/西游记. I recommend all four, but especially Dream of Red Mansions. (The Story of the Stone, translated in 5 volumes, also contains an indispensable glossary of characters and the family trees for the Jia and Wang families, you’ll need them.)

Reading this book is a completely immersive experience into a long-gone world that is made instantly recognizable by the rich psychological insights into the characters.

For those who like their reads shorter and racier, I recommend Li Yu (李漁: 1610-80)’s Silent Operas (无声戏) and The Carnal Prayer Mat (肉蒲团). He is a great comedic writer who mocks sexual taboos by (pretending?) to reinforce them.

Book Nine of Ten

Book 9 of 10 is actually two books, The Great Code, 1981, and Words with Power, 1990, by Northrop Frye, but they were written as sister volumes, so I am listing them as one.

It was these two books that introduced me to serious study of the structures of language and literature. Frye’s goal was to treat the Bible as a piece of literature, examine its underlying language, metaphors, rhetorical devices and over-arching structure, and show how it was central to Western literature until the 18th Century and still exerts a strong, if often hidden, influence.

Anyone serious about the examination of literature, and its adjacent forms of film, tv and journalism, would do well to read these books. They will heighten your senses to The Bible’s daily intrusion into all of these forms of expression, sometimes blatantly and obviously, sometimes in a quite coded manner. If for no other reason than to Know Thy Enemy, these books are essential reading.  For me they were a methadone that helped wean me off the heroin of religion, by helping me to see the deep, human structures of literature and how The Bible uses and misuses them.

Fortunately, there a plenty of other, positive reasons to avail yourself of Frye’s considered knowledge of literature and language. The books are crash courses in structure, metaphor and myth. The Great Code lays out the approach and Words of Power can be viewed as a series of case studies, always arguing for the centrality of literature to culture.

Certainly, many people would greatly benefit from putting aside for a spell their Barthes, Derrida and Foucault and reading some Frye. Oh, no she didn’t?! Oh, yes, she did! And then they should read the tenth and final book on my list, to be discussed tomorrow.

Book Ten of Ten


The First Scientist Anaximander and His Legacy by Carlo Rovelli, 2007, English translation 2011. Reading Rovelli I was struck by how his writing is complementary to that of Italo Calvino, whose Invisible Cities I put as Book 3 of 10.  In Calvino’s essay Lightness from Six Memos for the Next Millenium, he writes: “In the boundless universe of literature there are always new avenues to be explored, both very recent and very ancient, styles and forms that can change our image of the world….But if literature is not enough to assure me that I am not just chasing dreams, I look to science to nourish my visions in which all heaviness disappears.”

Rovelli, an Italian physicist whose specialty is loop quantum gravity, believes in the ability of science to bring new visions of the world into existence, and he uses literature, modern and ancient, to enliven his writing. He believes that science is more than reproducible, quantifiable results, he expounds the necessity of imagination and vision, and he sees visionary imagination as the intersection of science and poetry.

In this charming book he uses as his starting point Anaximander, the 6th Century BCE Greek philosopher who was the first person to realize that the earth was surrounded by space, both above and below. He calls him the first scientist because he was the first person to propose an understanding of the world that did not rely on the gods.

“The idea of formulating an understanding of the world without reference to the gods was a radical one in the sixth century BCE. It had immense consequences, paving the way for the philosophical and scientific developments that grew, in alternate phases, during the next twenty-six centuries. It represents one of the deepest roots of modernity. But it is not an idea that has prevailed. Many, perhaps most, people in our world dissent.”

What Rovelli invites us to do is to live in doubt, to constantly question both what we don’t know and what we believe we do know. This, he states, is the essence of science, and the essence of great art.

I recommend all of Rovelli’s books and chose Anaximander because it is the least intimidating to those who are put off by Einsteinian General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.  If Anaximander tickles your fancy, I would suggest you start with Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, 2014/2015 English translation, and then move on to Reality Is Not What It Seems, 2014/2016 English translation, and The Order of Time, 2017/2018 English translation.

Two other books, not by Rovelli, that I highly recommend for those interested in science and the arts are Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy and Literature,2002, by Peter Pesic and The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty by Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber.

To see all the posts on this blog with explicit and implicit gay content, click here.

guoande seal script jpegTo read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”
To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”
To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffinjust click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

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A Video Response to Li Qingzhao’s “Nostalgia for Fluting on the Phoenix Terrace”

 

Will Slack visited from Boston and we took the opportunity to record him reading Li Qingzhao’s  “Nostalgia for Fluting on the Phoenix Terrace” in the original Chinese and my response to it. Recorded at the Montreal Botanical Gardens.

The birds
The little birds
The little brown birds
The little brown birds
Sing wordless songs at dawn

The tree
The locust tree
The flowering locust tree
The flowering locust tree
Caressed all day by honeybees

The Moon
The Moon and Mars
The Moon and Mars—white and red
The Moon and Mars—white and red
Waltz through the midnight skies

Each day I rise
Each day I make the bed
Each day I listen to wordless songs
Watch the blossoms get caressed
Try to sleep with the Moon and Mars
Together waltzing through midnight stars

And I think at least the wind will blow
And the world will spin all of this away
Like you who would not stay
You who refuses to be seen
Not even in my dreams
Because if you could disappear
If you will not be here
Why should they persist?

The birds
The little birds
The little brown birds

AGG20140610

Depth charge: Li Qingzhao’s poem about separation from a loved one may have been the original impetus for this poem, but in the end it was a line from a Carter Family song Darling Little Joe: “Thelittle brown birds around the door,” that provided the key. I also found inspiration in Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World and, finally, by commenting on the locust tree outside my wind and being challenged by a friend to turn it into a poem.

Tune: “Nostalgia for Fluting on the Phoenix Terrace”
Separation
by Li Qingzhao

No more incense smoke from the gilt lion burner;
Quilts in the bed: a riot of crimson waves.
A night of unrestful sleep,
And I am in no mood to comb my hair,
Heedless that my jewelled toilet-set is covered with dust,
And the morning sun peeping above the curtain-hooks.
A jumble of parting thoughts,
Yet I hesitate on the verge of utterance
For fear of bitterness.
Of late I’ve been growing thin,
Not that I over-drink myself,
Nor from lament for the autumn.

Finished! Finished!
Ten thousand Songs of Farewell① failed to detain
The loved one-now gone f a r away
To Wu Ling Peach Blossom Springs. ②
Here in this mist-locked chamber
I sit brooding t h e livelong day,
With only the limpid stream showing me sympathy
As it glides quietly past the terrace.
A fresh wave of regret floods my heart
Where I gaze.

①  An allusion to a poem written by Wang Wei of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to see off a friend, which in later generations came to be widely used as a song of farewell, with its last line
“West of Yang Guan you’ll have no more old friends ” sung as a refrain. Yang Guan was an ancient pass in present-day Gansu province.

②  The poet compares her husband to the fisherman who sojourned in the Land of Peach Blossom Springs in Tao Yuanming’s Utopian essay.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

李清照凤凰台上忆吹箫
香冷金猊,被翻红浪,起来慵自梳头。任宝奁尘满,日上帘钩。生怕离怀别苦,多少事、欲说还休。新来瘦,非干病酒,不是悲秋。
休休,这回去也,千万遍《阳关》,也则难留。念武陵人远,烟锁秦楼。唯有楼前流水,应念我、终日凝眸。凝眸处,从今更添,一段新愁。

李清照鳳凰台上憶吹簫
香冷金猊,被翻紅浪,起來慵自梳頭。任寶奩塵滿,日上簾鉤。生怕離懷別苦,多少事、欲說還休。新來瘦,非干病酒,不是悲秋。
休休,這回去也,千萬遍《陽關》,也則難留。念武陵人遠,煙鎖秦樓。唯有樓前流水,應念我、終日凝眸。凝眸處,從今更添,一段新愁。

Lǐqīngzhào fènghuáng tái shàng yì chuī xiāo
Xiāng lěng jīn ní, bèi fān hóng làng, qǐlái yōng zì shūtóu. Rènbǎolián chén mǎn, rì shàng lián gōu. Shēngpà lí huái bié kǔ, duōshǎo shì, yù shuō hái xiū. Xīn lái shòu, fēi gàn bìng jiǔ, bùshì bēi qiū.
Xiū xiū, zhè huíqù yě, qiān wàn biàn “yáng guān”, yě zé nán liú . Niàn wǔlíng rén yuǎn, yān suǒ qín lóu. Wéiyǒu lóu qián liúshuǐ, yīng niàn wǒ, zhōngrì níngmóu. Níngmóu chù, cóng jīn gèng tiān, yīduàn xīn chóu.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

A Fool’s Game: A Response to “New Jade Candle” by Zhou Bangyan, attributed to Li Qingzhao

Lilac apple catalpa
Half-covered in fresh fallen
Snow—white on—white on—
My head’s an impossible
Conjunction of blooms

The Saint Lawrence slowly flows
Into the Yangtze River
Mount Royal rises
Beneath the Purple Mountain
Our arms are empty

Here—now—red and gold
Huddle randomly in drifts
At the wind’s mercy
Remembering’s a fool’s game
Sticking leaves back on the trees

AGG20151012

Depth Charge: Another poem universally attributed to Zhou Bangyan (Chou Pang-yen), yet included in the collection of Li Qingzhao poetry that I am using as a basis for this project. My translation of Zhou Bangyan’s poem may be found here,  Fittingly enough, my response deals with the inevitability of misremembering and misplacement.

Guo AndeTo read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

Translation: Zhou Bangyan’s “New Jade Candle”

By the stream after the month of dried meat and fish,
She saw bunches of river plum, and immediately began to trim them.
Building a bouquet from fragrant silk blossoms—
x     Confused and delicate,
x      Divulging her desires.
Last night in front of the village, in the yellowing dusk,
x      She longed to play with the moon.
The lonely bank steep, striped with shadows,
x     Pungent, hidden fragrances moistened her lapel and sleeves.
She lays her findings before the wine vessel,
Asking the distant mountains,
If they’ve heard anything about his return.
x     The aged sun pretends to struggle.
In the end he does not appear,
x     The river is a mere sliver of light.
x     A tender wind is graced with rain.
She randomly sticks the branches into her hair,
    Her head becomes a profusion of blossoms.
She must have faith, suppressing her sadness,
She reads the petition to the Emperor
x     Over and over again.

Translated by AGG20151009

Depth Charge: Another poem universally attributed to Zhou Bangyan (Chou Pang-yen), yet included in the collection of Li Qingzhao poetry that I am using as a basis for this project. On first encounter, I despaired of making heads or tails out of this poem; however, in my unsuccessful search for an English translation, I came across James Hightower’s article, “The Songs of Chou Pang-yen,” and his that statement the the best of Zhou Bangyan’s poems have “a narrative line that serves as a tenuous thread on which nuances of feeling are developed.” This caused the poem to form in my head, although my choice of pronoun, and the interpretation of some obscure phrases, should be regarded as nothing more than personal whimsy.

玉烛新 周邦彦

溪源新腊后。
见数朵江梅,剪裁初就。
晕酥砌玉芳英嫩,故把春心轻漏。
前村昨夜,想弄月,黄昏时候。
孤岸峭,疏影横斜,浓香暗沾襟袖。
尊前赋与多材,问岭外风光,故人知否。
寿阳谩斗。
终不似,照水一枝清瘦。
风娇雨秀。
好乱插,繁花盈首。
须信道,羌管无情,看看又奏。

Yù zhú xīn Zhōu Bāngyàn

xī yuán xīn là hòu.
Jiàn shù duǒ jiāng méi, jiǎncái chū jiù.
Yūn sū qì yù fāngyīng nèn, gù bǎ chūnxīn qīng lòu.
Qián cūn zuóyè, xiǎng nòng yuè, huánghūn shíhòu.
Gū àn qiào, shū yǐng héng xié, nóng xiāng àn zhān jīn xiù.
Zūn qián fù yǔ duō cái, wèn lǐng wài fēngguāng, gùrén zhī fǒu.
Shòu yáng mán dòu.
Zhōng bù shì, zhào shuǐ yīzhī qīngshòu.
Fēng jiāo yǔ xiù.
Hǎo luàn chā, fánhuā yíng shǒu.
Xū xìndào, xiāng guǎn wúqíng, kàn kàn yòu zòu.

Jade/candle/new Zhou Bangyan

Stream/source/new/12th Month/after.
See/many/bunches/river/plum, cut/trim/at first/right away.
Confused/silken/build by laying bricks/jade/fragrant/blossoms/delicate, therefore/hold/spring/feelings/gentle/divulge.
In front of/village/last night,want/to play with/moon, dusk/time.
Lonely/bank/high and steep, sparse/shadows/slanting/oblique, strong/pungent/hidden/moisten/lapel/sleeve.
Wine vessel/before/bestow/many/material, ask/mountain ridge/outside/landscape, old friend, know. not.
Old-age/sun/decieve/struggle.
End/not/appear, illuminate/river/one/branch/clear/thin.
Wind/delicate/rain/graceful.
Well/well/confusion/insert, flourishing/blossoms/full/head.
Must/trust/way,alone/cope/without/feeling, examine/again/memorial to the Emperor.

Guo AndeTo read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

رياح ليلة واحدة /The winds of one night: A response to Li Qingzhao’s “Picking Mulberry Seeds”

Once again I will try to fill the void
With desperate words and sad images,
If only I could write this in the script
Of your guttural native Arab tongue,
It’s fluid grace might be able to mask
These repetitive, plain phrases, dull pain
For one brief sentence, fragmentary phrase,
Allow you to move, breathe in memory,
Resurrect the flourishes of your life.
Strange that while your death was not violent,
It flows like blood—endless and recurrent,
A thing of fierce recursive beauty, dread.

The winds of one night
Can change the entire world
The winds of one night
Carried your last breath away
Now—much too late—we remark

AGG20150525
For ZG

Tune: “Picking Mulberry Seeds”
by Li Qingzhao

A gust of evening wind and rain
Washes the heat of blazing sunlight away.
My piping done,
I lightly touch up my face before the mirror.

Smooth as snow, fragrant as cream,
My soft skin glistens
In my flimsy sleeping-robe of purple silk.
I smile and say to my beloved:
“Tonight, our mat and pillows will be cool
Inside the gauze bed-curtains. ”

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

采桑子李清照
晚来一阵风兼雨,洗尽炎光。
理罢笙簧,却对菱花淡淡妆。
绛绡缕薄冰肌莹,雪腻酥香。
笑语檀郎,今夜纱厨枕簟凉。

Cǎi Sāng Zǐ Lǐ Qīngzhào
Wǎn lái yī zhèn fēng jiān yǔ , xǐ jìn yán guāng 。
Lǐ bà shēng huáng , què duì líng huā dàn dàn zhuāng 。
Jiàng xiāo lǚ báo bīng jī yíng , xuě nì sū xiāng 。
Xiào yǔ tán láng , jīn yè shā chú zhěn diàn liáng 。

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While We Waited for His Love: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “Rouged Lips”

One-thousand strands of worry
X    Wrapping a single,
X         Absent man,
X              A single kiss
X                   In a midnight garden,
During my lifetime we’ve killed
Half the wild animals on the planet
X    —but rescued so many, many
X          puppies and kittens—
All of this happened
While I gazed out windows
Waiting for him to arrive,
X    The ice caps melted
X         And the forests burned
While I cruised online
For sex with strangers,
X    The oceans acidified
X         And the fish
X              Went the way of the dodo,
All of this happened.
While I waited for love.

AGG20141008

Tune: “Rouged Lips”
Loneliness
by Li Qingzhao

Fine rain urges the falling petals,
And soon spring will be fled
Love it as I may.
A twinge in my aching heart,
And I am overwhelmed by a thousand sad thoughts,
Secluded in my lonely chamber.

Impossible to get out of this mood of depression,
Moving from one end of the balustrade to the other.
Where is he, the one dear to my heart?
The road by which he may return I cannot glimpse,
Withered grass stretching to the farthest skies.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

点绛唇李清照
寂寞深闺,柔肠一寸愁千缕。惜春春去,几点催花雨。
倚遍阑干,只是无情绪。人何处,连天衰草,望断归来路。

點絳唇李清照
寂寞深閨,柔腸一寸愁千縷。惜春春去,幾點催花雨。
倚遍闌干,只是無情緒。人何處,連天衰草,望斷歸來路。

Diǎn jiàng chún lǐqīngzhào
jìmò shēnguī, róucháng yīcùn chóu qiān lǚ. Xīchūn chūn qù, jǐ diǎn cuī huā yǔ.
Yǐ biàn lángān, zhǐshì wú qíngxù. Rén hé chù, liántiān shuāi cǎo, wàng duàn guīlái lù.

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Resurrection Spell: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “On the Trail of Sweet Incense”

Sorry to wake you—
So new to the grave—with my
Resurrection spell
Clawing at the fresh-turned earth
And chrysanthemums wilting

Should I let you settle in
Let silent worms gnaw awhile
Before I begin
With my incessant chanting
Demanding a sign

A danse macabre
Some late-night chain rattling
Disembodied moans
So as not to face alone
The fact you’re as good as gone

Now the leaves are red and gold
Dark clouds roil the autumn sky
We’re in for a spell
Of wind—rain—then peaceful snows
Best wait until spring

AGG20141006
(for ZG)

Depth Charge: This series of mirrored tankas is both a response to Li Qingzhao’s “On the Trail of Sweet Incense” and another in a series poems about the sudden death of Ziad Ghawi.

“On the Trail of Sweet Incense”
by Li Qingzhao

Golden chrysanthemums just in bloom
Tell of the approach of the Double Ninth Festival.
A bounteous gift from Heaven these autumnal tints,
Which however bring sadness in their train
As circumstances change.
I try on my thin dress, taste new-brewed wine,
Aware that I am in for
A spell of wind,
A spell of rain,
A spell of cold.

Yellowing twilight fills my rooms
With gloom and anxiety.
Memories of heart-rending sorrow
Overwhelm me as I sober up from wine.
An unending night,
A full moon flooding an empty bed.
In my ears the dull thud
Of mallets on the washing-blocks,
The feeble chirp of crickets,
The monotonous dripping of the clepsydra.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Depth Charge: Although no indication is given in the collection I am using for the basis of this series responses, this poem is widely believed not to be one of Li Qingzhao’s, as it does not appear in any collection of her poetry until the Ming Dynasty, more than four hundred years after her death.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

行香子李清照
天与秋光,转转情伤。探金英、知近重阳。薄衣初试,绿蚁初尝。渐一番风、一番雨、一番凉。
黄昏院落,恓恓惶惶。酒醒时、往事愁肠。那堪永夜,明月空床。闻砧声捣、蛩声细、漏声长。

Xíng xiāngzǐ Lǐ Qīngzhào
Tiān yǔ qiūguāng, zhuǎn zhuǎn qíng shāng . Tàn jīn yīng, zhī jìn chóngyáng . Báoyī chūshì, lǜ yǐ chū cháng . Jiàn yī fān fēng, yī fān yǔ, yī fān liáng.
Huánghūn yuànluò, xī xī huánghuáng . Jiǔ xǐng shí, wǎngshì chóucháng. Nà kān yǒng yè, míngyuè kōng chuáng . Wén zhēn shēng dǎo, qióng shēng xì, lòu shēng zhǎng.

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To Reach the Palace of Heaven: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “On the Trail of Sweet Incense”

They said we could sail to the east,
For ten long days and ten dark nights,
Reach that shining, singular spot,
Where Milky Way and ocean meet,
Ride a silver river of stars,
Up endless layers of clouds like stairs,
And reach the Palace of Heaven—
Its lunar floors shimmering bright—
And dance our eternity there.
At one time they swore this was true.
Perhaps it was, but beyond doubt
Is that of all those who set out
To reach the Palace of Heaven,
None was seen or heard from again.

AGG20140927

Tune: “On the Trail of Sweet Incense”
The Seventh Day of the Seventh Lunar Month①
by Li Qingzhao

A deep gloom broods over Heaven and Earth.
In the rank grass crickets are chirping,
And parasol-trees, startled, let fall their leaves.
Clouds for stairs, the moon for floor,
To Heaven the way is blocked by a thousand barriers ,
And floating rafts ply to and fro
To no avail. ②

On this night magpies form a star bridge to span the Milky Way,
Where Cowboy and Weaving Maid keep their yearly tryst .
Endless must be their murmurings of love and regret
After long separation!
But whence these sudden changes
Of sun and rain and wind
In the midst of their love-making?
Can it be that they are taking leave of each other
At this very moment?

①A beautiful folk-tale dating back many centuries says that the Cowboy and the Weaving Maid (the two stars Altair and Vega on opposites ides of the Milky Way) loved each other so much that they incurred the displeasure of the Emperor of Heaven for neglect of duty and were permitted to meet only once a year on the night of the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month, crossing the Milky Way by a bridge formed by magpies.

②According to the Book of Natural Science (博物志/bó​wùzhì), written by Zhang Hua/张华 (232–300) of the Jin Dynasty, in ancient times the Milky Way was connected with the sea, and people setting out from the sea on a huge wooden raft, would reach Heaven after sailing ten-odd days. There they could catch sight of the Weaving Maid busy at her loom in the palace and the Cowboy herding cattle on the bank of the Heavenly River.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

行香子七夕李清照
草际鸣蛩,惊落梧桐,正人间、天上愁浓。云阶月地,关锁千重。纵浮槎来,浮槎去,不相逢。
星桥鹊驾,经年才见,想离情、别恨难穷。牵牛织女,莫是离中。甚霎儿晴,霎儿雨,霎儿风。

行香子七夕李清照
草際鳴蛩,驚落梧桐,正人間、天上愁濃。雲階月地,關鎖千重。縱浮槎來,浮槎去,不相逢。
星橋鵲駕,經年才見,想離情、別恨難窮。牽牛織女,莫是離中。甚霎兒晴,霎兒雨,霎兒風。

xíng xiāngzǐ qīxì Lǐ Qīngzhào
Cǎo jì míng qióng, jīng luò wútóng, zhèng rénjiān, tiānshàng chóu nóng. Yún jiē yuè de, guān suǒ qiān zhòng. Zòng fú chá lái, fú chá qù, bù xiāngféng.
Xīng qiáo què jià, jīng nián cái jiàn, xiǎng líqíng, bié hèn nán qióng. Qiān niú zhīnǚ, mò shì lí zhōng. Shén shà er qíng, shà er yǔ, shà er fēng.

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Somewhere in Lebanon: A Response to “Peaches of the Two-Coloured Palace”

Somewhere in Lebanon
There’s a patch of fresh-turned earth,
Everywhere the last flowers of summer
Are being blown away by the night wind.

So many friends who’d have made
Such excellent old men have died too young,
Each new friend multiplies our pleasures,
This year past, a stream of laments.

Perhaps it will fall to me
To be the old man I often see
In a cream suit, brown cardigan and olive tie,
Singular in the early autumn sun,
Moving shakily through the park—
Head gradually emptied of memory,
Each breath a slow fade.

AGG20140821
(for ZG)

Al Ziz /  الزيز

What Possible Pleasures

Peaches of the Two-Coloured Palace
Attributed to Li Qingzhao

Soft, fragrant buds of carved jade dot its stem,
The 10,000 Tree Garden is desolate in the first month of the year.
A single branch breaches the snow with blooms,
Who can be entrusted with the letter that waits south of the river?

The year before last we shared the beauty of Climb-High Pavilion,
This past year a lament, all our joys fled like yesterday.
I listen to the carefree line of song that says:
In a place where many flowers bloom, expect pleasure.

Translated by AGG.

Depth Charge: I can find no other source that attributes this poem to Li Qingzhao, and it is not include in Jiaosheng Wang’s The Complete Ci-Poems of Li Qingzhao: A New English Translation. However, it is included in the book of Li Qingzhao’s poetry that I purchased in China and that is basis of this project; therefore, I have attempted my own translation on which to base the response.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

二色宫桃 李清照
镂玉香苞酥点萼,正万木园林萧索。唯有一枝雪里开,江南有信凭谁托。前年记尝登高阁,叹年来、旧欢如昨。听取乐天一句云:花开处且须行乐。

二色宮桃 李清照
鏤玉香苞酥點萼,正萬木園林蕭索。唯有一枝雪裡開,江南有信憑誰托。前年記嘗登高閣,嘆年來、舊歡如昨。聽取樂天一句云:花開處且須行樂。

èr sè gōng táo Lǐ Qīngzhào
lòu yù xiāng bāo sū diǎn è 。
zhèng wàn mù , yuán lín xiāo suǒ 。
wéi yǒu yī zhī xuě lǐ kāi , jiāng nán yǒu xìn píng shuí tuō 。
qián nián jì shǎng dēng gāo gé 。
tàn nián lái , jiù huān rú zuó 。
tīng qǔ lè tiān yī jù yún : huā kāi chǔ , qiě xū xíng lè 。

Two/colour/palace/peach/Li/Qingzhao
engrave/jade/fragrant/bud/soft/dot/stem, first month/10,000/wood/bleak/melancholy. Only/have/one/branch/snow/in/bloom, River/South/have/letter/rely on/who/give. Before/year/remember/try already/climb/high/chamber. Lament/year/past, Old/joy/like/yesterday. Listen/to/care-free/one/line/says: Flower/bloom/place/moreover/expect/pleasure.

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A Cicada’s Swan Song: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “Spring in the Jade Pavilion”

“We survived. You and I. And those who survive have a duty. Our duty is to do our best to keep on living. Even if our lives are not perfect. ”
from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

How could either of us have known
My plastic balcony table
Would be your final resting place?

When I saw you there, I thought
You were already dead
So I picked you up; I noticed,
Your filigreed, shimmering wings,
Your two dark, oval eyes,
Your tapered, beveled body—
And then the white mold
Coating your underside—
A scourge to your kind.

Suddenly, you buzzed.
The unexpected movement,
Violent between my fingers,
Startled me into dropping you
Back onto the tabletop—
To you just another predator foiled.

Over the course of the day,
You crawled to the edge,
Then clung to the side,
And that is where you died.

The chemicals in your brain
Arranged into a song of longing,
Did you succeed in passing
Your sad melody along?
Does a slit in a twig somewhere
Conceal eggs that already know the tune?

No matter, your agonies
Pierced an untold number
Of smaller beings—like me,
For your vibrating heart
Shields a silence
That—like desire—the wind,
Though warm and merciless,
Cannot carry away.

AGG20140827

Tune: “Spring in the Jade Pavilion”
by Li Qingzhao

Red Plum Blossom
Soft red petals ready to unfold,
Luscious jade-green buds begin to break.
Tell me, are her southern branches all in full bloom?
I know not how much perfume she has in store,
I am only aware that her heart is throbbing
with boundless love.

The Taoist recluse at the spring window, how she pines!
No leaning against the balustrade, her mood so depressed.
Come have a drink, if you will, with no more ado.
Who knows but that tomorrow the wind may blow the
blossoms away?

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.

《玉楼春》 李清照
红酥肯放琼苞碎,探著南枝开遍未。不知酝藉几多香,但见包藏无限意。
道人憔悴春窗底,闷损阑干愁不倚。要来小酌便来休,未必明朝风不起。

《玉樓春》李清照
紅酥肯放瓊苞碎,探著南枝開遍未。不知醞藉幾多香,但見包藏無限意。
道人憔悴春窗底,悶損闌干愁不倚。要來小酌便來休,未必明朝風不起。

“Yùlóu chūn” Lǐ Qīngzhào
Hóng sū kěn fàng qióng bāo suì , tànzhe nán zhī kāi biàn wèi. Bùzhī yùn jí jǐ duō xiāng , dàn jiàn bāocáng wúxiàn yì.
Dàoren qiáocuì chūn chuāng dǐ , mèn sǔn lángān chóu bù yǐ. Yào lái xiǎo zhuó biàn lái xiū , wèibì míng cháo fēng bù qǐ.

“Jade/Storied Building/Spring” Li Qingzhao
Red/silky/willing/release/jade/bud/break, search/to make know/southern/branch/open/all over/not yet. Not knowing/harbor/conceal/how/much/fragrance, but/appear/to contain/unbounded/meaning.
Taoist/person/wan/sallow/spring/window/bottom, gloomy/decrease/balustrade/worry/not/rely on. Must/come/drink/snack/come/rest, maybe not/tomorrow morning/wind/not/rise.

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