I'm honored and excited to have been asked again this year to read at Day of the Dead Beats, which goes down (or, maybe, on and on ...) this Saturday, Nov. 1 at The Way Out Club, 2525 S. Jefferson, starting at 8 p.m. with a $3 cover.
Last year I did Kenneth Rexroth, choosing to read from his Chinese translations to make a point. The Beats are remembered (and often imitated) for their sensuous responses to new, intense kinds of experiences (like newly discovered forms of sex and drugs). But they were bookworms too, even scholars, however much they might have thumbed their noses (among other appendages) at the academy.
They broke a lot of rules, but they learned a lot of rules before they started breaking them. And they invented (or adapted) new poetic forms, but they learned (and enjoyed) a lot of existing poetic forms before they tried to do their own thing. Rexroth's translations are a vivid reminder of that.
This year I am doing some of his Japanese translations. I read a New Directions paperback of this stuff on tour as a musician about 15 years ago, but put it back on the bookshelf in the crash pad when I was finished (after copying down some fragments that we turned into a song, "Those Born After Me," with a hook borrowed from Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, by way of Rexroth: "May those who are born after me/ Never travel such roads of love").
Last night, I sifted through the Rexroth archive on The Bureau of Public Secrets and found quite a lot of Japanese stuff. I decided I'll read only women Japanese poets he (co)translated, to compensate for something that aggravates organizer Brett Underwood every year: that there just weren't very many female Beat poets. Almost none.
However, in a confluence that amazes even this guy who goes through life looking for confluences, I managed to find a poem by a Japanese woman (cotranslated by Rexroth) that reads more than a little like a Beat poem. The poem even has a penis, named more bluntly than "penis"!
This poem by Shiraishi Kazuko (and the other poems I will read Saturday) were published in Women Poets of Japan, which Rexroth translated with Ikuko Atsumi. The painting of Shiraishi Kazuko performing on her 77th birthday this past Feb. 10 (above) is by Hisami.
THE MAN ROOT
For Sumiko’s Birthday
By Shiraishi Kazuko
God if he exists
Or if he doesn’t
Still has a sense of humor
Like a certain type of man
So this time
He brings a gigantic man root
To join the picnic
Above the end of the sky of my dreams
I didn’t give Sumiko anything for her birthday
But now I wish I could at least
Set the seeds of that God given penis
In the thin, small, and very charming voice of Sumiko
On the end of the line
Sumiko, I’m so sorry
But the penis shooting up day by day
Flourishes in the heart of the galaxy
As rigid as a wrecked bus
So that if You’d like to see
The beautiful sky with all its stars
Or just another man instead of this God given cock
A man speeding along a highway
With a hot girl
You’ll have to hang
All the way out of the bus window
With your eyes peeled
It’s spectacular when the cock
Starts nuzzling the edge of the cosmos
At this time
The lonely way the stars of night shine
And the curious coldness of noon
Penetrates my gut
Or even if you refused to look
You’d go crazy
Because you can trace
The nameless, impersonal and timeless penis
In the raucous atmosphere
Of the passers-by
That parade it in a portable shrine
In that stir of voices
You can hear an immensity of savage
Rebellion, the curses of
Sometimes God is in conference or out to lunch
It seems he’s away
Absconding from debts but leaving his penis.
The cock abandoned by God
Trots along Young and gay
And full of callow confidence
Amazingly like the shadow
Of a sophisticated smile
The penis bursting out of bounds
The penis bursting out of bounds
And beyond measure
Truly unique and entirely alone
Seen from whatever perspective
It’s faceless and speechless
I would like to give you, Sumiko
Something like this for your birthday
When it envelops your entire life
And you’ve become invisible even to yourself
Occasionally you’ll turn into the will
Of exactly this penis
I want to catch in my arms
Someone like you
SHIRAISHI KAZUKO (b. 1931)
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi.
Other readers on the gig Saturday with their Dead Beats:
Kenneth Brown - William S. Burroughs
Michael Franklin - Gregory Corso's "Bomb"
Greg Hazleton - Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ann Haubrich - Jack Kerouac.
Brock Walker - Gary Snyder
K. Curtis Lyle - Bob Kaufmann
Bob Wilcox - Allen Ginsberg.
Bob Putnam - Herbert Huncke.
Phil Gounis - Jack Micheline
Agnes Wilcox - Diane DiPrima
Brett Underwood - Charles Bukowski
Erin Wiles - Anne Waldman
Joe Wetteroth - Kenneth Patchen
Michael Castro - Philip Lamantia