Saturday, August 28, 2010

Put these in your Kindle . . .

. . . (or some other e-reader) . . .
                                                                                     . . . and smoke (read) em!

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A
Celebration
of
certain
little
Cid Corman
books:






followed by a celebration
of a few books by others
of a design very similar to the Corman titles
and more recently published by
Country Valley Press:




(yes, this is a longish post, but oh the books, and the poems!)


Let us, dear readers of the glade, delight today – luxuriate, enjoy, revel – in certain little books of poetry by Cid Corman published in the1960s and early 1970s, and then do the same with a few poetry books published recently by Northern Nevada’s Country Valley Press that have the same look as the Corman books.

All these books have something in the way they are made and feel in the hand, something in how they look to the eyes, that greatly increases the pleasure of the experience of reading the poetry printed within. I can’t exactly articulate what this added value is, and can’t possibly measure it. Maybe I can just say that the books are nice. Cool. Fun. Modest. Cute. Handsome. Simple. And yes, lovely. Well designed and well-made. Objects in which form closely parallels substance.

As pointedly suggested by the title of this post, e-readers for me can’t possibly provide anything close to the sensation of actually having books like these in hand. Yes, a portable screen with digitized images would easily present the words, the poems. But the poetry? The poetry of the experience?

That would be a negative. Gone would be the feeling, and important sensation, that each collection, each little book-object as a whole, is – danger, romanticized sentimental bibliophilia coming here, but really, this is what I think – a kind of small bird, a beating heart, a physical presence, a life-thing unto itself, that you can specially hold, look into, cherish, remember, and return to.

This is all highly ironic to say here, via computer, but still. If you can swing it, get one or more in hand, either via buying one used (currently copies of individual titles are priced at around $20 and up) or get to a library (rare book collections, mostly) that has ‘em, and give it a try.

In the meantime, the following parade – with stops along the way to take in a bit of poetry – maybe can give a sense of what I mean. Let’s start with the Cid Corman books. Each is 3.5" x 5" with Japanese-sewn wraps and a paper label affixed to the front. All are unpaginated but have 16 numbered but untitled poems, each of which is no more than a page each (and often much shorter). Each book also has a dedicatory poem and a poem-coda, both of which are italicized.

The fourteen little books pictured below may not be all in this style that Corman published (I’m working on finding out if there are any others) and of course there are plenty of other Corman books that are small and/or bound in Japanese-sewn wraps. What follows, then, is an almost complete show of a particular, and particularly charming, kind of Corman book. Please enjoy:


for sure
(Origin Press, 1960)
[number in edition not stated]

I picked a
leaf up

it weighed
my vision

I knelt and
placed it

almost
where it was

This is a very early, perhaps the first, publication of this often re-printed poem, which Corman in 2001 (click here) said was probably his most famous work. When Corman recites the poem (he begins about a minute into the recording linked to here), he carefully emphasizes the “almost” that begins the final couplet. That “almost,” I think, suggests the closeness of his observations (he sees that the leaf doesn’t get it exactly back in place), his fidelity or honesty in reporting the actual scene, and his humbleness with respect to what he, the poet, can do.

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for instance
(Origin Press, 1962)
[number in edition not stated]

a violet pink
a peaked

red roof
and a roof
beyond

soft black

This being a poem, it needs no explanation (that’s a paraphrase of Basil Bunting, regarding his own Briggflatts, a complex and difficult work) and the same “no explanation it’s a poem” is also true, maybe even more so, of Corman’s work, which is generally quite (and beautifully) transparent.

So I’ll just say of the poem above that the hard consonants of its first lines hit and send me hard, and very well, that I always “see” the rows of roofs, and am always killed by the “soft black” alone at the end. Is it the “soft black” of a roof, the coming on of the night sky, the “soft black” of the mind? Answer: Yes.

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for good
(Origin Press, 1964)
[number in edition not stated]

The kitten,
put out there,
in the

dark, mews. What
else is there
to do?

Who says a poem with a kitten must be cuddly and cute? I don’t get feel that in this one. This one seems lonely, even harsh. And maybe it’s the poet who mews, too.

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for you
(Origin Press, 1966)
[100 copies]
[distributed at the wedding of Corman and Konishi Shizumi]

Old ladies
among the plums,
as if there

werent a
moment to lose,
lost in it.

I friggin’ love this poem, including the quick-change of “lose” to “lost.” The reverie in intensity, and the self-less moment. Dig too the absence of the apostrophe in the otherwise contracted werent. You wouldnt think that leaving out the punctuation mark would make a big difference. But it does, via compression.

Shadows of bamboo
sweeping steps to the temple
shift no dust.

This poem, also from for you, has at least three ghosts: a broom, the person using it, and, the big one, the obviously very wind. Poetry too in the “sh” or “sw” sounds that begin each line.

Rice on the
racks and the
fields empty

Two women
in aprons
at an edge

breath at the
sky as they
squat smoking.

This last poem here from for you has an image in the final line – “[t]wo women” who “squat smoking” – that is given what it describes exactly where it ought to be, down low beneath it all. A similar effect is felt earlier in the final stanza, as the words (“breath at the / sky”) showing that the women exhale up (a classic smoker thing!) direct the reader’s attention to the stanzas above.

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for granted
(Elizabeth Press, 1967)
[500 copies]

An apple
on the table
celebrates.

I happen to believe that the apple actually did celebrate, and that it still does. Oh yes, this is a small poem, from a small book. But a small idea? A poem that wasn’t important then, still-born when published, and now even more old-fashioned and threadbare?

I reject any response like that as small-minded and cold-hearted. Poems such as the one above, to paraphrase and quote from Corman, are a realization shared, that was and is an “OCCASION.” And thus the poem becomes, and remains, a timeless person-to-person exchange, a thing as rich, new, alive, and important as anything.

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no less
(Elizabeth Press, 1968)
[500 copies]

The wind bell
bell wind un-
answering

The palindromed adjective-noun combo here, sounding the sound, or not, is sweet.

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no more
(Elizabeth Press, 1969)
[1000 copies]

Core of
an apple
rusts

light
of an old
lantern

Hey, hey what do you say, I’ve rolled out another poem with apple, just for you. And speaking of you, do you know what Corman wrote – in “Poetry as a Mode of Realization” (1969) – about his poems, and those who read them? Here it is:
The poem is yours or no one’s.
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for keeps
(Origin Press, 1970)
[300 copies]

Leaf   c
leave
here

Well here we have a cummings-like split word, and this one especially excites because it involves an autoantonym, those wondrous words that can mean the opposite of itself. I’m pretty sure the leaf “here” is splitting apart from the branch, given how “cleave” is broke apart, but it’s also entirely true that the leave, having fallen, sticks “here” too.

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nigh
(Elizabeth Press, 1970)
[500 copies]

I mean hot!
Too much to
think of what
it might mean

Last week we had a stretch of a couple days – it happens two or three times a year here San Francisco – during which the temperature here in the City hit the mid-90s. The natural air conditioner that otherwise keeps things very cool – seen most dramatically in the fog that rolls through the gaps and over the hills, a phenomenon caused by differences in atmospheric pressure over the sea and inland areas, plus the consequences of ocean upwelling and the Coriolis Force – shuts down, and suddenly it’s hot. I’m telling you, it was hot! To quote Corman’s first line, “I mean hot!” Please see again the rest of the poem above, which I thought about more than a few times this past week.

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for now
(Origin Press, 1971)
[300 copies]

wet red
berry
day red-
der yet

Will you look at that: “redder” -- as the hyphenation at the line break plainly shows -- is a palindrome-word, and all the “re” and “er” in this poem act to intensify the colors.

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be quest
(Elizabeth Press, 1972)
[300 copies]

The rain is
the sound of
it—it it

until it
makes meaning
make meaning

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling me just what a . . . . But this drums stronger, a lot more insistent, than then syrup-sweet line of the Cascades song. The the it it it it makes meaning make meaning. And don’t you forget it (or it-it either!).

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so far
(Elizabeth Press, 1973)
[300 copies]

To embrace
a tree – how
silly can
you get – yet

to want to
dance with it
the way the
wind’s doing

This is a poem of total self-admitted goofy sincerity and – look, folks, I’m a equal opportunity polyamorous tree-huggin’ type – so I say hell yes let’s like Cid get down tonight (do a little dance, make a little love) with all the he, she, LGBT trees!

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yet
(Elizabeth Press, 1974)
[500 copies]

A
salamander

halfturned
at a rain

from
a pin of
the pine

like a question
mark

drop

This here’s a classic example of an interpolated poem (see also cummings’ classic “l(a” in which “a leaf falls” within the word loneliness), which among other things gives a sort of cubist twist to the observed details. There’s the added surprise here of the final word looking like the point at the bottom of the question mark described just above in the poem.

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meed
(Origin Press, 1976)
[300 copies]

Mist
bell
far

De-
cem-
ber

baf
-fling
-fled.

And we end with a poem with that gives you, in a way, a choice of endings in its two suffixes. Of course each line here is but a single (single) syl-la-ble, as we must imagine the bell sounds seemed to be. And then there are –fling and –fled: ignoring the root to which they should be affixed, those words imply something quickly thrown and quickly gone. Attached to the root, and thus forming baffling and baffled, they end the poem with a current and forever mystery, and mystery forever to be thought upon, and heard.

Thanks, Cid!

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Country Valley Press, headed by Mark Kuniya, has published limited edition poetry books and broadsides for about five years now, first from Gardnerville, Nevada and now in Zephyr Cove, a town at Lake Tahoe and also in the Silver State.

As Kuniya says on the website, “[t]he first series of publications from Country Valley Press” were made to continue the tradition of Corman’s little books, printed in limited print runs and bound like them. Here are images of the covers of each, and, for the final two pictured below, the most recent of this series, a poem or excerpt along with a brief discussion:


John Martone
terraria

(Country Valley Press, 2006)
[4.25" x 5.5"]
[50 copies]

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Scott Watson
a breath apart

(Country Valley Press, 2006)
[4.25" x 5.5"]
[50 copies]
[pictured against blue background]

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Bob Arnold
life’s little day

(Country Valley Press, 2007)
[4.25" x 5.5"]
[100 copies]

Bob Arnold, who with his wife Susan operates Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers in southernVermont, is one of the energy-wonders of poetry. Almost like nobody else, he puts it down, and gets it out, and I mean his own work and that written by others, mostly in small booklets or folded broadsides but also in more substantial collections.

I like the sensibility and care Arnold brings to words, to his poems. It’s wise and empathetic, schooled by experience and curiosity, and yet the instincts are right too. The following poem from life’s little day seems to me a good example of his spirit and craft. I think the poem gets into some of the same realities that are in back of Wallace Steven’s “Disillusionment at Ten O’Clock” (click here to read that one, if you please), except in Arnold’s nine-line poem the vital creative force is more directly present and foregrounded:
YOUR

Many colored
bright striped
walking skirt

out in the gray woods
gray houses
gray neighbors

they can’t help
but sneak
a peek
This poem also shows how Arnold can get a little fun into some of his poems; here it is the humorous and – I’ll insist – universal curiosity most of us have about those whom we live amongst, with the sly recognition of what is happening matching the slyness of those taking a quick look at the flamboyant woman coming through.

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Jeffery Beam
an invocation

(Country Valley Press, 2009)
[3.5" x 5"]
[100 copies]

This little book, exactly the same size as all the Corman books pictured above, presents a single long short-poem of 60 lines. There are four lines (a single quatrain) to a page, or more accurately – and this here is the dang interesting thing about this book and poem – there are four lines to each two pages: each line begins with a phrase on left side and then concludes with a separate phrase on the opposing right-hand page, with the book’s gutter creating a natural break, a point of pause, between the two parts. Here’s how it looks (click on the image, and then click again to enlarge, to read the text; other parts of the poem are quoted below):



I think it amazing that the book’s structure becomes a part of the poem, and it really works well in Country Valley’s little book. Here, the gutter is not so large, and the page size and design naturally limits the number of lines per page. The eye and mind go horizontally across the page, does a little jump over the gutter, and then take in the concluding phrase for each line. The poem’s also included – in fact it opens – Beam’s Gospel Earth (Skyskill Press, 2010), and for me it doesn’t work as well there because the line-pauses are set up typographically on the page, and up to a half-dozen quatrains are presented on each of the three pages on which the poem’s presented.

But of course here in this post you’re going to see an excerpt from the poem without a gutter. This then provides a clear example of how the physical book, the small Country Valley Press edition, trumps any e-reader or digital display of the poetry. The gutter in the book makes the pause in each line between the call and response real, a physical fact, a space in which one can feel that the poem’s action – and your mind a readers – take a small leap before continuing. It makes for a far more memorable experience than the flat screen.

So, here are the screen-versions of the fourth and fifth quatrains of an invocation:
From rosehip & goldfinch                       thorn & bright needle
From storm clouds gathering                 light darting through us
From April’s spring torrents                   creek’s roaring persistence
From pond over-flowing                          swamp’s restraint ending

From the word unblemished                  robust declension
From honesty in bloom                            articulate blue
From granite to flagstone                        columbine freshes
From cat-paw & wind-blow                    soft goes the morning
Although sometimes Beam trades in more general terms, most of the paired phrases in an invocation include natural details similar to those quoted above. All the details seem very particular to the North Carolina area where Beam was born, raised and has long-lived. The relationships between the call and the across the page-gutter response are sometimes complementary, sometimes supplemental, and at other times the juxtapositions just are, with the connection being more or less hidden (and per Heraclitus, thereby stronger). This Country Valley edition is an excellent poem of a place, neatly conceived, well written, and presented in a most beautiful Corman-style book, taking full advantage of the little book’s form.

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Cid Corman
(June 29, 1924 – March 12, 2004)
[photo by Lisa Mahoney]

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10 comments:

Ed Baker said...

well...

WOW!

and a tip of my hat to yuh!

was just "feeling" Cid's "little ones" last night

and some feelings!

there is NOTHING like a book in the hand

and a poem in the heart/mind, eh?

no to read your essay.

ciaoo, Ed

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Steven,

how right you are! Nothing replaces the 'aesthetics' of a Japanese-sewn wrap publication. I love these limited print-run Cormanesque editions.I have Ed Baker's "things just come thru" by Red Ochre Press, among others. In fact, I have Ed to thank for introducing me to Corman & the Corman literary tradition of Marton, Watson, Arnold, etc. Superb minimalist writing!

Thank you for posting those poetry gems.I particularly like the Beam quatrains, each line an almost perfect 3-beat meter.

Anonymous said...

speaking of Country Valley Press

check out this "rub" of broadsides mark has done..

maybe even buy the series? support a little press with an huge heart!

http://web.mac.com/countryvalley/Country_Valley/Empty_Hands.html

ciaoo, Kokkie-san

Jeffery Beam said...

Dear Steven
What a feast to be reminded once again of these Cid Cormanesques. I own a few and frequently hold them in hand - each one a suiseki. I'd always wanted to feel one of my own poems in the same way and when Bob Arnold introduced me to Mark Kuniya at Country Valley I have to admit I lusted like a dragon to have a poem of mine presented in the beloved form. Thank you too, then, for your appreciation of "An Invocation" - Mark's work is not only homage to Cid, but to a book-making and poem-making tradition that is timeless. As you say a "kind of small bird, a beating heart.." I feel very privileged for "An Invocation" to be part of that tradition. I agree that the caesura works even better in the Country Valley edition than in my "Gospel Earth". Continued love and homage to Cid for all he taught and continues to teach (and share) with us. And once again deep thanks to you for reminding us.

Anonymous said...

Steven,

Well done and thank you for featuring the CVP books. If only Cid was here to see this. The picture and note on FOR YOU is especially significant for me. I've been hunting for a copy but unfortunately it's one of the rarer titles. The only other copy I've seen was Shizumi's personal copy. I started CVP with her in mind.

Mark

Joseph Hutchison said...

Gorgeous, Steven! Reminds us again how the feel of the paper, the smell of it, the sound of pages turning—all irreplaceable, especially for poetry, and especially for Corman's poetry. Staring into a Kindle doesn't inspire wakefulness or meditation. It's all click-driven onwardness. To what end...?

Steven Fama said...

Thanks everyone, for the comments so far.

Joseph H, the up-sides to e-readers I can see are (1) the ability to store large numbers of books in a very small space, (2) the ability to electronically search for particular text (3) ease of distribution. Those are similar to the music and the iPod, and I myself think them significant advantages.

And yet I cannot hope for books to vanish, even just going forward, and in fact (obviously) hope they continue to thrive. As your comment (speaking here again of Joseph H.) suggests, all books, and these books (the Corman and the Country Valley Press publications) in particular, would lose something huge in an e-reader.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Steven. Your enthusiasm is infectious! All heart.

And thanks for summing up CF in one phrase "small-minded & cold-hearted." In a nutshell. And I thought he just lacked a sense of humor!

Zaev

Steven Fama said...


Just a note here to acknowledge that on September 3, 2010, I revised the post to add the first listed Corman title (for sure), and the discussion beneath it, and to revise the introductory text in the post to reflect the additional book in the parade!

donnafleischer said...

Bob and Sue Arnold's Longhouse Publishers published and sells Cid Corman books. &

i love this post 7 will cross post at word pond. many thanks! -Donna