ALBERT RUSSO: A Letter to Authors, Artists, and Poets.

 

(photo by Per Eidspjeld)

 

Dear Readers and Colleagues,

These are challenging times for many — including for both well-known and lesser-known authors, poets, artists, musicians, etc. I have invited a few of my international colleagues to write short pieces or to be interviewed by me about how they are faring. My friend, colleague, and co-author Albert Russo has accordingly penned the following message to share with readers and followers of my blog:

 

ALBERT RUSSO: A Letter to Authors, Artists, and Poets.

Dear writers, poets, and artists,

I am writing to you because I consider you part of my extended family.  This will be an informal, intimate letter, for I empathize with you. It seems that we are all floating in what resembles a Noah’s Ark of the size of a mega cruise ship.  Most of us are struggling to get read and appear in the public scene; a happy few have ‘made it’, and so goes the world.  But we have to carry on in what we believe is most important to us and try to do the best we can.  Of course, we wish to appeal to the largest possible audience, of course, we hope to live from our work, it is only legitimate. 

Everyone has his / her writing discipline.  I, for one, start my work in the early afternoon and try to carry it for 6 or 7 hours, whether I write two lines or 2 pages.  Students have asked me whether I enjoyed writing.  My answer was, sometimes, but often enough, it is trying. Writing to me is existential, meaning that, I have to write like I have to breathe, I have to eat and I have to sleep.  Do we always sleep well?  Aren’t we sometimes out of breath?  Do we always enjoy our food, when we are in a hurry and need to run to an important appointment, or when there is an emergency?  

To you, aspiring authors and artists, I have one piece of advice:  enter this field with passion, only if you cannot live without writing or painting, or sculpting.  Your first motive should NOT be to succeed by making money.  Hone your art, become its muse, and if, later on, you are lucky enough to strike it big, then bravo!  

I, who am addressing you today, belong to the huge crowd of writers and artists, still trying to get the attention of those professionals who would allow me to reach a wider readership and audience.  It is, I must admit, harrowing at times, and frustrating, but such is our trade. And if we do not accept this, then we should try to turn to something else which is less stressful, more pleasurable.  During this terrible pandemic, some people have been able to turn around, discovering new ways of living.  No one says that it is easy. Be imaginative.     

 

TO MY FELLOW POETS

 

a scathing review

should not cast you in a trance 

tho your blood cries out

are you stuck with words? 

then string them around your neck 

they will set you free

whatever they say

remember Kipling’s advice 

about self-control

a drop of honey

a taste of eternity 

wrapped in syllables

thanks to the haiku 

you can recreate the world 

or leave not a trace

before man could speak 

he knew poetry 

by intuition

 

 

foreign relations 

is the language one uses 

when love has no place

like ships in the night 

like clouds shredding in the blue 

like your closing heart

the boat is sinking 

but who thinks of the havoc 

wrought in the ocean

travel to the stars 

with your bag of memories 

and earth’s illusions

in desperation

let dreams carry you away 

they’ll color your pain

 

I started writing poetry first in English when I was a student at New York University. When I moved to Milan I began to write short stories in French. I was writing more and more and liked business less and less. This was in part why I divorced the first time. After I spent 9 months in a psychiatric ward in Brussels, I moved to Paris, where I continued to write, but now in both English and French. I published my first poems, stories, and novels in France, while I sent my poems and my stories in English to American and British reviews. When I moved back to New York, I only wrote in English and began publishing in magazines nationwide, garnering many awards. I returned to Paris and continued to write in the two languages. Even though I did start my career in English, my first books were published in French. Since I write in my two mother tongues, I usually first write the original in English then I rewrite the whole story in French. More than a translation it is an adaptation.

My first novels were set in Africa, where I had lived for 17 years.  It was then much later that my original novels appeared in English, America, Europe, India, and South Africa. I write in three different styles.  Serious historical and autobiographical novels set in the Belgian Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and South Africa. They are the settings of my AFRICAN QUATUOR, in which two novels have important Jewish elements, especially in the Belgian Congo, which very few people know about. They are MIXED BLOOD / ADOPTED BY AN AMERICAN HOMOSEXUAL IN THE BELGIAN CONGO and EUR-AFRICAN EXILES. Another novel is I-SRAELI SYNDROME, set in Africa, Italy, and Israel. Then there is my novel in French only MOI, HANS, FILS DE NAZI.  Apart from my poetry written in both English and French – see my big book THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, volume 2 -, I write short stories mainly in English, – they are in my other big book THE CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, volume 1.  Finally, I write humorous stories; they have recently been assembled in the large volume GOSH ZAPINETTE! (almost 800 pages), the first-ever series of global Jewish humor.

My most recent novel, co-written with the excellent writer Jeanette Skirvin is TEL AVIV’S ETHIOPIAN QUEEN. Last, but not least, is the big book of poems, GAYTUDE, I wrote with my friend, the multi-talented Renaissance man, Adam Donaldson Powell. My work has been translated worldwide into about 15 languages, from Polish to Turkish, Bengali to Chinese, Greek to Dutch … but not yet in Hebrew, the language of my ancestors!  I hope some good publisher will put out some of my work here in Eretz Israel, my last and definitive home, after having lived on three other continents.

Albert Russo

www.albertrusso.com 

 

 

The author (Albert Russo) when he was a teenager — in his native Congo.

 

 

 

About Albert Russo’s haiku poetry: an excerpt from my book entitled “Under the Shirttails of Albert Russo”.

Albert Russo is an acclaimed, award-winning (if not otherwise famous) multilingual author. My personal and professional history of collaboration with Russo goes back to 2006, when I reviewed his poetry collection “Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2”. In my recent “alternative biography” entitled “Under the Shirttails of Albert Russo” I interview Russo, trace the contributing major influences in his life and in his literary career, and give literary analysis in a subjective manner, i.e. I immerse myself and the Reader of the book directly into Russo’s literature through re-publication of larger illustrative excerpts … and allow myself and the Reader to  re-experience the moments of Russo’s initial writing alongside some never-before-published trivia and intimate revelations regarding his personal life, politics, loves etc. I always attempt to approach literary criticism in a creative fashion — usually emphasising the creative impulses of the works that I have read within my own essay-writing. Why so many lengthy excerpts from Russo’s writings? It is a literary device to 1) force impatient Readers to submerge themselves into his texts and thoughts rather than quickly darting from flower to flower without retaining or realising any personal effect; and 2) it enables me as a literary critic and biographer to put the emphasis on Russo’s writing — rather than on my own largely uninteresting and subjective personal perspectives on what I see in a limited capacity, and it allows me to somewhat “escape” the trap of being the “literary expert” — which further distances the Reader from direct experience with the author’s texts. Following a Wikipedia-style (or even a Boswellian-style) resumé of Russo’s life and career is altogether uninteresting to me.  I wish to allow Russo to speak directly to Readers, other authors and those otherwise curious — through his works and his interviews. That is — to me — « his story »; or, if you will, his «history») — and the best way to present it. (Mind you, I say «to present it» rather than «to press the critic’s ‘political correct’ perspectives upon the Reader».) Russo has much to share with us all about creative processes, the profession of writing, and about how ideas and writing merge, converge and influence one another in various regards.

Here is a short excerpt from the book (“Under the Shirttails of Albert Russo”) regarding his poetry,  and in this particular excerpt, specifically regarding his haiku … of which little has been written about previously.

— Adam Donaldson Powell

Poetry was his first love

Although I know much of his work rather well, Albert Russo never ceases to surprise and impress me. He is very competent as a novelist, and equally so — if not even more — as a poet, short story writer, essayist and photographer. In this chapter I will address his poetry, and then his short stories.

No matter what the genre, Albert Russo is a master storyteller; and his poems, short stories and novellas are — in fact — often stories of varying lengths. While his novels are usually quite detailed in their descriptive qualities, even his shortest poems (yes, even his haiku poems) manage to transport the reader into the intended mindset of the author, even if only telling about a few moments in a larger story in one history of the species of Man. I say this because Albert’s work always has a sense of universality about it, no matter if he uses the first or third person to tell his story; and the stories — although often alluding to a certain time or space in history — somehow echo the repetitiveness of human thought and behavior, throughout the ages.

The versatility he demonstrates across genres and styles of writing is — indeed — unusual, as not all authors manage to master several. Writing novels is quite a different process and requires different approaches and skills than more condensed genres, such as short stories and poetry. The shorter the form, the more important it is to find the correct words, rhythms and multiple-layered meanings within the smaller framework. Even if writing from the context of a single thought within a moment in time the writer must have an understanding of the greater context (the larger story) as well. In this way, poetry is written first in the mind … and then condensed and expanded in written form. I include “expanded” because a successful poem can perhaps be likened to skipping a small rock across a pond — creating ripples and reverberations which both reflect the greater omnipotence of the water and temporarily alter its periphery and identity. And there we have that word again: identity. Also in his poetry, short stories and novellas Russo explores identity in all of its expressions and forms, and in various languages and styles. 

ALBERT RUSSO’S POETRY COLLECTIONS: CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, VOLUME 2 AND GAYTUDE.

On Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2.

In the book’s preface, Leigh Eduardo writes: 

“His work reaches into the very soul of contemporary living. Here, one comes to grips with many contemporary problems, all beautifully crafted and possessing the Russo hallmark of subtle observation. Each poem is a gem in its own right.”

Those words by Leigh Eduardo perfectly describe the intentions and accomplishments of Albert Russo in this splendid edition of poems. I will comment on his longer prose poems a bit later in this chapter but first, Mr. Russo has included many linked haiku poems in this volume — and so many that I believe that they warrant special consideration. Here are some selected examples that typify Albert Russo’s haiku: 

HAIKU RIDDLES 

1

there’s a space where

everything is possible

free and timeless

2

in its vast expanse

men have fought and killed their peers

yet they can’t tame it

3

it’s in everyone

but many forget about it

and thus wage new wars

4

i’ve lost myself in

the name of every country

and resurrected

5
when it’s cold you want it

when it’s scorching you escape it

yet you can’t live without it 

6
they share your life and   

they’re your staunchest allies 

yet you take them for granted 

7
she had lovely legs

even at an advanced age

and a voice so hoarse 

1 (language)

2 (the ocean)

3 (tolerance)

4 (citizen of the world)

5 (the sun)

6 (antibodies)

7 (Marlene Dietrich) 

HAIKU FOR THE SOUL 

look at your fingers

how complex its geography so much history 

when you close your eyes

shooting stars crisscross the dais

your afterlife unfolds 

to see the light within

the sun must set all around

night flowers open up 

laughter masks great pains

smiles are the masks of laughter

then there are cries of joy 

little does man care

about animals’ feelings

nature takes revenge 

the death of corals

presages the end of mankind

we use them as jewels 

if books disappear

forests might be saved

but we will lose our soul 

HAIKU PLEAS TO A CONCUBINE 

being swallowed live

is what i feel when you scream

so please let me breathe 

ranting against fate

will not do you any good

you are bound to die 

why did you kick me?

our hearts have dried long ago

bleeding makes a mess 

switch off the bed lamp

aren’t you tired of seeing me?

you’ll be my nightmare 

god bless daytime thoughts

that’s the only time you are dead

virtual solace 

remember how we met

you were looking for your dog

and i for a friend 

o, to be lonely

and to fight with one’s shadows

instead of with you 

HAIKU MEMORIES 

read my lips, she would hum

sending out a potent fragrance

which blindfolded me 

skin against skin

every pore becoming an eye

the core of desire 

was this love

infatuation or the taste

of apocalypse? 

stray rose petal

severed wing of a butterfly

why have you left me? 

a dried daffodil

in your book of hours

a stain in my life 

switch off the light

your beauty is aglow

else i suffocate 

the last time i saw you

there was no moon to witness

you had goose flesh 

gazing at a tree

i saw the shadow of your profile

grinning back at me 

HAIKU CLASHES 

a heart full of knots

unable to cry out

love turned to venom 

what’s it all about

this friendship, this soul mating

when you can’t even smile? 

calls himself a friend

yet doesn’t hear your pain                                                                                                                                                                                            

so busy with his 

wait till it stops bleeding

you’ll then have ample time

to count the lost cells 

it’s the rage inside

so much unfinished business

to fill those sleepless nights 

pretend you’re happy

and the world smiles back at you

it’s empathy I need 

this ethnic cleansing

this most beastly sentiment

no animal would stoop to 

I wish I could fly

and trade humanity

for a loftier race 

violent mood swings

darned chemical imbalance

one, two, six, five, three 

HAIKU SPLEEN 

eyes cast towards the sky

searching for the primeval

wishing, wishing so hard 

that ledger of life

floating across the horizon

which you dread to open 

jet explodes in midair

souls escape their ribcage

without so much as a sigh 

did it really happen

or was it just a nightmare

drawn by Jerome Bosch 

lingering sadness                                                                                                                                                                           

irrepressible feeling

of self-destruction 

sad thoughts cross your mind                                                                                                                                                                

meltdown of our planet’s gun

 just your fists to fight 

serendipity

mysterious and beautiful

unfathomable 

they claim there’s always hope

that happens when your mind flits

from a wound to a dead leaf 

is the glass half empty

or is it half full

the space of a blink 

TREMORS 

gliding on ether

wisps of air tickle my loins

the snake points up its head 

dew drops on the skin

it’s Chopin playing again                                                                                                                                                                                                    

rending my heart 

crying with a smile

butterflies in the stomach

taming the pain 

talking of ego

is the soul expandable?

is there redemption? 

the eye throbs

caught in the crossfire

dancing on embers 

a toe in the door

skipping a heartbeat

the ghost of a grin 

leaping from nightmare

to the surreal images of war

is life just fiction? 

clash of emotions

the din inside my head                                                                                                                                                                                                               

spills over the globe 

HAIKU INFLORESCENCE 

deadly nightshades

berries glowing like ripe boils

a witch’s delight 

spike of spring bells

honey-tinted flowers

hailing an angel 

a dragonfly

brushes past a spiderwort

dreams in deep blue 

hydrangeas stand guard

around a cluster of roses

baroque symphony 

a splash of purple

busy-lizzy from Zanzibar

impatient, hot-blooded 

a hermaphrodite

friend to epileptics

poisonous mistletoe 

rugged and fragrant

when everything else wilts

count on the rock cress 

brandy bottles

feathery water lilies

pungent roquefort smell 

slipper orchid

aphrodite’s favourite

suave and sensual 

Author’s comments:

As noted before, Albert Russo is a great storyteller — even in his short literary works such as haiku and longer prose poems. He is also a poet who puts his own personal spin on well-known literary styles, ranging from narrative prose poetry to lyrical haiku art. 

Russo’s love for haiku is not surprising. A man with so many thoughts, and who uses such an extensive palette of words in his novels, also knows the importance and value of both understanding and practicing the power of written words at all levels and in all literary forms. Haiku often lends a “sharpness” to the mind — challenging both the right and left sides of the brain to interact with the workings of the emotional body. But, of course, Russo did not invent modern haiku. Haiku art has gone through some revolutionary changes in its development. It is perhaps not really possible to understand any form of new expression — literary, or otherwise — without some basic understanding of the history of what has been before, and the need for new movement, new directions, new language, new concepts … and, sometimes, even, radical change. Therefore, I will briefly trace the historical developments of Japanese poetry and haiku; and then take a closer look at Albert Russo’s own modern haiku. 

A short historical synopsis — the early roots of short Japanese lyrical poetry.

In its traditional form the haiku has existed for almost five hundred years. However, its roots stretch back to the Heian period of Japan (seventh century to eleventh century); and originally in the form of  “uta” (short and lyrical poems/songs) which comprised part of pre-Buddhist or early Shinto rituals. These poems were inspired by various celebrations, prayers and eulogies, courting, planting and harvesting. The most practiced and recognized of these poetic forms — the “waka” — was characterized by 31 phonetic units (“on) which were broken into five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. Waka quickly gained in popularity, and the most proficient writers gained considerable notoriety. From the ninth century it further developed into what is today known as tanka, which is characterized by three lines with 5-7-5 syllable counts followed by two lines of seven syllables. These short lyrical poems gained preference over longer poetry forms (choka).  

The popularity of writing and reciting short verse spread to all socio-economic levels of Japanese society once linking of verses became a common pastime, in the forms of “renga” (linked verse) and “kusari-no-renga” (linked verse in chains). The popularity of poetry amongst the lower classes in the mid-sixteenth century prompted a renaissance whereby less rigid forms gave way to lighter ones (“haikai”, or “renka”). Characteristic of “haikai” was an initial three lines (“hokku”), which had to include a seasonal word (“kireji”) as well as a “cutting/exclamatory” word. The first three lines of the “hokku” were of utmost importance. 

Towards the end of the seventh century a poet named Bashō (the pen name for Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa, born 1644, in Iga province, Japan—died November 28, 1694, Osaka, Japan), developed his own style by simplifying the form to consist solely of the “hokku” (the main three initial lines). This became known as the “haiku”. Bashō is known for other aesthetic and conceptual changes such as promotion of “karumi” (lightness) and spontaneity.  Lucien Stryk writes in “On Love and Barley: Haiku of Bashō”, Penguin, 1985:

“Bashō’s mature haiku style, Shofu, is known not only for karma, but also for two other Zen-inspired aesthetic ideas: sabi and wabi. Sabi implies contented solitariness, and in Zen is associated with early monastic experience, when a high degree of detachment is cultivated. Wabi can be described as the spirit of poverty, an appreciation of the commonplace, and is perhaps most fully achieved in the tea ceremony, which, from the simple utensils used in the preparation of the tea to the very structure of the tea hut, honours the humble.”

While the haiku has undergone many changes since that time, today’s haiku still has remarkable similarities to the form developed by Bashō. Other notable haiku poets who worked in the tradition of Bashō included Buson (Yosa Buson, original surname Taniguchi, born 1716 in Kema, Settsu province, Japan—died Jan. 17, 1784, Kyōto) and Issa (Kobayashi Issa, born 1763 in Shinano province, Japan—died Jan. 5, 1828), as well as the rebellious Shiki (Masaoka Shiki, born as Masaoka Noboru on October 14, 1867, Onsen District, Ehime province, Japan—September 19, 1902, Tokyo, Japan).  While Bashō was a “wandering poet” and is known for his travel “diaries”, Buson (like Bashō) was little concerned with the great universal questions and delighted in painting colourful pictures and (sometimes) the simple state of loneliness, and Issa is to some referred to as both a poet of fate and a poet of the mundane — often resulting in a sense of cathartic personal engagement … whereas Shiki (the literary theoretician and haiku innovator) is known for his introspective realism … and he is also known for his criticism of Bashō (and his insistence that it was Buson, not Bashō, who was the greatest haiku poet of all time). 

The characteristics of traditional haiku today.

As with all art forms, haiku art explores personal expression through a lens of subjectivity vs. concreteness, and within a framework of genre characteristics, practices and accepted formats. Through the course of time various trends and approaches may be subject to new ideas, if not major innovations. In classical music centuries-old practices and the composers’ notational directions — as well as historical ways of approaching older musical forms — provide guidelines which must be adhered to for accepted interpretation and performance. And yet, every now and then, an accomplished performer — perhaps a pianist, a violinist or another composer — may add his/her own “personal touch” through interpretational freedoms not generally associated with the classical ways of performing the work(s) in question. Some are considered to be interesting and successful, while many others are not. It is not always clear what a particular artist can expect to “get away with” (i.e. gain audience/reader acceptance for) at any particular time in history, or why. And it is not unusual to hear “critics” or “experts” dismiss innovations as improper as regards style, or possibly because “it just does not work for me”; and the most conservative (or, if you permit the rather judgmental expression “closed minded”) are often those of persons who know a bit about classical art forms and history but who are not themselves accomplished or self-secure enough to understand the possibilities and expansiveness of art beyond “the restraints of traditional guidelines”, or who may be otherwise threatened by experimentation and change. Art is a powerful medium — and new ideas expressed and presented through art are both celebrated and feared, by academics, non-academics, rich, the not-so-rich, the politically-powerful and those who would question their power. Haiku — originally an art form whose successes were attributed to and enjoyed by a small elite — has been “socially-decentralized” over recent centuries in both appreciation and practice —not only in Japan, but in other countries as well. Today, haiku is still enjoyed both as entertainment and as “high-art” (and often even as a first approach to art and poetry-writing for the “common man and woman”; and novices), but there also remain those who — for whatever reasons — would emphasize tradition over artistic new-development. Is it not possible to embrace and allow for both; and to have perhaps two thoughts in one’s mind at the same time? Is critical assessment of  “good vs. not-so-good” haiku strictly determined through adherence to guidelines associated with traditional practices, or do the most accomplished haiku artists possess an extraordinary insight and vision which permits them to bend, expand upon and give new life to traditions — perhaps even while challenging technical limitations and “truths”? And is not re-invention and re-interpretation of art a necessity for the very survival of the various art forms — in order to maintain relevance in a changing world that is subject to fast-paced developments influenced by technological advances, globalization as well as changes in political-cultural perspectives, and linguistics?  Well, haiku has not only survived and evolved, but it has developed worldwide into a mainstream art form that is far more than a Japanese curiosity. And yet, achievement of true mastery of this art form today is dependent upon the same combinations of genius, technique and expanded vision as in other great accomplishments in art, philosophy and science. The art of haiku — like abstract painting — is dependent upon both planning and spontaneity, an understanding of internal rhythm and dynamics, and communicating an overall feeling of lightness and ease, in ways that are different from large paintings and larger genres within prose-writing. Reductionism in art demands the ability to not only synthesize ideas into smaller canvases, but also to express and intimate artistic and philosophical expansionism well beyond minimalism — often employing simplicity and introspection to approach complexities.

Let us take a look at these generally-accepted characteristics of traditional haiku today — in Japan, and outside of Japan. Haiku are often “reflections” expressed through a single moment, but encompassing much more. Traditionally, Japanese haiku employs reflections on nature, or the seasons (time of year). The Japanese language is particularly rich as regards the number of  Kigo, or season words” available, but these are very often implied rather than expressed in a strongly-overt manner. By avoiding writing narratives in the first-person as well as similes, metaphors etc., then the focus upon the universality of the specific moment is by many perceived as more effective — aided by visually descriptive references to nature — and often leading to a better-written traditional haiku. Other universal “guidelines” to successful haiku-writing often include writing about a particular place, writing in the immediate present, showing action/activity rather than describing one’s feelings about it with adjectives, avoiding employing needless or redundant words, and avoiding obvious rhyme. While most contemporary haiku artists and “experts” would resist the notion of “rules and regulations” in haiku-writing, there do exist guidelines which are widely accepted. Haiku form in classical Japanese haiku is generally based upon a system of employing seventeen “on” (or sounds) which follow a 5-7-5 pattern over three lines. The Japanese language is perhaps more inclined towards expression with 5-7 rhythms than other languages (as in English), in which this is not as “natural” or free-flowing. As a result, haiku-writing in some non-Japanese languages allows for less syllables than the seventeen “on-based” haiku. Nevertheless, many non-Japanese haiku artists often still adhere to using seventeen “syllables” in their haiku. For them, achieving a simplistic and natural flow can become complicated purely because of differences in language structures and rhythmic patterns. These challenges can, in turn, also make it difficult to achieve another Japanese tradition in haiku-writing: to limit the “cutting” (the number of real “breaks” or pauses) to just once in an otherwise natural and unrestricted flow or words and meaning, and generally at the end of either the first or second line of the haiku (often expressed in English with a long dash or a colon). 

Author’s comments on Albert Russo’s haiku:

Here Albert Russo evokes sentiment that howls from his spleen — sometimes an elegiac lamentation crying out for a better and more reasonable world, and at other times a voice despairing over loneliness and the difficulties of communication and love relationships. And then there are haiku poems that sparkle — like dewdrops in the sunlight — and merely allow the reader to dive into the magic that he creates with his beautifully descriptive imagery, as in HAIKU INFLORESCENCE. These small works are truly well-polished gems that have retained their spontaneity and freshness. They have a wonderful lyrical quality that is occasionally mumbling or humming to oneself, and that — at other times — sings out with a full voice. There are also hints of stream of consciousness-writing, adding an extra layer of introspection, which make for a magical journey inside oneself.  

Russo’s haiku poetry adheres to the traditional 5-7-5 format but clearly breaks away from many of the above-mentioned, perhaps somewhat restrictive, guidelines which typify classical haiku. He manages to create a narrative form through linked verses, which at times approaches a stream of consciousness style of writing. For him, the infamous “haiku moment” is more-or-less non-existent, as he extends the “moment” to include the poem in its entirety. In addition, Mr. Russo’s subject matter and themes mirror those of his novels, short stories and novellas in that they directly link personal (first-person) introspection with questions of a universal nature — be they of human relationships, political or social ideologies etc. He manages to achieve an “internal rhythm” in his haiku that extends the pulse from stanza to stanza but yet allowing the reader to appreciate each individual haiku as a poem in its own right. Nature plays a role in his haiku — just as in his descriptive longer texts — but that role is more descriptive rather than essential to haiku interpretation. Is Albert Russo’s haiku style modern? Yes. Is it innovative? Again, yes. Is it revolutionary? Perhaps not, as non-Japanese haiku art has advanced and developed significantly over recent decades and surely Albert Russo has been influenced by this “artistic liberation”. However, his adherence to the 5-7-5 format in English-language haiku suggests that Mr. Russo preferred to find alternative ways to break those “rules” — rather choosing to extend the traditional practice of employing seventeen syllables into a larger presentation of linked haiku where several of the haiku work together to express a more complicated and descriptive “moment”. Thus, I have posed several questions to Mr. Russo regarding his haiku style, his love of haiku, the role and function of haiku in his literary process etc. 

Questions to Albert Russo regarding his haiku-writing: 

Poetry was your first love, and you often seem to desire to challenge yourself with complicated or difficult themes and style experimentations within various literary genres. Do you, yourself, see a link between your haiku-style and that of your larger prose? What is the role and function of haiku in your literary process? While it is clear that you are poetic in your longer and shorter prose, I would ask you whether (or not) you consider your approach to novels, novellas and short stories to be that of a poet, or if you (perhaps) assume a different writer frame of mind / identity if you will, when you write poetry? How do you “break down” these stories/narratives into short poetry? Do you go into an intuitive “literary trance” while thinking about a larger theme and then accentuate the various thoughts/elements into linked haiku, or is the process entirely planned? What is your background and relationship to haiku-writing … have you studied traditional Japanese haiku, and have you been influenced by recent developments in contemporary Western haiku? You sometimes efficiently create abstractions in your short poetry through usage of various descriptive details which you pit against one another, resulting in multi-layered complexity. In your longer, narrative literary works you stretch these abstractions out over several paragraphs/pages. Does the “speeding up” of time to tell your story in haiku give you extra excitement in terms of finding the word combinations and associations that give the most appropriate meanings on various levels of comprehension? What is it about haiku-writing  that you love so much?

And here is his response:

As far as haiku is concerned, I experimented with the style by chance and I enjoyed it so much that it became a natural addition to my more ‘conventional’ poetry.  With haiku, I feel free to tackle any subject, on the spot, without much reflection, which is not the case with my ‘regular’ poems.  That is now what I write more easily when I’m waiting for my turn at a doctor’s office or at the bank – here in Israel, and I appreciate that system, you always take a ticket and have a seat, until your number is called.  When the list is long, you can wait up to half an hour or more, quietly, for unlike what I knew in France, nobody here pushes or shoves.  Also, with haiku I am capable of writing humor, or even nonsense, of which later on I try to make some sense.  Blessed be Matsuo Bashō for inventing it.  I even once wrote a whole sequence of haiku – three pages long – about the food I favor, from all corners of the world.  Something I never thought of doing before.  Sometimes I even try to play with geometric or figurative forms, assembling verses in pyramidal and other shapes, such as a question mark or a balloon. I also write some Tanka, but seldom.

 

Here is another excerpt from the book (“Under the Shirttails of Albert Russo”), regarding his non-Haiku poetry … and featuring my iconic review of Russo’s “Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2”.

ALBERT RUSSO’S PROSE POETRY: CROWDED WORLD OF SOLITUDE, VOLUME 2 

AND GAYTUDE.

Albert Russo’s prose poetry (in both Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2 and Gaytude) are rich in narratives, descriptive imagery and his ideologies/socio-political ideas.

Gaytude.

Albert Russo and I have since collaborated on several projects, including “Gaytude: a poetic journey around the world” (Winner – The National Indie Excellence Awards, Gay/Lesbian Non-Fiction Category 2009).

Here is my introduction to the book:

INTRODUCTION 

— The first study for the man who wants to be a poet is knowledge of himself, full knowledge: he searches for his soul, he inspects it, he puts it to the test, he learns it. As soon as he has learned it, he must cultivate it ! I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet becomes a seer through a long, formidable, and reasoned derangement of all the senses. All shapes of love, suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences. Ineffable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed one and the supreme Scholar! For he reaches the unknown ! . . . So the poet is actually a thief of Fire ! 

—Arthur Rimbaud 

Gaytude is a poetic study of both the universality and the diversity of gay experience . . . an experience of confluence whereby individual love, lust and identity are constantly in tandem and conflict with collective mores, customs, codes and trends. In a sense, we are all gay . . . inasmuch as we all seek the right to be different, as well as to be the same. For some, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is recognition and acceptance ; and for others it is perhaps the excitement of covert intimacy and adventure. This book is dedicated to all gays, including those who flaunt their sexual orientation freely and those who still remain secretive or inactive due to still ongoing risks of abuse, harassment and execution. One day, men all over the world will be able to proudly quote from Catullus 16—this time with pride and loving spirit: “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo” (I shall bugger you and you can blow me). 

This book is so “realistic” that even some book reviewers can erroneously assume that it is non-fiction, as did one “reviewer” from a well-known US-based book readers’ website. Another reviewer from France complained that many of the poems in “Gaytude” had appeared some years previously in another book. It may seem difficult for the present younger generation of gays to believe, but in 2009, when “Gaytude” was published, many Western-country gays were still looking for “confirmation” through global gayness — which the book both presents and provokes with. However, all persons and events in the book are fictional. Sorry to disappoint you guys!

Nonetheless the book garnered acclaim when it (upon publication) was pronounced the Winner – of The National Indie Excellence Awards, Gay/Lesbian Non-Fiction Category.

Some reviewer comments on “Gaytude”  follow:

The poems by Russo and Powell are marked by outsiderhood, the sense of being different from a fashionable or ‘straight’ mode of writing. –Dr. Santosh Kumar, Allahabad University, India

These topics will hit home especially for like-minded individuals but anyone with compassion will understand the beauty and heartache these issues bring to mind. –Rainbow Reviews

The authors are two very accomplished writers who tackle a wide variety of subjects and themes that affect gay men with surprising depth and meaning. –Rainbow Reviews

Gaytude remains a remarkable piece of literature crossing infinite barriers and taboos to reach the ultimate poetry, the ultimate destination of mind and immortality.

–Dr. Amitabh Mitra, Poet’s Printery, South Africa

The book’s first review was by an online reviewer “Kassa”, who wrote the following:

Gaytude is a collection of poetry that appears in English in the first half and then translated into French for the second half of the book. There is also a collection of pictures depicting homoerotic images throughout history as well as personal images of Albert Russo. The timelessness of these pictures is repeated as a theme within the elegant and often poignant poetry collected. The authors are two very accomplished writers who tackle a wide variety of subjects and themes that affect gay men with surprising depth and meaning. These topics will hit home especially for like-minded individuals but anyone with compassion will understand the beauty and heartache these issues bring to mind … Taken together this is a look into the lives of any and every gay men and the issues they deal with that create an aura of “different” around them. This celebration of gay life spans globally and encompasses all aspects proudly and openly. Gaytude is a wonderful collection by two powerful authors that have offered thoughts on timeless themes. 

AUTHOR’S COMMENTS ON RUSSO’S LONGER PROSE POETRY:

Albert Russo’s longer prose poetry — in both Crowded World of Solitude and Gaytude — is fascinating because he manages again and again to transport the reader very quickly into “his world” of thoughts, images and stories. It is almost like being a passenger on a metro and making up one’s own stories about what one supposes other passengers’ lives to be like. I will surely ask Albert: “Where do all these stories come from, Albert?” But I suspect that he finds his stories in his mind, in the faces of strangers he passes on the streets, in the personalities of known and unknown persons — wherever. No one is safe from this “dangerous man” — with his sharp mind, drilling vision and ability to spin a tale out of loose threads that otherwise seem meaningless and unimportant. 

Poetry was Albert Russo’s first love; and it was through his poetry that he and I first met. Several years ago (2005) I took contact with him because I was enthralled with his poetry book “Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2”, and wanted to inquire as to whether he might be interested in my writing a book review. This was to be my first book review ever, and the beginning of a wondrous collaboration between us that has spanned many book projects and years. My review of his 349-page book follows:

The Crowded World of Solitude, vol 2 , The Collected Poems, reviewed by Adam Donaldson Powell 

In an age where blatant shows of superiority are often considered a provocation, Albert Russo presents the ailing world of literary criticism with several challenges of mammoth proportions. His mastery of several literary genres, his indefatigable literary output, his command of several languages, his intellectual breadth, and the scope of his cultural and sub-cultural personal life experiences alone outclass the qualifications and/or capacities of many literary critics of this century. 

Albert Russo is truly on the fast-track to becoming “famous” in his own lifetime, and indeed shows much courage and self-confidence in publishing such a formidable and challenging volume of collected poems non-posthumously. Perhaps even more so considering that poetry is not his only genre of acclaim. We live in an era where informed (and uninformed) critics often insist upon categorizing artists and artistic genius within a specific discipline, genre or art form; and where he/she who attempts to be too multidisciplinary is often considered to be “lightweight” or a “jack-of-all- trades”. Albert Russo is an exception to all of the above-mentioned society-imposed and self-imposed restrictions, and clearly recalls a multidisciplinary usage of talent more particular to previous eras. 

To publish one’s collected poems to-date in such a large volume, spanning some thirty years of life experiences and literary development, is a very bold statement in itself. Such a collection of poems – like any other serious literary work – is expected to be even in quality, hopefully diverse in content and form, and appropriately polished (the degree of polish being both intentional and commensurate with the desired expression). In addition, writing a bilingual volume of collected poems further adds to the complexities of such an endeavour, giving rise to many questions and solutions regarding choice of original language versus translation, idiom, culture, visual communication etc. 

Mr. Russo does not disappoint, and he does – in fact – both deliver substance, and an undaunted and relentless display of consistency in terms of excellent insight and craftsmanship. His collection of poetry, at times biting and hard-hitting, is both thought-provoking, amusing, intelligent and contemporary in style and subject matter. 

This collection of poems denotes a clear and masterful demonstration of quality, breadth of content and form, political and social awareness, mastery of storytelling, a touch of the “bad boy”, a combination of the highly-polished and the “intentionally- raw”, and visual, musical and philosophical expressions indicative of the author’s rich multicultural and experiential personal history. I find in his poetry the same literary achievements which characterize his novels and short stories: balance of intellectual rationalism and emotional presence, a solid command of the full palette of language(s) used, descriptive colour, clarity, intentional usage of abstractions, entertainment and theatrical/performance value, humour and occasional irony, and an overall sense of when to use poetic economy versus poetic rapture. Mr. Russo’s poetry proclaims an almost haunting sense of musicality and visual portrayal on a subjective level. Most importantly, I find that his poetry has the power of arousing within the reader a sense of personal identification, emotion and engagement – evoking a pas de deux between author and reader, all the while challenging the “poet” in the reader. 

The poems in Crowded World of Solitude, Volume 2 are collected, and are not presented in chronological order. In fact, Mr. Russo never dated any of these works, and possibly never gave a thought to an eventual edition of his collected poems at the time of their writing. That suggests to me that poetry-writing to him has perhaps been a meditation, a way to organize his thoughts, a reprieve from longer writing genres, and perhaps sometimes also an escape / a short holiday break. Nonetheless, many (if not all) of these poems reflect the greater ponds of dormant or developing stories, many of which may one day aspire to skip like rocks and converge — thus forming the foundation of a short story, novella or novel. Nonetheless, they are irrefutably expressions, thoughts, feelings and ideas that all together form Albert Russo — dancing, sobbing, ranting, raving, dreaming, reflecting, sometimes complicated and detailed, and at other times glistening with simple exuberance.

I have several questions for Albert Russo regarding his prose poetry. They include:

When did you first begin writing poetry? What / who were the influences in your life that resulted in your exploring poetry as an art form? Would you consider your poems to be a diary — of your ideas and thoughts, if not your “real life”? Did your parents encourage and/or discourage your desire to become a professional writer/author? Tell us about that. Many poets publish smaller poetry collections. You have published individual poems in several literary journals but many of your most striking poems were saved for two big collections of your poetry: CWS2 and Gaytude. Please explain why. Which famous poets have inspired you, and why?

Here is Albert Russo’s response:

I may be repeating myself, but it is with poetry in English, that I started writing, and that goes back to my NYU years, in the beginning of the 1960’s.  Why poetry first?  Because, not having any writing experience, except for a few dissertations I penned in French during my high-school years in Ruanda-Urundi (now two separate nations: Rwanda and Burundi, both having the same ethnic diversity, with, originally, the same percentages, i.e. about 79%, 19% and 2%, respectively: Hutu, Tutsi and Twa – pygmies), I felt like a sleeping volcano, and the words would erupt like simmering lava, in other words, nothing was premeditated.  It was like an exorcism.  All my pent-up anxiety, fears, rage, or whatever you may call it, burst out erratically.  It all started thanks to a woman-friend painter and designer who introduced me to the artistic world of Greenwich Village.  She gave me ‘new wings to fly’ into new and – to me – unheralded spaces.  I had a strange feeling, both of vulnerability and exhilaration.  If I was influenced – certainly – it must have been by the classical poets I had read and learned in my English, French, German and Dutch classes. So, no I have no specific poet in mind for that first period.   

Nowadays I still write poetry erratically, but with a thought or a subject in mind.  For instance if I have seen something that disturbed me while watching the news, or if I have witnessed an incident in the street, or even a pleasant occurrence, I have to jot down words about the things that have either pained or troubled me, as soon as I get back home.  If, knowing that I have to wait a long time at the doctor’s waiting-room, I carry a small note-book and a pen and write whatever passes through my mind at that moment.  This seldom happens, for the presence of people around me is distracting.  I could never create in a coffeeshop or a brasserie like some other writers do.  Poetry remains an exorcism, I don’t consider it a diary, even though it always revolves around my emotions and the reality that surrounds me.  A diary has chronology, my poetry doesn’t.

My mother always supported me, actually her favorite literary genre was poetry, and she was one of my most loyal readers.  I wouldn’t say, best, since she could only be subjective.  Her love of poetry was meshed with her love of her son.  And this was a tremendous boon.  My father, on the other hand, could not comprehend that writing was something to be taken seriously.  And he did everything to discourage me from pursuing what he deemed to be a mere hobby.  Yes, in spite of all his human qualities – he was a good, straight and generous man, loved by most people, no matter what color or creed; I owe him that side of his character, for in that way he was my mentor – I suffered my whole life because of his attitude, and this suffering continues, 35 years after his death, through nightmares, where he still reprimands me.  Being an Agnostic, I may sound inconsistent, but I have the impression that he is somewhere and that he shows his disapproval by harassing me during my sleep. 

Before seeing my poems printed in the large CWS 2 volume – spanning 35-odd years of writing – and in ‘Gaytude’, and after having published in hundreds of literary and little magazines worldwide, I had maybe a dozen chapbooks that came out with small presses, mainly in the US, Canada and Great Britain, but also in France.  Then, with age advancing and not knowing how long I would live, like everybody else who isn’t suffering from a terminal disease, I felt the necessity of collecting my poetry and my prose in two big books.  Going back to ‘Gaytude’, which I co-wrote with the excellent poet Adam Donaldson Powell, I should mention the fact that I had published previously, in French, ‘Tour du Monde de la poésie gay’ (TMPG), Editions Hors Commerce, Paris.  Adam Donaldson Powell’s contribution was new, whereas, I rewrote (not simply ‘translated’) in English all the poems included in TMPG.  We then presented to the public a large bilingual book (in English and in French), accompanied by some of my own black and white erotic photos.

The list of famous poets whom I love – does it mean that they have inspired me? Most probably yes – is so long that I can only cite them randomly, inasmuch as I read and continue to read them in their original English, French, Italian, Spanish and German native tongues.  I still read, with more difficulty, Dutch-speaking poets.  Whereas the other great poets who wrote in Russian, Chinese, Polish, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Persian, creole, the numerous Indian and Nordic languages, etc. I have discovered in translation, in the five above-mentioned languages. Horace, Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Ronsard, Shakespeare, R.Tagore, Apollinaire, Fray Luis de Léon, Chaucer, Dante, William Blake, Luis De Camoens, Malherbe, Robert Burns, Victor Hugo, Péguy, Lamartine, Beaudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Aleksander Blok, Maïakovski, Ossip Mandelstam, Fernando Pessoa, Nazim Hikmet, Paavo Haavikko, Emile Verhaeren, W.H. Auden, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Léopold Sedar Senghor, John Keats, Constantin Kavaphis, Stephan George, Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Georges Seferis, Borges, Pavese, Anna Akhmatova, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Shelley, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Robert Lowell, Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling – I deem his poem ‘If’ to be one of the most meaningful and beautiful, anywhere -, Edward Lear, T.S. Eliot, the German poets of the romantic ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement, Federico Garcia Lorca, Reinaldo Arenas, James Baldwin, John Cheever, Juan Goytisolo, Langston Hughes, Chinua Achebe, Umberto Saba, Charles Simic, Werner Lambersy whom I nominated for the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature (which often leads to the Nobel Prize), reading 50-odd of his poetry books, etc… and I am still rereading classical or modern poets and discovering new ones.  Inspiration is like delicious food that your taste buds remember, or a perfume you have long forgotten and whose whiff suddenly brushes your nostrils again, giving you pangs of nostalgia.

And I also posed some questions about “Gaytude” specifically:

Please tell the readers the story of how “Gaytude” came to be — both in its previous form — and later. Has the publication of “Gaytude” underscored your reputation as being a “gay author” in the literary world? If so, has that been positive for you? 

And here is his response to those questions:

As I mentioned previously, I first wrote ‘Tour du monde de la poésie gay’ in French.  In that first version, I presented a world tour of gay people talking about their lives, the difficulties of coming out, even in developed countries. Some of them spoke with rage, others affirmed their difference in a strong tone, still others concentrated on their sexual encounters, romantically, or with joy.  As it was revealed, in the English / French edition published in the US with co-author Adam Donaldson Powell, all those people, with foreign names and varied experiences, which I ‘translated’, were in fact written by myself.  I believe that in this book I used as many pen names as the great Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa.  It was an exhilarating exercise, close to what psychoanalysts call ‘transference’.

The reviews were excellent, and that made me happy, for I had really entered the soul of each of these men, women, transvestites and hermaphrodites.  Was it a hoax?  No, I wanted to measure myself with the LGBT minority in all kinds of situations.  I hear some excellent authors say that we lie when we write.  They can speak for themselves, I don’t have the impression of lying, on the contrary, a part of me is revealed in each one of these ‘transferences’, whether it is in poetry or in fiction, inasmuch as I am incapable of writing a conventional, chronological autobiography.  The moment I start doing that, I get ‘seasick’ and I want to throw up.  So, what kind of a liar am I?  

I also wish to acknowledge an important fact – and it is not a mere detail: when I chose to publish the American edition of ‘Gaytude’ together with Adam Donaldson Powell, it wasn’t just because he is a good friend, it is because his voice complements mine, and because I deem him to be a poet of superior quality.  I have other friends who write and I would never invite them to share a book with me just because I like them. So much said for slanderers!  

Here too, I want to thank Delphine Lebensart of Editions Hors Commerce, in Paris, for having allowed me to tackle all the genres in which I write.  She was the only publisher who saw my entire literary persona.  Unfortunately, her outlet folded a decade ago, and I miss her and her vision of literature in all its aspects.   

I was proud to publish ‘Gaytude’ with Adam, and yes it was a very positive experience.  I have nothing to hide, but again, if someone wishes to call me a gay author, then he or she is free to do so. I really don’t mind, though I still prefer to be referred to merely as an author.  I never liked labels, but in our society, people need references.  I do understand that some gay men and women, and especially adolescents, have to hold onto something that they can recognize, for a lot of them suffer from rejection within their family or their immediate environment. 

I must admit though that it is only through the great number of laudatory gay reviews and articles that I understood how my books reverberated, and by the constant sales of my gay novels.  No one approached me personally.  Would young French gay people be more timid than their American or British counterparts?  I often read their questions addressed to these journals, but they were mostly anonymous.  Yes, they were scared to come out, and I understand them.  Don’t forget that LGBT suicides are four times as numerous as suicides of non-gay youths.   

 

UNDER THE SHIRTTAILS OF ALBERT RUSSO — an alternative biography.

Comment from the author:

My latest “experiment” with new forms of writing for our contemporary age moved beyond language challenges (in both English, French and Spanish), structural challenges of combining prose and poetry, and more, to challenge the rather strict academic adherence to the “Boswellian biography” model, which I personally find outdated and cumbersome. In my own “alternative biography” I discarded all notions of writing a slavish detailed version of Albert Russo’s Wikipedia page and curriculum vitae, and I instead used the maximum 200-book pages at my disposition to redefine and modernize biographical approach. In my book I chose the most significant of Russo’s almost 100 published books (including novels, short story and poetry collections, essays, photography books and more) and the most pivotal life experiences in his almost eighty years of living and working on three continents on the planet to serve as the foundation of a journey inside of (and under the shirttails) Albert Russo. All the while I provide somewhat lengthy passages from some of his best books as illustrations of both his writing themes, techniques and styles, but also as the framework for interviews and questions to the author (often of a most intimate nature) which allow the Reader to personally know “what makes Albert Russo” tick as a personality and author/artist by sitting in the back seat on a ride through the countryside of Russo’s life memories. At times it is I who is driving, and at other times Russo himself seems to be behind the wheel with his opinions and rantings which I challenge only to gain more insight into the whats and whys of his meanings, but never (as one critic of the book has desired) to pass any judgment or opinion of my own. By the end of the book the Reader has an incredible knowledge of Russo and his work, as well as the most important events in his personal and professional life; i.e. according to Russo himself — and not to any academic or Wikipedia editor that insists on a year-by-year listing of all events and details from birth onwards. This book was an incredible feat with an unusal approach and writing techniques, including interviews, epistomology, reprints of Russo’s literary works etc. No literary form should be sacred and rigid forever. In our fast-paced digital age we crave entertainment, knowledge, personal involvement, the ability to leave a book and return to the story easily whether we find reading time on a metro, a bus or lying in bed waiting to fall asleep … and we want a book that is easily read and to-the-point when necessary without literary masturbation or grandstanding by the author.

— Adam Donaldson Powell, 2018

 

2016-2017: selected book reviews by Adam Donaldson Powell.

Peek-a-boo!
Peek-a-boo!

REVIEW OF “CLOUD COMPASS”, by Marta Knobloch, 58 pages, cyberwit.net, 2014.

This is a masterly work by a profound poet. It is perhaps one of the best poetry chapbooks that I have read. The book is in two sections; the first entitled “Shadow Painting”, with poems inspired by the life and work of Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson, 1865-1904), and the second is entitled “Boxing the Compass”, with several poems grouped together as a poetic travelogue.

Knobloch is a seasoned professional with full command of her art form. Her descriptive images are strong but they never need to scream or shout, and her language flows as naturally as a mountain stream. The poet’s work demonstrates evenness in quality, imagination, artistic intent, good planning, execution and polish, and a good overall concept of the book as a complete work of art (and not just a potpourri of “homeless” poems). In addition, the poet’s writing has a wonderful sense of originality, excellent descriptive color and clarity — and without a feeling of being overworked or strained.

It is seldom that I have encountered so many treasures in such a small volume of poetry. This book is worth reading several times; perhaps twice as a regular read, and then a third time — reading aloud (or having someone read the poems to you). With each reading you will discover new layers and levels of beauty and insight. This is not a work to be analyzed to pieces, and no analysis of mine can speak better than this poet’s art. Therefore I will merely present a few of her poems — even though all the works in her book are excellent and inspirational.

From “Shadow Painting”:

Knell.

The cadence of the temple bells is random,
at the whim of an errant breeze.
A waterfall of notes, a cool music
trickles through the flimsy netting,
pools on her sodden pillow.

She can no longer hear them chime.

Death has unclenched her fists
grasping the rumpled sheets.
Now her uncurled fingers
reach for her husband’s hand.

Palette (“Painted with a poet’s eyes”).

Her poems have the focused brilliance
of Mughal paintings where lovers
tryst in mimosa bowers,
bolstered by silk cushion moons,
a peacock fan of stars.

They drift on lotus lakes,
float in a shimmering oasis,
loll on filigreed balconies,
oblivious
to turbaned princes’ elephant wars,
the formal slaughter of tiger and gazelle.

While far out at the vanishing point,
perilous edge of the heart’s rim,
the poet/dervish spins her fever dreams

of mythic India.

From “Boxing the Compass”:

Sketch.

white canvas
blue sky
yellow sun
red earth

white linen
blue dish
yellow omelet
red geranium

printemps
plein air
petit déjeuner

Provence

Thin Ice.

The cove froze overnight in opaque waves,
formal as a Japanese rock garden.
I tiptoed from crest to knobby crest.
Beyond the semaphore of the pines,
we heard the creaking tide rise,
a panorama with rusty gears.
A rifle crack of jagged water
Aimed a black thunderbolt at my feet.
He jerked me back to shore warning,
“That’s why I never skate on tidal ice.”
I thought, “This man has never been in love.”

And this, dear Reader, is truly what the art of contemporary prose poetry sounds like.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2017.

DO VISIT THE AUTHOR’S WEBSITE!

High on the red pills (Oil on canvas).
High on the red pills (Oil on canvas).
High on the blue pills (Oil on canvas).
High on the blue pills (Oil on canvas).

cocktails

REVIEW OF “THE MEANING OF FYFE – the 70’s”, by John R. Fyfe, 633 pages, 2016, Cyberwit.net.

This novel is a very good read. The main story opens at a psychiatric institution in Canada in the 1970s, and includes many recognizable associations with the youth of “my generation” – i.e. the hippie generation – at its peak. At times humorous and inane, but always written with an underlying mindful sobriety (no, dear Reader – the story is not devoid of drugs, sex, rock ’n roll, alcohol and other fun and debauchery we well remember from those years), this book underscores the difficulty of separating one’s own “at once changing, and yet unchanging” identity from that of our environment — thus creating a perfect arena for understanding life itself as perhaps just another imitation of stories on a ferris wheel or merry-go-round … churning around and around. When is the moment to jump off and make a change, and how significant will those changes really be?

The author exhibits many first-rate qualities as a writer, including his superb attention to story construction and his meticulous literary craftsmanship. He does not stumble with his language, and the storyteller “voice” is both believable and engaging. In addition, the author includes introspective passages which shine like jewels – because of their truthful simplicity and their simple truths. Here is one example:

“I felt good vacationing from my life, which was becoming far too complicated and confining for my liking. I felt trapped in my environment, but was still attached to my friends and our lifestyle. It was one thing to be cool and get high, but I preferred meeting people I didn’t know, who were more open. What I wanted, without really knowing it, was to explore who I was by being with such people. I could be whoever I wanted, without being judged or put down by my gang of friends; criticism was their defence against a scene that made them inwardly fearful and uneasy. I liked being with my friends and partying with them, but ultimately I’d always felt the need to escape them.”

And here is another:

‘Who’s really crazy in this joint?’ I asked myself. ‘You have a staff member pissing in a batch of soup while others screw patients in the swill room. At the same time you have so-called insane people knowing irony when they hear it. And then you have Carol, who is completely blind but possesses a sixth sense, knowing precisely when your thoughts are somewhere else. We then have the Jack Steeles of the world, creeping up stairwells, hoping to catch fellow workers not working so they can write them up or suspend them, just waiting and hoping to catch you slacking in this loony bin, taking a minute off from wiping up other people’s shit and piss.’

This book is much more than a “feel-good” novel. It incites reflection and acceptance of the mores, traditions, behavioral values and mindsets across decades and generations, allowing us to relive the way “it was back then” and still remain convinced of our present “more sophisticated” perceptions. But was one era really any better than another? How is one’s changing individual personal identity – in fact – dependent upon our social and environmental identities, and their capacity for growth in complementary directions that match the new “I” and “we”, at any given point in time? Not all aspects of our individual and group realities are personally created or co-created with intent, as much also involves adapting and reacting to unforeseen circumstances that may have been out of our control. And finally, how much are our personal identities and behavior patterns founded upon and restricted by culture, social politics and mores of the era, and by our generational social DNA?

We are constantly making decisions regarding what parts of our identities we retain and build upon, and which aspects and persons we leave by the side of the road. These identities and their expressions are not always easy to change or to let go of — even though voices in our heads or perhaps other individuals or institutions in society may try to convince us that we should force a restart or an about-face. In many ways this novel is a “road trip” novel, but here the road is the path of life … and the vehicle (the Self) is not always in control.

Is “The Meaning of Fyfe” by John R. Fyfe, truly a novel, or is it perhaps really a fictionalized autobiography? While it may be tempting for the reader to speculate on which stories may be real life ones, as well as the possible or probable degrees of embellishment or fictionalization, that indeed would be a rather useless occupation. Let’s be honest. This novel is about you and me — for some of us it may perhaps be about what was or what could have been in our own lives, or in the lives of someone we have known or heard about; but it is more essentially about the vocation of being human … and of living and dying with the consequences of how we handle the deck of cards on the table.

It certainly took insight and courage to write this story. And it takes a good deal of both to read it, own it and to “relive it” through the author’s eyes.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

Do visit the author’s WEBSITE!

puppy at french cafe in oslo

REVIEW OF “GOSH, ZAPINETTE!” by Albert Russo, 768 pages, cyberwit.net, India, 2016.

This mammoth volume is billed as “The first ever series of global Jewish humor”. While I understand the marketing idea, I see this literary work as much more than that in both scope and content. In my view and experience this book is “a history-of-the-world-in-progress” told by a quirky but witty protagonist with a Jewish heritage. The humorous approach is a seductive mechanism (at times almost propagandistic and at others times almost embarrassingly true) more so than an end in itself. Seductive because it is endearing enough to entice the reader into following constant and endless paths of thinking perhaps not previously considered. Each of these paths is riddled and spiced with historical, geographical and religious references, anecdotes, allusions to current events, and political commentaries — all weaving a charming and sometimes “wicked” web of associations that are perhaps not always considered to be politically-correct in any one milieu. The author – through the protagonist and “ghost-writer” Zapinette – shoots from the hip in all directions and with aplomb. This book is witty, at times sacrilegious (if not blasphemous), educational and informative, and entertaining. Although almost all of these books have been previously published separately, in this new combined volume the individual books may be experienced and enjoyed as individual stories or chapters (or journal entries) in an ongoing larger sets of adventures. This book may be enjoyed as a personalized travel guide and political history “Nouveau Testament”, as well as a psychological study of two complementary personas and personalities of the author (Zapinette and her Uncle Berky) and that of the “Contemporary Common Man”.

Zapinette is – in my eyes – both a child and an adult. She is the “child in us all” that boldly inquires about and says those things that socially-adjusted and politically-savvy (read “politically-correct”) adults may be afraid to say, and/or which we hope will not be noticed or commented on … be it our appearances, our behavioral idiosyncracies or politics and events in the world. Her Uncle Berky is more cautious, and is often over-run (and over-ruled) by the more carefree (and perhaps more careless) adolescent who knows and says more than she should. And yet more often than not Zapinette is also representative of many values esteemed by representatives of the status quo. She decides herself how to piece together these sometimes competing values within her own illogical but yet logical perspectives on life, humans and world society. Zapinette is always loquacious (except when pouting or suddenly a bit insecure) and oftentimes overbearing and tiring, but she is always true to character: a bit of a true believer cum prophet, and at other times a creative and inquisitive child, and perhaps really just a bystander who is trying to find logical systems of thinking in order to define her own space in the disorderly web of an adult world full of inconsistencies.

The book is written in Albert Russo’s signature descriptive style, and although it is well-written and well-constructed the author allows for a degree of haphazardness, some hurried denouement, the occasional proof-reading laxness, and author-acknowledged repetitions. This lends further to the fun of reading as intentional play with words blend with a refreshing youthful and non-academic style, as well as it keeps the books connected more as stories in this large volume. I suspect that portions of this book are (veiled) autobiographical in personality, perspective and experience, thus giving the reader the added bonus of more insight into a well-known author who has not yet written his formal autobiography. While some readers who are new to the works of Albert Russo may primarily experience the humor in this book, those who are familiar with his African novels and his poetry will recognize both his tongue-in-cheek political commentaries and his occasional passion for ranting about the illogical, the unjust and the plain old “stupidity” he often experiences in our world — both now, and throughout history.

Albert Russo exhibits much courage in publishing this book — both because of its commentary, and also because of his inability not to express his own unadulterated personal truths. I salute and commend his courage and his achievement. I have but one question: when will we get to see “Zapinette – the film”? Anyone in the film industry reading this review?

by Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

DO VISIT THE AUTHOR’S WEBSITE!

clouds-over-oslo-7

REVIEW OF “MODERN JAPANESE HAIKU”, by Ban’ya Natsuishi and Sayumi Kamakura, 109 pages, cyberwit.net, 2012 (First edition).

“Modern Japanese Haiku” is yet another fine literary work by Haiku masters Ban’ya Natsuishi and Sayumi Kamakura.

I have previously had the privilege of writing a number of essays where I have commented on publications by both authors:

  • in 2008: “A modern master of haiku paints the collective conscience” – my foreword to the English version of “Flying Pope”, by Ban’ya Natsuishi, Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, pp. 139, paperback, ISBN: 978-81-8253-106-2.
  • in 2008: “CONTEMPORARY HAIKU: the renaissance and the transformation” – literary criticism based upon “Right Eye in Twilight”, published by Wasteland Press, USA, 2006, ISBN13: 978-1-60047-016-5 and ISBN10: 1-60047-016-5, 62 pages, paperback; and “Earth Pilgrimage” (Pellegrinaggio terrestre), published by Albalibri Editore, Italy, 2007, ISBN 88-89618-52-3 and ISBN 978-88-89618-52-3, 146 pages, paperback).
  • in 2008: “SAYUMI KAMAKURA: the timelessness of the veil behind the veil behind the veil” – literary criticism based on “A Crown of Roses”, a haiku collection by Sayumi Kamakura, published by Cyberwit (India), 2007, 70 pages, ISBN 978-81-8253-090-4, and “A Singing Blue: 50 Selected Haiku”, published by Ginyu Press (Japan), 2000, 63 pages, ISBN 4-87944-032-9).
  • in 2009: “TWO ESSAYS ON BAN’YA NATSUISHI’S WORLD HAIKU”, EXPRESSION OF EMOTIONS IN THE INTERNATIONAL / MULTILINGUAL HAIKU OF BAN’YA NATSUISHI” – based on “A Future Waterfall”, 2004, Red Moon Press, ISBN 1-893959-46-5, USA and “Endless Helix”, 2007, Cyberwit.net, ISBN 978-81-8253-072-0, India.
  • “A SHORT ESSAY ON PRESENTATION OF WORLD HAIKU” – an essay based upon the following multilingual haiku books by Ban’ya Natsuishi: “MADARAK / BIRDS, 50 HAIKU”, including aquarelles by Éva Pápai, translations by Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jack Galmitz and Judit Vihar, published in 2007, Balassi Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary, ISBN 978-963-506-743-5; and “VOICES FROM THE CLOUDS”, translations by Leons Briedis, Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian and James Shea, published in 2008, Minerva, Latvia, ISBN 978-9984-637-42-5).
  • “ESSAY ABOUT THE HAIKU PUBLISHED BY THE WORLD HAIKU ASSOCIATION – World Haiku 2008, No. 4 – a multilingual collection of contemporary haiku from around the world”, (a review of “World Haiku 2008, No. 4”, published by Schichigatsudo Publishing, Tokyo, Japan, ISBN 978-4-87944-117-1, 2008, 230 pages, softcover, edited by Ban’ya Natsuishi for the World Haiku Association).
  • “Reaching towards infinity” – Literary criticism (2009) by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “World Haiku 2009, No. 5”, The World Haiku Association, published by Shichigatsudo, Japan, 2009, ISBN 978-4-87944-135-5, 198 pages, paperback).

It is with great pleasure that I once again have the honor and privilege of reading (and re-reading) many of the works of these two contemporary haiku masters. I include “re-reading” because some of these gems I have indeed read before. “Modern Japanese Haiku” contains 100 haiku by Ban’ya Natsuishi (excerpted from “The Diary of Everyday Hunting” (1983), “Métropolitique” (1985), “Rhythm in the Vacuum” (1986), “The Fugue of Gods” (1990), “Opera in the Human Body” (1990), “Waves of Joy” (1992), “The Science of Megaliths and Big Trees” (1995), “Earth Pilgrimage” (1998), “Drifting” (2001), “Right Eye in Twilight” (2006), “Flying Pope: 161 Haiku” (2008), “Labyrinth of Vilnius” (2009),”Hybrid Paradise” (2010); and 100 haiku by Sayumi Kamakura (here it is not specified where these poems have been published previously but I recognize haiku from her wonderful book “A Crown of Roses” (2007)). These poems are in Japanese and in English, with English translations by Ban’ya Natsuishi, Jim Kacian, Stephen Henry Gill and James Shea.

These 100 plus 100 haiku are not billed as “The 100 best haiku of …”, but rather merely as 100 Haiku, by Ban’ya Natsuishi and 100 Haiku, by Sayumi Kamakura. I consider each of their books to contain precious haiku which function excellently as both individual poems and as coordinated cogs on a wheel; a wheel that is an expression of infinity, and at the same time one of equally valid intelligence (experience) from a bird’s eye perspective (“As above, so below”, “outside looking in and inside looking out”, etc.). All of the haiku books that I have read which have been written by these two authors, and also those edited by Ban’ya Natsuishi, are carefully envisioned, written and constructed so as to give a sense of open-ended completion, inter-connectedness, and harmony — as a whole. I do not look for “the haiku moment” in their poetry because each haiku and all of their haiku books represent (for me) “the moment”, of the breath of Life becoming breathing, in all its expressions. Not one haiku is greater or lesser than the one preceding (or following) the other. Like a great work of art, literature or music, each part flows as effortlessly as any other; and there cannot be music without silences, without rhythm, without contrasts. There cannot be any “100 Best” — merely “100 Haiku”.

This ability of these two haiku masters to create timelessness in a single moment is, indeed, one of my own definitions of mastery: “The novice struggles to make pretty feet dance in the wind, while the haiku of the master yawn and stretch toward infinity … like a century-old bonsai.”

Another characteristic of a contemporary master (in any period of world history) is the ability to think outside of traditional parameters, to give new life to art forms, to explore old and new ideas from new perspectives, with variations on style, and even breaking standardized rules of technique and artistic expression. This is not so much about having a sense of rebelliousness as it is about having the courage to see with more than one’s eyes, to hear noise, silence or “music” with each and every cell of your body, and to feel contact with the essence of experience without ever having to use your sense of touch. A great haiku, like any other truly great work of art, literature or music, is not forced. It is perhaps merely inhaled, and released — in a breath, as a moment.

“Modern Japanese Haiku” is a book that every haiku-lover should consider having in his or her private library. It is also a book that should be available in school curricula and in public libraries. Most importantly, it is a book that should be carried around (on your cellphone, your iPad, or in your shoulder bag or backpack) for meditation and energizing — whenever you need “a moment”.

In conclusion I leave you with two haiku, each of which is, in itself, an entire book of “moments”:

Finally I’ve noticed

a flower of melancholy

in the core of the sun

  • Ban’ya Natsuishi, from “Rhythm in the Vacuum” (1986)

A cold circle

called God

or the sun

  • Sayumi Kamakura, from “A Crown of Roses” (2007)

by Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

clouds-over-oslo-6

ブラックカード  BALANCING THE YIN AGAINST THE YIN.

BALANCING THE YIN AGAINST THE YIN: an essay in response to Ban’ya Natuishi’s

“Black Card / Tarjeta negra”, 169 pages, cyberwit.net, 2013, with English translations by Ban’ya Natsuishi and Eric Selling, and Spanish translations by Emilio Masià.

In “Black Card / Tarjeta negra” Ban’ya Natsuishi allows the reader to be a silent companion in his protagonist’s sojourns through the the darkest side of the Yin-Yang cycle: dealing with death and loss, sorrow and disillusionment; perhaps occasionally with hints of anger or disgust, but never the less at times exhibiting an almost stoic sense of detachment, and at other times absence or resignation. And yet there is an accompanying knowledge that yin cycles are always followed by more positive and active yang cycles in the greater continuum of energy, matter, life force and Spirit.

These haiku are not so much “dark” as they are intentional explorations into the experiential darkness of brutal transformative experiences. Poets fight oppression and stalemates with their greatest sword: words. But Natsuishi – although highly-intelligent about the world and the occupation of living – is also human. He is also emotional. Words often fail to describe the depth of human emotion when spoken or written directly, without a degree of abstraction, without inculcation, and without involving or implicating our surroundings. We gain a greater sense of self-justification when we feel and can show that there is indeed chaos everywhere.

The poet’s protagonist may understand that death and destruction are a part of Life, but he still feels pain. He knows that the somber clouds of disillusionment will one day be replaced by the sun rays of the yang, but he chooses to investigate in detail how the negativity besets his world and his perception of it. By recognizing this yin energy in all its manifestations and describing its core force in words, then he can possibly eventually triumph over its overwhelming force. As with most people in personal crises, it is often at some point a question of balancing the Yin against the Yin — hoping to reach a milder greyness on the path back to Light and Hope.

This book is a powerful and relentless dirge — for his parents, for victims of natural disasters and nuclear accidents, and for himself. More importantly, it is a vivid documentation of a journey through Darkness. It is private, personal … and yet we are allowed to experience his humanness. It is not negativity but rather a beautiful account of passage through a mirror of darkness. But do not be deceived. This book was not only written for Natsuishi himself; it is written for you, me … all of us. Perhaps it is only by connecting with the rawness of poetic emotionality that we can stop and consider the lives we are creating and the world we are destroying.

Of course, it is only human for readers to want some finalization in the denouement. But Ban’ya Natsuishi has only offered a one-way ticket. This is his journey, and his continuation is truly a new book already in the making. For now, it is just to try on his spectacles and wonder at the magnificent transference he has achieved. Just be here now — right now, and right here — with Ban’ya Natsuishi as he ponders the futility of the Black Card.

And then take your own journey — into the deeper reaches of your own emotional world and perceptions. Balance the yin against the yin. The sunlight awaits beyond the dark cloud but we must first experience and accept the inevitability of the nature of clouds.

Consider these haiku poems from the book by Ban’ya Natsuishi:

Page 57

Cloudy sky —

my own fluttering

unheard

Cielo nublado

inaudible

mi aleteo

Page 61

Torrential rain pours on

a word pursuing

a word

Bajo esta lluvia torrencial,

persigue

una palabra a la otra

Page 69

Death is not the last answer

a bird singing

behind the mountains

La muerte

no tiene la última palabra

en la recóndita sierra gorjean los pájaros

Page 70

Absence is a womb

we are traveling

to the next absence

La ausencia es un seno

somos viajeros

de la ausencia

Page 71

Ground water silently

running to a spring

a pure night wind

Fluye hacia el manantial

un cauce subterráneo

silenciosa brisa nocturna

Page 73

I throw down

a dead word

to a dead fish

Lanzo

palabras muertas

a peces muertos

Page 124

Thunderstorm

on a giant dandelion —

the silent Japanese

Rayos y truenos

sobre el gigantesco diente de león

japoneses en silencio

Page 133

This sorrow:

a broken cloud

among clouds

Esta tristeza:

nubes rotas

dentro de otra nube

Page 151

Time filled with holes

appears

in clouds filled with holes

Aparece

un tiempo agujereado

entre nubes agujereadas

by Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

ブラックカード    EQUILIBRANDO EL YIN CONTRA EL YIN.

EQUILIBRANDO EL YIN CONTRA EL YIN: un ensayo en respuesta a Ban’ya Natuishi’s “Black Card / Tarjeta negra”, 169 páginas, cyberwit.net, 2013, con traducciones en inglés de Ban’ya Natsuishi y Eric Selling, y traducciones en español de Emilio Masià.

En “Black Card / Tarjeta negra” Ban’ya Natsuishi permite al lector ser un compañero silencioso en las estancias de su protagonista a través del lado más oscuro del ciclo Yin-Yang: lidiar con la muerte y la pérdida, el dolor y la desilusión; quizás ocasionalmente con indicios de enojo o disgusto, pero nunca menos exhibe a veces una sensación casi estoica de desapego, y otras veces ausencia o resignación. Y sin embargo, hay un conocimiento acompañante de que los ciclos yin siempre son seguidos por ciclos yang positivos y activos en el continuo mayor de energía, materia, fuerza vital y Espíritu.

Estos haiku no son tan “oscuros” como son exploraciones intencionales en la oscuridad experiencial de experiencias transformadoras y brutales. Los poetas combaten la opresión y los estancamientos con su mayor espada: las palabras. Pero Natsuishi – aunque altamente inteligente sobre el mundo y la ocupación de la vida – también es humano. También es emocional. Las palabras a menudo no describen la profundidad de la emoción humana cuando se habla o escribe directamente, sin un grado de abstracción, sin inculcación, y sin involucrar o implicar a nuestro entorno. Obtenemos un mayor sentido de autojustificación cuando sentimos y podemos demostrar que realmente hay caos en todas partes.

El protagonista del poeta puede entender que la muerte y la destrucción son una parte de la vida, pero él todavía siente dolor. Sabe que las sombrías nubes de desilusión serán un día reemplazadas por los rayos del sol del yang, pero él decide investigar en detalle cómo la negatividad asedia su mundo y su percepción de él. Al reconocer esta energía yin en todas sus manifestaciones y describir su fuerza central en palabras, entonces él puede eventualmente triunfar sobre su fuerza abrumadora. Como ocurre con la mayoría de las personas en crisis personales, a menudo es en algún momento una cuestión de equilibrar el Yin contra el Yin – con la esperanza de alcanzar una grisura más suave en el camino de regreso a la Luz y la Esperanza.

Este libro es un fiel poderoso e implacable – para sus padres, para las víctimas de desastres naturales y accidentes nucleares, y para sí mismo. Más importante aún, es una documentación vívida de un viaje a través de la Oscuridad. Es privado, personal … y sin embargo se nos permite experimentar su humanidad. No es negatividad, sino más bien un hermoso relato del paso a través de un espejo de oscuridad. Pero no se deje engañar. Este libro no sólo fue escrito para Natsuishi mismo; está escrito para ti, para mí … para todos nosotros. Tal vez sea sólo conectando con la crudeza de la emotividad poética que podemos detenernos y considerar las vidas que estamos creando y el mundo que estamos destruyendo.

Por supuesto, es sólo humano para los lectores que quieren alguna finalización en el desenlace. Pero Ban’ya Natsuishi sólo ha ofrecido un billete de ida. Este es su viaje, y su continuación es verdaderamente un nuevo libro ya en construcción. Por ahora, es sólo para probar sus gafas y maravillarse de la magnífica transferencia que ha logrado. Sólo estar aquí ahora – ahora mismo, y aquí mismo – con Ban’ya Natsuishi mientras reflexiona sobre la futilidad de la Black Card.

Y luego tomar su propio viaje – en los tramos más profundos de su propio mundo emocional y las percepciones. Equilibrar el yin contra el yin. La luz del sol espera más allá de la nube oscura, pero primero debemos experimentar y aceptar la inevitabilidad de la naturaleza de las nubes.

Considere estos poemas de haiku del libro de Ban’ya Natsuishi:

Pagina 57

Cloudy sky —

my own fluttering

unheard

Cielo nublado

inaudible

mi aleteo

Pagina 61

Torrential rain pours on

a word pursuing

a word

Bajo esta lluvia torrencial,

persigue

una palabra a la otra

Pagina 69

Death is not the last answer

a bird singing

behind the mountains

La muerte

no tiene la última palabra

en la recóndita sierra gorjean los pájaros

Pagina 70

Absence is a womb

we are traveling

to the next absence

La ausencia es un seno

somos viajeros

de la ausencia

Pagina 71

Ground water silently

running to a spring

a pure night wind

Fluye hacia el manantial

un cauce subterráneo

silenciosa brisa nocturna

Pagina 73

I throw down

a dead word

to a dead fish

Lanzo

palabras muertas

a peces muertos

Pagina 124

Thunderstorm

on a giant dandelion —

the silent Japanese

Rayos y truenos

sobre el gigantesco diente de león

japoneses en silencio

Pagina 133

This sorrow:

a broken cloud

among clouds

Esta tristeza:

nubes rotas

dentro de otra nube

Pagina 151

Time filled with holes

appears

in clouds filled with holes

Aparece

un tiempo agujereado

entre nubes agujereadas

por Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

Equilibrium, oil on canvas, 50x50 cm., 2016.
Equilibrium, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm., 2016.
Reflection, oil on canvas, 50x50 cm., 2016.
Reflection, oil on canvas, 50×50 cm., 2016.

COMMENTS ON “100 HAIKU” by Ban’ya Natsuishi & Sayumi Kamakura, in Japanese and English, 55 pages, paperback, 5.5 x 8.5, cyberwit.net, 2016.

This small volume presents selected haiku by Ban’ya Natsuishi and Sayumi Kamakura, with excerpts from:

  • Ban’ya Natsuishi’s “Collected Early Haiku: Roaring River (2001), “The Diary of Everyday Hunting” (1983), “Métropolitique” (1985), “Rhythm in the Vacuum” (1986), “The Fugue of Gods” (1990), “Opera in the Human Body” (1990), “Waves of Joy” (1992), “The Science of Megaliths and Big Trees” (1995), “Earth Pilgrimage” (1998), “Drifting” (2001), “Right Eye in Twilight” (2006), “Flying Pope: 161 Haiku” (2008), “Labyrinth in Vilnius” (2009), “Hybrid Paradise” (2010) and “Black Card/Tarjeta negra” (2013); and
  • Sayumi Kamakura’s “A Singing Blue” (2000), “A Crown of Roses” (2007) and “Seven Sunsets” (2013).

The book highlights individual poems in small groupings, and is perhaps more light-hearted than some of Ban’ya Natsuishi’s previous books. Nonetheless, these haiku poems all have levels of profundity as can be found in much of Natsuishi’s work. Imagine leafing through one’s memory bank of images and feelings connected with past experience — much like a photo album. Those memories and sensations that are now most subjectively vivid are not always those that we may have considered to be the most dramatic, significant or transformational at the time, but perhaps fleeting ones that we have later (now) associated with feelings, happenings and discoveries experienced recently. It is at those precious moments of protracted timeline associations that past (and sometimes seemingly forgotten) memories again come to life. They were – in fact – never really forgotten, and they may now shine anew — in a different context, sequence and perspective. In such a process — of looking back and finding new associations — we are able to see life’s chain of events in a broader and more elongated line which is at once integrated and interactive. This is the calm of mature reflection, and of being able to momentarily put aside the urgency of finding permanent solutions and assessments. We must find periods of “completion” again and again before any final summation. Haiku lends itself very well to this kind of reflection, as stillness and movement often happen concurrently in the life of the haiku. Natsuishi’s imagery is well-complemented by that of Kamakura. Hers is equally strong, but perhaps at times more feminine and quiet — full of harmonious color, but still emphatic.

The book is beautifully illustrated with calligraphy created by the poets themselves. The poetry and art are aesthetically presented, and in such a way so as not to compete with or cancel out one another. It is possible to reflect upon either the haiku or the illustrations, without the one being dependent upon the other. In that sense, this book qualifies as well as an art book or a coffee table book — an edition that needs space, accessibility and the “freedom” to be picked up and admired, rather than to be hidden between dozens of other books in a bookcase. It is also a book that is very conducive to reflection; one page at a sitting. As a single blade of grass holds the secrets of an entire universe, each haiku and illustration in this book can provide limitless insight into the science of living. These haiku and illustrations are alive.

This book contains no foreword, and no explanation stating the intentions of the authors. None is needed as the book speaks quite well for itself. The reader is quickly plunged into the minds, senses and sensibilities of the two haiku masters, without preparation or expectation. It is at once both zazen and walking meditation. There is no need to follow our breathing or rid ourselves of competing thoughts, as the authors’ “music” synchronizes our sensibilities, rhythms and sensations with that of their own.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

Trinity

Comments about “Màs alla Del Esfuerzo – Memorias de un Cónsul Honorario (Spanish Edition)”, 

by James G. Skinner, 136 pages, cyberwit.net, 2015.

This peculiar book is an entertaining and engaging book by an interesting personality who has created a fascinating life for himself. The book is short (136 pages) but it is packed with amusing and informative anecdotes from his years as a British consul in northern Spain. These anecdotes are – in reality – abbreviated short stories told in lively detail, but usually ending rather abruptly. Thus the reader may feel almost as if he or she is invited to a long dinner with a fantastic spread of exciting tapas dishes — only to have the table suddenly cleared and loaded up again with new exotic delights. There are so many of these anecdotes that the reader still has a full literary stomach when the stories quite suddenly come to an end. The experience can perhaps also be likened to “bar stories” exchanged by reminiscing ex-adventurers. They are captivating and well-written, in a simple, refreshing and matter-of-fact literary style: “this is how it was”, and with no attempts at being“academic” or “poetic”.

The final portion of the book is a mini-autobiography of sorts, disguised as a personal timeline. Here Skinner remembers and recounts the many major events, travels and jobs in his life — spanning from 1938 until 2007, and on several continents.

As noted above, the author has had a most interesting life, and he is a good conversationalist and writer. His writing makes the mouth water for more, and longer stories — and although I have yet to read any of his novels, I am now curious to do so.

It would seem that James G. Skinner has perhaps always “walked the extra mile”. In spite of some disappointments along the way I believe that the rich rewards that he has reaped in the total context of his fabulous life should inspire many to approach their own lives with the same enthusiasm for life and for doing the right thing — even if it means sometimes bending some rules. And hopefully, to share those learnings and experiences wide and far, as James G. Skinner does.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

Commentarios sobre “Màs alla Del Esfuerzo – Memorias de un Cónsul Honorario (Spanish Edition)”, 

por James G. Skinner, 136 paginas, cyberwit.net, 2015.

Este libro peculiar es un libro entretenido y atractivo, escrito por una personalidad interesante que ha creado una vida fascinante para sí mismo. El libro es corto (136 páginas), pero está lleno de anécdotas divertidas e informativas de sus años como consul británico en el norte de España. Estas anécdotas son – en realidad – abreviadas historias cortas contadas en detalle vivo, pero terminan generalmente algo abruptamente. Así, el lector puede sentirse casi como si el o ella es invitado a una larga cena con una fantástica variedad platos de tapas emocionantes – sólo para tener la mesa de repente despejada y cargada de nuevo con nuevas delicias exóticas. Hay tantas de estas anécdotas que el lector todavía tiene un estómago literario completo cuando las historias de repente llegan a su fin. La experiencia también puede ser comparado con “historias de bar” — intercambiadas por la reminiscencia de ex aventureros. Son cautivantes y bien escritas, en un estilo literario simple, refrescante y práctico: “así es como fue”, y sin intentos de ser “académico” o “poético”.

La parte final del libro es una mini-autobiografía, disfrazada como una línea de tiempo personal. Aquí Skinner recuerda y relata los muchos acontecimientos importantes, viajes y trabajos en su vida – que abarcan desde 1938 hasta 2007, y en varios continentes.

Como se mencionó anteriormente, el autor ha tenido una vida muy interesante, y es un buen conversador y escritor. Su escritura hace que la boca haga agua para más, y más historias – y aunque todavía tengo que leer cualquiera de sus novelas, ahora tengo curiosidad por hacerlo.

Parece que James G. Skinner quizás siempre “caminó la milla extra”. A pesar de algunas decepciones en el camino creo que las ricas recompensas que ha cosechado en el contexto total de su fabulosa vida debe inspirar a muchos a acercarse a sus propias vidas con el mismo entusiasmo para la vida y para hacer lo correcto – incluso si significa a veces doblar algunas reglas. Y con suerte, para compartir esos aprendizajes y experiencias de manera amplia y lejana, como hace James G. Skinner.

por Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.

Flora, erotica no. 1

REVIEW OF “THAT EROTIC SILENCE”, by Dr. Anuj, 259 pages, Cyberwit.net, 2016.

This book represents a creative and courageous approach to writing by the author: Dr. Anuj.

For me, the boldness has both to do with the subject matter, i.e. the nascence and development of sexuality from childhood onward and the accompanying Freudian explanations, as well as the unusual style of writing: 259 pages of mostly third person narrative and devoid of dialogue! The possible pitfalls to avoid in such an endeavor are many,including snubbing the literary police who religiously warn against “telling rather than showing” the reader, risks of alienating reader participation by distancing him or her from the characters’ speech, interactions and multi-dimensional personalities, and the possible tediousness of almost unbroken narrative prose over so many pages.

Here there were no great concerns, it would seem. The author managed to maintain my attention and interest throughout the book, largely due to the fact that the author has a good command of English vocabulary, a passion for the story, a good storytelling ability, a sense of detail, and the successful usage of descriptive imagery and social and culture dynamics — all of which blossom with leaps and bounds, as the book progresses.

Despite the lack of direct dialogue and traditional in-depth character development, the author manages to create an almost cinematic quality in the storytelling. The author obviously enjoyed writing this tale, and that engagement has brought life to a rather difficult exercise.

While sexual development in the young protagonist “Z” is the primary problem examined, the underlying main theme is rather about learning to understand love — perhaps mostly from the perspective and experience of women. It is an endearing story, which is well-communicated.

Dr. Rosa Maria DelVecchio provides a very good foreword to the book, but with spoilers. Do read it, but consider reading the story first.

This book would make an interesting study for creative writing students today.

by Adam Donaldson Powell, 2016, Norway.

REVIEW OF “THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL”, 198 pages, by Jyothirllata Girija, Cyberwit.net, 2016.

This is a delightful and fast-paced play – in three acts – which is set in India. Girija has done a wonderful job with her storytelling and, even though I was convinced that I had guessed the final outcome already one-third of the way through the script, the author managed to throw out a few surprising fireballs all the way to the final page. There are many themes and agendas presented for thought and discussion in this short play, and they are all handled quite well. Girija has excellent writing skills, and a keen understanding of reader psychology. 
 
 
by Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2016.
We the People - Democracy by gun, 100x81 cm, oil on canvas, 2016.
We the People – Democracy by gun, 100×81 cm, oil on canvas, 2016.

Review of “…the smell of piss an’ shit in his pants – The vicarious memoir of a Vietnam War veteran -“, by T. Wignesan, 120 pages, Cyberwit.net, 2015, paperback.

From the author’s Preface:

“This is the story of a Vietnam War veteran. It would hardly be appropriate to use the word veteran for one so young, for when Ulixes was de-mobbed he was only twenty-two. He was born in the borough of Queens and grew up mainly there and in Brooklyn, New York, before being conscripted at twenty. In all he had spent a year and 67 days in Vietnam during which time he saw action as a foot-soldier. On three occasions, he and his patrol were ambushed by the Viet-Cong and North Vietnamese regular army personnel. There were seven other skirmishes as well. The first time a month after his arrival on October 1st, 1968, he went through the shock of seeing and handling mashed-up and dismembered bodies of his buddies while staving off an attack from the Viet Cong. The second took place two months later during the Mini Tet Offensive at Long Ogygia Base on the Cambodian border and lasted some twelve hours. He killed two North Vietnamese Army personnel; one with his M16 and another with his Ka-Bar knife. He sustained no great injuries himself; that is, not visibly on his person, but the scars of shock and fear were scorched deep under his fatigues and skin and rose with time to render his life a vacant yet furies-filled passage between the embattled three-room quarters he occupies and the Veterans’ Hospital. On the psychologist and psychiatrists’ cards he remains tagged as a post-traumatic stress (PTS) case.”

And with the following additional sentences from the cyberwit.net description of the book:

“Is he a hero? Or an anti-hero? Or just a victim of circumstances? A pawn on the chess-board moved by invisible hands? Judge for yourself.”

T. Wignesan is a literary provocateur, and reading his books always presents the reader with challenges and tests. These are not so much tests of academic or literary intelligence; they rather “allow the reader to understand” that not all in life (or literature) is as expected, or as presented. Wignesan is adept at creating constructions that ensnare, release, and then change again. He is clearly interested in how persons think, and how they are conditioned. In this book he boldly states that the story to be presented is purposely not written in a linear fashion, and he explains why — blaming the interview subject, communications difficulties, occasional apathy on the parts of both the author and the interview subject, and other issues. While much information is presented in the book, it is highly-deconstructed. Some sections are highly-detailed and engaging, and others read more like journal entries — recording disconnected, but yet connected conversations and narratives. The reader who does not hold out might well conclude that this book is merely poorly-written. But alas, Wignesan is far ahead of us. For those who are paying attention there are many “coincidental” revelations throughout the book — and a bit of reflection while reading successive chapters and passages is enough to leave you both cursing the author and praising his weird genius by the time you reach the last page. You see, this story is really not about any big or important story, and it is truly not about the protagonists (the “author” and the interview subject). In fact, the only protagonist in this “novel” is the Reader.

Already from the beginning we are drawn into a series of puddles which become concentric circles — of both small and meaningless, and greater and more significant proportions. We will not find our way through the labyrinth by linear thinking. It does not matter where this “story” begins. It begins and ends in the mind of the Reader. It is up to you to let the process mix up and possibly explode your mind, or to give up — blaming the author for not being a coherent, traditional, non-academic … or good writer.

Wignesan has fun throughout the book — with repetitions (and comments signifying that he knows that he repeats himself), with references to earlier books (and what I assume has been criticism for their academic style), and more. When Wignesan finally gets to the promised “story” over half-way through the book, he does give us exactly what we wanted from the beginning: a fluid, descriptive, engaging, and well-told story that only requires that we follow the words. But by then it is too late, dear Reader. Wignesan has already penetrated your mindset with literary guerrilla warfare. You have already been disabled, and had your literary ego neutralized and violated.

And finally — in the last few pages — Wignesan cleverly manages to extricate himself of responsibility by revealing his mere advisory role in the whole vicarious mess of piss an’ shit.

What do you expect, dear Reader? He has a doctoral degree in aesthetics, for chrissake! Hahaha …

I have previously written three essays based on books by T. Wignesan:

– Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Poïetics : Disquisitions on the Art of Creation”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-104-8, 214 pages, paperback.

– Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell – based upon “Victorian (pen-in-cheek) Vignettes” and “The Night Soil Man”, both published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, respectively : ISBN 978-81-8253-107-9, 207 pages, paperback; and ISBN 978-81-8253-124-6, 193 pages, paperback.

– Literary criticism (2009) by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Mere deaths and the mostly dead : a collection of six long and four short stories”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-122-2, 275 pages, paperback).

These essays can be read here: https://adamangel.me/2011/07/10/adam-donaldson-powell-reviews-literary-works-by-t-wignesan/

– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2017.

Deconstructed pond, oil on canvas, 40x40 cm. (An exploration of the zone in between Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism.)
Deconstructed pond, oil on canvas, 40×40 cm. (An exploration of the zone in between Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism.)

REVIEW OF “FLOTSAM OF THE MIND”, 92 pages, Malini, Cyberwit.net, 2016.

“Flotsam of the Mind” is a good attempt for a first book of poetry. The author demonstrates a good understanding of poetry styles, and has many thoughts to communicate. With maturity, experience and practice her writing will improve even more so.

– Adam Donaldson Powell, 2016, Norway.

(photography and paintings by Adam Donaldson Powell)