Poetry, H

Poetry Month is officially over (June is National Bathroom Reading Month, apparently), but that’s no reason to abandon our arbitrary and occasional Poetry A-Z series…

H is for Hai Zi

Hai ZiHai Zi is the pen name of poet Zha Haisheng, who was born to a peasant family in a rural Chinese province in 1964. A precocious child, Hai Zi was offered a place at the prestigious Peking University at the age of fifteen, and he graduated with a law degree four years later. He was shortly afterwards appointed professor at China University of Political Science and Law, where he edited the school’s journal and taught classes in aesthetics. It was while at university that Hai Zi decided to devote his energies to poetry. He read widely from classical and contemporary literature, and often sat at his desk working on a poem from dusk till dawn. During these productive years, he also began to exhibit signs of mental illness; he experienced hallucinations, and came to believe that certain people around him were intent on doing him harm. In March 1989, on or near his twenty-fifth birthday, Hai Zi committed suicide by lying down on a railroad track at the eastern end of the Great Wall.

A prolific writer, Hai Zi produced around 250 short poems, several poetic plays, and a number of long poems totaling over 400 pages. His work was not widely recognized during his lifetime (although his students often asked him to recite his poetry for them), but since his death numerous volumes of his selected works have been published, and he is now considered one of the most important Chinese poets of the twentieth century. He came of age during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, and his poems display a deep affection and nostalgia for the vanishing agricultural landscape of his youth. He writes without irony, and he celebrates nature and explores spiritual matters with utmost sincerity. It’s a voice that might seem a little hokey to those of us wearing our cynical britches, but when you consider the personal and cultural context in which the poems were written, it’s hard not to be moved by his bravery and vulnerability: at a time when the world around him revered uniformity, industry, and subservience, Hai Zi wrote openly about his personal suffering, and was unafraid to eulogize a more authentic, traditional way of life.

Over Autumn RooftopsIn 2010, Host Publications (Malvern Books’ publishing arm) released Over Autumn Rooftops, a bilingual collection of Hai Zi’s verse, translated by Dan Murphy. Murphy first encountered Hai Zi’s poetry scrawled on the bathroom wall of a Beijing bar and was instantly enamored: early the next morning he rode his bicycle to the nearest bookstore, bought the selected works, and returned to his tiny apartment to begin translating. In his introduction to Over Autumn Rooftops, Murphy writes of the process:

It is not just the words that we translate, but rather that which is pointed to. I do not believe that “poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Literary translation should not be a reduction from the original, not a second-best copy, not a reflection in an imperfect mirror. The translator must create a new poem from the same thin vein of beauty as the original.

Here are three of Hai Zi’s poems as translated by Murphy, their beauty utterly intact:

The Shades of the Night

in the shades of the night
I suffer three times: roam, love, exist
I have three types of contentment: poetry, throne, sun

* * *


use our bones laid on the earth
on the beach write: youth. Then shoulder a decrepit father
this time is endless      direction severed
animal-like terror filling up our poetry

whose voice can arrive at autumn’s midnight      permanently
covering our bones laid on the earth—
autumn comes
without a particle of forgiveness or tenderness: autumn comes

* * *

For the Pacific

my wedding dyes the Pacific red
my bride—the Pacific
Asia is also my sad and serene bride
your blood dyes red the sky of sorrow inside you

God’s sad bride, your blood dyes
the sky red, your sea of solitude
your beautiful hair
like dusk on the Pacific

Swanlike Stuff

Following on from our introduction to the literary delights of Forklift, Ohio and Smartish Pace, let’s take a gander at another journal that will soon be propped up adorably on our shelves: Ugly Duckling Presse’s 6×6 series.

Ugly Duckling Presse is a publishing collective run out of an old can factory in the heart of industrial Brooklyn. The press(e) focuses on emerging writers, “forgotten” authors, and work in translation, and they’ve published some very impressive titles, including Tomaž Šalamun’s Poker, which was a finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.


The press began in 1993 when college student Matvei Yankelevich and a friend pasted together a zine made up of collages and “ballpoint scrawl” and called it The Ugly Duckling. From this initial “beautiful mess,” the enterprise expanded and began to take shape as a collective of like-minded writers and artists. UDP is now a pretty big concern—they’ve published over 200 titles—but there’s still an irreverent, artisanal feel to all things Ducky. The press is still run by a volunteer collective, and its members still like to get their hands dirty; each and every book is handmade to some extent. Among UDP’s many projects, there’s the Eastern European Poets Series, the Lost Literature Series, the Cellar Series Podcasts (recordings of readings and discussions with UDP authors), and the poetry journal 6×6.

Ugly Duckling

6×6 was first published in 2000 and is edited by Yankelevich and friends. The journal comes out three times a year, and showcases mostly young(ish), new(ish) poets from at home and abroad, with at least one work in translation in each issue. And as the series’ title might suggest, each issue features six poets, with each poet given six pages. The journal is a pleasingly symmetrical 7” x 7”—I guess 6” x 6” would have been a wee bit cute?—and is bound with a handsome rubber band (I’m not the only person who admires the bands; a question regarding rubber band stockists appears in the Ugly Duckling FAQ). And in keeping with the theme of sixes, apparently the plan is to call a halt to the series after the 36th issue. I can’t promise Malvern Books will have every issue in stock—some are already sold out—but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to offer you at least… six.

Mighty Mighty Melvins

Today Adam introduces the Malverns to the mighty Melvins…

The Melvins emerged from Seattle, Washington, in 1986 with not one, but two releases: 10 Songs and Gluey Porch Treatments. While the Melvins are categorized in the stoner metal genre overall, a strange but interesting fact about them is that they were noted as being an influence for bands such as Mudhoney and Nirvana. As a result, it can be said that they were partially responsible for the birth of the grunge movement. Grunge is said by many to have replaced or some would even say destroyed the metal movement for a time in the ’90s. This being said, it is difficult to categorize the Melvins as either being part of the grunge movement or the metal movement.

The Melvins

The Melvins are led by Buzz Osborne (above center) or “King Buzzo” on guitars and vocals. The band also has Dale Crover on drums, and has had various bass players throughout its career. One of the first bass players for the band was Lori “Lorax” Black, who interestingly enough is the daughter of Shirley Temple. The Melvins are known for their dissonant, lumbering sound, which is made up of impenetrable drum rhythms that are accompanied by sludgy, distorted guitar riffs.

The Melvins’ music is influenced by bands like Black Flag, with their mix of punk and metal, and particularly their album My War. They also drew influence from slower punk acts like Flipper and Swans. On top of that, one can also pick up on an influence from classic hard rock acts such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Black Sabbath. The Melvins were always known for their originality and clever, unique style, both in regards to their music and their overall philosophy as a band. At one point in their career, they took a highly innovative step that in all likelihood no other band had tried when they hired a second drummer so they would have not one, but two drummers during their set lists.

The first album the Melvins put out that brought them into the rock spotlight was Houdini, which was released in 1993. It was at this point that they received the reputation of being a sludge rock band. The album was the band’s first major label debut and it was comprised of short, heavy sounding songs that mixed punk with a slowed down, sludgy version of metal. The album included singles such as “Hooch,” “Honey Bucket,” and “Night Goat.”

Their most prominent album was their seventh release, which was entitled Stoner Witch. This was the first album in which the band incorporated their two drummer routine, which can be heard on the opening track “Skweetis.” The album contains popular songs such as “Queen,” “June Bug,” and “Revolve.”

The Melvins have released thirteen more albums since then, bringing their total album count to twenty. Many say that the band somewhat fell off the grid for a time until they released (A) Senile Animal in 2006, followed by Nude with Boots in 2008. Nude with Boots arguably contains some of the Melvins’ best written material since their early days. The Melvins are still a thriving band today and they have in fact just announced a scheduled set of tour dates throughout the United States.

Get Smartish

Yesterday we introduced you to the joys of Forklift, Ohio, one of the many literary journals you’ll be able to spill your latte on at Malvern Books (by the way, “you besmirch it, you buy it” is official store policy on days when we’re feeling cranky, so you might want to look into a lid). Today let’s take a peek at another cracking collectable, Smartish Pace.

Smartish Pace

Poetry journal Smartish Pace was founded by Stephen Reichert in 1999, while he was studying law at the University of Maryland. He named the journal for a nineteenth-century English legal case, Davies v. Mann, which involved an illegally parked donkey and a horse-drawn wagon traveling at a “smartish pace.” (It’s kind of an interesting case, actually, especially as it involves repeated use of the word ass: Davies, the plaintiff, had illegally tethered his ass at the side of a highway so it could graze. This sounds charmingly idyllic, apart from the highway part, but alas our defendant, Mann, galloped by in his horse-drawn wagon, struck Davies’ ass, and killed it. Davies was rather miffed by the loss and took Mann to court, arguing that even if his ass-tethering was a little naughty, Mann was also negligent in going so fast. And just so you know: the court ruled in favor of Davies and his deceased ass, and this ruling has led to the doctrine of “last clear chance,” which basically states that if you’re the last person who has a chance to prevent a disaster and you fail to do so, well, you’re in big trouble—even when said disaster was set in motion by someone else’s screw up.) Anyway! Enough about asses. More about journals. Smartish Pace is published annually, and it features wonderful poetry from new and established writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning fancypants poets like Ted Kooser, Paul Muldoon, Maxine Kumin, and Mary Oliver.

Also worth nothing: Smartish Pace sells very cool t-shirts. We make a point of picking up a couple whenever we encounter the SP folks at a book fair. (Those SP folks know how to have a good time at a book fair; I suspect it involves whiskey.) And another excellent Smartish endeavor: their website features a Poets Q&A section—”the first interactive poetry forum on the internet”—where well-known poets like Rae Armantrout, Jorie Graham, and Robert Hass answer questions from readers. Here are a couple of responses from Robert Creeley:

How do you know when a poem is truly finished?
Sue Kline, Lutherville, MD

Perhaps you remember what Williams says in “The Desert Music”—it’s literally the text of an interview Mike Wallace did with him—and it goes something like, “Why/ does one want to write a poem?// Because it’s there to be written.” One knows a poem is finished when one comes to the end of that “writing,” when there’s no more to say or do, when whatever need and energies compelled and provided for it have gone. “Fled is that music…” It’s done.

What is the single greatest influence that Pound had on you as a person, and not necessarily as a poet—if that distinction can be made?
Joel, Chicago

When he was still in St. Elizabeth’s, we had a very moving correspondence from my end—it was a complex of great Poundian maxims with sudden flashes of unexpected wit or playfulness. He’d sign his letters often: “Yours Anon/Y Mouse”—or he’d say, “You refer to something as being the case for the past forty years. Are you 24—or 64?” He used to address me as “Little Fish Basket”—terrific! Elsewise I’d be “the Creel”—and he gave me impeccable rules of thumb for paying attention, e.g., “Any tendency to abstract general statement is a greased slide…” or “Literacy is the ability to recognize the same idea in different formulations.” He quoted to me Aristotle’s “Swift perception of the relation between things is the hallmark of genius.” He taught me to take myself seriously as a writer (and person) and to learn how to work sans the usual frames of classroom or club. In short, he demonstrated that such writing as I hoped to do was serious, that it took concentration and practice, and that one had to keep engaged. As he says in the taped conversation with Geoffrey Bridson for the BBC, “You cannot have literature without curiosity.” One remembers it all.

Finally, here’s Reichert himself talking about the journal’s evolution in a digital age:

A Little Light Industrial Safety

We’ve told you that Malvern Books will be chock-full of delightful poetry and fiction, but have we mentioned that we’ll also be offering an outstanding selection of literary journals for your perusal? It’s true! We will! This week we’ll introduce you to a few of our favorites, starting with Forklift, Ohio.


The journal’s full name is Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety, and I think you’ll agree that this is a winning trifecta of concerns. Produced “approximately 1.618 times per year” by three good friends, the Cincinnati-based journal’s stated aim is to “fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I can tell you that each journal is handmade in limited quantities out of an assortment of odd materials. Some issues are furry, some are spotty, and some are riddled with bullet holes. Issue #18 comes dog-eared for your convenience, while Issue #24 can only be opened with a corkscrew.

If you manage to get inside your copy, you’ll find poetry, prose, and visual art, along with the promised recipes, safety tips (Forklift, Ohio is proud of its “thirteen-year record as an accident-free workplace”), and assorted silliness. The best bits of silliness come directly from the pages of old magazines: Issue #12 includes an advertisement for carcass splitters and “Nine Rules for Avoiding Constipation” (Rule No. 6 advises readers to “avoid cathartics”). But in case this all sounds a bit nincompoopy for you, let me assure you that the poetry in Forklift, Ohio is very good indeed. Esteemed poet Dean Young is a big fan of the journal and hands out copies to his pals—but if you’re not one of Mr. Young’s pals, you can always get your mitts on a Forklift at Malvern Books.

She Real Cool

BrooksPoet Gwendolyn Brooks was born on this day in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917. Brooks published more than twenty poetry collections, as well as a novel and two volumes of autobiography. She was the first African American author to receive a Pulitzer Prize, which she was awarded for her second collection, Annie Allen (1949). Her most famous poem is “We Real Cool” (she reads it wonderfully here), which originally appeared in the September 1959 edition of Poetry. I’m especially fond of “The Rites for Cousin Vit,” a sonnet from Annie Allen:

The Rites for Cousin Vit 

Carried her unprotesting out the door
Kicked back the casket-stand. But it can’t hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid’s contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
She rises in sunshine. There she goes
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people’s eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking. Must emerge.
Even now, she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slaps the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.