“Katachi” by Shugo Tokumaru

In our latest communication with IB in Japan, he said that he has recently found the music of Shugo Tokumaru to be phenomenal. This musician composes, writes the lyrics, mixes, and performs his music, controlling every aspect of it. He also uses over 100 different traditional and non-traditional instruments.

The above stop-action animation created by Kijek and Adamski, was produced to accompany Tokumaru’s piece called “Katachi,” which in Japanese means form, “kata” meaning pattern and “chi” meaning magical power or energy. It is a term used to express that essential Japanese aesthetic of symmetry, craftmanship, and design revealing an equality of beauty and functionality. It is as awesome as Tokumaru’s music.

Thanks to IB for introducing us to Shugo Tokumaru and helping to keep his parents somewhat hip.

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“Jubilate” by Galway Kinnell

Smart2

Christopher Smart

1

So from poet to poet we proceeded
in our celebration of Christopher Smart’s
long-undiscovered poem Jubilate Agno, composed
by this profligate, drunken, devout, mad polymath
between 1757 and 1763 while incarcerated
for a year in St. Luke’s Hospital for the Insane
and then for four or five years more in the less
bedlamic asylum at Bethnal Green.
Drawing on books he had brought or
borrowed from other madhouse libraries—
to wit: an Authorized Bible, a Polyglot Bible,
Albin’s Natural History of Birds, Walton’s
Compleat Angler, Coxe’s Descriptions of Carolana,
Pliny’s Natural History, Anson’s Voyage Around
the World, Ainsworth’s Thesaurus, plus various popular
journals and occult writings — and availing himself
of his own waggery, his own observations and wide
learning,  his prodigious memory and excited imaginings,
“For I am not without authority in my jeopardy” 
Smart extracted from his whirling brain one, two,
or three, lines a day, to keep himself sane—
for a profound sanity underlies this project:
to repair our connection to the natural world
by joining person after person – a Joram or Caleb or Ehud
or Haggith, or Bernice or Shobab or Joab — with an animal,
or insect, tree, plant, flower, or precious stone — almost any
living, or almost living, entity would do, from the Zoony
to the Great Flabber Dabber Flat Clapping Fish.
This grand but unfinished work, which Smart saw as
his “Magnificat,”  is witty and wild in its calls-and-responses,
in effect a long, healing roll-call of the earth.

2

And so, two hundred and fifteen years later,
twenty-one poets gathered on a February night
in a little church on Lower Fifth Avenue
and one by one stood up and read or recited
to a large and ardent audience thirty
lines or so per poet from Jubilate Agno —
mere floccinaucinihilipilification
to the world outside, but to us a source of joy and truth —
the lung-ether of the living loving the long dead.
Some poets were attracted to passages they knew,
for their own reasons, such as Etheridge Knight,
who, like Kit Smart, had done time:
“Let Andrew rejoice with the whale,
who is array’d in beauteous blue
and is a combination of bulk and activity,
for they work me with their harping-irons,
which is a barbarous instrument,
because I am more unguarded than the rest.”
Or like Allen Ginsberg, who, moved perhaps
by Kit’s madness, in his gentlest voice allowed
that in writing “Howl” he had communed
with the genius of Smart’s prosody. Then he chanted:
“Rejoice with Buteo who hath three testicles,
for I bless God in the strength of my loins and
for the voice which he hath made sonorous.”
Whereupon Grace Paley born Grace Goodside
to immigrant Ukrainian socialists — here now
in her earthly glory — took herself to the podium
and lovingly bronxed: “Let Milcah rejoice
with the Horned Beetle who will strike a man
in the face …for I am the Lord’s News-Writer
—the Scribe-Evangelist.” Then Philip Levine,
who also had drawn singing breaths
into himself from Smart’s incantations
in his own great poem “They Feed They Lion,”
spoke: “Let Huldah bless with the Silkworm
—the ornaments of the Proud are from the bowels
of their Betters.” After him, came elegant
David Ignatow, followed by Allen Grossman,
our philosopher, and Nancy Willard,
our magician.  Jane Cooper’s tremulous piping
floated down from the vaulted ceiling
and reminded us:  “Earth which is an intelligence
hath a voice and a propensity to speak in all her parts,”
and Gerald Stern, with his own joyful
Smartian super-exuberance asserted — as if, Eureka!
he had learned how to do it just yesterday:“The Circle
may be SQUARED by swelling and flattening!” Joel
Oppenheimer came after him, followed
by Harvey Shapiro and Gregory Orr
and a lion-tongued Thomas Lux who roared:
“For the coffin and the cradle and the purse
are all against a man…”  But Vertemae Grosvenor
— O Smartian name!— whose first language,
Gullah, came to her on the tongues of Sea Islanders,
called us back into happiness:  “Rejoice
with the Pigeon, who is an antidote
to malignity and will carry a letter.” Next
Paul Zweig, beautiful doomed spirit, told us,
“For Harpsichords are best strung with gold wire,”
and from Allen Planz, fisherman by trade:
“Let Jude bless with the bream, who is melancholy
for his depth and serenity, for I have a greater
compass of mirth and melancholy than another.”
Then Stanley Plumly recited, then David
Cumberland, then me, and next
James Wright, who took the passage that Gerry
Stern might have been hoping for:  Kit’s éloge to his
Cat Jeoffrey,  his only faithful companion:
“For there is nothing sweeter than his peace
when at rest, there is nothing
brisker than his life when in motion.”

3

Last to the podium was Muriel Rukeyser,
who once wrote her own Smartian vow: “Never
to despise in myself what I have been
taught to despise, and never to despise the other,”
and who concludes her tender ode to the cockroach so:
“I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.”
Now Muriel was soaring with Kit Smart’s words,
and the faces in the nave all lifted
as one, amazed, all of them, by her huge head,
her heart-shaped face, her ferocious beauty,
and her voice a little growly at its edges:
“For I have a providential acquaintance
with men who bear the names of animals…”
And everyone there was with her,
the little church swelled with light,
the podium itself seemed to be attempting
to raise itself up – “ for I bless God
for Mr Lion Mr Cock Mr Cat Mr Talbot

Mr Hart Mrs Fysh Mr Grub and Miss Lamb.”
And now it was evident that the podium
was not rising but that Muriel was sinking,
toppling in fact, hauling down on herself
the microphone and the amplifier and their wires,
in a heap on the floor.  Then from this wreckage
her suddenly re-clarioned voice was heard: “Let Zadok
worship with the Mole—before honour is humility!”
As we disentangled her, she sat up
and said:“She that looketh low shall learn!”
A woman rushed out the door, crying,
“I’m calling an ambulance!” Muriel shouted
after her: “No ambulances!  I need a chair!”
A plump man came swiftly wriggling
through the audience, “I’m a doctor! A doctor!”
“No doctors!” Muriel shouted even louder,
“A chair! A chair!”  Eased into a chair at last,
she smiled at us: “Let Carpus rejoice with the Frog-Fish—
a woman cannot die on her knees!”

4

For all those who were at the Church
of the Transfiguration that evening in l978,
and those who may have heard about it later
and those of you hearing of it now
for the first time, and for Kit Smart who died
in debtor’s prison in 1771 at forty-nine,
and for Muriel, who would die two years after that night,
and for these witnesses who are also gone:
Paul and Etheridge and Jane and Allen and Allen
and Grace and David and James and Joel —
and the carrier pigeon, too — and for the rest of us
still standing — or sitting – or soon to topple —
let all of us rejoice and be made glad.

(published in The American Poetry Review Volume 40, No. 1)

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Galway Kinnell (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

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T’ai Chi on a bed of roses

IMG_1702 (2)There were rose petals all around. My guess— the floral remains of a weekend wedding or at the very least, of a weekend photo shoot for a wedding. Someone said they saw a ribbon adorned with small pearls laying about under the bushes. Majestic trees. The lake in the distance. An idyllic setting.

And then, very early this morning, “Existence before heaven and earth”—- petals everywhere. “Grasping the sparrow’s tail”— yet more rose petals. Even “Repulse the monkey” — all movements complemented by roses.

Doing T’ai chi is clearly NOT a bed of roses— it is incredibly challenging and takes enormous concentration and control. But ON a bed of roses? Well, a perfect way to keep a half smile on your face for the whole of the class.

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“Dismembered Big Boy: Yes, Officer, That’s His Pompadour, All Right”

IMG_1691When I was a teenager in Toledo Ohio, my friends and I would always go to Frischs’ Big Boy after or before events. Sometimes going to Big Boy was the event itself. We would usually order cokes and french fries and hang out for hours, moving from table to table. Occasionally, if I was feeling daring, I would order a slice of their awesome strawberry pie that was made with whole strawberries. Outside the Big Boy was a large statue of Big Boy himself flaunting his double burger (Big Boy’s supposedly created the very first double burger ever!) with a big smile on his face and his pompadour intact in any kind of weather. Often we would take pictures of ourselves in front of Big Boy. Even when the family would go there, we stood around Big Boy for photos. He adorned most of the Big Boy restaurants across the country.

This last weekend, JB and I stayed at a Red Roof Inn in Ann Arbor. We were here for a celebration of my mother and her twin’s 88th birthday. And connected to the Red Roof Inn in a slightly updated and contemporized glory was Big Boy himself, proudly displaying the self-same double burger, pompadour still intact after these many, many years (and no sign of gray), not even a wrinkle. It made me laugh and recollections of old friends and boyfriends flooded my memory— including one of KK who, as we drove past a time/temperature sign on a bank,  said he was so hot he could make the temperature go up. He blew out of the car window and lo and behold, the temperature changed from 81 degrees to 82. He was even more surprised than I was. I thought for sure this was true love. We were on our way to Big Boy’s, where we promptly shared the story with multiple tables of my peers.

My favorite Big Boy story, however, happened in the spring of 1995, long after I had left the city, when the Big Boy on Secor Avenue in Toledo was “kidnapped” and parts of his body were strewn all over town. This is the AP article I read then and which still makes me smile.

Dismembered Big Boy: Yes, Officer, That’s His Pompadour, All Right

MITCH WEISS , Associated Press

Mar. 20, 1995 3:30 PM ET

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ Who killed Big Boy?

Someone stole the 300-pound, 6-foot Big Boy statue from a restaurant Friday, dismembered the grinning fiberglass fellow with a hacksaw, scrawled “Big Boy is dead” on the pieces and dropped them off around town Sunday.

Between giggles, police are taking the theft seriously.

“This is a sad, sad day for the city when somebody would desecrate a hallowed symbol of the 1950s and 1960s,” Sgt. Richard Murphy said Monday, his brow furrowed in concern.

Then he grinned.

“It’s really hard to keep a straight face when you talk about it,” he said. “We’ve been trying to put him together again like Humpty Dumpty. I think he looks pretty good for a guy who’s been cut up.”

The hamburger-toting statue with the black pompadour, red-and-white checkered pants and suspenders has guarded the doors of Big Boy restaurants around the world since the 1930s. The chain is owned by Warren, Mich.-based Elias Brothers Restaurants Inc., which operates 850 restaurants worldwide.

Murphy said Big Boy was chopped into seven pieces. His hamburger was intact, but his right ear and part of his belly were still missing.

A note was attached to all but one of the severed limbs with the message: “Big Boy is Dead.” A note attached to one limb said: “Big Boy is almost dead. Nevermind. Now he’s dead.” ….

Taped to the severed right buttock was a newspaper ad that said: “Strip Steak $2.29 a pound.”

“They had a sense of humor,” Murphy said.

The statue was worth about $4,000.

Restaurant Manager David Nelson said his Big Boy, whose feet had been encased in cement to prevent thievery, was discovered missing Friday morning, parts of shiny black shoes left behind. The eatery, one of 10 Big Boys in the city, has been closed for remodeling.

Nelson found Big Boy’s severed head outside the restaurant Sunday morning.

“I couldn’t believe that someone would do that to him,” Nelson said. “He’s friendly, always smiling, ready to greet our customers. I mean, what kind of person would do this to him?”

It wasn’t long after Nelson reported the theft that police began fielding calls from other Big Boy restaurants where body parts were deposited.

“Nine times out of 10 if the Big Boy is missing, he’s usually down at the University of Toledo,” Nelson said. “During fraternity season, they do that as a prank.”

Each time, he had been returned no worse for wear.

The culprits could be charged with grand theft, punishable by up to two years in jail, Murphy said.

Customers at one Big Boy were abuzz about the theft.

“Hey,” said truck driver Robert Keane, “it was probably somebody who didn’t like the food.”

© 2015  The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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More than worth the effort

IMG_1688Yesterday I took my mother to Party City. She loves to go there to get her cards for birthdays and anniversaries because the cards are 50% off. There are three aisles of cards. Three. And gezillions of cards in each aisle. My mother likes to move slowly, reading each card, mostly asking me to read each card, so that she can make sure the message is appropriate for each intended recipient. She had five birthdays and two anniversaries to satisfy. This took a very long time.

She especially likes the sappy cards (where “of” rhymes with “love”), full-on exclamations of love and affection. The poetry is extremely important and meaningful to her. And while the experience at Party City was sincere and relevant for her, it was oh so painful for me. Taking Hallmark so earnestly made my teeth ache and my eyes burn. When she finally finished making her selections and we worked our way to the cash register she told the cashier that the last time she was there she bought two cards and there was no stickum on the envelopes. She asked if she could get two more envelopes. Sure the cashier said and we had to go back to those overwhelming (and overlit) aisles with me complaining to my mother that she could just use tape or a glue stick and how could she be sure she was getting the right size envelopes. She pointed to the two envelopes she wanted. They were quite large.

My mother was quite pleased with herself when we got back into the car. She held her bag of cards very tightly, a bit exhausted after all that emotional work. At Party City, you can get all the sentiment and personal poetry you want for half off. Quite a bargain. For some, that’s more than worth the effort.

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Am I going to die?

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My mother and I were sitting in a small outside garden of her assisted living facility before dinner yesterday. The weather was beautiful. Not too hot. Not too cool. A small breeze. The sounds of a bubbling faux stream behind us. Lots of flowers.

“Last Wednesday the doctor made her rounds. She had all my files on her lap. I asked her ‘Am I going to die?’”

“What kind of question is that?” I said with as much compassion as I could muster. “Of course you’re going to die. I’m going to die. You’re going to die. We all die.”

“I know that. That’s not what I meant. The doctor knew exactly what I meant.”

“What did she say?”

“She said, ‘There’s nothing in your chart that says you will die anytime soon.’”

“And what did you say?”

“I told her, ‘That’s good.’”

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“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”

DSC_0521IMG_1670 (1)We just happened to “bump into” Hoichi Kurisu yesterday at Anderson Gardens. He is a world-renowned landscape designer, having designed Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Portland Japanese Gardens (two of our favorites), as well as many other gardens and meditative spaces in the United States. He studied with Kenzo Ogata in Tokyo and was the Landscape Director for the Japanese Garden Society from 1968-1972 (while I was in college). In 1972 he formed Kurisu International dedicated to creating landscapes that emphasize “the ability of nature to restore peace of mind, physical health, and compassionate communities.”

On Kurisu’s website there is a quote, writ large, from Wallace Stevens—“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” Both the Portland Gardens and the Gardens in Rockford open us to this spiritual, magical, sacred distillation of nature. There is something so calming, meditative, and visually stimulating about a stroll through them. And the man who created them both is not only gifted, but also humble, kind, and grateful— even bringing chairs over to a group of women who wanted to rest after their walk through the gardens.

This quiet man was being introduced by a stocky, enthusiastic gray-haired man in a white shirt to two tall young men in the visitors center of Anderson Japanese Gardens.  They were all holding rolls of white paper, presumably architectural drawings. It was clear there was some sort of meeting about to take place. I happened to be standing right behind them as they were preparing to sit down at a long table. That was when JB and I decided to introduce ourselves and tell Kurisu how awesome we thought his landscape design skills were. We actually were able to have a short conversation with him. Having been to the Portland Gardens as well we were able to compare his two designs. We even briefly discussed the Sansho-en at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Later I was trying to be inobtrusive and take pictures of him from afar, to prove to friends that we had really met him. One of the men he was sitting with came over and asked if we wanted to have our picture taken with him. Even he was gracious and we were too and very grateful for meeting Kurisu and having the physical and conceptual experience of  nature through shadow and light he has helped us to see through his creativity and design. “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” Perhaps the truth depends on a walk through a Japanese Garden.

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