Thursday, September 29, 2022

Pablo Neruda / Plenary Powers

Plenary Powers
by Pablo Neruda

For the sun’s pure power, I write, for the full sea,
for the full and open road, wherever I can I sing,
only the vagrant night detains me
but I gain space in that interruption,
I gain shadow for lengths of time.

Night’s black wheat grows
while my eyes measure the field.
I forge keys from dawn to dusk:
I search for locks in the darkness
and I go throwing open ruined gates to the sea
until the wardrobes are full of foam.

I never tire of going and returning,
death does not stop me with its stone,
I never tire of presence and absence.
Sometimes I ask myself if it was from
my father or my mother or the mountains
I inherited these mineral tasks,

veins of a burning ocean,
and I know I go on, and go on to go on,
and I sing to sing on, and to sing.

Nothing explains what happens
when I close my eyes and circle
as if between two undersea channels,
one lifts me up to die in its branches
and the other sings so I might sing.

So then, I am composed of absence
and akin to the sea that assaults the reef
with its briny globules of whiteness
and takes back the stone into the wave.
So that whatever of death surrounds me
opens in me the window on life
and in the full paroxysm I am sleeping.
To the full light I go on through the shadow.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Pablo Neruda / Your Laugther


by Pablo Neruda

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Pablo Neruda / It is Born

It is Born
by Pablo Neruda

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

From Plenos Poderes / Fully Empowered (1962)

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Pablo Neruda / In You The Earth

In You The Earth

at times,
tiny and naked,
it seems
as though you would fit
in one of my hands,
as though I’ll clasp you like this
and carry you to my mouth,
my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:
you have grown,
your shoulders rise like two hills,
your breasts wander over my breast,
my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin
new-moon line of your waist:
in love you loosened yourself like sea water:
I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes
and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Itō Hiromi / A Woman’s Journey

Poet Itō Hiromi: A Woman’s Journey


From her often disquieting poetry and richly resonant memoirs to her bold experimental fiction, Itō Hiromi has been hailed for her deeply personal and honest treatment of the female experience. Now in her sixties, with a lifetime of caregiving behind her, Itō is eager to embark on the next stage in her journey as a poet and a woman.

Itō Hiromi

After surging to prominence in the early 1980s as a leading figure in Japan’s feminist poetry movement, Itō pioneered a new genre of childrearing essays, exemplified by her 1985 anthology Yoi oppai warui oppai (Good Breasts, Bad Breasts). In addition to her poetry and essay collections, she is noted for such genre-busting works as Kawara arekusa (translated as Wild Grass on the Riverbank), winner of the 2006 Takami Jun Prize, and Togenuki: Shin Sugamo Jizō engi (trans. by Jeffrey Angles as The Thorn-Puller), winner of the 2007 Hagiwara Sakutarō Prize. She has also translated the Heart Sutra and other Buddhist texts. In 2021, she published Shorō no onna (A Young-Old Woman) and Itsuka shinu, soremade ikiru: Watashi no okyō (Someday I Must Die, Until Then I Live—My Sutras), a collection of translations and personal essays.

Poet and essayist Itō Hiromi has lived an eventful and tumultuous life. In the wake of mental health struggles, an unhappy affair, and two failed marriages, she relocated to the United States to live with British artist Harold Cohen, 30 years her senior, and found herself flying between California and Kumamoto Prefecture every month as she juggled the demands of her three daughters, her aging parents, and finally her dying partner. Through it all, she built an impressive body of literary work reflecting her experience of everyday life while plumbing the depths of her own psyche and challenging social and literary mores.

Busting Stereotypes and Genres

Itō initially attracted notice with her unflinchingly honest treatment of female sexuality, pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Her poem “Kanoko-goroshi” (Killing Kanoko) conjured up disturbing images of breastfeeding juxtaposed with brutal talk of abortion and infanticide. Her collection Yoi oppai, warui oppai (Good Breasts, Bad Breasts) struck a deep chord with young Japanese mothers as it challenged the received wisdom about what constitutes a “good mother.” More recently, aging and death have emerged as dominant themes. Her vivid descriptions of the day-to-day struggles of childrearing and caregiving alternately elicit vigorous nods of sympathy and bursts of laughter.

Itō’s works are often genre-defying, blurring the lines between prose and poetry. Her 2007 Togenuki: Shin Sugamo Jizō engi draws inspiration from a traditional genre of Buddhist storytelling known as sekkyō-bushi (sermon-ballads) to describe her experiences juggling the care of aging parents, growing children, and her partner. The English translation by Jeffrey Angles, The Thorn-Puller, is set for publication in August 2022.

“I haven’t written a ‘poem’ as defined in the Handbook of Contemporary Poetry [the magazine Gendaishi techō] for more than ten years now,” says Itō. “Still, I look on everything I write as poetry on some level.”

Indeed, all of Itō’s writing, however prosaic its subject matter, exhibits a poet’s passion for the music and nuance of the Japanese language, together with a commitment to probe beneath the surface of human experience.

Poetry as Exorcism

For three years, beginning in 2018, Itō taught creative writing at Waseda University in Tokyo.

“While supporting my students in their earnest writing endeavors, I found myself revisiting the whole question of what it means to write poetry. I would tell them, You can’t just put your emotions down on paper, you need to get beyond that. Everyone has deeply buried thoughts and feelings that they don’t even realize they have. The words that spring forth as you write, without any conscious intent, are an expression of your unconscious mind. When you work those words into something that speaks directly to the reader’s heart, without any need for explanation, that’s poetry. In teaching, I rediscovered the truth that for me, writing poetry is a way of probing my unconscious mind.”

Itō compares poetic composition to dreaming, recalling her own experience following the death of her beloved father. Her mother, who had died three years earlier, had been a hospitalized invalid for five years before that. During the eight years that her father had lived alone, Itō had done everything in her power to support him, hiring home caregivers, flying from California to Kumamoto once a month to be with him, and talking to him by phone every day when they were apart. Still, she was plagued by feelings of guilt when he died.

“I was his only daughter. I should have been with him. Why did I abandon him and go off to live in America? For some time after he died, that was all I could think about. I began having vivid dreams every night, and each time, I would wake up with a feeling that I had dived a little deeper into my consciousness. The dreams finally took me to a place of acceptance, where I understood that it was okay.”

As a teacher, Itō realized that poetry writing played a similar role. By uncovering, crystallizing, and encapsulating her deepest feelings, it had allowed her to exorcise her demons and move on.

Narrating a Woman’s Journey

Itō’s experience with pregnancy and childbirth was a turning point in her career as a writer. It was then that she began consciously writing with female readers in mind.

“When I attended prenatal classes [in Japan], the expectant mothers all seemed so happy to be talking with one another about their constipation. When I went out in public with my big stomach, older women would touch my belly and go on and on about their own experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. I felt I was witnessing those rare moments when women reach out to one another. That’s what first inspired me to write a series of essays offering encouragement to women who were feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by motherhood.”

Between the ages of 35 and 40, Itō’s mental health deteriorated as she wrestled with family issues, an unhappy love affair, and her own inner demons (including a recurrence of the eating disorder of her youth).

“I think it was what people today would call depression or maybe a stress disorder. I felt that I needed to keep moving just to stay alive, so I traveled around compulsively from town to town giving readings and lectures. Along the way, I realized that my work and lifestyle had a lot in common with Japan’s traditional sekkyō-bushi Buddhist storytellers.”

Sekkyō-bushi, or sermon-ballad, is a genre of chanted Buddhist storytelling that emerged as a form of popular entertainment in the medieval era. Itō’s encounter with the genre inspired her to channel her literary impulses into the creation of quasi-mythical narratives centered on women and their timeless struggles with romance, marriage, childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting, and—last but not least—caregiving.

“Of course, women’s experiences vary a lot. Not everyone chooses to have children, or can. On the other hand, in my own circle of friends, all of us found ourselves dealing with the challenge of aging parents at roughly the same time. That’s when it really hit home for me that every woman is someone’s daughter. I felt a much stronger sense of sisterhood then than I had as an expecting and new mother. In our patriarchal society, the hardships of caring for elderly and dying parents fall much more heavily on daughters than on sons. But I’m truly grateful to have tasted that hardship.”

Buddhism as Japan’s Literary Wellspring

Itō’s interest in Buddhism deepened as her parents neared the end of their lives. Lacking the will to live yet unprepared for death, they could only wait helplessly. When they brushed off her suggestion that they take comfort in the teachings of Buddhism, she decided to immerse herself in those teachings, an undertaking that inevitably led to a study of the sutras.

The Buddhist texts used by Japanese priests are early Chinese translations of sutras that were originally written in Pali or Sanskrit, and even Japanese translations intended for lay people are generally written in a stiff and archaic style. Reading those turgid texts, Itō conceived the idea of translating them into her own brand of modern Japanese.

Through her study of the sutras, Itō came to appreciate the fundamentally Buddhist roots of traditional Japanese literature, from the Tale of Genji and the songs of the Ryōjin hishō to nō drama and rakugo storytelling. She also learned that the sutras themselves, much like sekkyō-bushi, began as narratives developed by itinerant monks who traveled from town to town delivering sermons, and sometimes exchanging words with their listeners. With such scenes vivid in her mind’s eye, Itō felt inspired to play her part in the process, channeling Buddhist teachings by reading the sutras aloud in her own vernacular translation, as poetry.

Someday We Must Die—Until Then We Live

It was in the midst of this trial-and-error undertaking that Itō lost first her parents and then, in 2016, her longtime partner Harold Cohen. Her 20-year relationship with Cohen had been turbulent throughout, but his passing left her bereft.

How do we deal with our own mortality and the death of loved ones? With this most fundamental question in mind, Itō turned to the Sutra of the Buddha’s Last Instructions, which purports to contain the final instructions that Gautama Buddha bequeathed to his disciples before entering nirvana. One passage (translated into English from her contemporary translation) reads as follows.

Monks, do not lament, do not grieve.
However long I might live,
Someday I must die. Until then I live.
Someday we must part. Until then we meet.

Working mainly in the United States, Itō produced translations of the Heart Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and the Amitabha Sutra, as well as the aforementioned Sutra of the Buddha’s Last Instructions. In November 2021, she published a collection of those translations titled Itsuka shinu, soremade ikiru: Watashi no okyō (Someday I Must Die, Until Then I Live: My Sutras). Interspersed among the Buddhist texts are personal essays recording long walks with her dog along the beach or through barren landscapes, watching the sun set and the moon rise, observing the lives and deaths of small creatures, all integral to nature’s eternal cycle.

Even today, Itō does not consider herself a religious person, but she has been deeply influenced by the spiritual teachings of Buddhism.

“The enlightenment achieved by the Buddha is a state of mind divorced from the worldly conventions and constraints that bind us, and it seems to me that hosshin [the resolve to embark on the Buddhist path] is a personal realization that one can’t keep on living the way one has lived—that one needs to get to a place “beyond” these worldly constraints. I’ve lived for decades bound by rules of all kinds. But I feel now there must be a different way of life, transcending all that. Maybe what I was trying to convey in my book was how I personally arrived at that realization.”

The Journey Continues

As an emigré, Itō thrived on the freedom American society offered, but she also felt like an outsider. It was the publication of two of her collections in English translation—Killing Kanoko in 2009 and Wild Grass on the Riverbank in 2014 (both translated by Jeffrey Angles)—that convinced her that she had finally found a home for herself as a poet. Even after Cohen died, she was determined to remain in California. Then came the invitation to teach at Waseda University, bringing her back to Japan in 2018.

In August 2021, Togenuki was published in German translation, and that autumn, Itō traveled to Germany to give readings with Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, the book’s translator and a personal friend. In 2022, the centennial of the death of Meiji literary giant Mori Ōgai (1862–1922), she plans to spend three months in Germany researching the pioneering writer, who studied in Germany and introduced the Japanese public to German literature. Itō is a dedicated fan of Ōgai.

“I’ve reached a good stopping point in my sutra translations, so now I’d like to start on a new project,” she says. “Instead of just reacting to daily life as I experience it, I want to build a creative universe of my own.”

(Originally written in Japanese by Kimie Itakura of and published on December 24, 2021.)


Monday, September 19, 2022

Carol Ann Duffy shares poem to mark Queen’s passing

The Queen receiving Carol Ann Duffy at Buckingham Palace shortly after Duffy became the poet laureate in 2009. 

Former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy shares poem to mark Queen’s passing

Poem entitled Daughter written in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II 

Monday 19 September 2022

Carol Ann Duffy, the former poet laureate – who was appointed by the Queen in 2009 – has written a poem entitled Daughter, shared exclusively here, to mark the monarch’s death.


Your mother’s daughter, you set your face

to the road

that ran by the river; behind you, the castle,

its mute ballroom,

lowered flag. Stoic, your profile a head on a coin,

you followed the hearse

through sorrow’s landscape- a farmer, stood

on a tractor,

lifting his tweed cap; a group of anglers

shouldering their rods.

And now the villagers, silently raising

their mobile phones.

Then babies held aloft in the towns, to one day

be told they were there.

But you had your mother’s eyes, as a horse ran free

in a field;

a pheasant flared from a hedge

like a thrown bouquet;

journeying on through a harvest of strange love.

How they craned to glimpse their lives again

in her death; reminded

of Time’s relentless removals, their own bereavements,

as she passed.

The uplift of the high bridge over a dazzle of water;

a sense of ascending

into anointing light which dissolved into cloud.

Nine more slow grey miles to the Old Town; the last mile

a royal mile,

where they gathered ten-deep as your mother showed you

what she had meant.

Nightfall and downpour near London. Even the motorways paused;

thousands of headlights in rain

as you shadowed her still; smatterings of applause

from verges and bridges.

Soon enough they would come to know this had long been

the Age of Grief;

that History was ahead of them. The crown of ice melting

on the roof of the world.

Tonight, childhood’s palace; the iPhone torches linking back

to medieval flame.

So you slowed and arrived with her, her only daughter,

and only her daughter.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Two Poems by Jenny Zhang


Payton 2 2012 Web Body

Austin Power, Payton 2, 2012, watercolor on paper, 13.5×11.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Two Poems by Jenny Zhang

I am pure emotion and you must pour me
into something pure I shall take what I want
including the faces of pretty women

The Universal Energy Is About to Intervene in Your Life

I am pure emotion and you must pour me
into something pure I shall take what I want
including the faces of pretty women
this way the standards for beauty will be instantly changed
this way the standards for faces will want new standards
the nerves in each face will stand on innards
inside me is every pregnant belly
and all the aborted children
play in the same playground
they don’t care that they were aborted
they don’t care that the stars were not created for them
they don’t care that they had selfish mothers
who could have been transformed
if only they had not aborted their children
though now the world is perfectly populated
each time the future is predicted
someone dies for no reason
this is how I became a ghoul
this is how I became a gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
this is how I became a guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh
this is how I became a gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaash
drinking the goo goo water
because of goo goo
I decide that no one lives for anyone else
I will live for me
I will die thanks to unconditional love
I want to ask my mother why she loved me
I want her to ask her mother why she loved her
I want her mother to ask her mother why she loved her
there are too many centuries of mothers loving their mothers
and I will be the first one to love myself more than I love my mother
I will be the first one to think about myself
my belly is flat because I forgot to have babies
I said if I live to 99 I am gonna eat mercury
but then I ate it when I was 9
and I lived one more year
and then I ate mercury
and then I lived one more year
and then I ate mercury
and then my children swam out of my cunt lips like fish
and I had the doctor sew me up
so food had to enter
the same way it came out
I lived like this for centuries
they said I could go on and I said
do I look like I would stop
and they said stop
and I said waaaaaaaaaht
and they said stop
and I said waaaaaaaaaaaaht
and this is what someone told me was mortality
in a nutshell
and I didn’t want to believe it
but what else did I have to believe?
What else is there for us?
Those of us who cannot breathe
Those of us who cannot have babies
We want to mean something to the world
We want to be told: stay here
you are needed
and we are needed
someone needs us
They called for us to live this way and so I did and so I did
and so I did.


say something say something
if you see something say something
each one teach one
because of avian flu my stupid cunt cousin
could not get an education
on your stupid cunt shores
where my mother sold her house
to give me a stupid cunt education
where I learned about social entrepreneurship
that it is a good thing
to give pencils to mothers
who are incarcerated
they can take those pencils and break them
in their stupid cunts
I bail out every one of those cunts
for ten grand a pop
they run rampant
like you fucking know what it’s like
my detachable pussy is not afraid of being
approached by a man late at night
who is like hey girl
you don’t need none of that
you look good without makeup
and I feel very sexy
because my cunt gets leashed to a tree
and waves hello to everyone
like hi like hi like hi hi hi
each one teach one
I teach each one to have one more
so in case this cunt dies
I have another
in case this man marries me
I can still fuck
I can still go to jail for fucking
I can still go to jail for not fucking
I can still go to jail for having everything
I can still go to jail and have it all
and have nothing
and wake up to my detached body intact
in this way you are never alone
in this way you are never translated
I said to say stop if you speak chinese
but it’s worse to be visible than it is to be invisible
you see me and then tell my friend
she looks exactly like me
well she looks exactly like me
because she is me
and I’m also me
and I’m visible ya cunt
I’m miserable ya hero
I’m miserable and I speak perfect English
on the phone you agree
in person you ask me where I’m from originally
I seppuku on the spot and you are like
and I am like OKAY I STOPPED
and like there’s no more
and like there’s just that now
and like I am totally fine
and like I am gonna do it again
and like your poetry gives me a motherly halo
and like I am gonna have babies and get someone else to look after them
and like I’m dead but you won’t stop
until my cunt re-attaches itself to my body
and that’s when I will cease to go outside
and that’s when I will cease to fear anything
you walk like a hero and I praise you
in front of my family
the only ones who know me
and I don’t have time for less thoughts
more slowly
more meaning
less quickly
I am running to catch the bus
my cunt makes it
of course
but me
I am tired
I am out of breath
lying on a map
and the city where I was born
disappears mysteriously
like anyway I know who did it
I will praise him in front of his family
who have never seen him chase after a bus
full of cunts
like I have
who will never know him
like I do
like I know
like I know
like I know

Jenny Zhang lives in Brooklyn and is the author of Dear Jenny, We Are All Find (Octopus Books, 2012). She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and has been published in The Iowa Review and DIAGRAM, among others.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

I keep thinking there is an august by Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang Cover

I keep thinking there is an august

by Jenny Zhang

if there is an august

there is an august

I would probably write every day

but some days I get caught up

rubbing my pussy

checking for pimples

green ones pop on their own

when I need to cum

or when I’m flicking cum out

beautiful white globs that dry mid-air

I would be lazier than this

but then it would be


a star in midsummer

summer solstice long gone

the weird feeling of being alone

of consummating love

why do my friends look forward

to the best day of their lives

do they secretly wish

they were already dead?

do I?

does he?

do all of us

already know something

of death

the next life

the old world

in the old country

they ate the horses they rode on

and no one said anything stupid

like how life is both impossible

and happening at the same time

no one spoke thru the ground to touch

- god -

but that was the old country

where my mother is from

where you’re from

your mother studied my mother

your recreational sports came from our rivers

your houses were decorated

with objects so rare my people have only heard about them

in songs passed down by the one family member who befriended

a European traveler

whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy me

yr people cried

while visiting the old country

where I have never been

the place where I was first touched

a sudden bloom of algae

in the ancient lake

where all the animals touched skin to skin fur to fur paw to paw fin to fin mouth to mouth hole to hole and became family

Jenny Zhang was born in Shanghai and grew up in New York. She is the author of the poetry collection Dear JennyWe Are All Find and the story collection Sour Heart.