Some Sake Stories & Some Li Po Poems

I sat drinking and did not notice the dusk,
Till falling petals filled the folds of my dress.
Drunken I rose and walked to the moonlit stream;
The birds were gone, and men also few.
–Li Po, “the wandering poet”

sushi & sake

The 59th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, and hosted by The Passionate Foodie, is an homage to Kushi no Kami, the ancient name for the god of Saké. Host Richard says that “Saké was once referred to as “kushi” which translates as “something mysterious or strange. To many people, Saké still is mysterious and strange but I hope to unveil some of that mystery and reveal its wonders.”

This gave me an excuse to write a post which combines a few of my loves: wine, sushi, and poetry.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell if one2 sakes or the other sake pictured was much better with any of the dishes I had; I even tried them with fish and chips with ketchup. Both sakes had crisp light flavors of pear, with not much of  a finish. Chilled, the 15% alcohol wasn’t too overpowering. However, the unfiltered Nigori, which is cloudy in the bottle and in the glass–if you remember to shake it– was much sweeter, and possibly paired better with the ketchup. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with either one; dinner was not too impressive either.

My nephew Kyle says he’s ridden his bike by the Takara facility where these two sakes were produced many times on his way to his job at the Cal sailing club in the Berkeley Marina, but he admitted he’d never stopped to taste or check out the facility, but his housemate, Alfred, an MBA candidate, went regularly to the free tastings there.

This same nephew returned a month ago from an extended stay in Japan where sake was a regular part of his day. His girlfriend Ashlyn is in a masters program in Osaka University where she’s studying linguistics. They’d often go out to dinner for sushi which they’d enjoy with plenty of hot sake, but he doesn’t know what kind they served because Ashlyn was the expert and she’d pick the sake.

Since he has more expertise at this point than I do, I invited him over to try what was left of the two from the sushi dinner isea fresh market Ojai sakesmn Ojai plus Rihaku “Wandering Poet” by Shuzo, imported from Japan and which I found a while ago at Cost Plus for under $15 and an organic Ginjo Jumai from Mumokawa which my friend Helen had recommended after she tasted it at the Mutineer’s Launch Party last month. This last one, like the first two, are a domestic product, made in Forest Grove, and which is certified organic by Oregon tilth.

Kyle and I lined up the bottles and a collection of sake glasses and went through the sakes a few times, taking notes and comparing them, with the Momokawa first, Wandering Poet second, the Takara ginjo third, and the Takara Nigori unfiltered last.

The organic ginjo’s label, according to Kyle, is a sillouette of a Tori gate which you would walk through to get to a shrine or another important place. The gates are massive, some of them as large as a two story house.  Ashlyn’s professor, who studies the foundations of Japanese society, said that these structures are a cornerstone of Japanese society and that’s where executions took place. They’re painted red now, but back in the day, they were smeared red with blood. Most people don’t know this history, according to the professor; the gates indicate society, community, law and order. You could say they had a zero tolerance policy. Kyle says they’re all over the palce and they’re very cool–simple and beautifOrganic Sake Momokawaul.

Regardless of the art on the label, we found the organic ginjo to be very artful indeed; it was our favorite of the four–full of character, complexity, body, flavors of fuji apple, pungent, upfront, not subtle, and with a lingering finish. Would stand up to food well–salmon, salads.

Helen says of Momokawa organic ginjo (junmai) Sake, “Ohhhh. This takes Sake to a new level. We all know the usual floral, sweet
taste of sake that us gringos drink in restaurants, heated by the galleon. This, yes this is different. Smokey earthly with a WAYYY longer finish. Junmai means “pure rice” thus the sake is made with only rice, water, koji, and yeast. Drink it cold pinche pagano.”

The Wandering Poet was our second favorite: flavors of banana, sweeter than the organic ginjo, vague tropical fruits, pineapple. Mild, some body, enough to pair with light food or even a teriyaki chicken or salmon.

Overall? At $15 for a full sized bottle, I’d seek out the organic Momokawa to have in my cellar or when out for sushi, Japanese, Chinese or Thai food.  I’d even select the Wandering Poet in that environment or if I was at home with a stirfry or teriyaki, but for the same price for half the size bottle, I wasn’t twice as impressed. Maybe as my palate progresses, the more subtle Wandering Poet will speak to me.

And speaking of the Wandering Poet, Li Po, I leave you with some of his words from two more of his poems:

Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day by Li Po

“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care.”
So saying, I was drunk all day,
Lying helpless by the door.
When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The spring wind was telling the mango-bird.
Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
And as wine was there I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I wated for the moon to rise;
When my song was over, all my senses has gone.

In the Mountains on a Summer Day by Li Po

Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.

Clearing at Dawn by Li Po

The fields are chill; the sparse rain has stopped;
The colours of Spring teem on every side.
With leaping fish the blue pond is full;
With singing thrushes the green boughs droop.
The flowers of the field have dabbled their powdered cheeks;
The mountain grasses are bent level at the waist.
By the bamboo stream the last fragment of cloud
Blown by the wind slowly scatters away.

2 Poems by Charles Bukowski: “Bluebird” & “The Great Escape”

the bluebird by Charles Bukowski
from The Last Night of the Earth Poems

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be sad.

then I put him back,
but he’s still singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do

I asked some friends which poems they thought my community college students should read, and one of my former students, Kurt Braget, a poet himself, suggested Bukoski’s “Bluebird.” There’s a number of versions on YouTube; I liked this one which shows images of the poet during his life and features his voice reading the poem. Thanks, Kurt, for the suggestion. I agree that it’s a powerful poem that my students should read.

I’ve often taught his poems, “My Father” and “The Great Escape,” so I’m adding them here also. I found “The Great Escape” on Garrison Keillor’s The Writers Almanac Website.

the great escape

by Charles Bukowski

<!– (from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way) –>

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: “the great escape,” by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way (Ecco Press).

the great escape

listen, he said, you ever seen a bunch of crabs in a
no, I told him.
well, what happens is that now and then one crab
will climb up on top of the others
and begin to climb toward the top of the bucket,
then, just as he’s about to escape
another crab grabs him and pulls him back
really? I asked.
really, he said, and this job is just like that, none
of the others want anybody to get out of
here. that’s just the way it is
in the postal service!
I believe you, I said.

just then the supervisor walked up and said,
you fellows were talking.
there is no talking allowed on this

I had been there for eleven and one-half

I got up off my stool and climbed right up the
and then I reached up and pulled myself right
out of there.

it was so easy it was unbelievable.
but none of the others followed me.

and after that, whenever I had crab legs
I thought about that place.
I must have thought about that place
maybe 5 or 6 times

before I switched to lobster.

Austin Kleon’s Mind Map of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”

2956342918_334407ee61_b on-line for information about John Berger’s classic postmodern analysis of “reading” art and various texts, I found this brilliant and gorgeous “mind map” of the book over on Austin Kleon’s blog. He’s also got some cool “blackout poems” there some of which will be in his book coming out from Harper-Collins February 2010.

5 Lessons on writing from Raymond Carver: The Short Story

Five lessons on writing from short story master Raymond Carver

1) In an introduction to Where I’m Calling From, Ray Carver quotes a line from Babel’s Collected Stories:

“No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just in the right place.”

2) Of course, this applies to all writing! Later he quotes V.S. Pritchard’s definition of a short story as

“something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.”

3) First the glimpse, he writes:

“Then the glimpse given life, turned into something that will illuminate the moment and just maybe lock it indelibly into the reader’s consciousness. Make it a part of the reader’s own experience, as Hemingway so nicely put it. Forever, the writer hopes. Forever.”

4) In his introduction to The Best American Short Stories 1986, which he edited, Carver lists 5 elements he considers important to a short story:

choices, conflict, drama, consequence, and narrative.

5) And last but not least, Carver believes:

“in the efficacy of the concrete word, be it noun or verb, as opposed to the abstract or arbitrary or slippery word–or phrase or sentence.”

Go Forth: Walt Whitman, Levis, & Ellyn Maybe on Being an Artist

003 Walt Whitman wears his Levis well to inspire a new generation, the millenials, the “Os” (for Obama) generation:

OR hear here:

America” (in MP3 format)

Bypass the Levis site and its accompanying ad campaign by clicking the link above to hear Walt Whitman’s original 36-second wax cylinder recording of what is thought to be Whitman’s voice reading four lines from the poem “America.” For more information on this recording, see Ed Folsom, “The Whitman Recording,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 9 (Spring 1992), 214-16. More information:

It’s actually a cool campaign and worth checking out. Anything that brings poetry to the masses, especially poetry by Whitman, is good by me.
Here’s the text of the poem: America By Walt Whitman 1819-1892

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

And here’s Ellyn Maybe, an LA poet, “On Being an Artist”:

Conceptual Poetry & Flarf: Kenneth Goldsmith explains 2 controversial poetry movements

New in Conceptual Poetry & Flarf : Kenny Goldsmith Strikes Again!

Last June, I attended a Conceptual Poetry Conference at the University of Arizona Tucson. Now, a year later, Kenneth Goldsmith has edited the current issue of Poetry, Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog published by the Poetry Foundation, much of which is also available on-line at Harriet the Blog (Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog ) and written the following essay,

Flarf is Dionysus. Conceptual Writing is Apollo.

An introduction to the 21st Century’s most controversial poetry movements.

In this essay, Goldsmith asks,

With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more? Instead, let’s just process what exists. Language as matter; language as material. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?

Our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers. What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?

His answer includes:

These two movements, Flarf and Conceptual Writing, each formed over the past five years, are direct investigations to that end. And as different as they are, they have surprisingly come up with a set of similar solutions.

What is conceptual poetry? Goldsmith offers up a primer in this extensive pdf here. In his Poetry essay, he compares and contrasts Flarf with Conceptual Writing:

Yet for as much as the two movements have in common, they are very different. Unlike Conceptual Writing, where procedure may have as much to do with meaning as the form and content, Flarf is quasi-procedural and improvisatory. Many of the poems are “sculpted” from the results of Internet searches, often using words and phrases that the poet has gleaned from poems posted by other poets to the Flarflist e-mail listserv. By contrast Conceptual Writers try to emulate the workings and processes of the machine, feeling that the results will be good if the concept and execution of the poetic machine are good; there is no tolerance for improvisation or spontaneity.

Flarf plays Dionysus to Conceptual Writing’s Apollo. Flarf uses traditional poetic tropes (“taste” and “subjectivity”) and forms (stanza and verse) to turn these conventions inside out. Conceptual Writing rarely “looks” like poetry and uses its own subjectivity to construct a linguistic machine that words may be poured into; it cares little for the outcome. Flarf is hilarious. Conceptual Writing is dry.

During my stay in Tucson and after, I wrote a series of posts about my experiences there and my attempts to understand this kind of poetry better which you can find at the end of this post.

In Tucson, I met many of the poets Goldsmith mentions in his essay and pdf or features in this issue, including LA poet, Vanessa Place who wrote the poem below. (Please note: I am struggling to get the stanza breaks to “stick;” you may choose to read and view the poem Miss Scarlett here.)

Miss Scarlett

by Vanessa Place

Miss Scarlett, effen we kain git de doctah
w’en Miss Melly’s time come, doan you bodder
Ah kin manage. Ah knows all ’bout birthin.
Ain’ mah ma a midwife? Ain’ she raise me
ter be a midwife, too? Jes’ you leave it
ter me. She warn’t dar. Well’m, Dey Cookie say
Miss Meade done got wud early dis mawnin’
dat young Mist’ Phil done been shot an’ Miss Meade
she tuck de cah’ige an’ Ole Talbot an’
Besty an’ dey done gone ter fotch him home.
Cookie say he bad hurt an’ Miss Meade ain’
gwin ter be studyin’ ’bout comin’ up
hyah. Dey ain’ dar, Miss Scarlett. Ah drapped in
ter pass time of de day wid Mammy on
mah way home.
Dey’s doen gone. House all locked up.
Spec dey’s at de horsepittle.
Miss Elsing ober at de horsepittle.
Dey Cookie ’lows a whole lot of wounded
sojers come in on de early train. Cookie fixin’
soup ter tek over dar. She say—Yas’m
Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! De Yankees
ain’ at Tara, s dey? Gawdlmighty,
Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll dey do ter Maw?
Dey’s fightin’ at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett!
Dey say our gempumus is gittin’ beat.
Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen ter
Maw an’ Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen
ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh,
Gawd—Ah ain’ nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett.
No’m, he ain’ at de horsepittle.
Miss Merriwether
an’ Miss Elsing ain’ dar needer.
A man he tole me de doctah down
by de car shed
wid the wounded
sojers jes’ come in frum Jonesboro, but
Miss Scarlett, Ah wuz sceered ter go down dar ter
de shed—dey’s folkses dyin’ down dar. Ah’s
sceered of daid folkses—Miss Scarlett, fo’ Gawd, Ah
couldn’ sceercely git one of dem ter read
yo’ note. Dey wukin’ in de horsepittle
lak dey all done gone crazy. One doctah
he say ter me, “Damn yo’ hide! Doan you come
roun’ hyah bodderi’ me ’bout babies w’en
we got a mess of men dyin’
hyah. Git some woman ter he’p you.” An’ den
Ah went aroun’ an’ about an’ ask fer news
lak you done tole me an’ dey all say “fightin’
at Jonesboro” an’ Ah—
Is her time nigh, Miss Scarlett?
Is de doctah come?
Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly bad off!
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett—
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett!
We’s got ter have a doctah.
Miss Scarlett,
Ah doan know nutin’ ‘bout bringin’ babies.

NOTES: Taken from Prissy’s famous scene in the movie version of Gone with the Wind, Place phonetically transcribes the “unreliable” slave’s words, which are then set in Miltonic couplets. Through the simple act of transcription, Place inverts our relationship to Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling and beloved American epic by prioritizing the formal aspects of language over Mitchell’s famous narrative. With this deconstructive move, Place illuminates the many subtexts embedded in the text concerning plays of power, gender, race, and authorship. By ventriloquizing the slave’s voice as well as Mitchell’s, Place also sets into motion a nexus of questions regarding authorship, leading one to wonder: who is pulling whose strings?

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009).


Vanessa Place

Vanessa  PlaceVanessa Place is a writer, lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press.

Below are links to posts I wrote about the Conceptual Poetry Symposium in Tucson last June.

Conceptual Poetry Conference: now on-line

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Conceptual Poetry Conference: a poem w/constraint pt 1 (Days 1&2)

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Dir Michael Arndt: Macbeth from the page to the stage plus “The 32 Second Macbeth”

macbeth_poster for Cal Lutheran University dir. by Michael ArndtTomorrow, July 1 at 10:30am in Trailer 2 at Ventura College, Michael Arndt, Artistic Director of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company at Cal Lutheran University, will discuss taking Macbeth from the Shakespeare’s page to the CLU stage.

In honor of this occasion, check out this 32 Second version of Macbeth, featuring many of the most memorable lines and evoking some of the most memorable scenes from the play.

The 32-second Macbeth

And, who said what?

Actors 1, 2, 3  Fair is foul and foul is fair

Actor 4  What bloody man is that?

Actor 2  A drum, a drum!  Macbeth doth come

Macbeth   So foul and fair a day I have not seen

Actor 3  All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!

Macbeth  If chance will have me king, then chance will crown me

Actor 5  Unsex me here

Macbeth  If it were done when ‘tis done

Actor 5  Screw your courage to the sticking place

Macbeth  Is this a dagger that I see before me? (Actor 4 dies)

Actor 5  A little water clears us of this deed.

Actor 6   Fly, good Fleance, fly!  (dies)

Macbeth  Blood will have blood

Actors 1, 2, 3  Double, double, toil and trouble

Actor 7   He has kill’d me, mother!  (dies)

Actor 8  Bleed, bleed, poor country!

Actor 5  Out damn’d spot!  (dies)

Macbeth  Out, out, brief candle!

Actor 8   Turn, hell-hound, turn!

Macbeth  Lay on Macduff!  (dies)

Actor 8  Hail, king of Scotland!

So who said what? What’s my line?

In Shakespeare’s time, actors didn’t receive the whole script–only their part which they received rolled up hence the word “role” to describe an actor’s part in a play.

Weds July 1: Each student will receive a “roll” with his or her lines on it. Figure out “who” you are, and prepare to tell us in class about where in the play your line can be found, what’s the context of the line, what it means, why it’s important.

Thurs. July 2: You’ll have a chance to discuss your role, lines, and scenes with someone else in the class who has the same part. We will go over some of the lines in the first half of the play, and we’ll “do” the 32 second version of the play with one cast of characters; when your character “dies” (as 5 of them do), please gratify us by falling down dead.

Mon. July 6:  We’ll “do” the 32 second version of the play with the second cast; when your character “dies” (as 5 of them do), please gratify us by falling down dead. In class, we’ll go over the rest of the scenes in the play represented by these lines.

You can write about your character for your Thursday Reading Response OR write up your notes for your presentation and put it in your portfolio. If you miss class, and don’t have a part, email me and I will let you know which one to do.

Since Macbeth has 7 lines, one person will do the first 5, and one person will do the last 5 so that there’s overlap for lines 3, 4, and 5.