I published a lot of Cid’s writing in Caterpillar: 17 poems, 19 translations of Celan, translations of Daumal and Artaud, essays on Wallace Stevens and “Theatre as Commitment,” his quite negative review of the second Maximus volume (with a blistering response by Joyce Benson), and I praised his translations of Bashō and Montale in two of my “Tests of Translation.” I also printed a letter in Caterpillar #2 in which Cid proposed an independent ticket of Allen Ginsberg and Muhammad Ali in the 1968 election (suggesting that he had changed his mind about at least one of the Beats). And I wrote reviews of two of his collections of poetry. In Sulfur, I published a section of his Kusano “frog” translations and wrote an article on Of, Cid’s boxed two-volume 1500 page “selected poems.”
We also wrote and published poems to or about each other, and in such pieces aspects of the ways we clashed showed their horns. From my point of view, in such poems as “To Celebrate the Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” “The Point of a Pot is a Hole,” and “CATERPILLAR,”5 Cid takes events in my life, or stories that I told him, edits out what does not interest him, and uses the rest to judge me in quite a negative light. For my part, in Altars (1971), I printed a note that at the time struck the difference between Corman’s and Blake’s effect on me while in Kyoto: “Cid said no / & Blake said yes.” And in Coils (1973), in the poem called “Origin,” I worked up a burlesque of our mentor/apprentice association, drawing upon Blake’s homemade mythic figures: I created Origin (Corman) as a master to Yorunomado (Eshleman) whom in this context I saw as a dog.
If one wants to read a single collection of Corman’s to get a solid sense of his achievement as a poet and translator, I would recommend the first volume of Of (Lapis Press, Venice CA, 1990). However, I was shocked to find Cid’s translations here, of Homer, Sophocles, Catullus, T’ao Ch’ien, Montale, Villon, Rimbaud, Bashō, Mallarmé, Rilke, Ungaretti, Char, Celan, Artaud, and Scotellaro, treated as Corman poems. So I wrote to him questioning such appropriation. He responded, evading the translation identification matter, and redirected my attention to his claim for being “the most productive poet in human history.” The reader will find our exchange in Sulfur #29, pp. 243 – 247.
At the end of my article, I proposed to address Cid’s own poetry, some 1200 pages of it in the two volume Of, in the next issue of Sulfur. I never did, and feel that I should deal with my failure to do so at this time. For a long time I have felt ambivalent about Cid’s poetry. More than any other Western poet, he has “translated” the Japanese haiku tradition into realized, resonant brief poems. As Robert Kelly has written, “Nobody knows how to do so much with so few words as Corman.” The core in a great deal of his poetry is expressed by his own coined word, “livingdying.” Or in the opening poem of Of, volume one: “You are dead. / Speak now.” While there are exceptions to this targeted emphasis (mainly in the Matera poems, and some of the poems about natural occurrence), Corman’s minimalism is permeated, contoured and centered by dying and death (“as if death were my Torah” or “I’m not / the poet / of death I / am death”)6. This fixation may account for the monolithic brevity of thousands of Corman poems, where dying and death are so at one with the act of poetry that just to start a poem is to engage the smoking gate, thus curtailing, from Corman’s viewpoint, all the dodges into mythology, psychology, eroticism, politics, and metaphoric inventiveness that many of us employ to, in our sense of it, explore psyche7. The aim of Corman’s poetry is the unrelenting confronting of the reader with his own demise. This is not to say that Cid cannot make fun of himself, be light-hearted, or marvel at natural synchronicity and serendipity. For example:
Rain nailing earth down
Only an insect
Such poems are acutely perceptive and instantly organized. Cid’s most memorable poems sometimes sublimate the gist of death into a structure evoking the rich transiency of life. Here are two that have stayed with me for years:
(The cicada is not singing, it is making its sound by scraping its wings against its body: “isnt” is placed after “singing” to indicate life brevity; “that sound” is “its life” in as much as a full body/life effort is involved in making the sound; such effort could also be heard as sounding—plumbing—the insect’s life)
Corman’s gaze, I would say, is primarily preoccupied with his own mirrored removal.
To go back to my distinction between Blake’s yes and Corman’s no: the matter is more complex than my 1971 note probably registered. While what appeared to be a chronic withholding of himself from getting in over his head in experience expressed itself as a “no” in Cid’s character, the “no” in his poetry is sufficiently metaphysical to sound one of Kafka’s aphorisms: “What is laid upon us is to accomplish the negative; the positive is already given.”8 Corman has “accomplished” the “negative” as thoroughly as anyone in 20th century American poetry (he bears comparison with Jabès and Celan in this respect). It is not only present as subject and focus, it collects (as rain collects in a cistern) in his word “this,” which is endlessly cross-pollinated with “poem” and “death.” To my knowledge, the last poem Cid published before his death was in House Organ #45, winter 2004. It reads:
At this time, with Cid gone, and our complicated yet, for me, fruitful relationship framed, I must take to heart his negation and his solace. He encouraged me as he resisted me, or let me say that the caliber of his resistance led me to convert it into something that was my own, to incorporate a resistance to the literal and to political domination into my own imaginative system. Much of what I initially took as resistance—an alter-ego presence defying my own incipient poesis—turned out to be Cid’s death obsession which he constellated into a poetry genuinely his own. What offered me support—“what brought / you here will / take you / hence” he once proposed—was an all-encompassing dedication and devotion to the art of poetry that he was willing to share.
He is kind of an anomaly today, this socially awkward, shy loner, who lived for the art in a way that makes many of the highly-regarded poets today look as if their writing were at best a diversion, a hobby, or clever entertainment.
A black butterfly
thrusting at what is