An Inside-Out Outsider: Jack Grapes and the Cherished Nouns of Stand Up Haiku

Monday, August 10, 2016

The Phantom Dwelling of an Inside-Out Outsider: Jack Grapes and the Cherished Nouns of Stand Up Haiku

“So much ink wasted on verbs. / Stand still — cherished nouns.”

When Jack Grapes sent me a copy of WIDE ROAD to the edge of the world: 301 haiku and One Long Essay: “A Windswept Spirit” a month or so ago, I was surprised by both the size of the book and the print run. It’s an odd size, around three inches high and four inches wide, but at an inch thick, it’s enough of a block of paper to shoulder its way onto your bookshelf. Well over two-thirds of its 600 plus pages are devoted to a long essay on haiku, which specialists might read in its entirety, but I am going to pass on it. For one thing, the type is just too small; moreover, a spot check of randomly selected passages did not rev up my curiosity enough to want to start at the beginning and read it all the way through. I must be getting more impatient in my old age than I ever realized: an uninteresting look at WC Williams’s classic poem about a red wheelbarrow was in itself almost enough to deter any further perusal of this long treatise. Fortunately, I did keep browsing and encountered another section about a haiku club established by Grapes with a fellow fifth grade student back when the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series. Inspired by one of Issa’s lesser known haiku, the elementary school haiku club ended up naming itself “The Bats.” Though I recollect a chapbook by C.K. Williams devoted to translations of Issa’s haiku, he is still not known as well as he should be in the United States, and you will probably find at least one of his poems in Grapes’s essay that you had not previously encountered.
Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.
Perhaps Grapes published the essay in a limited edition book out of a distrust of the permanence of the electronic library. The recent case of Dennis Cooper’s on-line material being completely jettisoned by corporate overlords is a cautionary tale about the internet, and so I’m happy that Grapes has chosen the road less traveled on these days to preserve his meandering essay. Nevertheless, having invested so much time on this project, he should post it in larger print on some website posthaste, and I do mean larger print. Obviously, the advantage of public distribution on a website is that there isn’t any limit to an essay’s length, but the scroll bar is actually a tougher adjudicator of a reader’s attention span. Not only does it not take long to let up on that descending pressure point, but nothing about the experience rewards one on a sensory level with anything comparable to the solace of paper’s caress of a fingertip. In the case of this essay, I would still cast my lot with a much shorter essay on paper.

For those who love short poems and who still prefer an experience of reading embedded in print culture, then I would recommend a magazine that I wish Grapes had sent some of his haiku to before he published this collection. If any periodical would have proved hospitable to Grapes’s renewed devotion to haiku, it would be none other than Hummingbird, which is currently edited by CX Dillhunt. The saddle-stitched magazine was founded over twenty years ago by Phyllis Walsh, and it almost folded after she died, but it’s a tribute to the inspiring quality of her editing that her admiring readership refused to let it expire. For those who read Grapes’s haiku and wish they could receive some regular infusion of short poems, then I urge you to subscribe to this magazine:
HUMMINGBIRD
7129 Lindfield Road
Madison, Wisconsin 53719

Until your first issue of HUMMINGBIRD arrives, I offer you several of my favorite haiku in “Wide Road”:

Circumcision day.
Little brother in his crib.
The bloody diaper.

Why is it five seven five?
Seven five seven
works just fine, if you ask me.

Okay pal, hands up
Gimme all your money, punk,
and your heartache, too.

The dialectic’s
undeniable power:
appropriation.

Once I was a dog.
No one was afraid of me.
I licked people’s hands.

I would be with you
if I could not be alone.
But I can. I can.

Where are we going?
Body outside of body
Mind inside of mind

We’re fresh in the grave
when the grim minister speaks:
blah blah blah blah blah

This last one I’ve cited is Grapes’s response to one of the haiku by Issa that he cites in his essay. Like Issa, Grapes is by his own account “an inside-out outsider.” As uneven as this book is, it still remains worth tracking down, and any serious library will want to have a copy on its shelves.

Jack will be reading along with other contributors (Meg Eden and Mari Werner) to recent issues of RATTLE poetry magazine on Sunday, August 14, at the La Canada/Flintridge Bookstore and Coffee House,
1010 Foothill Blvd, at 5pm.
www.flintridgebooks.com

His featured poem in the most recent issue of RATTLE is “Any Style,” and you can find it at: http://www.rattle.com/any-style-by-jack-grapes/