japonisme: 7/26/09 - 8/2/09

31 July 2009

fly like an eagle

Music is most sovereign
because more than anything
rhythm and harmony find
their way to the inmost

soul and take strongest hold
upon it, bringing with

them and imparting grace.
—Plato, The Republic

The cranes are flying ...

And here it comes: around the world,
In Chicago, Petersburg, Tokyo,
the dancers
Hit the floor running
(the communal dancefloor

Here, there, at intervals,
sometimes paved,
Sometimes rotted linoleum
awash in beer,
Sometimes a field across which
the dancers streak

Like violets across grass, sometimes packed dirt
In a township of corrugated metal roofs)
And what was once prescribed ritual, the profuse

Strains of premeditated art,
is now improvisation,
The desperately new, where to the sine-curved
Yelps and spasms of police sirens outside

The club, a spasmodic feedback ululates
The death and cremation of history,
Until a boy whose hair is purple spikes,

And a girl wearing a skull
That wants to say I’m cool but I’m in pain,
Get up and dance together, sort of,
age thirteen.

Young allegorists, they’ll mime motions
Of shootouts,
of tortured ones in basements,
Of cold insinuations before sex

Between enemies,
the jubilance of the criminal.
The girl tosses her head and dances
The shoplifter’s meanness and self-betrayal

For a pair of stockings, a scarf,
a perfume,
The boy dances stealing the truck,
Shooting his father.

The point is to become
a flying viper,
A diving vulva, the great point
Is experiment, like pollen flinging itself

Into far other habitats, or seed
That travels a migrant bird’s gut
To be shit overseas.

The creatures gamble
on the whirl of life
And every adolescent body hot
Enough to sweat it out on the dance floor

Is a laboratory: maybe this lipstick, these boots,
These jeans, these earrings, maybe if I flip
My hair and vibrate my pelvis

Exactly synched to the band’s wildfire noise
That imitates history’s catastrophe
Nuke for nuke, maybe I’ll survive,

Maybe we’ll all survive. . . .

At the intersection of poverty
and plague
The planet's children—brave, uncontrollable, juiced
Out of their gourds—invent the sacred dance.

Alicia Ostriker

“Saturday Night” from The Little Space:
Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Alicia Ostriker.

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29 July 2009

because it's there

The sacred places and pilgrimage traditions of Japan have been conditioned by geographical and topographical features as much as by religious and cultural factors. Over 80% of the Japanese country- side is hilly or mountainous terrain. This physical condition gave birth in ancient times to a unique and enduring tradition of religious beliefs and practices focused on mountains. While never systematized, this tradition was so wide spread that Japanese scholars have termed it sangaku shinko, meaning 'mountain beliefs' or 'mountain creed'.

Sangaku shinko should not however, be thought of in the narrow sense of mountain worship, but rather understood to have a broader meaning which includes the mythology, folk beliefs, rituals, shamanistic practices, and shrine structures that are associated with the religious use of particular mountains.

H. Byron Earhart, a scholar of Japanese religion, writes that "Most of the mountains whose sacred character is attested by archaeological evidence are also prominent in the earliest written records of Japan. In these writ- ings mountains play a religious role in the cosmogony and theogony of the formal mythology and are prominent as dwelling places of the gods, as burial sites, and as sacred sites of great beauty. In the two court compilations which represent the earliest writings in Japan, mountains appear in almost every imaginable religious guise". 1

in the west, needless to say, the dynamic is different. in the eastern depictions of even their holiest mountain, it hides, it doesn't loom. it sneaks into the picture rather than dominating it. even when the portrait is of that mountain particularly, one must work to find it. one would be hard pressed to find an alternate display. in paintings, the west's mountain's are bullies, and like any bully, they're 'asking for it.' 'take me down,' they seem to challenge.

and in the west we only very rarely find the mountains themselves sacred. 2 we worship 'on the mountain,' or, ' at the mountain,' or 'in the mountains,' ... but that's different. perhaps the western opinion of god is that she's blatantly before you, whereas in the east one must search, and then to find?

and then perhaps also the societal imperatives about individuality come into play? self, or group? is part of the japanese pattern of asymmetry simply another way of indicating the sweep, not the center?

Shingon in particular, founded by the sage Kukai (774-835), placed emphasis on sacred mountains as the ideal sites for religious prac- tice and the attainment of Bud- dhahood. Ascents of the mount- ains were conceived of as metaphorical ascents on the path of spiritual enlightenment, with each stage in the climb representing a stage in the passage through the realms of existence formulated by Buddhism.

During the Heian period (793-1185) Buddhist temples were increasingly built on the sides and summits of many Shinto sacred mountains. It was believed that the native Shinto kami of these mountains were in reality manifestations of Buddhist divinities thus pilgrimage to the mountains was believed to bring favors from both the Shinto and Buddhist divinities simultaneously. 1

am i suggesting that there is not meant to be an aspect of holiness in these western images of mountains? no, not at all. nor do i mean to suggest that every japanese printmaker was a saint (or whatever). these western prints and paintings were all completed in the wake of the wall of japan's influence. i'm just saying that i find these all very interesting questions, ones which i hope you will help to explore.

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27 July 2009

her parrot accomplice


False Sir John a wooing came
To a Maid of beauty fair,
May Colven was
this Ladys name,
Her Fathers only Heir.

He woo'd her butt,
he woo'd her ben,
He woo'd her in the Ha';
Until he got
this Lady's consent,
To mount and ride awa'.

He went down to
her Father's bower,
Where all the Steeds
did stand;
And he's taken one of
the best Steeds,
That was in her Father's hand.

He's got on, and she's got on,
And fast as they could flee,
Untill they came to a lonesome part,
A Rock by the side of the Sea.

Loup off the Steed says false Sir John,
Your bridal bed you see;
For I have drowned Seven Young Ladies,
The Eight one you shall be.

Cast off, Cast off, my May Colven,
All and your silken Gown,
For it's o'er good, and o'er costly,
To rot in the Salt Sea foam.

Cast off, Cast off,
my May Colven,
All and your
embroider'd shoen,
For they are o'er good,
and o'er costly
To rot in the Salt Sea foam.

O turn you about
O false Sir John,
And look to the leaf
of the Tree;
For it never became
a Gentle Man,
A naked Woman to see.

He turnd himself straight round about,
To look to the leaf
of the Tree;
So swift as
May Colven was,
To throw him
in the Sea.

O help, O help my May Colven,
O help, or else
I'll drown;
I'll take you home to your Father's bower
And set you down safe and sound.

No help, no help you false Sir John,
No help nor pity thee;
Tho' seven Kings Daughters you
have drown'd
But the Eight
shall not be me.

So she went on her Fathers Steed,
As swift as
she could flee;
And she came home to her Father's bower
Before it was
break of day.

Up then spoke
the pretty Parrot,
May Colven where
have you been,
What has become of
false Sir John,
That woo'd you
so late the streen.

He woo'd you butt,
he woo'd you ben,
He woo'd you in the Ha',
Until he got your own consent
For to mount and gang awa'.

O hold your tongue my pretty Parrot,
Lay not the blame upon me,
Your Cup shall be of the flowered Gold,
Your Cage of the Root of the Tree.

Up then spake
the King himself,
In the Bed Chamber
where he lay,
What ails the Pretty Parrot,
That prattles so long or day.

There came a Cat
to my Cage Door
It almost a worried me,
And I was calling
on May Colven,
To take the Cat from me.

(there are many versions of this, all anonymous)

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