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robert wilkinson & li po

Robert Wilkinson and Li Po

This is the third posting in a row, the second on “variations on the theme of Li Po.” It’s always fascinating to read the effect of one writer (sometimes an ‘ancient’) on another. And here we have the poet, Robert Wilkinson, wrestling with the words, time, presence of Li Po, so artfully.

GREEN LOTUS MAN is a somewhat faded chapbook, almost thirty years old, that I rediscovered tucked/lost on the poetry shelves in my library the other night. And how apropos, Li Po! The cover, everything about it is so devoid of design, empty, yet solid, printed on creamy thick paper that one must give praise again to those writers and publishers who keep it simple with the common chapbook. Which, nevertheless, occasionally invites a bare minimum to ‘art’ in its presentation.

This chapbook is bound by a single green thread. Just right. Just enough. -norbert blei

“Green Lotus Man” is a name Li Po gave himself in one of his poems, written very probably while he was drunk. One of the greatest heroes of the spirit the human race has yet produced, Li Po climbed into nearly all the nine heavens on the twin wings of poetry and drunkenness. These poems are not translations—they are occasions for a meeting. Versions. — Robert Wilkinson

Green Lotus Man

Behind this moony mug I’m Green Lotus Man,
a creature more than merely human, a cut-winged
Angel drummed, for several complex reasons,
out of the high company of Immortals.
Since then I’ve taken to dousing my once-clear
radiance carousing in dives like this.
But, what point in lengthy explanations, friend?
What you see before you is what I’ve become:
moon-cheeked sorrowing Buddha of the drunken dawn!

Two Poets Drunk by Lantern Light

In the night my old beat-up lantern
looks the double of the cold half-rind of moon,
and the green bottle set between us shines
like the source of all pure light.
Hooting to nothing in particular, shouting poems,
we flush a heron from the sedge, his wings
oaring him slowly up, and over the moon.

Li Po to Tu Fu

I saw Tu Fu on Fan-kuo mountain,
peaked bamboo hat keeping off the sun.
Mr. Tu, why are you so bent and thin,
have you been hurting yourself on poems again?

Moon-viewing with a Friend

Way up here we can gaze out over
the dove-grey hills of Yo-yang
where the curly waters of the river
empty into Tung-ting lake. High
above us, in the twilight, blue-grey
geese drift east on shadow wings.
I wish my fears were off with them.
But never mind! Comrade mountain
across the valley is about to launch
a round, red moon, and before he does
I want to spread this basket of chicken,
good white wine, and eat and drink
until we drop. Then, old friend, we
may learn a thing or two musing on
clouds that pass reflected in pale-straw
liquid in our cups. When
we’re too drunk to see mountain or
moon and the night wind’s rising sky¬ward
like a thousand birds of dark,
we’ll stagger up one last time to dance
our fine ecstasy of wine and mountain
wind
aaaa-ha!-
aaaaaaaaatwo old men with
skinny knees, legs flashing beneath
the moon, loose sleeves flapping
like awkward wings.

White Hair, Deep Mirror

That image I see, staring back from the mirror.
Thin white hair fringing my skull
falls down my back, then below
like a waterfall, thirty thousand feet.
Exactly the depth of my sorrow!

Spring, South Bank of the Yangtze

Spring runs along furrows like a thin green mold.
A yellow bird chitters, endlessly, from a pine branch.
Alone in my room above the White Heron Tavern
on the south bank of the Yangtze, I grow fat, and old.
Even if I had a home, I wouldn’t know how to find it.
Or who’d be there to kiss me, calling “husband,” “father.”
In my dreams, I still climb mountains, silly with youth,
exhaling poems with my breath, dazzling the light.
Waking this morning, eyes sticky with age, I curse
my shadow and shiver beneath the pale moon of Chu.
I make no excuses. I’ve let my life flow past.
Like the dirty river below, there was no way to stop it.
Back home, my vegetable garden grows thistles and crows.
Friends dead or forgotten, no use to turn upstream now.
I’ll spend the day getting drunk, shouting my Collected
Poems to spiders who doze in the dust under my bed …
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand to hell with a happy death!

[Source: GREEN LOTUS MAN, Spoon River Poetry Press.1982]

BIO of the poet, Robert Wilkinson—as of 1982:

Robert Wilkinson grew up on a farm in Washington State, where he was born, in Seattle, in 1942. After a four-year tour in the Air Force, in France, he took degrees from the University of Hawaii, Boston College, and Washington State University, where he taught for three years. Presently he teaches in the English department at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. He has published poems in many journals and little magazines, among them Poetry North west. The Prairie Schooner, The New Orleans Review, Salted Feathers, Open Places, The Spoon River Quarterly, and The New Jersey Poetry Journal. A chapbook. Survivors, was published in 1971 by The Stone-Marrow Press. Mr. Wilkinson will be represented in a forthcoming anthology of Pacific Northwest poets. Mr. Wilkinson lives in Ghent, Minnesota, with his two children, only a few doors away from the Silver Dollar Bar.

6 Comments

  1. i love this guy. only an acid stomach keeps me from becoming his kind of drunk. is that my loss?

  2. I really like this, Norb…and love the cover! But are these translations of Li-Po or Wilkinson’s imagination? whatever they are, they’re great!

  3. Wow! This guy is fabulous! What wonderful word-pictures! Thank you for printing these. I could get to like short poems. A.

  4. “White Hair, Deep Mirror” – superb.

  5. His white hair hangin down thirty thousand feet, the exact depth of my sorrow. Who could say that with more truth! I bought the Li Po book but haven’t had a chance yet to read it–I’m becoming enslaved to these poets.

  6. Magnificent poems! If Wilkinson was in Bellingham, he drank with Robert Huff. A rare book-dealer friend tells me, “Stone Marrow Press was in Bellingham; Jim Bertolino, Thomas Johnson, others had books with them.”

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