March 14, 2014

Cold Mountain 2000: Han Shan in the City by Charles Rossiter

Charlie Rossiter, my poetry buddy & fellow member of 3 Guys from Albany, has just had his labor of poetic love, Cold Mountain 2000: Han Shan in the City, published by FootHills Publishing. Charlie & I both discovered the poet Han Shan (died 850?) (literally “Cold Mountain” for those who want a lesson in Chinese) thru the translations by Gary Snyder of 24 of Han Shan’s poems, first published in 1958 in Evergreen Review #6. There have been a number of translations into English of Han Shan’s poems over the years, notably by Arthur Waley in 1954 of “Twenty-seven Poems by Han-shan” & Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-shan (Grove Press, 1962). But the definitive edition, to my taste, is the 2000 Copper Canyon Press The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated by “Red Pine” (Bill Porter) that not only includes the 307 poems of Han Shan but also the poems of "Big Stick" (Feng-kan) and of "Pickup" (Shih-te), monks in the Kuoching Temple at the foot of Mount Tientai where Han Shan would stay, the poems in both English & Chinese. A true desert island book.

But back to Charlie. In the 1990’s Charlie sent me some of his own poems inspired by Snyder’s versions of Han Shan. They were good. So good that they inspired me to try to my hand at it too. Charlie riffed off the themes & images of Han Shan. I returned to the versions I had (before the Copper Canyon Press edition) & wrote “variations” in which I imagined Han Shan as a modern, urban poet living & writing in Albany. I wrote back to Charlie suggesting this approach & this book is the result, or, as he states in his preface “These Cold Mountain 2000 poems are written imagining what Han Shan might say if he lived in a contemporary urban setting …”

This attractive, hand-sewn chapbook of 51 poems in the style of Han Shan also contains a dozen of Charlie’s other poems, some previously published (&/or performed with 3 Guys from Albany). My one beef with this edition is that Rossiter’s poems are numbered consecutively (as did Snyder) & don’t relate to the specific original poems of Han Shan. One of the great things about the Copper Canyon Press edition is a concordance, or “Findings List,” that correlates 7 different translations of Han Shan so one can compare each translator’s versions.

Beyond that quibble, it’s a great read. Actually, Charlie is not writing new versions of individual Han Shan poems, but (mostly) new poems in the spirit of that ancient Chinese poet. Han Shan/Rossiter writes about poetry readings, the role of poets in the world, hiding out/alienation from the world, the honies on the street, growing old, conflict with the “academics,” a veritable post-Beat, punk melange of urban & (sometimes) Nature-nostalgic themes. I imagined my Han Shan in an apartment near the top floor of the building on the corner of Henry Johnson Blvd. & Central Ave. in Albany, Charlie’s version seems more suburban.

 Here is #33:
A poet friend was in
from out of town
for a visit
so we lit some candles
on the back porch
to talk and drink.
In a few minutes
three or four hours went by.
Could’ve been written anywhere, anytime — that’s Cold Mountain & that’s Charlie Rossiter.

[I note that FootHills Publishing in 2012 also published In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien with poems by Sam Hamill, Michael Czarnecki, David Budbill, Charles Rossiter, & Antler, edited by Charles Rossiter.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

actually in my head Cold Mt 2000 lives in one of those urban brownstone row house type places and he's in the basement apt that's down 5-6 steps...generally the city wasn't specific but as I continued adding poems from out here it evolved toward chicago in my head (for some of the poems)with Printers Row bookfair, the blues festival, and those neighborhood kids running by the poet on the stoop.