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Summing Up that Force of Goodness

Review by Gregory Dunne

The Next One Thousand Years, The Selected Poems of Cid Corman, Longhouse Press

A wonderful new selected edition of Cid Corman’s poetry and poetry translations, The Next One Thousand Years, has recently been brought out by Longhouse Press. The edition has benefited from the editorial work of Cid Corman’s long-time friend, the poet, Bob Arnold. It has also benefited from the editorial work of Ce Rosenow who initially approached Bob Arnold, the executor of Corman’s estate, about the possibility of putting together a selected. Without the shaping and deeply informed influence of these editors, we would not have this marvelously varied and thematically rich and coherent volume we have before us today. This selection brings together both previously published and unpublished Corman poems and translations. Both long-time readers of Corman’s work as well as first-time readers will draw sustenance and delight from this volume.

The American poet Cid Corman passed away in Kyoto, Japan on March, 2004 where he had lived for nearly fifty years. He was 79 years old. This selected edition is the first selection to appear since his death. Corman was a prolific poet and a prolific translator. During his lifetime, he produced nearly two hundred books. He was, quite simply, “one of the great poets of the modern era,” as Bob Arnold asserts in the his insightful and moving essay at the back of the book: The Man Who Always Was.

This volume is well-made and attractive. This is no mass produced paper back. It feels good in the hands. There is weight and heft to it. It is not too heavy nor too light. At 206 pages, it feels right. The book’s cover is graced with a beautiful color photograph of a mountain stairway leading up through a forest in Japan. The paper used in the construction of the book is thick and creamy. It feels good to the touch. Each poem is given ample space on the page to breath. There is no cramming of poems into the pages. Each poem is allotted a page – no matter how brief the poem. I mention all of this by way of acknowledging the attention to detail that the editors have paid to every aspect of the book’s construction. It is not just that the poems and translations have been carefully selected, but that the book itself has also been carefully and beautifully made. This attention to detail honors Corman’s own attention to detail in all things touching upon the poetic. Corman was, first and foremost, an artist, but he was an artist who had reverence for craftsmanship. He oversaw the production of many of his limited edition print books. And in this way, he produced many beautiful volumes. His magnus opus, of, printed and bound in Kyoto with cover art by his friend, the renowned artist Sam Francis, is perhaps one of he more outstanding examples of this kind of achievement. As a long time friend and publisher of Corman’s, Bob Arnold knows at a very close and intimately level what constitutes a well-made book in Corman’s eyes. Bob Arnold and Longhouse Press have delivered that book. Make no mistake, this volume has been put together with loving care by editors who are deeply knowledgeable of Corman’s poetry.

The book is not merely an object of physical beauty, it is a book that contains a world of rich, compassionate, and beautiful poetry. The task the editors had in attempting to distill a vast amount of poetry into a relatively slim collection must have been daunting. Corman was, as noted, a prolific poet and translator. His magnum opus, for example, of, is comprised of five volumes. Each volume is 750 pages in length. To date, three volumes have been published. Volume four and volume five have yet to be published. In addition to his own work, Corman has translated work from many languages, cultures, and time periods. He has, for example, translated from ancient Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Chinese, and Japanese. He has also translated from nineteenth and twentieth century French, Spanish, Italian, German, and other European and non-European languages. How could the editors effectively cull from this vast body of work and produce something like a representative sampling of Corman’s work, a selected? Bob Arnold gets to this concern in his essay at the back of the book when he writes: “I’d like to think we are not making as much a representative selection here, but a philosophical one practicing the less is more and at the same time presenting the highest quality of Cid’s poetry summing up that force of goodness.” Even with all that is left out, this book includes a stunning collection of new and old Corman poetry as well as translations, both new and old, from poets such as Basho, Tu Fu, Li Po, Ryokan, Issa, Rilke, Ungaretti, Montale, Char, Hosai, Holan, Celan, Sengai, Santoka, Denis, Shiki, Cohen, and the list goes on. Amazingly, despite these many diverse sources, the book reads as being all of a piece. Corman’s life and his affections when lovingly and intelligently discerned through the shaping hands of his poet friends the editors Bob Arnold and Ce Rosenow becomes a coherent whole – a poetic world that is everywhere teeming with vitality.

One way in which that “force of goodness” Bob Arnold speaks of is felt is in the way that the selection is made to read very much like a Corman edited book, and in particular the way in which this book reads like Corman’s magnum opus of. One of the most distinguishing features of the first volume of of is the manner in which Corman incorporates translations alongside of his own poetry to create a sweeping sense of poetry through time and human history. With this gesture, Corman says poetry is central to human life and we are “of” this stuff. He brings translated ancient poetry up out of the past and places it beside his own. In the opening pages of his five-volume book of, Corman lays out quite explicitly what his intentions are in assembling such a book and in titling it of:

for those who find themselves here
and sounding the words care to be

this is a book of a life as exacting as any
other, not in chronological order, but
through as for all time: a small proportion of
what has occurred to me and to which the work
unseen is complementary

the title reflects a precisely physical metaphysics:
the meta the indissoluble unfathomable fact: the
genitive case: to which we are all beholden and
within which we remain hopelessly particular

and to the extent that a poetry can, these poems
articulate it - which humbly (meaning - aware
of there being no choice) reveals transparently,
whatever else may be felt, I trust (trust implying
you), wonder, gratitude, pain, and love.

“This is a book of a life,” Corman asserts, but read on and we get “but / through as for all time:” We need to take Corman at his word here “for all” and “time.” And understand and appreciate how Corman understands his life, as well as his work, as being both a part of something else and at the same time “hopelessly particular:” In speaking of the title of the book, of, he remarks in the following way: “The title reflects a precisely physical metaphysics: / the meta the indissoluble unfathomable fact: the genitive case: to which we are all beholden and within which we remain hopelessly particular.” Going on, Corman tells us that to the extent a poetry can, “these poems articulate” this indissoluble unfathomable fact of our being both a part and separate. To my understanding then, this selection of poetry, The Next One Thousand Years, reads in such a way as to honor precisely what Corman is laying down above, and to the degree it does achieve this, the selection is at once true and grounded in Corman’s poetics while branching out from it, providing us with this further articulation, this further elaboration – a new text.

Bob Arnold said he wanted to present “the highest quality of Cid’s poetry summing up that force of goodness.” Goodness, of course, is a relative term, and there are many ways to understand and take the term. I would propose that one way in which “goodness” can be felt in Corman’s work and in particularly in this selection is found in the generosity of spirit we find within the poetry. Here is a poetry that moves beyond difference in culture, time, language and much else to assert a connection between us all – between the human and the non-human, between the past and future, between the living and the dead. Corman’s poetic world embraces that connection in a most loving and compassionate way. And as one encounters poem after poem, there is a “summing” (summoning?) of that goodness. I believe that this selection brings that aspect of Corman’s work forward to us and for that we should be grateful. I would like to quote several pages below in order to give a sense of how this selected volume is working. I have selected four poems below. They come from pages 23, 24, 25 and 26 respectively. One poem to a page. The reader will note that Corman’s own poems are woven right in between his translations of other poets. Three poets are represented here and yet what a brotherhood they evidence – despite Corman’s own separation in time and place – in culture and language – how similar is the song of poetry they sing? As a poet, Corman understands poetry tells us we are family. The other poets are the Japanese poets Issa (1763-1827) and Ryokan (1758- 1831):

The father
cuts the wood –
the child’s truck
stands waiting



The snow is melting
The village is brimming with
All at once children.



Father and son
at night on a slope
resting against hay

gazed upon by stars
finding the needle
breath of their breath.



Children in groups with
their hands in one another’s
in the fields of spring
in gathering tender greens
happy as happy can be.


In sum, this is a wonderful condensed volume of some of Cid Corman’s best poetry and best work in translation that has been brought across and shaped into an integrated cohesive whole by editors who have long and deep relationship with the writer. In this sense, it is at once an authoritative selected as much as it is a judicious one. It honors Corman in being true to what at core informed his poetic world. It celebrates Corman and his work and makes his work readily accessible in one volume. It is hoped that many new readers will find their way into the large and vital world of Corman’s poetry through this volume – a slim volume and yet a comprehensively complete volume in so far as it succeeds in giving the reader a felt sense of the overall “goodness” of Corman’s work. The book’s cover shows us a beautiful mountain stairway leading up into a verdant Cedar forest – a fitting image of invitation for those readers wishing to enter a poetic world that is much like a forest in what its speaks of the past and of the future – in it what it offers

To our lives, to our breathing, to our breath:

The Rite

To say sky
as one says
water. To

pour it in-
to a cup
and hold it

at the lips
and drink. Of
it. And at

sundown to
drink it a-
gain as wine.

This title and other Cid Corman books are available at the following address:

Gregory Dunne is a scholar living in Japan. He was a friend of Cid Corman’s. Two parts of a memoir of Cid Corman by Dunne appeared in issues 3 and 4 of the PRRB.