Spring 2008

Table of Contents - Vol. IV, No. 1


Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

Jim Doss, Christopher T. George,
and Lisa Janice Cohen

An Interview with Gary Blankenship

Gary Blankenship


Gary Blankenship is a well-published poet and editor who lives in retirement in the Pacific Northwest after a career in financial management. He is particularly fond of Oriental poetry expressed in a Western format as well as growing rhododendrons. He has recently engaged in a number of long series of poems, based on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (see Transparent Words 10, December, 2007) and poems inspired by Rimbaud and the life of Indian activist the Mahatma Gandhi (e.g., Loch Raven Review, Winter 2007, “Walking with Ghandiji VII: On the Rubber Chicken Circuit Seated Below the Salt”. He has also has been responsible for “hyperpoems” in which he invites his fellow poets to write a poem using a line from a famous poem such as T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Gary’s book, A River Transformed: Wang Wei's River Wang Poems as Inspiration is available from Lulu.com.

The following interview between Gary Blankenship (GDB), Lisa Janice Cohen (LJC), and Co-Editors Jim Doss (JD) and Christopher T. George (CTG) was carried out in early 2008.

JD: In the poem “Axe Handles,” Gary Snyder talks about how we are shaped by the examples that came before us. Who were some of your poetic models? How did they shape and influence you?

GDB: Jim, there are three. The first goes back to the poems I learned in school – the old, long epics by Poe, Benet, Noyes and others – “The Raven,” “The Highwayman,” and “Mountain Whippoorwill” (my favorite). Although, I am trying to keep my “Song of Myself” poems relatively short, you can see that influence, especially as storytelling, in many of them.

The second is Eastern poetry – Wang Wei, Li Po, Basho, and the best poet of the last century, Nishiwaki Junszburo (who Pound recommended for the Nobel Prize in Literature). And from the West, William Carlos Williams. In studying Oriental poetry, I discovered short forms, such as the tanka, haiku, and the Chinese Short Song, which, if I may brag, I think I own.

The third are Internet poets, or more specifically, those who taught me much of the poetics that shows in my poetry today. As an aside, I rank them among the best in the world today – much underrated, by exciting, original and superior craftspersons and artists.

LJC: Where did you get your inspiration for your hyperpoems? What do you think their appeal are for the participants? And will you do another one in the future – a personal question! I enjoyed them. (CTG: Lisa, good question about the hyperpoems. That was going to be one of my questions. Whether you intend to continue with them, Gary. Or if your writing is taking you elsewhere these days.)

GDB: Lisa, I first such poems that I knew about were done by Jim Bennett, editor of Transparent Words. There may have been others before his. If you do a search of hyperpoem, you will find other types, most based on formatting and taking advantage of web links and the power of web text.

I recently read a review (New York, February 18, 2008) of Peter Carey’s new book, which the reviewer, Sam Anderson starts: “Peter Carey’s talent is a vine in constant search of a trellis. In order to reach its full leafy abundance, his art needs to wrap its tendrils around some stabilizing foreign construct. . .”

Those who play in the hyperpoems (and some of what I do with series), very likely are in search of a trellis – a place for their muse to put down roots. Either that or they enjoy the game.

Chris, I want to do more, but at the moment I’ve no desire to do the page building it takes. And pulling “Song of Myself” together for publication is demanding. I do enjoy editing though.

LJC: As someone who has tried to follow your lead with a series, how do you keep your poetic vision/inspiration with such a huge and possibly daunting task as your “Song of Myself” series?

GDB: I don’t know. It is a bit like being in a reality show – and each episode the tasks become more difficult. With any luck, by the time this interview is posted, there will only be a couple of Songs to do in the first draft. I don’t always finish series. The “Rain Short Songs” are dead, I never finished the “Cable Knitted” series, poems based on cable tv series. And I still have one more “Poetic States to write” – the Pacific Territories.

To keep inspired, I’ve done some research on Whitman’s life and fancies, and research the details on the web as I also did with the “Poetic States” series and others.

LJC: You have become a rich resource and mentor to poets all over the world with your involvement in the internet poetry world. Where do you receive your inspiration and mentorship?

GDB: I first entered the web as a fiction writer and from a science fiction gab site, found Writer’s Hood’s forum. Maryann Hazen Stearns, their poetry editor, must take credit or blame as my first mentor. From there, she led me to MindFire forum, where Ryfkah and Thomas Fortenberry get the nod for the next teachers. Jeff Mason, publisher of Writer’s Hood, allowed me to replace Maryann as the Hood’s poetry editor; and Mike Ness of Writer’s Block took me in as a moderator. There are others, among them, Jim Bennett and John Carley, owners of two British forums, M of Wild Poetry Forum, Alice Pero, Arthur Sze, my teacher at a writing conference, and many others too numerous to mention. If I listed them all, I would take up a whole issue of Loch Raven Review. And I apologize to any not mentioned. I owe something to everyone who has ever made suggestions to improve one of my poems.

When I entered the forums, I threw myself into them and poetry – as sort of an accelerated course of study. I just hope I can give back some of what I received to others.

CTG: Gary, you seem to have discovered a rich vein of writing in working on series of poems. I am thinking of your Wang Wei poems and more recently your U.S. states series, the Whitman and Rimbaud series, and your Ghandi poems. I particularly like the way you obtain inspiration from others’ writings or lives and make them your own by bringing in new ideas and concepts and cultural comparisons, such as making modern the ideas in Whitman and Rimbaud or gaining new perspectives on Ghandi’s teachings. Was the inspiration to do such series your own idea, or did you get the idea from reading the works of other poets who have done similar series?

GB: Chris, I think both. As I mentioned, there have been other poets doing series and have been for some time, such as Alex Stolis and Jim Bennett. I started to study Wang Wei after reading Eliot Weinberger and Octavia Paz’s brilliant 10 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. I hoped to do an update and actually had permission from all the major translators of Wang Wei since the book was published in 1987, but a virus hit my computer and I lost those files. While researching for translations, I found the Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei by Pain not Bread, a collaboration of poems based on Wang Wei and others Tang era poets.

I then wrote a poem inspired by Wang Wei’s “Deer Park,” one of the most translated poems in the world, not intending to do all of his twenty River Wang poems, he would not let me quit until all of them were a verse libre sonnet, translation, tanka and cinquain.

But before A River Transformed, there was Gan Eden, a set written with Ryfkah, who is a Talmud scholar. We interrupted Genesis with mine setting up Lilith as the first wife of God and Cain’s wife. We made it to Jacob before we both were exhausted.

Someone since the River Wang should take responsibility for the series that followed, but I can’t blame anyone but myself and the need for a trellis. Now to the point that it is almost all I do.

CTG: Gary, I like the analogy of the trellis. Certainly your energy in terms of pushing the poetic boundaries and your sheer poetic output is an inspiration to us all. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us about your inspirations and your ongoing projects.

© Jim Doss, Chris George and Lisa Janice Cohen


From Song of Myself – Prostitute

55a. The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck,

Out of a Welsh washer woman
pap a lascar, navy man, or one
of hundred other sailing types
who helped her off her knees.

Turned out on the street at twelve
to sell my wares (at eleven I sold
matchsticks and pansy nosegays)
by sixteen I was thoroughbred –
a theater girl with the best tricks
any gent ever bought for a sawbuck.

But after regular whacks from my pimp,
the easy reach of hash, hemp and tar,
monthly busts and comped favors
to the beat cop and lockup hack,
I had the sick looks of a mum of ten
before I turned a drained nineteen.

The johns like them young, moppets.
I ended up on the wharf among the rats,
working stage stops until a stationmaster’s
old lady worries her Mister minds me too much
and I’m sent on down the line
from city to town to village to land
in some backwater where working girls
aren’t welcome and a rail to ride
is always ready behind the church.

That’s my story, the way I’ve lived.
For a nickel, I’ll give you the rest of it.

55b. The crowd laughs at her blackguard oaths

They pour out of salons and faro dens
to pack the muddy street with their jeers
as when

the congregation taunted their neighbors
before they were hung as witches

the market rabble cried for Pilate
to let the guilty man go

in accordance to the law
the village set out to stone the sinner

Coarse men pick up clods of horse shit
to bolster their nerve as they torment the whore
as when

a mob stormed the delta after rumors a darky
raped a farmer’s daughter three counties over

sans-culottes jeered their enemies
as their tumbrel rumbled towards the guillotine

The women look from behind fly-specked
windows, toddlers clinging at their aprons,
and remember

who washed the Nazarene’s feet
and dried them with her hair

The stray dogs slink away
before they become the target

55c. the men jeer and wink to each other

Rough men
…coarse men
men more used to the company of men
than of ladies or refined society

Long Bill
…Fat Jack O’Leary
Slim, Red and their brother-in-law, Lucky

men in stained aprons,
…men with tools in their hands
…and ladders on their shoulders

Big Nose Romero
…George Jr and the Mexican
Jim Bob

the names of men are legion,
the names of farmers, drovers, laborers,
…vulgar men
…rude men

Mr. Small, who took his sons to the house
to prepare them for their wives
…Tom Butcher
Reverend Billows, who wants them younger
than the house will supply

wealthy men
…men down on the luck
men on the verge of a good life

by their names
the men will be known

as I will be known in song
…ballad and poetry
but my name shall not be known
except for the one the women call me
when they call their men back to their bed


55d. Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you,

…..For a nickel,
I’ll give you the rest of my story.

Will I be the heroine in the movie that played last night –
a good-hearted hooker much loved by the town folk,
herself in love with a rambling Ranger –
mother of his child, a daughter he does not acknowledge,
eager to marry such a restless rider
though he will not marry me, a common whore?

Will I be a player in the cable series
that was dropped before our story finished –
a foul-mouthed chippie who’s keen on the storekeeper
who is enamored with the drunken freight wagon driver –
a woman who has probably never spread her legs
except when astride a stallion?

The captive wife of a Kiowa chief beyond the Platte,
permanent guest of a rancher on the Brazos,
frozen in the street from an overdose of snow,
grandmother in black dress,
seamstress without needle and thread,

dress soiled with horseshit,
barely able to stagger out of this one cow town

rescued by a teamster and his life partner
as they deliver a wagonload of Beecher’s Bibles?

…..Keep your nickel,
my life will stay mine,
whether I collapse alone
except for the ring of rough anger in my ears
or rise to continue my song in defiance of the poet.

.....For a dime,
I will give you yours.


© Gary Blankenship



Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

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