The Poetry of Cid Corman
Lorine Niedecker


Originally published in Arts in Society 3 (1965): 558-560. Reproduced by permission / (c) Cid Corman, literary executor for Lorine Niedecker. Page edited by Jenny Penberthy and typeset by Patrick F. Durgin May, 2002.


In Basho's day, poems were left on posts. Today -- and not surprisingly Japan-associated -- we come upon several solitary posts -- nine books in six years, poems rare and at the same time numerous, by the one author Cid Corman. He is also editor of the poetry journal Origin, his present home Kyoto.

Corman is the poet of quiet. "Each man an empire when he enters/a silence." And again: "There are things to be said. But to whom tell/the silences?" They're told but he's careful -- o he's suspicious as the devil of too many words. Of thought, even --

The fabric

downstairs as
I look in
from the street

I can catch
the loom and
can sense the

strengthen the
night coming

"Not to have thought through/anything and yet/only through this day/to have thought at all."
Poems precise, plain and sweet --

At day's end
child asleep
in his arms

he steps light --
her bonnet
on his head.


The Offerings

Too many things on the altar.
A petal would do.
Or the ant that stops for a moment at it.

Reminds one of Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow"? To add to "The Offerings" would be to hold up an extra finger as Basho said when he found the perfect poem. All in All, which contains this Corman poem, is in format and contents -- a large book with drawings (illuminations) by Hidetaka Ohno -- one of the most beautiful books of our time.

Short poems on large subjects: Wonder, Contentment. But solid. "Either you are here/or you're not. And/if you are, this is the place to stand" --

I picked a
leaf up

it weighed
my vision

I knelt and
placed it

where it was

"to contemplate/contentment" --

Tea in the green fields
served by a monk, green
tea, all that he has.

Through the light thatched roof
the sky gets in and
at the edges more.

In fact, "One gets/to care less for all/save downright good feeling" --

The rain steadies
wisdom. After
the silences

are drummed out, from
the wild depths of
the heart the one

native hears truth.
He emerges
in the sun light.

And "hands clap/invoking warmth/beating time to/a slow snow."

Little still states. World news: sun on the sill; a bug: "A black and gold beetle/weighs a grass/to whose end it walks"; the rain gathering at the end of the pine needle "in sudden water-buds that/as suddenly descend"; a friend who is quiet:

The hand that I hold to the light
fills. What more do I offer you,
my love, than what the light gives?

Use what there is, the poet tells himself, "the mystery of the simple seeing." Express suspense. Express listen! --

rain stops
night knows when
to listen

what falls
glistens now
in the ear

In Corman country there is no violence or hate.

Basho's concern was to publish very little, Cid Corman's to publish and let the leaf stay where it falls. Let those read with joy who are worthy. And another year more leaves come into being.