Scott Watson / Quake Notes
64 pages. Paperback. $10.00
On March 11, 2011 at 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a giant tsunami devastated parts of Japan’s Tohoku and Kanto regions. Quake Notes is a journal of poet Scott Watson’s experience in Sendai. Originally appearing as emails to friends/relatives around the world, these notes helped to sooth and focus Watson while surviving with no electricity and water, scarce food and supplies, and frequent after shocks. He writes: “We sleep, but it is a very light sleep and we are startled throughout by more rumbling and shaking. We have socks on too and are ready to run out of our house should the shaking get too violent. How does one tell? How does one know when to ride it out or when to get out?” And then there is the looming situation in Fukushima, along with Watson’s wife’s radiation treatments. “I’m planning our escape. The roads North are clear. Winter snows are melting. Morie’s radiation sessions: ten days more. Will Fukushima’s nukes hold off until then, or will the danger zone expand?” Not just a survival diary, Quake Notes is a cultural critique and a poetic meditation that culminates into a political song against the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
From the forword by John Martone:
“Watson’s Quake Notes would translate well into Japanese. The diary, from Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, through Basho and Issa to Kenzaburo Oe’s Hiroshima Notes, has been a prized Japanese art form, and readers familiar with those writers will see how clearly Watson’s work stands in their light. Watson is never explicit about this heritage; there is nothing self-consciously literary about this little book, but like its antecedents, Quake Notes is all poetry, the language of survival, life.”
Scott Watson was born in 1954 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been a resident of Japan for over 30 years. He has published over ten collections of poetry; his translations from Japanese include Basho’s Road’s Edge, poems by Yorifumi Yaguchi, Yamao Sansei, and Santoka. For ten years he has been editor of Bongos of the Lord poetry magazine. He also directs Bookgirl Press and is a professor at Tohoku Gakuin University.
Morelock The Hunter
The broken branch weeps seeing
a pregnant orchard. The drowning
man reaches for a floating gourd.
A wave lifts our ship closer to the
stars. To be scorched by the heavens’
breath. Happily buffeted by sensuous
winds. As Noah to the new wine sailor,
Noah as Dionysus. We’re past the marlin,
the song has strict demands. Queasy
in Valencia, the gunners concede. Alamar
reigned thirty six thousand years. Paid
off the marauders with pepper. Cowered
so long in a cavern, distrustful of warmth.
Shroud your head, and throw the bones of
your mother behind you. The pullarius
passes on his bird flu. Crows taught us
how to look after our dying. Lailah, the Angel
of Night, will turn our enemies swords to dust.
To The Hidden Faces Who Guard The Roads
Cakes for the body, water for
the throat, breezes for the nostrils.
The starving chameleon devours the
worm in the pomegranate. The yolk
of a ziz egg washed away three hundred
cedars. Solomon had access to Raziel’s
secret sapphire. To have fair eyebrows
in divine company. In the land of slime
pits, Genun made musical instruments.
As the violin is varnished in dragon’s blood.
Whatever you guess will be incorrect. Stick
cauliflower in your cleavage and tell me you’re
Spanish. Vigor of Isis is the name of my butter-
fly net. The redoubtable marigold. You’re not
the only one fathered by a serpent. The man
in the moon is called Jacob.
Eagle Brains And Hemlock
A clay lizard in the sea becomes a man
and says thank you. Cuneiform began
with accountancy. The serpent coiled
around the earth for stability will one
day swallow his tail. Wandering Fiona
will dance the cows away. An idea breaks
the plane and is received in the minds of
others, as if spontaneously. Today’s rasp-
berries are tomorrow’s damsons. Who’s
responsible for this water? Water of divinity.
Any cold stone will stop a boiling cauldron.
I do away with the thirst of him that keepeth
ward over the Lakes. We’ve used up all the
buried sunshine. The days of every sun are
numbered. As eight is the symbol for speech.
To speak in whatever language strikes our
fancy. To tell the mallow I knew your grandfather.
Brothers across the screen, ordinary and extra-
ordinary rays. After the banquet, wash your hands
in rosewater. Backscatter, why the sky is blue. My
old grandfather was called Many Hats. He was the
head of all the witches. Evil is a diminution. The
smaller the bubble the higher the pressure. The table
at which the magician and logician debate. Shaped
and unshaped music. The song in your mind. A
clarinet piece meant to evoke an encounter between
a small bird and a monster. This country claims to
celebrate individuality, but sure has a way of imposing
conformity. Music must be played while picking balm,
to distract the asps that guard it. Park down by the
cannon and walk left. There must be a Dish to beat and
mingle the liquid vehicles and a second to receive the crude
Herbs upon which they are to be poured and then with a Fork
and Spoon kept continually stirr’d till all the Furniture be
equally moistened. The unintended consequences of de/
liberation. Awareness of finitude. To exact tribute. Samphire
just out of reach of the waves. Lavender bougainvillea spills
over the cliff. Antarctica’s underseas volcanoes. Confine
the isolations to one plane. Wear an old coat and buy new
books. Sell your books and buy betony. There grows no herb
to heal the cruel coward’s heart.
© 2012 by Whit Griffin
Whit Griffin’s Fugitive Cant appeared as Empty Hands Broadside #18.
A couple of years ago Steven Fama wrote a post at the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica about Cid Corman’s little Japanese chapbooks. I was pleased that Steven contacted me about including a note about CVP publications because it was Corman’s books that inspired some of the first books I ever published. To help celebrate the publication Quake Notes, I’ve posted an online feature of Scott Watson’s A Breath Apart, originally published in 2006 as a limited hand-sewn chapbook (now out of stock).