Burton Watson Dies at 91

Burton Watson, influential translator of classical Asian literary texts whose spare, limpid translations, with erudite introductions, opened up the world of classical Japanese and Chinese literature to generations of English-speaking readers, died on April 1, 2017 in Kamagaya, Japan. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his nephew William Dundon.

For nearly six decades, Mr. Watson was a one-man translation factory, producing indispensable English versions of Chinese and Japanese literary, historical and philosophical texts, dozens of them still in print. Generations of students and teachers relied on collections like “Early Chinese Literature” (1962), “Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry From the Second to the Twelfth Century” (1971), “From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry” (1981) and “The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the 13th Century” (1984).

He rendered the poems of such classic Chinese writers as Su Tung-p’o, Po Chu-I and Du Fu and the Japanese poets Ryokan and Masaoka Shiki in a contemporary idiom informed by his wide reading in modern American poetry. In “Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei” (1987), the essayist Eliot Weinberger described Mr. Watson as not only “a prolific and particularly fine translator” but also “the first scholar whose work displays an affinity with the modernist revolution in American poetry: absolute precision, concision, and the use of everyday speech.” His admirers included the poets Gary Snyder and W. S. Merwin.

In 2015, the literary organization PEN awarded Mr. Watson its Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, calling him “the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time.”

Burton DeWitt Watson was born on June 13, 1925, in New Rochelle, N.Y. His father, Arthur, was a hotel manager, and his mother, the former Carolyn Bass, was a homemaker.

His first encounter with Chinese culture came through a neighborhood laundry. “Each year at Christmas the laundry people gave us a box of dried litchi nuts and a container of jasmine tea, and sometimes they threw in a copy of an illustrated magazine in Chinese,” he said in a 2005 interview. “This was my first encounter with written Chinese.”

He dropped out of high school in 1943 to enlist in the Navy. At the end of World War II, his ship was sent to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo Bay, where he picked up enough spoken Japanese to use during shore leave.

After returning to the United States, he began studying Chinese at Columbia University. He earned a B.A. in 1949 and a master’s degree in 1951. He spent time learning Japanese as a graduate student at Kyoto University before returning to Columbia for his doctorate in Chinese, which was awarded in 1956.

A version of his dissertation, on Sima Qian, a historian of the Han dynasty, was published by Columbia University Press in 1958 as “Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Grand Historian of China.”

By then Grove Press had already published his translations of several kanshi — poems in Chinese written by Japanese poets — in Donald Keene’s “Anthology of Japanese Literature” (1955). He would return to this specialized branch of Japanese literature in “Japanese Literature in Chinese,” a two-volume anthology published in 1975 and 1976, and “Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets” (1990).

Because of restrictions imposed by China’s Communist government, he could not visit China until 1983, a decade after he had settled permanently in Japan. He was able to support himself with his translation work, but for several years he supplemented his income writing advertising copy and product instruction manuals for an Osaka agency.

He is survived by his longtime companion, Norio Hayashi.

Mr. Watson’s many translations also include “Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the Tang Poet Han-shan” (1962), “Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings” (1964), “The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu” (1968), “Ryokan, Zen Monk-Poet of Japan” (1977) and “The Tso Chuan: Selections From China’s Oldest Narrative History” (1989). In 1995, in a rare excursion into modern literature, he translated Mori Ogai’s “The Wild Goose,” a Japanese novel written between 1911 and 1913.

In 2015, New York Review Books reissued his 1971 book “Chinese Rhyme-Prose,” a collection of 13 fu, or prose poems, a genre popular between the second century B.C. and the sixth century A.D

Patricia Lockwood Publishes New Book “PRIESTDADDY” on MAY 2nd 2017

Patricia Lockwood is an American poet and memoirist. In addition to her memoir Priestdaddy, she has published two poetry collections and is notable for her trans-genre poetics, including her series of Twitter “sexts” and the prose poem “Rape Joke.”

Patricia Lockwood was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her father Greg Lockwood found religion while serving as a Naval seaman serving on a nuclear submarine in the Cold War. His conversion first led him to the Lutheran Church, then to its ministry, and finally to Roman Catholicism. In 1984, he asked ordination as a married Catholic priest from then St. Louis Archbishop John May under a special pastoral provision issued by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Lockwood therefore had the unique experience of growing up in a Catholic presbytery. Lockwood grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and Cincinnati, Ohio, attending parochial schools there, but never went to college.

In her candy-colored new memoir, “Priestdaddy,” Patricia Lockwood describes her father’s conversion this way:

“Put yourself in his place. You’re a drop of blood at the center of the ocean, which plays a tense soundtrack all night long, interspersed with bright blips of radar. Russians are trying to blow up capitalism and you’re surrounded by dolphins who know how to spy and the general atmosphere is one of cinematic suspense.

“All of the sudden you look up at a screen and see a possessed 12-year-old with violent bedhead vomiting green chunks and backwards Latin. She’s so full of a demon that the only way to relieve her feelings is to have hate sex with a crucifix. You would convert too, I guarantee it.”

These sentences are prime examples of Lockwood’s looping and elastic style. She injects whimsical imagery (spying dolphins, “violent bedhead”) into weightier reveries in a manner that can make your head, like the unlucky little girl’s in “The Exorcist,” perform what in ice skating they call a double axel.

Lockwood’s prose is cute and dirty and innocent and experienced, Betty Boop in a pas de deux with David Sedaris. When her stuff is good, it is very good. Witness her poem “Rape Joke,” which put her on the map, and much of the other verse in her sexy and endearing bummer of a collection, “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” (2014).

When her attention drifts, as it sometimes does in her memoir, the kookiness wears. Each sentence is its own quirky cameo appearance. Lockwood is a one-woman cupcake factory, and nothing is coming out of the kitchen unless it has sprinkles, curls, powdered sugar and, lastly, a filthy word piped onto the top.

The good news about “Priestdaddy” is that it roars from the gate. Its first third is electric. It’s not just that Lockwood has fresh eyes and quick wits, but that in her father she’s lucked upon one of the great characters of this nonfiction decade.

Greg Lockwood is no typical Catholic priest. He’s a big bear of a man, fond of guns, cream liqueurs, pork rinds and flatulence as a conversational gambit. When the mood strikes him, he pulls out his red guitar and begins to make an inchoate noise that his daughter likens to “a whole band dying in a plane crash in the year 1972.”

The author is present on this planet (she calls herself “a human loophole”) thanks to the fact that when her father converted to Catholicism, he was already a married Lutheran minister. He received a dispensation from Rome to become that rarity, a married Catholic priest. During his daughter’s youth, he presided over churches in what she calls, in a biographical note, “all the worst cities of the Midwest.”

Greg Lockwood comes off, in his daughter’s telling, as something like a right-wing, pulpit-thumping version of Ignatius Reilly, the antihero of John Kennedy Toole’s novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” (1980).

Walker Percy described Ignatius as a “slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.” That’s not a bad description of Greg.

He listens to Rush Limbaugh while watching Bill O’Reilly. He consumes Arby’s Beef ’n Cheddar sandwiches the way other humans consume cashews. He strides around in his underwear. He thunders about “feminazis.”

When his daughter gets a poem published in The New Yorker, he declares, bizarrely, that it was “part of The New Yorker’s mission to abolish age-of-consent laws.”

Lockwood manages to make her father not only more complicated than he seems, but also oddly lovable in his lurching way. She writes sensitively about coming of age — as a woman, and as a poet — under the Joe Cocker-meets-John Goodman rainstorm of his persona.

“When the patriarch of your family is a priest,” she writes, “it can be difficult to tell what is church and what is not.” Part of the story this book tells is of her gradual break from the church, her awareness that she is, as she puts it, “from the devil.”

There is lovely writing in “Priestdaddy” about social class. There was no money for the author or her sister to attend college. They tended to live near polluted rivers.

“A beautiful backdrop is an aesthetic luxury, same as shelves of books and music lessons and trips to museums on weekends,” she writes. “It is green, green money to roll in.” In its scrutiny of life outside America’s elite culture, this book can be read as a flyway companion volume to J. D. Vance’s best seller “Hillbilly Elegy” (2016).

Other good stories are told in “Priestdaddy,” including the author’s decision to run away from home at 19 with a man she’d met on the internet. (They were discussing poetry.) When he got sick and they ran out of money, they moved back in with Patricia’s parents. They remain married.

By its midpoint, however, “Priestdaddy” has begun to drift. Greg Lockwood mostly falls out of the story. The author no longer seems sure where her book is heading. Some of the scenes that feature the author’s combative mother have a tinny, cartoonish ring. This memoir limps home.

Serious incidents (a rape, a suicide attempt) flicker past too quickly. There’s a sense the author is not making things hard enough for herself, or for us. A lot is being swept under a colorful rug.

“Priestdaddy” is consistently alive with feeling, however, and I suspect it may mean a lot to many people, especially the lapsed Catholics among us. It is, for sure, like no book I have read. The Bible tells us to forgive our enemies, not our families.

Joanne Kyger, Zen-Infused Beat Generation Poet, Dies at 82

Joanne Kyger CaptionJoanne Kyger(November 19, 1934 – March 22, 2017), a prolific American poet whose works, inspired by natural wonders and Zen Buddhism, distinguished her as one of the few women embraced by the Beat Generation writers’ fraternity, died at the age of 82, of lung cancer on March 22, 2017 at her home in Bolinas, California, in the company of her husband, Donald Guravich.

Joanne Elizabeth Kyger was born on November. 19, 1934, in Vallejo, California, to Jacob Kyger, a Navy captain, and the former Anne Katharine Lamont, who worked for the city of Santa Barbara’s coroner and police and fire departments.

When she was an infant, her family moved to China after her father was posted there for a time, but she was largely raised in Long Beach, California.

Her first published poem appeared in her elementary school literary magazine when she was 5. She shared the title of features editor of her high school newspaper with Leland Hickman, who later became a poet and publisher of Temblor magazine. After graduating she enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara, but left a few credits short of getting a degree in philosophy and literature.

By then she had been drawn to Zen Buddhism.

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara,” Ms. Kyger told an interviewer. “Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

Ms. Kyger moved to San Francisco in 1957 and soon became a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese-born monk who helped popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States. She entered a world of consciousness-raising hallucinogenic drugs, meditation and Eastern religion communal living.

Ms. Kyger had earlier marriages to Jack Boyce, a painter, and, in 1960, to the poet Gary Snyder. They lived in Japan for four years and were divorced in 1965, after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests, Ms. Knight wrote.

Ms. Kyger and Mr. Guravich, an artist, poet and her closest survivor, had lived together since 1978 and were married in 2013.

While teaching occasionally at Mills College in Oakland, California, and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, Ms. Kyger became associated with the West Coast School of writers that also included Richard Brautigan, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Philip Whalen.

She published “The Tapestry and the Web,” the first of her collections of poetry and prose, when she returned from Japan.

In that book she re-imagines Penelope’s story in “The Odyssey,” casting doubt on the received image of her as the long-suffering wife who fends off male suitors while waiting patiently for Odysseus to return from his adventures. Kyger paints her as in control of her life and even suggests that she had been unfaithful to her husband. The poem ends with these lines:

I choose to think of her waiting for him concocting his adventures bringing the misfortunes to him— she must have had her hands full

In a critical essay, Matilde Martín González wrote, “Kyger’s practice consists of re-imagining a more fruitful account of the story for framing her own life and career in the early 1960s as a woman involved in all-male poetic circles, no matter how benevolent to her.”

Ms. Kyger’s last collection, “There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera,” is to be published in September.

Her travels in Japan and India provided grist for her witty and well-received nonfiction work “Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964” (1981). In one passage, she recalled meeting the 27-year-old Dalai Lama, “lounged on a velvet couch like a gawky adolescent in red robes.”

“And then Allen Ginsberg says to him how many hours do you meditate a day,” Ms. Kyger wrote, “and he says me? Why I never meditate, I don’t have to.”