April is (U.S.) National Poetry Month. Day 2 – paired poems by :
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Albert Fairchild Saijo.
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), The Complete Poems
A SYLLOGISM NO DOUBT
I COULDN’T BRING IT BACK — I WAS AT AN ODD
PLACE WHERE THE WAKING STATE SLEEP & THE
DREAMSTATE MET & A POEM OR APHORISM OR
CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL CAME TO ME — I SET IT
OUT IN PERFECT DICTION WITH JUST THE RIGHT
WORDS — THE FEELING & IDEA WERE EXPRESSED
COMPLETELY IN 3 SHORT SENTENCES — NOW I
SAID I’LL WAKE UP AND WRITE IT DOWN — BUT
ON THE JOURNEY FROM THERE BACK TO THE
WAKING STATE I LOST IT THE POEM OR APHORISM
OR CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL — I EVEN WENT
BACK TO THE PLACE WHERE IT CAME TO ME & I
EVEN FOUND IT AGAIN BUT BRINGING IT BACK I
LOST IT AGAIN — YOU WOULD NEVER BELIEVE
HOW BEAUTIFUL IT WAS
— Albert Saijo (1926-2011), OUTSPEAKS: A RHAPSODY (1997)
Snyder once said, and said it best, “I’m happy to confess Albert’s an ancient friend.”
I am happy to have called poet Albert Fairchild Saijo (1926-2011) and his brother, artist Gompers Saijo (1922-2003) friends since the days when we attended weekly meditations together at the LA hotel room floating zendo of elder teacher Nyogen Senzaki.
I was just a kid then and Senzaki Sensei (born c.1876?) seemed truly ancient as a family mentor, friend, and adopted “uncle” who was older than my grandparents. The brothers Saijo were the same age as my young parents, but they treated me as a fellow traveler, a child to be sure, but one they regarded as an actual person nonetheless, not as a miniature and incomplete human-to-be.
As teens during World War 2, Albert and Gompers had been sent with their family to a Wyoming relocation camp for Japanese Americans where Zen master Senzaki (a US citizen since 1905) was also incarcerated. From the camp, Albert volunteered for the Army and was shipped out to the European front. Gompers resisted the draft and remained imprisoned in Wyoming as a conscientious objector. Later, after the war, both become deeply influential members of the San Francisco beat scene, Albert as a poet, and Gompers as a painter, illustrator and poster-artist.
In my own teen years, Albert and Gompers were among my favorite local poetic and artistic countercultural exemplars and boho elder “brothers.” When I helped organize and conduct a network branch aiding war resisters, draftees, regretful recruits and their young families escape the carnage of Vietnam for freedom in Canada and beyond, the Saijo brothers were helpful supporters and loyal fellow underground railroad workers. It was good work and, though highly dangerous at times, often as much fun as the poetry and the art-and-poster-making, and the rest of life in the counterculture of California.
Many phases of life and growth blossomed & came to fruition, and finally, a million years later, in 1997, Albert’s first major collection of poems emerged. It instantly became & has remained one of my favorite poetry manifestos. A long-awaited second volume, published posthumously, came to light in 2015. Samuel T and the other Lake Poet Johnnies ain’t got nothin’ on Al Fairchild. “…EVERY SEEMING MOMENT IS HAPPENING FOREVER.”
Albert Saijo has the great vision most poets & painters never had.
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti
At long last, Albert Fairchild Saijo has let loose his poems upon the world. Whether you read them in amazement, read them in a attitude of reverence, or read ’em and weep, they are not to ignore — the collection eschews the lower case entirely. The beat generation writers with whom he hobnobbed have marked him indelibly, or was it Saijo who influenced them? If your taste is for Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, here is vigorous verse in the same vain.
— Hisaye Yamamoto DeSoto
Albert Saijo’s works are powerful reply to the culture that surrounds us. At the same time he wants to abandon his attack and forgive everybody for killing him as in his poem “To Irish Heroes.” He seems to want to take up the program of King Ubu who wants to take all the money, kill all the people and go away without being interested in getting money or in killing people. It is only too clear to him that there is no “away” for anyone. Even so the wish remains for the invention of some painkiller that will really work. The ironies and apparent contradictions in these works are in the great tradition of the prophetical and visionary poetry of Blake and Whitman.
— Philip Whalen
Here’s what happens when you really speak from the heart. Comic, serious, proposing a poetics of immanence and a call for language “that all animals understand” — looks both ways and then goes straight ahead. These poems, rhapsodes, expand outward toward their limits even as you read them. Science gets amazingly redefined and desire become ecstatic detachment. All cap and dashes, Albert Saijo’s poem is a great life’s strong song. I have to confess Albert’s an ancient friend, and I’m totally partial; but if I just came on these writings cold I’d still say whoa. Here’s a wild man who’s totally refined.
— Gary Snyder
Albert Saijo’s glints of wry wisdom in the grass await the weary traveler like drops of rain water on a parched path. The reader will leave refreshed.
— Alan Chong Lau
“…EVERY SEEMING MOMENT IS HAPPENING FOREVER.” Albert Saijo has always been one of my favorite writers.
Astute, yet simple he writes with such sharp recognitions— “LET US GIVE UP THE IDEA THAT WHATEVER IS HAPPENING TO US BELONGS TO US.”
We are so fortunate to have this new book, his voice so alive on the page. “IS EARTH LIFE A SHORT BURST OF QUAIL FLIGHT?”
Woodrat Flat presents wonders of home and earth against the terrors of modern civilization. Saijo’s writing provides a shelter made to crumble back into the loam—in potent evocations of storm clouds dragging into the trees, the clear nothing of water, and the mercy of plants who scatter themselves—but this is a sharp-edged ramble, pointed against the choppers of poisonous regimes, and its cuts are equally deep. The miracle of this book is its at once heightened and plain speaking: this is strange majesty and brute clarity, and its particular incantations will linger.