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To Love for a Thousand Years/El amor que dura mil años
Ediciones del Lago (2011)
Poems by James Tipton; translations by Flor Aguilera García
Reviewed by Margaret Van Every
Available at Diane Pearl Colecciones, Galería Sol Mexicano, and Coffee & Bagels $10 US/100 pesos
Just when you thought you knew Jim Tipton through his libidinous bad-boy tanka and haiku (Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village, and All the Horses of Heaven), he does a 180 and proves you wrong! In those joyfully wanton Japanese short verses, legs, breasts, belly buttons, mangos and coconuts sparked fantasies of carnal encounters with honest-to-God women.
In his new book To Love for a Thousand Years/El amor que dura mil años these same metaphors are used to transport the reader to the realm of the divine. And that has been the aim of poetry in the ecstatic tradition, on which Jim models these poems, for a thousand years—namely to invoke an intoxication and longing for union with the divine through the language of sensual love. The company he keeps in this tradition are Rumi, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart, and St. Francis of Assisi, among others.
And though his aim may be different, you don’t have to read far to find the old randy Jim lurking in the lines of his new book. He’s there with a grin and a wink—it is the same love of the female form plus a playful irreverence for the Judaic-Christian-Islamic notion of God, who He is and how to find Him.
For example, in one of my favorite poems, Jim stumbles on a shipwrecked God who is washed ashore and needing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Just watch what happens when there is an exchange of breath. The breath is going from the poet to God, but take note of that wink. Jim writes:
The day I found God washed ashore
He was barely breathing
until I began to apply
mouth to mouth resuscitation.
. . . . .
But then, as I was breathing into Him,
He began breathing back into me.
And finally, one eye, crusty with the sea,
opened, and winked.
Before I could say a word
He transformed into a beautiful woman
. . . . .
and He has been doing that ever since,
every day of my life.
Jim concludes that that was the day he really got serious about religion. You could take this poem to be a delightfully absurd, irreverent joke or you might read that God’s existence is infused with the breath of his creation, without which He can’t survive.
Another poem I like for the sheer fun and irreverence of it is Everybody Knows, in which the poet claims that God, which is dog spelled backward, likes to play and sometimes hide in the dogs of Ajijic. The admonition is to look on our dogs with love and wish them buenos días . . . just in case.
To Love for a Thousand Years is also a break for Tipton from the formal restraints of tanka and haiku, of which he was a master. These poems are free, unmetered, centered on the page. They are musical and dance off the tongue, clearly written to be read out loud. They wed irreverent, outrageous metaphor with deeper meaning that uplifts the spirit. Through this irreverence and joy in the spoken word, Tipton leads us to reverence. Every poem has been beautifully translated into Spanish by Mexican poet, novelist, and film critic Flor Aguilera García.
(To Love for a Thousand Years is a available locally at Diane Pearl’s Colecciones in Ajijic.)