Wearing Away the Days:
Remembering Cid Corman

by Larry Sawyer

This windy, rainy night I sit remembering Cid Corman. The Cid I knew of profound thoughtful letters is the Cid Corman I remember now.

For Cid’s voice was a voice of hope amid the din of madness that is this world. There was an anxious feeling opening his small airmail letters as they arrived because I always knew that Cid would ‘tell it like it is’ for good or ill and I counted on him for that. Each detail of his life that he revealed to me and the calm words of caution and direction I took to heart because it all rang true. “Don’t send out poems unless you’re asked for them…” was something that affected me as a younger poet experiencing the rush to publish work that surrounds the “career” of being a poet. No one had ever said this to me before. In fact, his advice seemed in direct opposition to what I normally heard from other poets as they rattled off latest accomplishments and added to their curriculum vitae. “Is this the goal of writing poetry?” was the question I had not yet formulated but what Cid probably sensed from my questioning letters rife as they were with uncertainty and trepidation. It seemed like sometimes Cid and I were having a subliminal conversation between the lines, as indeed Cid packed so much incredible life into each brief poem he wrote.

Reading Cid’s words of advice (sometimes a bit harsh to be sure) was a trial by fire and I think he’d sense by my replies that I welcomed that from him and sought that kind of criticism. Cid didn’t provide abstraction, he provided some resolute wisdom that I imagined originated from some spring outside Kyoto. I longed to visit Kyoto and Japan in general after the initial correspondence began. It seemed like I was missing pieces of a puzzle and Cid knew where to find them. It also seemed like Cid meant that the act of piecing together life was more important, this journey through each difficult day, than ever arriving at some kind of arbitrary destination, winning awards and laurels for reaching another plateau. Cid seemed to be telling me to simply enjoy the view while you can, breathe the air, taste your food, prepare for your life, don’t rush, don’t compromise. Although I knew that life indeed involves a huge amount of compromise, I sifted through Cid’s scant words and their effect was like the trickle of water on stone. These days wear away the stone, after considering the moments, minutes, hours—all of it the ingredients of a grand dish. It seemed like Cid was telling me that it is easy for one to forget that the dish must eventually be served, so one must consider its preparation carefully. I hadn’t even seen a copy of Cid’s magazine origin and I think that possibly simultaneously amused him and cast me in a certain mold. Cid didn’t seem to take any offense to this, on the contrary he seemed to enjoy recommending reading and, perhaps, took delight when I did get my hands finally on a copy of the origin anthology. I enjoyed writing to him of the work there and making particular comments about each. Many of the contributors were entirely new to me—including William Bronk, a huge discovery in my mind, Larry Eigner, Theodore Enslin, Ian Hamilton Finley, Rocco Scotellaro, Denis Goacher, Andre du Bouchet, and Philippe Jaccottet. Cid spoke to me in these letters as if I were an equal and not a mere novice although that’s precisely what I was. I’d gathered that Cid’s contribution to world literature as both poet and editor was huge but reading the origin anthology again and again brought all that into even greater focus. I tried to emulate Cid’s editorial work in some sense as I edited Nexus magazine and then my next magazine, milk. I saw the further scope of Cid’s personality beyond what his poetry contains. The certain reverence and simple brilliance of the work therein was like an insightful conversation when many a night alone I picked up the heavy tome to wend my way through its pages. I realized that the stylistic details of my own work didn’t mesh on all levels with what I saw in this book, which was probably why Cid would chide me from time to time of my ‘overuse’ of articles and reliance on metaphor. He even reworked some of my poems, tightened them, not taming them but mining them for what he saw there as valuable—casting off the dross for the real meat of each. I took this as a high compliment and thanked him profusely for doing so, although it occurred to me that some would take these rewrites as some sort of slight. I took his advice the way an apprentice painter takes the ‘advice’ of a bygone master. I never thought of Cid as an Objectivist or belonging to any specific camp. I didn’t place him into a category because I perceived that doing so would be some kind of disservice to the voice in those letters. Cid Corman created a new map for a place I’d never seen. He introduced me to fellow outriders and offered a kind word when I needed it most. Each word from Cid was a condensed vista, a gentle brook bending its way through a still forest, slightly mysterious and knowing. His work in the massive book OF is some of the best poetry I’ve seen. His style was always ‘less is more’ and indeed he provided so much to me with so few words. I hope you will seek out his books and see how he balances precariously somewhere up there. His voice was as simple and necessary as a cool breeze.

Cid’s voice to me was the voice of hope.