Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Poem

The end of the year
Two-thousand and nine --
Waves at the sea-shore
And wind in the pines


Branches of the pine
Seen in the cold evening air
The full moon behind

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Safe Harbor

Night falls
On the harbor
Night falls
Quick in winter
Saturn slowly descends
Into the fog
Hovering at the edge
Where the ocean and the sky blend
A stone stairway ascends
Stepping past the sun and the moon
Planets and galaxies dwindle and fade
Scattered petals from wind-blown blooms
All that's constructed and all that is made
Disappears in the depths of a hidden lagoon
There at the harbor of eternity

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Formal Attraction

Why would a poet deliberately restrict their options by writing in verse forms where syllabic restrictions define the form? Why would a poet want to write a syllabic Tanka in five lines of 5-7-5-7-7, or a Tetractys in five lines of 1-2-3-4-10, or a Cinquain in five lines of 2-4-6-8-2 or a 100 Friends form consisting of fifteen lines of 2-4-2-4-6-4-6-8-6-8-10-8-10-12-10, or a syllabic Quatrain consisting of four lines, each line containing five syllables?

In an era where free verse dominates the official poetry scene, at a time when for many poets free verse IS poetry, what is the attraction of composing a poem in a pre-set form?

There are a number of reasons, but I’d like to point to one aspect of syllabic verse which, I think, is a pervasive reason for the syllabic poet’s commitment to form. It is this: composing a poem in a specific form focuses the mind. For example, if someone is composing a Cinquain, then the first line consists of only two syllables. That formal consideration eliminates a huge range of possibilities which simply fall away from the poet’s consideration. Instead, various two syllable possibilities arise. The mind of the poet, then, becomes focused through the lens of the syllabic contours of the particular form.

What I’d like to suggest is that this focusing of the mind feels good. A scattered mind is frustrating and people often complain about “feeling scattered”. In free verse there is a tendency to scatter the focus precisely because there is no regulation of the line. The regulation of the line in syllabic verse is an objective device, that is to say it is not a device chosen by the poet. If I am writing a Cinquain that means I am going to follow the formal parameters of the form which are shared by all Cinquain poets. Like a meditator counting breaths, and knowing that this counting of breaths is an experience shared by countless other meditators, the syllabic poet shares with a community of other practitioners a method for focusing the mind. This allows the syllabic poet to feel connected to an extended community that includes poets never met.

In this sense, then, syllabic poets dwell in an extended community of people who also write in the same form. I think this combined sense of focus and community is inherently pleasing both to the mind and to the soul.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Armstrong Woods

Where the footpath ends
A creek quickly flows
Over logs and rocks
Giant redwoods grow

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I can feel the light
On Sunday morning
When Friends are gathered
It is transforming

Revision 1:

I can feel the light
On First Day morning
When Friends are gathered
It is transforming

While My Neighbors Sleep

Before sunrise
The world's a quiet place
It's like finding a hermitage
In time

Saturday, December 26, 2009

When I Visited a Mountain Temple in Korea

Shadows on the valley floor
Appear with the rising sun
Pine trees cling to the steep slopes
Over boulders a stream runs

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Prayer

On the ground
On Christmas day
May there be peace on earth without delay

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Remembering Winter

When I was younger
A long time ago
Winter was easy
We played in the snow

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few Things I Remember

And the years
Dawn, day, dusk, night --
And sharing a dinner by candlelight

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gates of Time

The Winter Solstice --
Rain falls all night long
On the swollen stream
Reflections of dawn

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Memories Intrude

Silent and chilly
Frost covers the garden straw
A black bird flies by

Hot tea on a cold morning
The cozy kitchen stove is warm

She has a brainstorm;
She serves him breakfast in bed
Just for a surprise

Little things that summarize
The meaning of our days

Though he'd like to stay
He tells his friend he must go,
Other errands wait

The morning mist dissipates
Around the plum tree's branches

Sunlight enhances
Each of the many blossoms
And the melting snow

With her youngest child in tow
She walks through the local park

It is a small part
Of the afernoon routine,
Weather permitting

Some think this is limiting
They want more variety

It's not hard to see
That the night arrives on time
The world works that way

The moon always has its say
As the guardian of change

Shadows from the range
Of mountains in the distance
Cool the day's heat

While the whole sky is replete
With numberless grains of stars

Outside of the bar
Pausing before walking home
To his lonely room

October memories intrude
Then drift away on mind tides

Fallen leaves disguise
The long path through the forest
By the slow river

Where the bridge crosses over
A few miles before the town

She looked down and found
A stone of perfect colors,
Muted green and blue

Blending with the faded hues
Of the altar table cloth

Saturday, December 19, 2009


A sliver of moon
After days of dark
A stranger wanders
Through the city park

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mourning Rain

The sound of the morning rain;
As the year ends, I falter,
Recalling friends who have died,
Pine incense on the altar

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Behind the Restaurant

Starlings and blackbirds
On the frost-covered dumpsters
The morning sunlight

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Seasons come and go
The years pass away
Where the river flows
Deserts once held sway

Friday, December 11, 2009


Across the valley
Snow blankets the highest hills --
December morning

The falling temperature
As clouds disperse in the sky

Her son waves goodbye
On his way to his friend's house
For serious play

Shooting hoopes in the driveway
On days when the weather's right

A cops' black-and-white
Slowly cruises by the house,
They received a call

"It's really nothing at all,
I thought that I saw someone."

In the small garden
Full moon shadows in the wind
Seem to come alive

Apple blossoms twist and dive,
A bluebird clings to a branch

She pauses, entranced,
The beauty of the moment
Caught her by surprise

Following numberless tries
The toddler takes his first steps

"I've a new concept,
It will make the living room
More comfortable."

He finds it agreeable
If it will make her happy

To have fresh iced tea
As opposed to turning on
Air conditioning

Everyone's restructuring
Their finance situation

The contributions
At the charity have dropped,
A cause for fear

As a bum of many years
Doesn't notice any change

In the subtle range
Of the colors of the leaves
On the maple trees

An enduring legacy
From someone who is long gone

A single pinyon
Beside the abandoned store
In the empty town

The perfect place the owl's found
To build a nest safe from harm

Thursday, December 10, 2009

North of Chicago

The year is fading;
Bare branches on a gray sky --
Children in the snow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Love Everywhere

Frost on the branches,
Frost on every blade of grass,
This time will soon pass,
We'll look back, find it matchless --
Love bloomed in the winter air.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Threnody for Baghdad

Sleepless in my room,
The sound of constant thunder
And a ceaseless wind;
Even the stars are weeping
As vengeance consumes the sky

Sunday, December 6, 2009


After forty years
Dwelling in the winter light --
The aged couple

Contemplating retirement
Watching their grandchildren play

Under the array,
The web of cherry blossoms,
Sitting quietly

As the mind wanders freely
While taking a morning break

He is never late,
His table is always ready,
At the corner cafe

Leaves scatter, falling away,
A cascade of red and gold

The moon, bright and bold,
Traverses the Libra sky
And a few thin clouds

"Turn it down, it's much too loud,"
She's looking out the window

Thoughts, like seeds, can grow
And change the course of a life,
The course of the world

The new house plans are unfurled,
He is very proud of them

"We'll preserve the glen,"
A summer sanctuary
For birds and wildlife

The hermit, free from all strife,
Listens to the fading wind

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I've seen this before,
It's another total war.
You'd think they'd be bored
As hell doing this again,
Standing in a field of gore.

Published in Modern English Tanka 10
Winter 2008

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Just War Theory

When we launch a war
It's a necessary chore.
When they launch a war
It's despicable and wrong;
Strife goes on and on and on . . .

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Waiting for the Sun

Driving in the dark,
The sun has still not come up;
December morning.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Padding in Haiku

One of the tools of traditional Japanese Haiku is the use of ‘kireji’, often translated as “cutting words”. (This Wikipedia article is a good introduction to Kireji: ). Kireji are words which have no significance in terms of naming; that is to say they do not refer to some object, or feeling, in the world. Kireji have a grammatical function; they separate two grammatical clauses when a kireji appears between such clauses. Often they appear at the end of a Haiku and in that case their grammatical function is more obscure. Different Kireji have different emotional weight, but even here the exact meaning of the emotion is not altogether clear. Because there is no equivalent in English grammar to Kireji there is a kind of fascination about them, once a Haiku poet, writing in English, makes their acquaintance.

I would like to suggest a function of Kireji that I have seen mentioned only in passing. I suspect that one function of Kireji is padding; that is to say Kireji are used to fill out the syllable count of a Haiku when the count falls short. From this perspective Kireji resemble syllables used in song to simply fill out the melody; words like “Fa-la-la-la-la” or “Sha-na-na-na”. There are many examples of this kind of usage in song.

In song these kinds of syllables fill out the shape of the melody; the composer/singer wants to retain the shape of the melody, but the words of the verse don’t fill out the shape. So the singer inserts some syllables just to fill in and retain the melodic shape. Similarly, Japanese Haiku poets will fill out the syllabic contours of a Haiku by using Kireji if the poetic material does not fill the syllabic shape. I think this is particularly true of Kireji used at the very end of a Haiku. In fact I have read on several occasions reviews of Japanese Haiku that end in “kana” (a widely used Kireji) where the reviewer states explicitly that the poet probably used “kana” just to fill out the count.

I agree with that assessment, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. In fact, I think it is a wonderful tool. I wish that English had such a tool for filling out a line that was a syllable or two short.

If one looks at Kireji in this way it opens up the possibility of a non-minimalist approach to Haiku in English. English language Haiku has been dominated by a minimalist approach; “less is more” is the doctrine and trimming is the method. This has given rise to Haiku that at times seem to me to be anorexic; so slim as to be unhealthy. Adding a word or two for the purposes of rhythm, alliteration, assonance, or general flow would allow for a more full bodied Haiku. And such an approach would be consistent with one of the functions of Kireji as used in traditional Japanese Haiku.

Monday, November 30, 2009


November sunrise
When I took my morning walk
I saw the first frost

On the field by the river
Where the road comes to an end

Pathces of gray ice
Makes for hesitant walking,
And a steady wind

He struggles to explain why
The affair has reached an end

On Sunday morning
The reporters toss questions
To the Governor

About needed funding
To bring water to the fields

In a cloudless sky
The merciless sun shines bright
On farms turned to dust

"I think we will have to move.
My brother will take us in."

No moon in the sky,
And no shadows on the ground;
The earth in deep sleep

The deva in the garden
Conjures up a soothing song

A flock of sparrows
Among the apple blossoms
Patches of blue sky

She's feeling much better now
After talking with her friends

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Guerneville

Headlights in the fog;
The bridge over the river
Almost disappears

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Words Like Clay

Words Like Clay

I think of poetry as a craft. As a craft poetry resembles pottery, carpentry, gardening, quilting, and many other crafts that people engage in. The one craft that I compare poetry to most frequently, in my own mind, is pottery.

The potter shapes clay into significant forms such as cups, plates, teapots, etc. The poet shapes words into significant forms such as sonnets, villanelles, tanka, etc.

Each craft has tools. For the potter the potter’s wheel is central. As the wheel turns the potter shapes the clay in the potter’s hands. For the syllabic poet counting has the same function as the wheel does for the potter. Through counting the poet shapes words into specific forms. Each form possesses a pattern of counting and it is that pattern of counting that defines the poetic form. As formless clay is poured through the potter’s hands on the potter’s wheel yielding specific forms, so words are poured through the wheel of counting by the poet resulting in the specific forms of poetry.

A Night of Many Dreams

Thick low lying clouds
A slate gray extended dawn
Silent, with no wind

I put on two pairs of socks
Then begin making coffee

"Good morning," she says.
"Did you sleep soundly last night?
I had many dreams."

In the travel magazine
Stories of distant islands

Windows are open
Now that the snow has melted
Afternoons are warm

He is the first one this year
To see the apple blossoms

From the worn out road
(it's scheduled to be repaved)
Commuting to work

She cell-phones her closest friend,
"Stuck in traffic, in this heat!"

On the horizon
Clouds slowly accumulate
Over the forest

We tend not to notice change
When it happens step by step

He reads some stories
To his three year old daughter,
Her two favorites

Moonlight slips past the curtains
Under the door, down the stairs . . .

Friday, November 27, 2009


A quiet morning
While the sun rises slowly
Through low-lying clouds
The reluctant world returns
From the land of sleep and dreams

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Refuge from the Cold

November morning;
Fog hovering at the door
Of the homeless shelter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Old Shirt

I loved that old shirt.
I had it for fifteen years.
It fit like a glove.
I tore it into rags today.
Soon, someone will spread my ashes.

Published in Modern English Tanka 10

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Night Vision

No moon
Without wind
The sound of wings
An angel pauses and begins to sing

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Counting: 3

I’ve worked in retail for quite a few years. Sometimes when someone makes a purchase they reject the pennies and ask the store to “pass them on” to another customer who might be short a penny or two. Say the change is $1.37; such a person will accept the $1.35, and then offer the two cents, the two pennies, in such a manner.

Sometimes when a customer is due change that is close to a round number, the cashier will give the customer a rounded up version of the change instead of the exact change. Say the change due to the customer is $5.49. Sometimes the cashier will give the customer $5.50 instead. The cashier might do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps the cashier has been given pennies by previous customers as outlined above. Perhaps the cashier is short of pennies. Perhaps the cashier is in a rush and can save a few seconds with the simpler change. Perhaps the customer is a friend. These are examples of counting, but the final results of the counting are approximations. Such approximations are common in counting. In everyday encounters we often offer approximations instead of exact numbers. For example, I might say that I saw someone “about two weeks ago”; and people understand that this is an approximation, probably because I can’t remember the exact date and time.

In poetry the same kind of principle applies. One starts with a count for a poetic form, but the specific circumstances of the poem may modify the count. If the count is accentual, and the poet is writing in iambics, a substitution may generate an extra syllable and this is considered acceptable. On the other hand, a poet might shorten an accentual line by a syllable or two for emotional effect, or to pick up the pace of the poem.

In strictly syllabic forms, the force of ordinary speech might push the line beyond the normative boundaries a syllable or two. Or, as in accentual verse, a line might be shortened to pick up speed or heighten emotional effect. As in counting change, the poet starts out with a specific result in mind. As in counting change, specific circumstances can modify that count.


Isn't it a joy
When old friends come and visit,
To see them again,
To sit around a table
Talking through the night till dawn.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Enlightened Duality

God is the other,
God is vast, I'm small,
Embraced by God's love
I'm awestruck, enthralled

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cusp of Winter

November morning;
Cold, thick fog from the river
Swirls among the pines

Friday, November 20, 2009


There are things that I regret
Things that I should not have done
Life's complicated, and yet
Actions on their course must run

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Modern Retail

Master Card
All accepted
Cash is the one thing that's not expected

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


On the silent street
A deer quietly grazes
Among the ruins
All the windows are hollow
Open to the moonlit wind

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For Lieh Tzu

It is sufficient, complete,
To live a life that's simple,
To cook one's food, have a job,
To make one's home a temple.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Counting: 2

People count what stands out for them, what has become discrete according to their observations. What stands out depends on the history of the culture and for this reason different cultures will count in different ways. For example, in counting months some cultures count strictly lunar appearances (e.g. the Islamic Calendar), other cultures count months on a strictly solar basis (e.g. the modern Gregorian Calendar and the ancient Egyptian Calendar), and some cultures count months on a mixed solar/lunar relationship (e.g. the Jewish and Chinese Calendars). Every culture counts months, but how months are perceived differs.

Similarly, what constitutes a unit of sound worthy of counting, a syllable, varies from culture to culture. Some cultures count semi-vowels, such as “n”, “m”, and “ng” as syllables while others do not. Japanese counts an “n” as a syllable, but only if it appears at the end, it is not counted if it is an initial sound. Some cultures can have an initial “ng”, counted as a syllable, while in English “ng” is only an ending sound, never initial, and is not counted as a syllable. Some cultures count durations; almost all Sanskrit derived languages have both long and short forms of their vowels so that sometimes the sound “a”, as in “father”, will be counted as one syllable and sometimes two. Japanese also has this aspect of counting syllables with long and short forms of “o” and “a”. Some cultures will count what English speakers would consider a silence as a syllable; as in a glottal stop, or in French poetry where sometimes a silent “e” is counted as a syllable.

In comparing any two languages there are going to be discrepancies over what is considered to be a syllable, just as there are discrepancies among human groups over what is counted when months are counted. This is just a part of the variety of human experience. There’s no logical reason for why certain sounds are counted in one culture, but not in another. It is based on the particular history of that people and their language and just needs to be accepted as how a particular people hears their language; kind of like just accepting irregular verbs or other aspects of a language that one is learning.

The discrepancies in what is counted need not be a barrier for poets. It is the act of counting itself that is shared across cultural lines and it is the act of counting that allows for the transmission of a poetic form from one linguistic context to another. Whatever sounds Japanese count, they are still counting syllables. Whatever sounds English speakers count, they are still counting syllables. The fact that the two groups of sounds do not match is not a problem because the counting itself is shared. It is the counting which is the common ground, a bridge from one culture to another.

On Prayer

The evening sky is cloudless,
Unobstructed, I see far --
Contemplating suffering
I send a wish to a star

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After Grace

The mountain flows over the granite lake
And diamonds like dust vanish in the wind.

From noon to midnight the flowers blossom
On the shifting edge of orange tinted clouds
The jackal sings a lullaby and sighs
On the high valley floor ringed with starlight
The radio blares an urgent newscast
From long ago and very far awhen.

Across a desolate rock strewn landscape
I follow a muscle bound silent guide
(Blue eyes, a three day stubble, and hairy).
Passing a fallen, deserted ruin,
He turns to me and looks into my eyes,
"That building was the library of lies."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Towards Winter

The leaves have fallen
Off of the oak tree
Between bare branches
Cloudless blue is seen

Friday, November 13, 2009

Looking Back

Has appeared
As I grow older
I am more and more amazed
Filled with gratitude for the years, months, and days

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I’m an amateur historian of the history of poetry. I am particularly intrigued by the transmission of poetic forms from one culture to another. The most famous example in the west of a transmission of a poetic form is the Sonnet, which started out in Italy and spread to other countries, notably England and France, becoming a major form in both of these regions. Changes usually occur when a form moves from one culture to another; and that is what interests me, how one culture will morph the form of another culture based on history, esthetic preference, and other factors. I refer to the descendants of the original form as “siblings”, meaning that they are all, in a sense, the children of the original form. Using this metaphor, the French Sonnet and the English Sonnet would be siblings, descendants of the original Italian Sonnet.

A recent example of a transmission of a poetic form across cultures took place in post World War II America; it was the transmission of the Haiku, a Japanese form, to the United States. (Haiku was also transmitted to other cultures and countries; but I lack information of specifics outside of the U.S., so I’ll confine my observations to this one specific case.)

What I have observed is that when a form moves from one culture to another certain aspects of the original form pass, while other aspects of the original form are blocked. The receiving culture does this by defining what the receiving culture values in such a way that those elements the receiving culture values are highlighted (often termed the “essence” of what they are interested in), while other aspects are allowed to fall away (because they are “non-essential”).

What I have observed in the specific case of Haiku is that this process has happened three times, generating three different Haiku traditions in the U.S. I refer to the three traditions as the “Duration Tradition”, the “Nature Tradition”, and the “Syllabic Tradition”.

The Duration Tradition

The Duration Tradition is impressed by the brevity of Haiku and takes that brevity as the essence of Haiku. It is understandable that brevity would be focused on; Haiku are very brief and this brevity serves to distinguish Haiku from other poetic forms such as the Sonnet or Villanelle or Ballad, etc. It was partly this brevity which attracted the Imagist poets to Haiku. I think the most influential proponent of the Duration Tradition was the late William Higginson. Quoting from Higginson's “The Haiku Handbook”:

“For haiku in English an overall form consisting of seven accented syllables, plus unaccented syllables up to a total of about twelve [syllables], would yield a rhythmical structure native to English and at the same time approximate the duration of traditional Japanese haiku.”

(The Haiku Handbook, William J. Higginson, page 105, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1985)

Notice the emphasis here on matching the duration, the literal duration, of the Japanese Haiku. Japanese Haiku consist of seventeen syllables, but because Japanese syllables are, for the most part, shorter than English syllables, Higginson suggests an English model that uses approximately twelve English syllables so that the English Haiku will match the duration of the Japanese Haiku. The reason for wanting to match the duration is that brevity is considered to be the essence of the form. If you capture the brevity, then you have captured the form.

Another quote from Higginson:

“Grammar should be stripped to the minimum that seems reasonably natural. Complete sentences may or may not occur; articles (‘a, an, and the’) and prepositions should be used sparingly, but not unnaturally omitted.”

(Ibid, page 106)

The overall emphasis in the Duration Tradition is to be as brief as possible, even to the extent of altering English syntax.

Higginson was a very articulate spokesman for this point of view. Through his work at the Haiku Society of America (I believe he was President of the H.S.A. for about forty years), through his connections with Japanese Haiku Poets and Societies, and through his dedication and the high level of his own writing, he exerted a widespread and lasting influence on Haiku in the United States. Of the three Haiku Traditions I have observed, the Duration Tradition is by far the dominant one.

It is instructive to observe what is left behind, that is to say what the Duration Tradition does not emphasize that is emphasized in the Japanese tradition. First is syllable count. Higginson’s focus on duration ignores a specific syllable count. Though he recommends “about twelve syllables”, in practice syllable count is not taken as a criterion for whether or not a poem is a Haiku; brevity is. It is characteristic of the Duration Tradition of English Haiku that they will criticize a full count Haiku (meaning a Haiku of seventeen English syllables) as too long, too wordy, or padded (a deadly criticism from this tradition’s perspective).

Also left behind is adherence to seasonal reference and a natural setting. In traditional Japanese Haiku a seasonal reference is considered to be necessary; if there is no seasonal reference it is not considered to be a Haiku. By defining Haiku in terms of brevity, the Duration Tradition opens up Haiku to non-traditional topics, to Haiku focused on cityscapes for example, or Haiku focused on work, personal relationships, or other non-seasonal aspects of daily life. This shift to brevity as the essence of Haiku has greatly increased the range of subject matter available to Haiku.

The Duration Tradition, by emphasizing brevity, and by minimizing common English usage, has opened itself to the influence of modern free verse norms, which have extensively penetrated the Duration Tradition of Haiku. The lack of capitals, lack of punctuation, the often eccentric layout, and other aspects show a strong allegiance to modern free verse on the part of the Duration Tradition. The conformity of the Duration Tradition to modern free verse norms is, I believe, one of the reasons why the Duration Tradition is the largest of the three; because it is relatively easier to move from standard free verse to the Haiku of the Duration Tradition than it is to move from standard free verse to either the Nature Tradition or the Syllabic tradition.

The Duration Tradition advocates for lean, minimalist, expression. For the Duration Tradition this is the essence of Haiku.

The Nature Tradition

The next example of transmission of Haiku to the United States focuses on Haiku as Nature Poetry. For this group the defining characteristic of Haiku is that it is poetry about Nature. For this reason this tradition has adopted seasonal reference as essential, and beyond that the Nature Tradition de-emphasizes human centered topics. Thus for this tradition Haiku about work, politics, the erotic, or cityscapes would run counter to their understanding.

The Nature Tradition of Haiku transmission is rooted in the work of R. H. Blythe, whose monumental translations of four volumes of Japanese Haiku into English remains a pivotal work for this tradition (in contrast, the Duration Tradition acknowledges Blythe’s contributions, but considers them somewhat dated). The four Blythe volumes are each devoted to a particular season; so one can see how central the seasonal element, and nature, are from this perspective. As David Coomler, a prominent spokesman for the Nature Tradition says,

“One cannot emphasize enough how important it is to reflect the seasons in hokku.”

(Hokku – Writing Traditional Haiku in English, David Coomler, Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois, page 45, 2001)

The Nature Tradition also considers brevity important, but it is secondary to Haiku as Nature Poetry. Like the Duration Tradition, the Nature Tradition ignores the syllable count of traditional Haiku and for similar reasons.

The Syllabic Tradition

The third Tradition of Haiku in the United States focuses on the syllabics of Haiku. In Japan, Haiku has a strict syllabic structure consisting of three lines, or phrases (ku), distributed as follows: 5-7-5. This gives an overall syllable count of 17 syllables.

Observing this, the Syllabic Tradition of Haiku in English mimics the syllabic structure of Japanese Haiku by using the same syllabic count and distribution of phrasing in English. For the Syllabic Tradition a Haiku should mimic this syllable count in order for it to be a genuine Haiku.

The great example of the Syllabic Tradition in English is the Haiku of Richard Wright. Late in his life, this famous author published 800+ Haiku. I think it is the finest example of Haiku in the English language. The Haiku in Wright’s book, titled “Haiku: This Other World” are syllabic, that is to say they mimic the syllabic structure of Japanese Haiku.

A recent example of the Syllabic Tradition of Haiku is “The Calligraphy of Clouds” by Yeshaya Rotbard. I think this is a very fine collection of Haiku and other syllabic forms of poetry.

The Syllabic Tradition is represented in the U.S. by the Yukei Teikei Haiku Association. The advocacy of Syllabic Haiku by Yukei Teikei is muted; they allow for it and the founders thought highly of it, but they are open to other approaches as well.


There is a lot of sibling rivalry among these different approaches. This is natural, if at times stressful. Negative reviews of publications by one of these traditions on the part of another tradition are fairly common. Again, this is to be expected just as disagreements among siblings are to be expected.

These disputes are, however, not necessary. As soon as one realizes that there are three different traditions, writing three different kinds of poetry, any need for these kinds of disputes falls away. Such disputes would be like arguing if the Sonnet or the Villanelle is the better form of poetry. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

I am suggesting that the three traditions of Haiku have become three different forms of poetry. They all have a common ancestor, but as the decades have passed they have grown and matured into their own traditions, with their own esthetic criteria, their own precedents. May they all flourish.

The Face of War

Would you murder a stranger
Who just happened to walk by?
War's an excuse for slaughter
Of strangers like you and I.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As the Days Grow Shorter

The autumn garden;
Under the overcast sky,
Withered white roses.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Counting: 1

Counting is a primal human act. Meditators count breaths, customers count change, musicians count beats and measures, when a rocket is launched we count down, in a gym class we count up for team assignment, we count the days of a month and the years of our lives, astronomers count the stars in the sky.

Somewhere in the mists of time people found that they could count repeating units of sound that, when grouped together, make words. And thus formal poetry was born.

These sound units are what we today call syllables. Just as people articulate the flow of time by counting days, poets articulate the flow of language by counting syllables.

Along with this discovery came the understanding that some words have the same number of syllables and so they share a number in common; even if the two words have different meanings, they share the same number of syllables. This also applies to groups of words; two groups of words may have the same number of syllables and so have an underlying unity, a unity of number which can transcend a difference in meaning.

Counting syllables grounds the poet in an activity that all human beings share. Because it is an activity that all people share, counting is a kind of humbling activity, keeping the poet connected to the ordinary. When the poet counts syllables, that counting is the same counting that ordinary people do when they count whatever they are counting (change, plates, votes, etc.).

By counting syllables poets replicate a pervasive human mode of comprehending existence. I think this is a central reason why formal poetry, based on counting syllables, is so attractive to people. The regularity of counted lines instantiates, and then displays, a mechanism that is central to our humanity, something that all of us do every day numerous times. Lines that are based on counting, are, therefore, immediately accessible, resonating with this pervasive, and very human, way of interacting with existence.

Speaking to the Absence

The river of night
Memories floating away
Did something happen?
The day after you appeared
The day after you vanished

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sea and Sky

The sun has fallen
Into the ocean
The tide is at ebb
Mars in slow motion

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Then depart
The river flows
Into the sunset that ceaselessly glows

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ordinary Morning

Sparrows on the oak
In the light of dawn
Hot tea on my desk
I hum an old song

Poetry and Song 6

Here’s an idea for consideration: The majority of poetry written in twentieth century United States is rhymed, formal verse.

Just think about it for a few minutes and see if that consideration makes sense.

Initially, I suspect, it won’t make sense. This particularly applies to those who have studied twentieth century poetry in college and those who self-identify as poets. The standard view is that the twentieth century saw a revolution in poetry known as free verse, or verse libre. Free verse is, as a general rule, unmetered and unrhymed. There are good reasons for this standard view; there is much to support it. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, and then picking up speed and sweep in the early twentieth, free verse seemingly came to dominate the world of poetry.

There is, however, another way of looking at this. If one turns to song, and studies song lyrics in particular, if one classifies song lyrics as poetry, then all of a sudden the landscape of twentieth century poetry in the U.S. shifts. What was in the background suddenly dominates the foreground. Consider the major songwriters of the twentieth century; people like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, all those Blues composers, the Country Western genre, everyone from Broadway tunesmiths to Rock n Roll to Rap and Hip Hop, all of them wrote rhymed formal verse.

Including song lyrics in the realm of poetry would have been normal throughout most of the history of poetry. The division between poetry and song was porous; a poem could be made into a song and a song’s lyrics could be read as a poem. In some ways that is still true today in that the lyrics of famous music groups are published on their own; one can find them at bookstores. In that case the lyrics are being marketed as poems.

If what I am suggesting makes sense, then it raises the question of why it is that the idea of free verse dominance of twentieth century poetry is so taken for granted. Tentatively, I would suggest that part of the free verse revolution was a shift away from song to other sources and models for the distinguishing features of free verse. I am suggesting that free verse poets cut themselves off from song and instead found the characteristic features of their approach in fiction and essay. For example, authors of fiction and essay are not concerned with either rhyme or meter, or regulated lineation. In fact attention to rhyme and meter would interfere with their modes of writing. In some forms of essay, such as the scientific essay, rhyme is deliberately avoided and probably would be removed as a distraction to the conceptual content of what is being communicated.

Does this sound familiar? Doesn’t this accurately point to the distinguishing features of free verse? Critics of free verse have long observed that for an awful lot of free verse, if one reformatted the free verse as a continuous paragraph there would, often, be no deformation of meaning. In other words, lineation is often arbitrary and not a signifier. This mimics what one finds in fiction and essay, in diary and epigram.

The preceding paragraph does not apply to all free verse; there are significant exceptions. But it is a generalization that often seems apt.

I think that the shift away from song to the literary structures of fiction and essay was due, at least in part, to the growing prestige of the novel, and to a lesser extent, to the growing influence of the essay. Fiction writing from the eighteenth century onward exerted a growing dominance on literature. More and more people read it. Less and less people read poetry.

The influence of the essay, the broadside, also became more widespread; an example of its growing influence and presence is the newspaper editorial and the pastoral sermon. An example of this is Emerson’s three series of “Essays” which were hugely popular.

In other words, poetry was losing its role as the central fact of literature. It is difficult for us in the twenty-first century to realize that poetry in the past was considered almost a divine art. This is true cross-culturally. In China, for example, poetry was considered to be the highest of the arts and great poets were hugely admired. One of the Confucian Classics is the “Book of Songs”, a collection of ancient Chinese verse put together by Confucius whose status was on a par with the “Analects”. In Japan imperially commissioned collections of poetry greatly influenced culture for many generations. In the west Homer is quoted in classical Greece and Rome as authoritative; the way one would quote scripture. And this sense of poetry as divinely inspired continued for many centuries.

The situation for poetry slowly shifted, and then in the late nineteenth century radically changed. Poetry slowly became marginalized, just one of a group of literary endeavors. A good example of this is someone like Thomas Hardy; known as a poet and a novelist.

The consciously literary poet no longer could assume admiration simply because of the high status of poetry. Poems now competed with fiction, essay, diary, and editorials.

Meanwhile, as all this was going on, people continued to write songs and these songs continued to be rhymed and metrical. Under the pressure of a growing literature that did not assume poetic norms, poetry began to mimic the structures of fiction and essay. And in this way poetry cut itself off from what had always been its root, its source of nourishment.

Friday, November 6, 2009

November Branches

At this time of year
The sun sets before dinner --
November branches

Clouds have evaporated
Dispersed into spaciousness

In the afternoon
He waters the potted plants
Under the hot sun

Near the shopping mall's new bank
A truck parks in a "compact" space

While a couple shops
(It's their weekly excursion)
They count their coupons

On the dining room table
A dinner of leftovers

"I really feel cold.
I'll put on one more sweater."
Ice on the windows

Casting fractal-like patterns
That change with the shifting light

Caught by the fountain
An evanescent rainbow
In the courthouse square

Dozens of people strolling
While a few sit on benches

The warmth of the wind
Causes the full moon to rise --
The Gemini sky

Magnolias blossoming
Even in our deepest dream

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Bright Jupiter shines
Under the scimitar moon
And diamond-dust stars --
Your hair across your forehead
And your hand upon my thigh

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poetry and Song 5

The point I have been exploring about the intimate relationship between poetry and song is neither new nor original. Though the examples I have used have been from East Asia (Tanka in Japan and the Quatrain forms from China), the same applies to western poetry. Epic poetry, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, were originally sung. The Sonnet form began as a short Italian song, the Sonnetto.

Underlying the meter, rhythm, and pulse of poetry is the rhythmic beat of song.

Mystical Theology

And solitude
These two
Nourish my soul
They guide me to new realms
Where self-concern
Falls easily away
And I begin to realize
That existence is vast
That the world is more than human
That the stunning glory of creation
Is beyond my comprehension
Beyond the grasp of my limited mind
Passing through the gate of a luminous darkness
Darkness within darkness within darkness . . .

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

California Country

A pause in the rain
Enough time to walk
The wet rural roads
The sky holds a hawk

Published in Concise Delight Magazine of Short Poetry, Issue 1, Summer 2009

Poetry and Song 4

I want to write a little bit more about Basho’s hokku:

fūryū no hajime ya oku no taueuta

roots of elegance
on this trip to the far north
rice-planting song

(Reichhold translation)

I mentioned this hokku in “Poetry and Song 3” and how Basho points to the intimate connection between song, specifically folk song, and poetry. I want to make a few more observations about this hokku.

First, this hokku is grammatically divided into two possessive clauses as follows:

fūryū no hajime

This opening clause means “beginning of fūryū”, or “beginning/origin/root of culture/poetry/all art”.


oku no taueuta

This concluding clause means “rice planting song of the far north/wilderness/back country”.

Both of these possessive clauses are eight syllables long (“fūryū” takes four counts because both “u’s” are long, taking two counts each). The two clauses are separated by the syllable “ya” which is what is known as a “cutting word”, or “kireji”. This particular cutting word has no ordinary meaning. It serves the purpose of giving notice to the listener that a clause has concluded and what follows is a new clause. (There is no equivalent in English for cutting words.)

This means that grammatically the hokku is divided into two possessive clauses of equal length, a two part structure. Against this two part structure, and interwoven with it, is the traditional three part syllabic structure of a hokku; that is to say the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic division. How does Basho signal this three-part structure? Through the placement of the possessive particle “no” at the end of the five syllable opening line and the end of the seven syllable second line. Observe:

fūryū no
hajime ya oku no

The possessive particle placed strategically marks the conclusion of the traditional syllabic form, while simultaneously carrying the reader past that traditional line to the next line. Here are the two ways of reading the hokku:

fūryū no hajime ya
oku no taueuta

fūryū no
hajime ya oku no

I bring this up for several reason. First, it shows the sophistication of Basho’s hokku technique. Second, because I think it is inherently interesting to observe the syllabic counterpoint; it adds additional dimensions to this hokku. And third, because I think Basho was deliberately using a highly sophisticated, that is to say culturally advanced, or consciously literary, hokku to illustrate the point that the hokku is making. Here Basho is saying that even though this hokku is complex, even though it shows evidence of a highly refined esthetic, even so, this hokku is rooted in the kind of song one hears when listening to peasants planting rice. If Basho had used a mimic of folk song to make his point I don’t think it would have been as effective. Here the form of the hokku is an instantiation of the meaning Basho is seeking to impart.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hidden Moon

It's not so often
That I get to see the moon,
Clouds come in too soon,
Or the city lights consume
The splendor of the nightscape.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Sunlight on the parking lot
As the leaves scatter and fall
I think about yesterdays --
Friends whose names I can't recall

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Sense That Time Is Passing

No moon
Ancient light
I am older
A stream surrounds a moss-covered boulder

Friday, October 30, 2009

Poetry and Song 3

Poetry and Song 3

Here is a hokku by Basho:

fūryū no hajime ya oku no taueuta

roots of elegance
on this trip to the far north
rice-planting song

Translated by Jane Reichhold, Basho: The Complete Haiku, page 136, Kodansha International, 2008

beginnings of poetry –
the rice planting songs
of the interior

Translated by Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams, page 125, Stanford University Press, 1988

the beginning of all art –
in the deep north
a rice-planting song

Translated by David Barnhill, Basho’s Haiku, page 91, State University of New York Press, 2004

This hokku is from Basho’s famous journal, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Oku no Hosomichi). Basho had just passed the Shirakawa barrier and met up with some friends. Basho produced this hokku on the occasion of their meeting. Basho’s friends were all poets and this hokku was used as the opening verse of a Renga they composed on the spot; one of three they would compose together that evening.

It is unusual for an opening verse for a Renga because it expresses Basho’s view of where poetry, or art, comes from; the root that nourishes poetry. Normally an opening verse for a Renga expresses season and place; but expression of opinion, or displays of emotion, are rare and some would consider them inappropriate for an opening verse (they could appear in the middle section of a Renga). In a personal conversation I had with Jane Reichhold she agreed that this was unusual for an opening verse, a hokku, but her take on this is that all of the people with Basho in this situation were students of Basho, so Basho used the occasion to impart some basic insight into the nature of poetry and art.

In my imagination I think of Basho, with his trusty traveling companion Sora, hiking into the wilderness of the far north of Japan, crossing the Shirakawa barrier, and there in the field were women planting rice and singing a traditional rice-planting song. This, I think, is a kind of “aha” moment. The rice-planting song is poetry, but it is poetry that is spontaneous and natural song. It is not deliberately cultivated poetry. It simply emerges from the rhythmic activity, the planting of rice, and the culture. It is a natural part of being a human being.

One of the reasons I like Reichhold’s translation is that it emphasizes the idea that this kind of song is the root of poetry not just in the historical sense, but also in the sense of a root continuously nourishing a plant. Poetry is what we see above ground, but the natural expression of song is the root upon which poetry depends.

One of the points I think Basho was trying to make for his students is to not get too far away from this root, to remember that poetry is dependent upon song. The context is one of Renga, or linked verse, which as it developed in Japan became a highly complex, rule-bound poetic form. In such a situation it would be easy for a poet to forget the root. The root, the beginning, the origin of even the most complex and refined types of poetry remains in the simple, natural songs spontaneously given voice to by ordinary, uneducated, people. This is the voice of humanity.

Basho’s hokku is rich in meaning and each time I look at it I discover new reverberations. I think it was Basho’s ability to remain grounded in this nourishing source which kept his poetry alive, fresh, and natural. And I believe that it is still true today that song is the nourishing root which gives life to poetry.

After the Concert

After the concert
The full moon in the clear sky
And the autumn wind

Though it is late in the night
The musicians are hungry

Crowds are gathering
For the restaurant opening
And the five-star chef

All alone in the alley
Asleep in the packing crate

The shelter is full
Ice grips the streets and sidewalks
She buys a new scarf

Harsh static from the cellphone
Leaves a question in the heart

Patiently he says,
"I have told you many times
How much I love you."

A dozen wine red roses
In an antique crystal vase

The lengthening days
Bring the first warm afternoon
After months of cold

"Why don't you go out and play?"
(mom wants some time by herself)

In the summer heat
Dodgeball in the public park
And the radio

"I think they grow up too fast,"
Says the soldier with one leg

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wheel Turns

New moon,
A cloudless sky,
Vast fields of endless stars,
A once rich homeless man looks up
And sighs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poetry and Song 2

During the Tang Dynasty in China, (618 to 907 C.E.) Chinese poetry reached unprecedented heights of beauty and expression. During this period their emerged two short forms of verse. Both of them were Quatrains (four line poems), or Jueju. One consisted of five characters per line, wujue, for a total of twenty characters; and since the characters in Chinese are one syllable long, twenty characters also means twenty syllables. The other Quatrain form consisted of seven characters/syllables per line, qijue, for a total of twenty-eight characters/syllables. (For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the “wujue” form as the “Five-Four” form and the “qijue” form as the “Seven-Four” form.) These taught, concise, structures became the vehicles for some of the most famous poems in Chinese history. Such poetic luminaries as Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu, along with many others, poured their considerable talents into these highly restricted forms.

Chinese poetry in general is rooted in song. The oldest surviving collection of Chinese poetry, put together by Confucius, is often title the “Book of Songs” or “Book of Odes”. That is because in many cases what we are reading are song lyrics; some of them from folk sources, others from more aristocratic origins.

The Tang Dynasty continued that association. I don’t mean to say that Chinese poets were writing songs in the Tang Dynasty; rather I am suggesting that the pulse of song, and I suspect specific melodies, underlay, or permeated, the poetic landscape so that the connection between poetry and song was never really broken. The two categories, “poetry” and “song”, remained porous to each other.

In the book How to Read Chinese Poetry, by Zong-Qi Cai, there is confirmation of this in the following quote:

“The rhythm of the heptasyllabic (seven-syllable) line . . . differs from that of the petnasyllabic (five-syllable) line, which has implications for how poets approached it. When pentasyllabic poetry is chanted, it rather naturally falls into eight beats per line:

tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, (rest, rest, rest);
tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, (rest, rest, rest).

The length of the silent rests gives the overall rhythm a slow and stately quality, which implicitly suggests that the content is weighty and important. When heptasyllabic poetry is chanted, it also naturally falls into eight beats per line:

tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, (rest);
tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, tum, (rest),

. . . [T]he single beat of rest at the end of the heptasyllable gives the impression that each line rushes into the next. Thus heptasyllabic poetry has a distinctive flow, continuity, and lightness. The best poets of qijue (quatrains consisting of seven syllable lines) carefully crafted the sound quality of the syllable combinations, employing alliterations, internal rhymes, and reduplication more frequently than in the pentasyllabic line.”

(How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, by Zong-Qi Cai, page 223, Columbia University Press, New York, 2008)

The author implies rests at the end of the poetic lines, but it is also possible that the last syllable of each line was held, lengthened, to fill in the eight beats. In this case the last syllable of the seven syllable line would be held for two beats, while the last syllable of the five syllable line would be held for four beats. This would replicate what was described in Part 1 of this series on Poetry and Song; that is to say the way that the rhythm of five syllable and seven syllable lines are handled is the same for Chinese Quatrains and for Japanese Tanka.

The convergence between the two cultures in the handling of the rhythm for the two types of lines even extends to the meaning given to these two. Takashi Kojima refers to the seven syllable line of a Tanka as “breezy”, while Cai refers to the seven syllable line as having “lightness” as compared to the five syllable line.

This can’t be coincidence; Chinese poetry had a huge influence on Japanese poetry. I wish I knew more about the specifics of the historical interaction of these two poetic cultures, but these hints are sufficient to suggest a connection. The differences are also striking. Japanese Tanka uses both five and seven syllables lines in its Tanka. Chinese Quatrains use either five syllable lines or seven syllable lines, but not both. Thus the Chinese Quatrains have four lines of repeated rhythm, while the Japanese Tanka has alternating rhythm, concluding with two seven line rhythmic units. Try chanting out these rhythms yourself, just to get a feel for how they differ.


Take enough Vitamin C, they tell me,
And you can end up living forever.
However, leaving aside forever,
You can, they say, live a very long time.

Taoist immortals ate cinnabar,
Many searched for the fountain of youth,
Many prayers to heaven beg for more years,
Such endeavors bring only dust and tears.

Where the soaring rocky mountains now stand,
Grand ocean waves once shifted shore side sand.
Where desert heat now endlessly shimmers,
Once a green fern forest quivered with life.

The mayfly lives but a single season,
Can you tell me the seasons of a star?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Canine View

Bark a lot
Not for good reasons
They do not give it much thought
When people object they bark, "Why the hell not!?"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Poetry and Song 1

I came across this passage in a book of translations of Tanka from the Manyoshu, the earliest collection of Japanese poetry:

“Japanese poetry finds its origins in poetry sung to quadruple-time music, and the Tanka retains the traits of an elegant quadruple-time song. The five 5-7-5-7-7-syllable lines are equal in duration both when read and sung. This is the basis of the euphony of Japanese poetry. In the 7-syllable line, one syllable is sustained for two beats. In order to make the 5-syllable line and 7-syllable line equal in length, three syllables in the shorter line must be lengthened. In reading, all five lines are lengthened to the same eight-beat duration. This formality of poetry recitation results in the 5-syllable lines sounding rather drawn out, while the 7-syllable line sounds somewhat breezy. It is this contrast that contributes to the emotionality of sung or recited Japanese poetry.”

(Written on Water: Five Hundred Poems from the Manyoshu, translated by Takashi Kojima, page 14, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont, 1995)

I understand this passage to mean that each line of a Tanka consists of two measures of 4-4 time; that is to say each line of a Tanka occupies eight beats. In a five syllable line, the last syllable would be held for four beats, or one entire measure. In a seven syllable line, the last syllable would be held for two beats, or one half of a measure.

I have known for some time that the Tanka form is rooted in song. The earliest name for the Tanka form that I know of is “Uta”, which means “song”.

To non-musicians the point being made here may seem difficult to grasp. The point, however, is simple and easily applicable to reading a Tanka. (Note that the author states that the lines are of equal duration whether they are read or sung.) Basically, the idea is that each line of a Tanka has the same duration. In practice what this means is that at the end of a five-syllable line there is a significant pause, or caesura. At the end of a seven-syllable line there is a very brief pause, just a slight touch. These pauses fill out the line such that both the five-syllable lines and the seven-syllable lines have the same duration.

The best way of understanding this approach to Tanka is to try reading Tanka in this way. The pauses referred to are not exaggerated; they should sound natural, yet they should also be present. In my own study of Tanka, once I got the hang of reading Tanka in this way what emerged was what I refer to as the “Tanka Pulse”. There is a beautiful, steady, flow in Tanka that emerges from taking Tanka’s origin in song into account when reading Tanka. This particularly applies when one is reading a series of Tanka, such as one finds in the classic collections like the Kokinshu. Given a series of Tanka on a particular topic, like Spring or Parting, reading Tanka in the series in the way described gives the reading an underlying pulse which carries the reader along, like the flow of a stream, from Tanka to Tanka.

This way of reading also applies to Renga because the overall syllabic structure of Renga verses follows that of traditional Tanka. Finally, this way of reading also applies to Haiku for the basic syllabic structure of Haiku follows the 5-7-5 of the first three lines of Tanka.

The author describes the effect of this way of reading Tanka is a kind of euphony. I have found this to be the case. This way of reading Tanka is pleasing to the ear, gives the reader a sense of rhythm and flow, and reveals an inspired lyricism at the heart of the Tanka tradition.


Of brick
Are so thick,
Even stronger --

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What I Do At Dawn

First light
As night ends
A sense of calm
I contemplate the beauty of the Psalms

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Field of Wonder

On the mountain path
I walked on and on and on
At the great cliff's edge
I stepped onto the moonlight
A traveler in space

Friday, October 23, 2009

For David Bromige

I was googling around the internet last night, searching for poetry blogs of interest. I discovered on this blog: that yesterday was David Bromige's 76th birthday. Go to Ron Silliman's blog for great coverage of events in New York centered around Bromige's birthday.

I live in Sebastopol, where David lived. I manage a book and tea shop (you can find it here: ) that was in walking distance of David's home. He used to stop by for tea; he liked herbal chai. He read at the store on a few occasions as well. He was enthusiastic about Many Rivers Books & Tea. One thing which really struck me about David was the easy and charming way he would offer his support to other poets. This support was always genuine, articulate, and meaningful.

So this is a brief thanks to David and to his legacy of generosity.

Thanks, David --

Jim Wilson


The grove of redwoods;
Silent, an ancient stillness,
Soothing and serene --
I once saw a goddess there,
Eyes of night and starlight hair.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poetry as Craft

I have an overall view of poetry. My view is that poetry is a kind of craft. I refer to the craft of poetry as “shaping words.” Poetry is the deliberate shaping of words into specific forms. Seen in this way poetry resembles other crafts such as carpentry, which is the shaping of wood; or baking, which is the shaping of flour; or gardening, which is the shaping of plants into attractive forms and placements; or composing, which is the shaping of sound into melodies and musical forms; etc. A carpenter shapes wood into tables and chairs and desks. The poet shapes words into sonnets and sestinas and tanka and cinquain.

The task of the poet is to learn the tools of the poet’s trade in the way that a carpenter learns the tools of the carpenter’s trade, in the way that a baker learns the tools of the baking trade. A carpenter learns how to use a saw, hammer, nails, and how to measure, along with many other skills. The baker learns about flour, yeast, sweeteners, ovens, along with many other skills. The poet learns about lineation, meter, rhythm, metaphor, simile, resonance, rhyme, the formal structure of specific types of poems, along with many other skills.

At the beginning, a carpenter will make many mistakes; measurements might not align, nails might not hit their mark, etc. But over time, through practice and concentration, a carpenter becomes more familiar with the tools of carpentry and learns from mistakes and becomes more skillful.

At the beginning, a baker will make many mistakes, the bread may be too dense, the cake lopsided, the seasoning too strong, etc. But over time the baker becomes more familiar with the tools of baking and learns from mistakes and becomes more skillful.

At the beginning, a poet will make many mistakes, line count may be off, rhymes absent or misplaced, rhythm may not flow, or the choice of words may not be communicative, etc. But over time the poet becomes more familiar with the tools of poetry and learns from mistakes and becomes more skillful.

Found in a Closet

Fossils from a mountain top
Signs of life from ages past
The first gift you gave to me
When I thought our love would last

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On a Clear Night When the Full Moon was Very Bright

Moonlight on my bed
Wakes me from my dream
Memories of you
The sound of a stream

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I stand
By the ocean
White sand
Almost like dust
In the palm of my hand
And the motion
Of the pulsating wind
Like a remembered melody
Heard many years ago
The words of the lyrics long gone
Only a few fragments now remaining
Along with the mood of the song
Mingling with the laughter of three children
Running directly into the relentless surf
Diving into the sunrise of their lives