Friday, April 30, 2010

My Schedule

Good Friends:

I have been posting to Shaping Words on a more than daily basis. However, I have just started a second job with the U.S. Census. This will mean that I have less time to focus on Shaping Words while working at two jobs. I will continue to post, but on a reduced schedule. The Census job lasts for at most two months; depending on how much follow-up is needed. So the pace here at Shaping Words will become little more leisurely during this periods.



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why I Go For A Walk At Dawn

I read somewhere that the sun is brighter
Now than it was millions of years ago.
I'm not a scientist, I do not know
The data, calculations, or reasons
Used to back up that determination.

On my morning walk, after days of rain,
A cacaphony of many birds deigned
To mark the ordinary occasion
Of a sunrise. (Though I've seen them before,
So often that I don't think I can count
The number of times I've greeted the bount-
Iful day, dawn still draws me out the door.)

The colors of sunrise do not last long;
A lullaby from childhood that's now gone.

Monday, April 26, 2010

100 Verses at Sebastopol

Part 1

This April morning
Before the sun has risen
Brief, cool, spring showers

I walk through the silent house
A shadow among shadows

Birds migrating north
Find their way between the clouds
And the horizon

Picking up friends on the way
Clusters of young schoolchildren

The waitress pauses
Scanning the new customers
Then fixes her smile

At the end of the long day
By herself on the park bench

A first-quarter moon
Hovering near Jupiter
Caresses the sky

He clears the dinner table
It is son number two’s turn

Part 2

Bluejays repairing
The same nest they used last year
And the year before

The entire forest bows
To the mountain deity

He observes the time,
“Wish me luck,” said in a rush
As he leaves for work

The sun, on its journey south,
Is far past the equator

Autumn in the sky
But the leaves have not yet turned
Though the grass is brown

But there is a hint of cold
Particularly at night

And the flocks of geese
Dark against the setting sun
The curve of the hills

Insects at night seem to know
They are singing their last song

Libra holds the moon
Which seems to halt on its path
Until a cloud clears

She just can’t make up her mind
Which courses to take this year

A dog starts to bark,
Then hears its owner calling,
Turns and runs inside

“On the other hand,” he says,
“I do not see it that way.”

Thick golden yellow,
The Acacia in bloom
Allergy season

She’s planting native species
In the redesigned garden

Part 3

Cutbacks by the Board,
A public corporation,
Leads to more litter

Dvd’s fill the bookshelves;
Star Trek, Buffy, TNG . . .

Mom raises her voice,
“Have you finished your homework?”
“But it’s Friday night!”

Finally free of parents
They meet, as planned, at the mall

They were friends of friends,
They didn’t know each other,
The first night they met

It’s such a delight to see
The face one loves approaching

An awkward moment,
One has nothing left to say,
Boredom in her eyes

Into the silence one speaks
And right away feels regret

Now we have to part,
It didn’t start out that way,
When did things go wrong?

Fired from his job today
He feels oddly elated

All those pairs of feet
On the stairs of the subway –
Where are they going?

“But if you ask me,” she says,
“You can’t trust any of them.”

May evenings are cold,
And they sure last a long time,
Waiting for the bus

The barest sliver remains,
Just before the new moon’s time

Part 4

Bats in ghostly flight
Across the star covered sky
To the farmers’ fields

Creatures of the realm of night
A world hidden by our dreams

Trucks in the distance
A highway through the valley
From places unknown

Snails leave tracks on the window
Traces of their wanderings

In the summer heat
I saw the mayflies dancing
In a ray of light

Two dogs napping in the sun,
Their owner waters potted plants

“Good morning neighbor.
I brought you some cucumbers
And some tomatoes.”

In the refrigerator
There’s enough food for five days

Counter cat watching
As canned tuna gets added
To the tossed salad

Brisk winds pushing the thin clouds
Past the face of the full moon

Bathed in the moonlight
Rabbits are bowing deeply
To the sky above

Autumn evenings are quiet
Compared to spring or summer

A vase of flowers
Seems especially fragile
At this time of year

“It’s not the vase that’s fragile,
It’s the flowers in the cold.”

Part 5

So many acorns
From the branches of the oak
Two or three may sprout

Just halfway across the field
A cluster of red Madrones

“Do you think that trees
Are conscious of each other?
Do they have feelings?”

She asks her neighbor and friend
As they watch their children play

“I wonder if I should work,
We really need the money.”

Fertilizing the garden
From the kitchen compost heap

Tea leaves harvested
On the Himalayan slopes
And farms in Taiwan

A warm cup of Darjeeling
Served in a London Tea Room

Two old friends sit down
Sharing their respective weeks
The time of their lives

At the local garden club
Showing off their best flowers

These Gemini days,
With everything fresh and full,
New and different

Pine incense, purchased today,
Slowly fills the quiet room

While moonlight gathers
In deep pools in the corners
A child sings a rhyme

The Goddess of Summertime
Dances in the solstice night

Part 6

Clear December skies;
Scientists take careful notes –
Vanishing glaciers

Mountaintop meadows are dry
Wind blows dust to the valleys

The sluggish river
Gossamer clouds in the night
And no August wind

It is grandmother’s birthday
Time for family history

But these two cousins
Only see each others’ eyes,
Hear each others’ breath

Behind the wooden garage
Experimental kisses

Twenty years later
At grandfather’s funeral
Memories bring smiles

“I remember it clearly,
It was a night just like this.”

A full summer moon
Seems to race across the stars
While airplanes hover

Heat in deep February
Yields long and dreamless evenings

Magnolia blossoms,
Their intoxicating scent
Saturates the room

A cup of warm spearmint tea
After the meditations

Thick blankets piled high
On frigid August mornings
Are such a comfort

She’d really like to linger
And put a few hours on hold

Part 7

What would it be like
To remember all the things
Seen by a mountain?

Yet even they are like dust
In the cosmic tides of time

Almost all lifeforms
That have breathed upon the earth
Have become extinct

I met the God of Rivers,
He was thousands of years old

Yosemite cliffs;
Two lovers walk hand in hand
On the valley floor

The steady October wind
Bends the long grass in the fields

Rocks in the garden
Watch day and night come and go
And the season’s flow

Earthrise on the distant moon;
An astronaut stands in awe

A small pale blue dot,
The mother of all of us,
Sails through the void

Sand dunes in a vast desert
Shift a little month by month

Buried in a jar
During a time of turmoil
An ancient codex

In the middle of the night
The slow chanting of the psalms

Rippling silver light
From the half full waxing moon
Cools the summer air

A content coyote strolls
Past the suburban houses

Part 8

It is 3 p.m.,
The light of the sun seems harsh
In a traffic jam

“Isn’t technology grand?”
While putting on sunglasses

Sometimes we forget
The world is more than human,
More than you and I

Darkness of a full eclipse
While dragons fly through the sky

Falling from heaven
Celestial flowers rain
Upon those who love

Suddenly a strong spring breeze
Melts the snow and warms the trees

Overnight they’ve bloomed,
The cherry trees have blossomed,
A dazzling display

“What are you listening to?”
“The song that is sung by time.”

This Solo Hyakuin Renga is Dedicated to Sogi

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Like an iris
Touched by the morning light
The subtle sense of the presence
Of God

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dialogue 3 With Richard Wright

And also tonight
The same evening star above
The same apple tree (RW)

A short-cut through the graveyard
On his way home from night school

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Reason for Hope

There is so much hate
And so much malevolence,
At times I despair;
At the end of an alley
Blades of grass by the garbage.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The mid-April breeze
Caresses the maple tree
Outside his window
The garden needs some weeding,
He turns his wheelchair away.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Seven-Four Quatrain Melody 1

Common Character Notation:

Seven-Four Quatrain Melody 1 -- In [4]

(4A1, 4B1, 5C1, 4B1) (4A1, 4G1, 4A2)

(4A1, 4G1, 4E1, 4G1) (4A1, 5C1, 4A2)

(4A1, 4B1, 5C1, 4B1) (4A1, 4G1, 4A2)

(4A1, 4G1, 4E1, 4G1) (4A1, 4G1, 4A2)

Wet Sand

Playing on the beach,
Toes curled into the wet sand,
One hand shades her eyes;
Memories rise with the sun,
Years have passed since she was young.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earl Miner -- An Appreciation

Renga is my favorite form of poetry. I’ve been interested in it since I first heard about it in High School. For a long time those of us interested in Renga lacked resources for even basic information about Renga, how it is written, the layout, and the basic rules governing this most formal of formal verse.

Then in 1979 Earl Miner published “Japanese Linked Poetry”. I didn’t get the book until the mid 80’s. For me, as for many others, the book was a gate into the world of Renga. Last Saturday, April 17, was the anniversary of Earl Miner’s death. He died in 2004, so Saturday was the sixth anniversary. I was too busy this weekend to post something on Saturday, so I’m going to take the time today, a few days late.

Miner was a great scholar of Japanese Poetry but his interests were grounded in a deep understanding of the English poetic tradition. Miner was working on a critical edition of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” when he died; it was subsequently published. He was President of the Milton Society of America.

I think this interest in English poetry enhanced Miner’s ability to act as a conduit for the Japanese poetic tradition in a way that made Japanese poetry accessible to western poets. Miner understood the basic premises of English poetry, how English poetry is constructed, and was thus able to present Japanese poetry, both its similarities and its differences, to an English audience in an informed way. That is why Renga poets still find “Japanese Linked Poetry” so useful; because it speaks to an English audience so clearly.

“Japanese Linked Poetry” acted as a catalyst for the serious composition of Renga in English. Now those of us who were interested could refer to a book that lucidly presented the history of the form, the basic regulations governing the major types of Renga, and translations of famous Renga that Renga poets could use as a model. For me, personally, the publication of “Japanese Linked Poetry” was a catalyst in my decision to start a magazine devoted to that form.

“Japanese Linked Poetry” also introduced me to the Renga poet, Sogi. Two of the translations include 100 Verse Renga the involve Sogi. The first, called “Three Poets at Minase” is a collaborative Renga, the usual approach. It is a lyrical example of the 100 verse Renga form. The second is a called “Sogi Alone”; it is a solo Renga written by Sogi near the end of his life. More than any other translation, this particular solo Renga has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on me. If I were to pick a single poem as having the most influence on me, it would be “Sogi Alone”. Contemplative, introspective to an unusual degree, yet at the same time filled with imagery that resonates across time and culture, “Sogi Alone” is, for me, the great masterpiece of Renga.

Many Renga poets were directly influenced by Miner’s work. One group of Renga poets I know of considers Miner’s work so important that they refer to themselves as the “Miner School of Renga”. This is because they consider “Japanese Linked Poetry” as their definitive guide. This group is still active.

For anyone interested in Renga, or in Japanese poetry in general, Miner’s work is essential. Once you have it you will read it over and over and refer to it frequently. It will be one of those books that always close at hand. Unfortunately, it is not currently in print. But there are used copies available. (As an aside, one aspect of University publishing that I find troublesome is that tendency of University publishers to let their volumes go out of print, but at the same time to tenaciously retain the copyright. The effect of this is to make it impossible for interested publishers to reprint valuable books until the book enters into public domain. In the case of Miner, the earliest that would be is 2061, and it could be much later. There are many examples like this and it is my hope that Universities will rethink this policy.)

Earl Miner received many honors during his life for his work including the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon from the Japanese government for his contributions to Japanese poetry in 1994. In 1993 he received the Behrman Distinguished Achievement Award from Princeton University.

It is with heartfelt appreciation that I remember this great scholar and translator.

A Moment of Clarity

Morning light and the blue sky
In the midst of my routine
Gratefully I bow my head
To all that's seen and unseen

Sunday, April 18, 2010

European Union's President Publishes a New Haiku Collection

Good Friends:

The President of the European Union is a Haiku poet. And guess what -- he writes syllabic haiku. Here's an article on his latest collection published, I understand, last Thursday:




I am filled with awe --
The great mystery
My reach cannot grasp
This eternity

Saturday, April 17, 2010


This poem is dedicated to my friend, Walter Blum:

Good friends
When they die
Leave a lasting trace
One that cannot be erased
Companions on a path to an unknown place

Friday, April 16, 2010

Evening Walk

Sunset --
The conifers
Shade the path to the cliff.
The shadows lengthen behind me,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cruel Clarity

"You are so stubborn!"
"No, not at all," she replies.
"I can prove I'm right.
I'm the voice of sweet reason.
Disagreeing is treason."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Lilacs are in bloom
On the backyard fence
A few butterflies
Are drawn by their scent

Tuesday, April 13, 2010



I sometimes wonder if a new form will have longevity; whether the new form will endure or whether it will be looked at as a kind of interesting attempt, an historical footnote. So many new and interesting syllabic forms have been offered in English in the last hundred years or so that it makes quite a long list. I think one can start with the Cinquain, Adelaide Crapsey’s contribution. It has been around now for about a century and is beginning to have the feel of historical depth to it, the sense that it will endure and that poets in the future will continue to have an interest in it.

Why do some forms endure? What grants them longevity? The poet Larry Gross wrote, “A form evolves and persists over time because it does certain things exceedingly well.” (Tanka Splendor, 1995, Judge’s Comments) Exactly what a particular form does, though, is attractively elusive.

For the syllabic poet the form itself has meaning, but if asked to define the particular meaning of a form, it is difficult to say exactly what that is. A contrast with pottery is helpful here. A cup has a certain form; it has to have a shape that can hold liquid and at the same time is small enough to be held by a single hand. Potters have been making cups for thousands of years because the form of the cup is useful, people always need them, and so there is a persistent demand. In the case of pottery the meaning of a form is the function of that form; a cup to hold liquids, a plate to place food upon, etc. What the function of a poetic form is does not reveal itself so easily.

Part of the answer, I think, has to do with rhythm, or pulse. Part of the answer, I think, has to do with the sonic shape of a form. Certain sonic shapes seem to be inherently attractive; they also may acquire an aura of attractiveness through continued usage. I think, in the end, we have to accept that the beauty of a particular form, like Sonnet or Tanka, is elusive. Just as we cannot precisely state why a sunset is beautiful, or why a mountainscape moves us, yet it is definitely the case that we do find these natural display worth contemplating and visiting over and over. So also certain poetic forms seem to touch us and draw us to them such that we want to visit and revisit them.

When a poetic form has this similarity to natural appearances, like sunsets, I think the form has the capacity to endure and to be transmitted across cultural lines; across cultural lines because at a certain level the poetic form has aspects of being a part of nature, not just a part of a culture. Tentatively I would focus on two aspects of a poetic form that one can also find in natural displays that, I think, lead to the longevity of the form. Those two are recognizable parameters and variety within those parameters. By ‘recognizable parameters’ I mean that we all recognize a sunset as a sunset because sunsets share certain features in common; the time of day, the colors on display, the brevity, etc. By variety within those parameters I mean that no two sunsets are exactly alike but this does not hinder the observer from knowing that what is observed is still a sunset.

There are three poetic forms I’d like to apply these observations to: the Sonnet, the Tanka, and the Chinese Quatrain. The Sonnet appears in the 1500’s thus having a history of about 700 years. The Sonnet has a recognizable form with its fourteen lines and its syllabic rule of ten syllables per line for the English Sonnet. Yet within the frame of those restrictions infinite variety can unfold. Different rhyme schemes have evolved, different ways of grouping the fourteen lines such as 8 and 6, or 4 and 4 and 4 and 2, or 5 and 4 and 3 and 2, etc. The Sonnet has been flexible enough to evolve and respond to the needs of different poets and this evolution has continued to make the Sonnet appealing to readers.

The Japanese Tanka has a written history of about 1400 years; about twice as long as the Sonnet. Quite a venerable form. It is amazing how the form has maintained itself down through the centuries. Other Japanese forms have come and gone, but the Tanka has endured right down to the present day. At first the brevity of the Tanka would seem to be too constricting to allow for evolution and variety. Unlike the relatively spacious Sonnet, it might seem that the syllabic parameters of the Tanka would be too tight to keep interest in the form high. Nevertheless, poets down through the centuries have been able to use this short form in a remarkable variety of ways. Some Tanka are a single thought from beginning to end. Other Tanka are divided in two, using such techniques as juxtaposition or pivot to add complexity to the poem as the multiple images interact. Some Tanka are naturescapes, almost like Haiku with two additional lines (Saigyo wrote some Tanka like this). (One person has suggested calling this subcategory of Tanka a ‘Walden’; I kind of like the idea.) Many Tanka combine nature with human emotion and have a romantic sensibility. Many Tanka are devoted to love. The subject matter is endless. Tanka has proven that a strict form, even a brief one, can be endless varied.

Finally, there is the Chinese Quatrain in its two forms of four five syllable lines or four seven syllable lines. The written history of these Quatrains goes back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), so the written history is a few centuries longer than the Tanka. Personally I suspect that both the Tanka and the Chinese Quatrain go back to into the mists of time for both cultures. However, that may be, the Quatrain has also been able to serve multiple purposes, with diverse poets, over a long period, proving its durability. It is remarkable what poets have been able to do with this brief, and highly structured form. One of the reasons why I think the Quatrain has endured for so long is that it is easy to memorize. In addition, it is also amenable to musical settings because of the regularity of its lines and its rhyme scheme. This has made it easy for Chinese Quatrains to be integrated into the musical life of Chinese culture as well as the strictly poetic society.

I sometimes find myself fantasizing about the future of syllabic verse in English. Five hundred years from now will we have anthologies of the Great Cinquain Poets? It wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know, of course, but I still enjoy speculating.


I'm back at the Russian River again;
It's funny how things keep coming around,
Things I thought I had left behind are found
Around a corner where I thought I'd gain
Some forward motion, not the same old same.

The moon, ev'ry month, runs through its phases,
And the cycle of dawn, day, dusk, and night,
Counterpointing the migratory flight
Of birds and butterflies through the ages,
Are a few of the cycles, the stages,
That carry us along, that are our lives,
Embedded within complex cosmic tides.

Apple blossoms have scattered on the grass --
I have seen this before; it will soon pass.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kokinshu Commentary 7

Kokinshu Commentary 7

Book One -- Spring 1

7. Anonymous. Topic unknown

That I should mistake
Lingering snowflakes for flowers –
Might it be because
My longing was so fervent
When I broke off the branches?

According to some, this poem was composed by the Former Chancellor.

Comment: The strong link between this Tanka 7 and the previous Tanka 6 rests both on method and on topic. Regarding method there are two aspects: rhetoric and device. The rhetorical usage is that of a question in both Tanka 6 and Tanka 7; both Tanka are in the form of questions. Regarding device, the method is elegant confusion, again used in both Tanka. The topic is confusing snowflakes for flowers in early spring; almost certainly plum blossoms are meant. The shift between the two Tanka has to do with the placement of the elegant confusion. In the previous Tanka 7 the author, Monk Sosei, infers elegant confusion on the part of the warbler, or acts as though he can understand what the warbler is thinking. In Tanka 7 the anonymous author reports his or her own confusion. Tanka 7 is, therefore, more introspective and personal. In addition, the cause of the elegant confusion in Tanka 7 is psychological; fervent longing has confused the observer. This Tanka focuses on how the mind, when it is in a state of deep longing for another often sees the world through perception that is distorted by that longing. We have all been through this kind of situation. Popular songs sometimes refer to it, e.g. “On the Street Where You Live”.

The “breaking off the branches” refers to a custom in Japan at that time where someone would send a letter with blossoms attached. Different blossoms meant different things. I’m not sure what plum blossoms meant, but I bet the intended readers of the Kokinshu at the time it was compiled had a cultural referent for this. The scene this Tanka paints uses what some contemporary Tanka poets call “dreaming room”. That is to say there is implied in this Tanka an expansive situation involving a nascent love, a possible love letter, both a past and possible future for the two people implied. This is a powerful way of composing Tanka; to have the image reverberate in the mind of the reader, taking the reader both into the past and into the future, placing the Tanka in the midst of this field of time.

Incidentally, we do not know if the “I” of this Tanka is male or female. The author is anonymous and this kind of Tanka was written by both men and women. The note attached after the Tanka states that some think the Tanka was written by the “Former Chancellor” seems perfunctory. My sense is that the editors noted this, but didn’t feel the ascription was secure enough to place it where the author’s name would be.

Personally, I think this is a beautiful Tanka. There is a hint that the elegant confusion between the snow and the flowers may be a metaphor for unrequited love. Did the author think that someone else had fond feelings for the author (blossoms), only to discover that this was not the case (snow)? That might explain why the branches, though broken off, have not as yet been sent. On the other hand, the Tanka admits to multiple understandings.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Where We Always Dwell

Is my scripture
Is the secret
Before there were scriptures
There was silence
Before the beginning
There is the ocean of silence
Before the creation
There is the silent mystery
Constant, always existing, never far
Found in the light and in the dark
Without beginning and witout an end
Found deep within the hidden chambers of the heart
Silence is the presence of constant grace

Saturday, April 10, 2010


April afternoon
Now the sun has broken through
The morning's cool clouds

Apple blossoms lingering
Over the garden's new growth

Lunch with my friend Chuck,
We've known each other for years,
"I know what you mean."

A regular customer
Purchases a new novel

At the shopping mall,
In air conditioned comfort,
Away from the heat

He reads her detailed letter
Explaining why she's not there

A falcon hovers
Someone closes a window
Two cats sleep soundly

She's working on her thesis;
"The Origins of the Moon"

Which is now rising
Full in the clear autumn air,
And the falling leaves

The holidays are coming,
Contracting the daylight hours

Snow slowly settles
Upon the streets and sidewalks
As the city sleeps

At early morning Matins
A hermit recites his prayers

Thursday, April 8, 2010

As the Sun Rises

On the morning road
There's not much traffic
A coyote strolls
The wind's melodic

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When They Were Young

In the sky
Children's laughter
I can remember many years after

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Helen Craig McCullough -- Translator

Helen Craig McCullough (February 17, 1918 to April 6, 1998) was a great scholar and translator of ancient Japanese literature into English. Today is the twelfth anniversary of her death and I thought I would take a moment to express my appreciation.

I don’t know a lot about McCullough. I never met her and I haven’t been able to find a picture of her on the web. She taught for many years at Stanford. I found one story about her which, I think, says something about her personality. When she was told that she would be a grandmother she delayed the publication of one of her translations because she wanted to dedicate this latest work to this newest member of her family.

Of particular importance for the readers of this blog was her translation of the “Kokin Wakashu” and a commentary on the same called “Brocade by Night”. With these two works McCullough opened a door to the world of Japanese Tanka for us English speakers. Her translation of Kokin Wakashu (which I am using as the basis for my ongoing commentary) is one of the best translations of poetry I have ever come across; and I have read a large number of poetry translations from East Asian languages into English. The tendency among academics is to encumber their translations with a scholarly apparatus which can become so thick as to be, in extreme cases, impenetrable. Although impenetrability is an extreme, I have run into a few instances of such density. But even in cases that are less extreme, the tendency is to translate for an audience that is at least as learned as one’s self; this is only natural. But McCullough avoided that trap. Her translation is accessible to the non-specialist, interested reader. The unobtrusive footnotes refer people to sources that might expand on a point without overwhelming the primary text.

One way I think that McCullough achieved this delicate balancing act was to pack all the really dense scholarly material into the commentary on the Kokinshu, “Brocade by Night”. To give you an idea of how much commentarial material there is, ‘Brocade by Night’ is nearly 600 pages long, while the Kokin Wakashu itself is about 375 pages. In the ‘Brocade by Night’ one finds much of the referential material and historical information which places Kokin Wakashu into an overall context of East Asian poetry. By writing two books, one a primary translation, and the other a scholarly investigation, she was able to keep the primary translation of the poetry collection just that; a poetry collection the reader can enjoy.

McCullough chose to translate the Waka/Tanka in the Kokin Wakashu syllabically. That is to say her translations of the Tanka adhere to the 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic structure of the original Japanese. This was an unusual and, in my opinion, courageous decision. I’m sure that she had many people suggest that adhering to the Japanese syllabics would be difficult to impossible. And, indeed, lots of translators of Japanese Tanka into English abandon the traditional syllabics.

What McCullough has done is to definitively show that it is possible to translate from Japanese into English while adhering to the original syllabic structure. This is a significant achievement. I would say it is a singular achievement. McCullough’s translation went a long way to convincing me that a syllabic approach to Japanese poetry in English was not only possible, but would also yield efficacious and worthy results.

It is clear from McCullough’s approach to Japanese poetry that she regards the syllabic structure as a part of the meaning of the poem. What this means is that the form itself is meaningful. It is the syllabic form of Tanka that distinguishes it from other Japanese forms. It is the syllabic form which has remained consistent throughout 1400 years of written history; other aspects of Tanka, specific techniques, have come and gone, but the syllabic count has stayed the same. The syllabic structure is definitive of the meaning of Tanka as nothing else is.

But I believe that McCullough’s translation goes even further; I think that it shows the potential of English syllabic verse in general. In other words, I think her translation can also be viewed as a fine collection of English syllabic verse in itself. The care with which McCullough shapes her lines, the ease with which she presents these Japanese verses in an English that really sounds natural to English readers is a demonstration of the effectiveness of English syllabic verse.

I have learned a great deal from her and even though I never studied formally with her at Stanford, I think of her as one of my teachers. With many thanks for her numerous accomplishments I offer my sincere gratitude.

The Next Generation

At the funeral
The children are distracted
By apple blossoms

Monday, April 5, 2010


Dawn in the garden,
Sunlight from a cloudless sky
Touches the lilacs

Because it is the weekend
He can linger over tea

There's a kind of pause
Before the children wake up
That is nourishing

She takes her ten-minute break
In the anonymous park

Where some lemon trees,
Blooming in the summer heat,
Lightly scent the air

It reminds him of his Aunt,
His father's younger sister

A ceremony,
Sermons and some well-known hymns,
For the departed

Only the slightest sliver
Of the waning moon remains

In the cool crisp air
The brown leaves are still clinging
To the old oak trees

While dusty snowflakes descend
For about thirty minutes

The furnace turns on
A closet door is opened
Someone's on their phone

As satellites trace a path
Through cobwebs in the window

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Open Exit

Is there a way out?
Is there a way to escape
The sea of sorrow?
Walk the path of harmlessness
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kyrie Eleison

The end of the day
I am aware of my sins
I begin to pray --
Lord have mercy upon me
I have forgotten the way

Island in the Storm

Awake in the darkness before the dawn,
When the world is quiet and hours last long,
There is a quality to the silence;
An open gateway to the absolute,
It is the presence of a wordless truth.

Lost among the distractions of the day,
Concerned with my capacity to pay
For all the things a normal life requires,
Fueled by stimulations that keep me wired.

Seemingly consumed by constant attacks
S0 numerous that I cannot keep track
Of where I am, time, place, or where I'm at.

But days do not consist of only strife,
There's morning silence and eternal life.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Process and Reality

Round stones
Smoothed by time
And the ocean

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Essentially Limited

Human life is very short
Human minds are very small
What is small can't comprehend,
Can't encompass what is all