Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tea Etheree 4

With friends
Now and then
During the week
In the afternoon
Or late in the morning
Assists in conversation
Gives the relationship a boon
An occasion we look forward to
A meeting that comes to an end too soon

Tea Etheree 3

A sip
Not a lot
Because it's hot
Too hot for a gulp
Just enough for a taste
Sometimes this induces haste
Then the slight burn on the tongue warns
I need to wait until the tea's warm --
Mist rising from the cup greeting the dawn

Tea Etheree 2

Hot tea
In winter
In December
Or January
When the snow is falling
And ice is on the windows
When the warm kitchen is calling
A few sips disperse the clumps of cold
As the warmth suffuses body and soul

Tea Etheree 1

Iced tea
In July
Or in August
Is a cheerful drink
On a hot afternoon
When the sky is free of clouds
After working in the garden
Or taking a long hike in the woods
Reminds us that some things in life are good

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Feelings

Feelings come and go
They resemble the weather
Or the season's flow
Feelings are nothing special
Where they come from no one knows

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lost In Cyberspace

Version 1

Appointment book
A few unpaid bills
Which I ignore for the thrill
Of clicking on a new link,
Of launching into cyberspace,
Before I know it or what to think
The sun has set, there are stars in the sky

Version 2

Appointment book
A few unpaid bills
Which I ignore for the thrill
Of clicking on a new link,
Of launching into cyberspace,
Before I know it hours have passed by,
I turn to the window and the night sky

Friday, June 25, 2010


Talking to herself
Up and down the noon-hot street --
Shadow in the wind


I've tried, but I can't answer this question;
What blame is mine, how much do I shoulder,
For the tragedy my nation has brought,
For the unmitigated disaster
Of an unnecessary war that's fought
On the basis of lies and deception?

Life continues, most people don't mention,
Do not think about the problem at all,
For there are things to do, people to call,
The future beckons, why be held in thrall
To a past which is beyond redemption?

And yet, as sunrise begins a new day
I realize all people are my companions on the way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dialogue with Buson -- 1

A temple watchman
Stares vaguely at the grasses --
A full summer moon (Buson)

Pauses in its slow journey
Between a cloud and a star (jw)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Confucius at the River

The sun rises
Flowers blossom, leaves fall
Galaxies form and then disperse
Stream songs

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hayden Carruth's Haiku

Hayden Carruth’s Haiku

Hayden Carruth lived from 1921 to 2008. He was a prolific American poet, writing more than thirty books as well as editing Poetry Magazine, Hudson Review, and serving as poetry editor for Harper’s. He lived most of his life in Vermont and received numerous awards and widespread recognition for the quality of his work during his lifetime.

I am going to focus on a small part of his output; specifically Carruth’s Haiku. I have not read all of Carruth’s work. As far as I can tell his Haiku appear in three books; “The Clay Hill Anthology”, “The Voice That is Great Within Us”, and “Doctor Jazz Poems”. I am going to focus on “The Clay Hill Anthology” as gathered in “Collected Shorter Poems 1946 – 1991” published by Copper Canyon Press.

First, Carruth’s Haiku are syllabic. Like Richard Wright and Mary Joe Salter and many others, Carruth takes the syllabic form of the Haiku, that is to say the 5-7-5 syllable count, as his starting point. Carruth also seems to have been aware of the traditional use of a seasonal reference in Haiku. A good example is the following:

October. Twilight
flutters like cloth of silver
caught in tall dark elms.

In most ways this Haiku is traditional; it follows the syllable count, contains a seasonal element, and depicts a natural scene. In other ways, though, it goes against traditional approaches to Haiku by including an explicit metaphor: “like cloth of silver”. In general the use of explicit metaphor is something that American Haiku poets avoid. In some cases that I have read, it is considered to be a serious flaw. In a few cases that I have read it is stated that Haiku that include metaphor are simply not Haiku.

My take on this is that this Haiku is effective and that the metaphor works. I know exactly what Carruth means by that silvery twilight light fluttering in the leaves of tall elm trees. One of the things I appreciate about Carruth’s Haiku is that Carruth brings to Haiku the full range of poetic techniques and is not afraid to use them. That is one of the advantages of standing outside the official Haiku organizations, which have a tendency to restrict and reject techniques that can enhance Haiku, as this example demonstrates.

Sometimes Carruth will use personification as in the following example:

Trees, naked trees
stopped in their tracks, so peaceful
talking together.

I have sometimes had a similar experience of sensing that trees communicate with each other, particularly in an old grove of trees. The sense of the trees ‘talking’ to each other hovers at the edge of one’s senses and I suspect that one has to be settled and calm, or as Carruth hints, ‘peaceful’, in order to experience that sensation. I really love this particular Haiku because it expresses a type of forest experience that I have not seen in other Haiku, the sense of the forest as genuinely sentient and intelligent.

At times Carruth’s Haiku enter a philosophical dimension:

Emptiness – you know
what I mean? Moonlight howling
in the room like snow.

Again Carruth uses explicit metaphor and I think it is perfect. ‘Moonlight howling like snow’ is a great image, and it is a way of depicting moonlight that, once again, I haven’t seen in other Haiku poets. I also appreciate the question and answer format that Carruth uses in this Haiku and think it is an approach well worth exploring. Before reading Carruth’s Haiku I hadn’t really considered such a format in such a short form, but Carruth here demonstrates its efficacy. Finally, notice Carruth's quiet use of end rhyme in lines 1 and 3, 'know' and 'snow'. This shows again that Carruth approached Haiku with a poet's ear and eye. Carruth is willing to bring all the tools of poetic craft to Haiku. As in metaphor, many Haiku poets in the U.S. eschew rhyme, which I think is a great loss to the form. Here the rhyme which appears feels natural, completely unforced, and for that reason all the more appropriate.

Many of Carruth’s Haiku do not contain a seasonal element and strike me as aphoristic. Here’s an example:

I live where Frost lived.
So? It’s a free country. Don’t
jump to conclusions.

This is funny and I imagine that Carruth was often compared to Frost. Perhaps this short poem was a way for Carruth to express a mild irritation regarding such comparisons. This poem strikes me as more like a Senryu than a Haiku; but that’s OK. Non-seasonal Haiku are a constant source of discussion among Haiku poets and the question of when a non-seasonal Haiku becomes an aphorism rather than a Haiku is an interesting one. Carruth didn’t seem too concerned about it, however.

The lineation of Carruth’s Haiku is worth focusing on for a bit. Carruth often breaks a sentence at unusual, non-grammatical, points. Take the Haiku on emptiness. A grammatical reading would put “Emptiness – you know what I mean?” on a single line or perhaps breaking the line after “Emptiness –“. The break after “know” at first struck me as somewhat arbitrary, as if Carruth was trying to preserve the line count by breaking the line after five syllables without it being meaningful. But on second, or third reading, I see the line break as drawing out a double meaning. “Emptiness – you know” could be read as Carruth saying that you know what emptiness means intuitively, and then moving on to the “what I mean?” shifts the focus. In a way you could read this in two ways: “Emptiness – you know.” And the second reading would be “Emptiness – you know what I mean?” By breaking the line the way Carruth does he draws out multiple meanings that would not emerge otherwise.

I think something similar appears in the Haiku/Senryu about Frost. The second line ends with the word “Don’t” and I sense that Carruth placed it there to emphasize his hope that people wouldn’t mechanically compare him to Robert Frost just because they lived in the same area. Line two is divided in three and is, therefore, semantically dense. A single syllable question, followed by a four syllable sentence, ending in a full stop period, followed by the first word of the next sentence gives line two a jazzy rhythm. It is unusual to find so much punctuation in modern Haiku. But, like Carruth’s use of metaphor, his use of punctuation is part of the poetic tradition. I am thinking particularly of Emily Dickinson’s thick use of punctuation; Carruth’s usage, to my mind, resembles Dickinson’s. There is a tendency in contemporary English Haiku to eschew punctuation, but I think Carruth’s Haiku show the expressive possibilities of punctuation and could, perhaps, mute that tendency.

Sometimes Carruth’s Haiku don’t congeal for me. Here’s an example:

Have you ever seen
someone watching a burning
candle and laughing?

This one doesn’t work for me because I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t just be written as a single sentence, “Have you ever seen someone watching a burning candle and laughing?” Putting this sentence on three lines doesn’t seem to me to enhance the image.

But overall I have enjoyed reading Carruth’s Haiku and have learned a lot from contemplating them. I think they are a fine example of how to apply the poetic craft to Haiku, how to use metaphor, rhyme, and linneation to create an arresting image. In closing, here is a favorite:

Again on dark looms,
Dark shuttles. The wind weaving
a chiffon of snow.

Several Years Later

I miss my old friend --
He died as the red rose bloomed,
We won't talk again.

Monday, June 21, 2010


The always warm sun --
Somewhere over the rainbow
A land without sorrow

Kokinshu Commentary -- 8

Kokinshu Commentary 8

Book 1 – Spring 1

8. Fun-ya no Yasuhide. On the Third of a certain First Month, the Nijoo Emprress [Kooshi], who was then known as the Mother of the Crown Prince [Emperor Yoozei], summoned Yasuhide to receive some instructions. As he bowed below her veranda, she observed that snow was falling on his head while the sun was shining. She commanded him to compose a poem

Rare is the fortune
Of one who basks in the sun
On this springtime day,
Yet how can I not lament
That snow should whiten my head?

Comment: This is the first Tanka that is given a specific date; the Third day of the First Month. The First Month here was according to the lunar calendar, the same as the Chinese Calendar, so the First Month would begin, usually, sometime in February. This is also the first Tanka with a substantial lede or introduction, explicitly setting the scene. It shows us how important it was for courtiers of this period in Japanese history to be able to compose a Tanka on the spot.

The theme of elegant confusion, which began with Tanka 6, continues here. Tanka 6, 7, and 8 form a linked series of three Tanka all of them using elegant confusion as the central technique for the construction of the Tanka. With Tanka 9 this technique is left behind. It is appropriate, therefore that this Tanka uses elegant confusion in a subtle way. The implication is that white snowflakes resemble the gray beginning to appear in Yasuhide’s hair; but this is not stated explicitly. In Tanka 6 and 7 the confusion is explicitly stated. Thus this Tanka, number 8, functions as a way of smoothly leaving the technique of elegant confusion behind, preparing for its disappearance in Tanka 9, by muting its usage. The reader is invited to compare white snowflakes and graying hair, but such a confusion is not mentioned overtly.

There is also the implied metaphor that Yasuhide is “basking in the sun” of his royal patronage, the Nijoo Empress, and by extension the Crown Prince. All in all this Tanka is thoroughly metaphorical, which is in keeping with a less explicit use of elegant confusion.

We are still in early spring. It is a sunny day, but snow is falling, probably lightly. I can envision the snow melting quickly as it lands. Flowers are not mentioned for the first time since Tanka 5, but that theme is resumed in the very next Tanka 9. The gap created here by the absence of flowers, allows for the subsequent Tanka 9 to depict flowers in a new way; flowers falling, and thus allowing for the movement into the spring season, away from its very beginning.

All in all this verse functions as a kind of turn; one can recognize how this kind of verse is used in Renga so that the series can move on to a new perspective, topic, person, or view.

The author of this poem, Fun’ya no Yasuhide is mentioned in the Japanese Preface (there are two prefaces; one in Japanese and one in Chinese). The preface reads, “Fun’ya no Yasuhide’s language is skillful, but his style is inappropriate to his content. His poems are like peddlers tricked out in fancy costumes.” (Page 7) The preface then quotes an example of his poetry as follows:

The plants of autumn
Droop and wither at its touch –
That explains, of course,
Why a wind from the mountain
Has come to be called a storm.

This poem is found in the Kokinshu at Tanka 249.

The rather negative evaluation of Yasuhide found in the Preface raises the question of why he was included. Again, I think this points to how the editors of the Kokinshu, and particularly Ki no Tsurayuki, as the principle compiler, viewed their task. It seems that they wanted the Kokinshu to reflect the actual usage of Tanka in Japan rather than imposing on the collection their own esthetic. This is not easy to do and I think it is likely that the compilers’ own preferences did play a part. Yet it is also a laudable goal and I think it contributes to the enduring value of the Kokinshu in that the editors were willing to include Tanka by poets that they may have had reservations about if that poets exemplified a certain approach to Tanka that was valued at the time; that is to say valued by others. This approach would resemble an editor today of, say, modern sonnets, and deliberately including sonnets that they didn’t think highly of because these sonnets had become widely appreciated or represented a way of approaching the sonnet that was widespread. I think this is highly commendable and it continues to be one of the reasons why I enjoy reading the Kokinshu.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Constant Grace

It was on the morning the sun went down,
On the night when I heard the angels sing,
I climbed a stairway past the stars and found
A sea of light beyond imagining.

It wasn't a dream or a fantasy
Or a mere projection of my own mind,
Waves of compassion were what I perceived
And the source that teaches us to be kind.

Drumbeats of mercy pulsed upon the air,
Forgiveness without end was everywhere,
It was the cessation of all despair,
The evaporation of fear and care.

A voice softy whispered, "This is what I ceaselessly give,
This is the world as it actually is."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

From Gray to Pale Blue

From gray to pale blue
He watches the changing sky
The bedroom window

The June air, clear and cloudless,
The street empty and quiet

Three day old flowers
(some petals on the table)
Need to be replaced

Emptying the dishwasher
More cleanup from the party

She first looks online
Before making a payment
On her credit card

Searching family histories
Filling in the family tree

Love in the morning
Before the children wake up
Before the dawn's light

The full moon, softened by haze,
Sets swiftly behind the oaks

The November earth
Brown and sere and very cold
Waits for winter's birth

He crams for his next exam;
He's studying Japanese

The first time this year
No need for coat or sweater
In the warm spring air

"I think we can get through this,"
Her voice soft and hesitant

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Old Woman's View

I'm late --
That's what they whisper.
You'd think they'd have learned by now,
With the passing of the years time means less somehow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Antihistamines - -
On a windy afternoon
Cobwebs in my mind

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seeing God Everywhere

The sun sets slowly
Colors of the summer sky
Spacious and holy

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Crackers

At times I think about some useless things;
For example, who invented crackers?
The crisp wafer has brought many blessings,
It's the perfect food for slackers
Like me who do not really like to cook.

When I'm in a hurry with lots to do,
No worries, I just check the shelf and look
For a box of crackers and start to chew
On the firm, flat, unleavened, lovely bread.

They're the perfect platform for cheese or jam,
The combination makes me feel well fed
And I can find them anywhere I am.

To whoever started crackers, I bow.
I think I'll have a few of them right now.

A Poet's Dilemma

I understand wanting to be published.
It is an objective validation
That one hasn't wasted time on rubbish,
That others value one's contemplations.

But publishing today comes at a high cost;
They don't pay, not even a free copy
To show others that your poem is not lost,
It's right there, though the printing is sloppy.

Meanwhile the bills are in and they are due,
And then there's health care costs which have increased,
So publishing will have to wait a few
More months until indebtedness has ceased.

It's enough to share poetry with friends,
Friends are more important than publishing in the end.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heard in the Distance

Clouds in the morning
Slowing down the dawn
Shadowless gray light
A solo flute's song

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Finding the Source

A boulder in a river
A mountain stands in the wind
While the flow of time quivers
Enter stillness without end

Friday, June 11, 2010

From the Perspective of Space

Sparkling starlight on cold October nights,
A planet whirling through endless vastness,
A bubble moving in a crystal glass,
Moving through clear, silent, vibrating space.

A moth glides in a cloudless summer sky,
Absorbed by shimmering borderless blue.

The sharp echo of a shout - vanishing,
The sound of autumn windchimes - disappears,
Pine incense rising in the air - fading.

And all these images, like tears in rain,
A brief wave on the empyrean sea,
Gone and gone, the light of a burned out star.

Deep and deep the well of infinite space,
A swan crosses the sky and leaves no trace.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Listening to Chaos

On the edge of the receding center
In the galaxy of clutter and words
The full moon constantly rises and shines
Undisturbed and restlessly unheard
Gliding throug the vapors of non-day

Scattered upon the meadow of white noise
Emerging from a source always open
Possibilities litter the night sky
Like fresh fertilizer on a garden

Trombones, violas, trumpets and oboes
In microtonal disaray
Perform the sunset that most of us miss

On the edge of the receding center
The sound of the primal, arhythmic waves

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Finding Peace

Baghdad's in ruins, countless have died,
The ancient city is filled with despair,
With bombed out buildings and with desperate cries;
Americans shrug, just why should they care?

Those who launched this despicable attack
(Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice and others)
Live in comfort, indulging in fine snacks,
Insulated by a press that covers
The truth in thick respectability.

The dream of peace, receding from our grasp,
Seems beyond mere human ability,
An achievement that is too hard a task.

Peace will arrive but not because we strive,
There will be peace when war within our hearts has died.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Traces of Devas

Overnight magic
Scattered through the graveyard grass
Violets fantastic

Tetractys Melody 1

Cinquain Melody 1

Monday, June 7, 2010

Closing the Shop at the End of the Day

Lights out
Lock the door
I turn towards home
This was another good day at the store

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Irises in June
Surrounding the old oak tree
The light of the moon

Saturday, June 5, 2010

At Yosemite

Granite cliffs flowing
Over the sparkling river
The stillness of clouds

Friday, June 4, 2010

June Moon

The half full June moon
Hovering near Jupiter
And some satellites

Almost halfway through the year
More than halfway through my life

A family lunchoen
For Dad's eighty-fifth birthday
Laughter and stories

The watier has aching feet
From miles and miles of walking

Adding some new fish
To her aquarium
In her living room

Kites dancing in the clear sky
Each kid trying to fly higher

Parents check the time
(there's never enough of it)
Then dial their cell phones

A brief autumn breeze dies down
She turns her face to the sun

Golden in the light
The vase of yellow roses
On the oak table

As he shovels snow he says,
"Spring is my favorite season."

A cup of spiced chai
And some oven-warmed fruit cake
As the night deepens

An old woman sits knitting
Under the Milky Way

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Sonnet For Robert

When I think about Robert I recall
His many acts of generosity,
The way he would center and give his all
To this project or that activity,
Whatever would come to his attention.

At times in my life I was the focus
Of more than a few acts of his kindness;
It felt odd to me to be the locus
Of admiration untouched by blindness.

Robert passed away many years ago;
I still see the twinkle in his eye though
I have to rely on my memory

And now and then I still hear his laughter --
I will take it with me into the hereafter.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Lilacs in the sun
"Hallelujah by and by"
On the morning wind

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lost and Found

The Buddha statue
Hidden by geraniums
The missing wallet