Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tea Etheree 15

Tea blends
Black tea blends
Are musical,
They have many parts,
They are contrapuntal,
With the first sip at the start,
For the tea drinker blends impart
Visions which continue to expand,
The essence of many regions and lands

Tea Etheree 14

Terraced slopes
Where time is slow
Where the tea plants grow
Year after year they grow
Harvested year after year
Processed and shippped to far and near
So that you and I can have our tea
Without any pause, continuously

Tea Etheree 13

Earl Grey
Ev'ry day
Delights the tongue
With the Bergamot
As the tart and sweet play
With each other, each moment
Becomes delightful confusion,
As contrary tastes in profusion
Find their home in Earl Grey's resolution

Tea Etheree 12

Powdered tea
Intensely green
Whisked into a froth
For tea ceremony
Or for special company
Resembles drinking liquid jade
On a hot summer day in the shade
A taste sensation of the highest grade

Tea Etheree 11

With friends
Now and then
Is an excuse
To renew contact
To converse without end
To come together again
Without much effort or much cost;
As the warm winds of Spring melt the frost,
Friendships must be nourished or they are lost

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tea Etheree 10

By oneself
Settles the heart
While staying at home
Time out as the mind drifts
Relaxing between the sips
The cup moves from saucer to lips
The crisp sound as cup and saucer click --
In another room the clock's steady tick

Tea Etheree 9

Black tea
With breakfast
Starts the day right.
A touch of bitter,
With its deep red color,
(The Chinese call it red tea)
Lifts my spirit like no other.
Now I'm ready for activity;
The day before me looks like a calm sea.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tea Etheree 8

Oolong tea
Prepared just so
A sense of balance
A warm and soothing glow
A companionable stance
That allows us to get to know
Each other, to renew old friendships
That need our time to continue to grow

Tea Etheree 7

Green tea
Liquid jade
Subtle yet strong --
The first infusion
Frees us from confusion,
Then the second infusion
Calms the mind and and lifts delusion,
And finally the third infusion
Gives a glimpse of the soul in reclusion.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tea Etheree 6

Green tea
In a small cup
In the afternoon
As the shadows lengthen
Is a gentle pick-me-up
That helps us to be more alert
Yet also offers a sense of calm
And smoothes the way to the end of the day

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tea Etheree 5

Tea --
Tea leaves
Plus water
That's now heated,
But not over-boiled;
Earth, water, fire, and air,
Elemental sensations,
A magical transformation
Leading to the tongue-touched elation
Of a cup that is brewed to perfection

Why I Ended a Friendship

I can't talk with you.
You will only use my words
As ammunition --
Months later they'll be hurled back,
Scoring points in your attack.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Song of the Egret -- A Review

Song of the Egret – A Review

Song of the Egret: Haiku Poems
Milton D. Heifetz, M. D.
Published by Authorhouse
ISBN: 9781449040345
Published 2009 -- $10.49

Available through, Amazon, or through your local bookstore.

Here’s an interesting addition to the world of syllabic English Haiku. Dr. Milton Heifetz offers us a collection of Haiku that are highly formal. By “highly formal” I mean that Dr. Heifetz’ Haiku do more than adhere to the classical 5-7-5 format. Dr. Heifetz also adheres to the traditional seasonal placement of the Haiku and the Haiku in his book are grouped together into four chapters of the traditional seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

But there is more. Dr. Heifetz has developed, and then articulated, a specific way of arranging the three lines of the traditional Haiku that divides the Haiku into two parts. The first part consists of Lines 1 and 2. The second part consists of Line 3. Lines 1 and 2 are concluded with a period; a full stop. Line 3 also ends with a period, full stop. Nearly all, with a few exceptions, of Dr. Heifetz Haiku are written in this manner, with the two sections each having a full stop period. Here are some examples so you can see what I mean:

As dusk descended
the sun slowly widened.
A nighthawk’s faint call.

As water dripped
The stone walk slowly darkened.
A welcoming warmth.

Hungry chickadees
scurried towards the scattered seeds.
Snowflakes seemed to pause.

Almost all of Dr. Heifetz’ Haiku are in this formal arrangement. My first reaction to this highly constricted formal approach was to think that this might make the Haiku somewhat dull and/or repetitious. Fortunately, I was mistaken.

First, the effect of having nearly all of the Haiku in the same strict formal arrangement makes for a smooth, even elegant, reading experience. Once you get used to the way Dr. Heifetz approaches Haiku form, there is a kind of steady rhythm in the phrasing which carries you from Haiku to Haiku. This consistent formal arrangement resembles the pulse in a song that carries you from verse to verse. This is true for any collection of Haiku written syllabically and is one of the virtues of a syllabic approach to Haiku. But in this collection the feeling of pulse is even stronger due to the way Heifetz consistently parses his Haiku into two units of consistent length as one moves from Haiku to Haiku. The occasional deviation from the dominant formal structure, both syllabically and in terms of two-part structure, offers just enough variety to keep the reader interested in the rhythmic flow.

Second, Dr. Heifetz has a good sense for phrasing and his Haiku are in accessible English; that is to say they are not minimalist Haiku. Dr. Heifetz is inclined to use the standard articles of ordinary English, along with the standard modifiers and prepositions; it is instructive to note that when Dr. Heifetz deviates from the 5-7-5 syllabic standard he seems just as inclined to add a syllable as to trim one. This gives his Haiku a conversational feeling. It’s not that each of the two parts is necessarily a full sentence; often the second half is a sentence fragment. But when they are fragments they are the kind of fragments one often hears in ordinary conversation. I mean to indicate that Dr. Heifetz’ Haiku have the feeling of having a friend tell you about something they saw the other day.

I have never seen a collection of Haiku arranged in exactly this way, with such a strong adherence to a particular formal structure. I have seen Haiku divided in two before, they often are; but I have never seen English language Haiku divided quite like this and carried through from beginning to end so meticulously. So I began to wonder how Dr. Heifetz came up this kind of arrangement. I don’t know Dr. Heifetz and haven’t interviewed him, so the following is speculative.

The brief biography of the author in the Introduction and at the back of the book tells us that Dr. Heifetz is a medical Doctor of some standing including being Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A. He has served at Harvard Medical School and has taught ethics at Oxford and Boston College Law School and Brandeis. He has invented several surgical instruments. In addition, Dr. Heifetz has an abiding interest in astronomy. He writes in the Introduction, “These poems reflect poignant moments in my life as a neurosurgeon with a deep interest in nature study and astronomy.”

All of this came together for me when I re-read his Haiku in this way: the first two lines of Heifetz’ Haiku present a situation while the third line either offers a diagnosis, or a conclusion, or additional crucial information based on Lines 1 and 2. In other words, I think Heifetz has transferred his diagnostic skills, honed in a medical environment, to the composing of Haiku. In a sense, the first two lines are ‘evidence’, and the third line is either a conclusion, reaction, or additional ‘evidence’.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

The cougar crouched as
the faun froze in position.
A barricade of fear.

As winter nears and
snow falls, the maple leaf blushes.
Life ebbing away.

In both of these Haiku, Line 3 is a kind of summation, or conclusion, based on the observations made in Lines 1 and 2. Line 3 is a kind of diagnosis of the scene. Sometimes this connection is explicit:

I walked into sadness
as mother held her child’s hand.
I had to operate.

Here his role as physician, and his integration of that role into his Haiku composition, is stated upfront. Not all of Heifetz’ Haiku have a Line 3 that is explicitly diagnostic:

The fawn was nursing
near a quiet waterfall.
A leaf drifted by.

Here Line 3 is an added detail. I still suspect, though, that the physician’s mind is behind a Haiku like this one in the sense that a diagnostician will look for little details to guide the physician’s understanding of what is happening.

Sometimes Line 3 is a comment rather than a diagnosis or an added detail:

Our baby’s softness
with toe between lovely lips.
What pure tenderness.

Here Line 3 tells us how Dr. Heifetz felt about what he was seeing, his emotional reaction to the scene.

One of the surprising aspects of Haiku is how a very short form can still embody differing personalities. The Haiku written by Basho contrast strongly with the Haiku written by Issa; they have different concerns and modes of expression. And it has often been remarked by critics how strongly visual are the Haiku of Buson who was a painter in addition to being a poet. And it is true; Buson’s visual sense is unmatched among Japanese Haiku poets I have read. Buson is a good example of how a habit of mind developed in one area of life, such as Buson the painter, will inform how the author approaches and composes Haiku. Dr. Heifetz, like Buson, also shows us how the person’s individuality will necessarily manifest in even very short forms of poetry.

I think this is a fine collection that deserves wide readership. It demonstrates that it is possible to actually increase the formal constraints of Haiku beyond what one normally encounters and still compose excellent Haiku. I’d also like to suggest that the way in which Heifetz divides his Haiku is an approach which others could use; we might call it ‘the Heifetz approach’. In closing here are some I personally enjoy:

The swan spread its wings
in the damp mist of silence.
Awakening dawn.

The grunion appear
as the moon and tide join forces.
Mystical rhythm.

Arriving grandson
shadowed the anguish of loss.
Fading memory.

With descending fog
we drifted into silence.
Forboding darkness.

In my boyish dream
I flew to the autumn moon.
It smiled at my touch.

The swallows return
exactly on time.
Hidden forces.

Dialogue with Richard Wright -- 4

Two white butterflies
Fluttering over green grass
One goes east, one goes west (RW)

I wonder what he's doing,
That college roommate of mine? (JW)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Geography of Memory

I'm haunted by days and nights I recall
When I first started to get to know you;
The details are clear, I perceive them all,
No interference, the signal comes through.

What happened yesterday I might not know
If someone were to ask me about it;
But I still know that first place and the glow
Of your face in the moonlit mist quiet.

There are traces in the sand where we walked
And some forests that remember our talk;
High above the mountains a red-tailed hawk
Disappears into the setting sun sky.

As simply as that hawk rides on the wind
I know where to go to see you again.


Never mind enlightenment,
If it comes, it comes through grace;
Treat all people with kindness,
See the light that leaves no trace.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Yellow butterflies
By the pathway in the park
Yellow snapdragons

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feline Dreams

The cat
Lies in the sun
Sound asleep and dreaming
Of a world where mice do not run

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some Haiku by Mary Kinzie

Some Haiku by Mary Kinzie

In the early 20th century free verse made its declarations and strove to change the direction of poetry. To a significant extent free verse poets succeeded. But there were always the hold-outs, poets like Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many others.

In the late 80’s, and into the 90’s, there was a counter-movement, young poets who referred to themselves as the “New Formalists”. It was always an amorphous movement; that is to say there was no official organization or association which spoke for the group. Rather, the New Formalists were young poets who shared an interest in formal poetry and sought to distance themselves from free verse. The New Formalists have, to some degree, largely succeeded in opening enough space in academia so that one is not now automatically stigmatized for taking a formal approach to poetry today; though there are exceptions.

One of the results of the New Formalists was an anthology called “A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women.” All of the poets are women writing in formal verse styles such as the Sonnet, Villanelle, Quatrains, etc. Two of the poets in the collection offer some of their Haiku. I’m going to focus in this post on the Haiku of Mary Kinzie (the other poet is Sonia Sanchez).

Mary Kinzie has published five books of poetry as well as a number of critical works on poetry including “The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose” and more recently “A Poet’s Guide to Poetry”. She has taught at Northwestern University since 1975. I first became acquainted with her views upon reading her “Guide”. It is the only general guide to poetry that I have found that has a section on syllabic verse that is more than just a passing paragraph or two, so I was intrigued.

Kinzie writes of her approach to Haiku, “I am conscious of trying to make certain forms do what they may not have been designed to. In each of the two suites of haiku, for example, I attempt to make eight closed haiku tell a story in metaphor (see ‘Canicula’) . . .” (A Formal Feeling Comes, page 123). This grouping of Haiku into sequences seems to be a common approach to Haiku among contemporary poets attracted to syllabic Haiku. As examples, see my review of Johnny D’s “Poems One” and Yeshaya Rotbard’s “The Calligraphy of Clouds” for two recent examples of poets who consciously group their Haiku to enhance their meaning.

At first this may seem to be trying to make Haiku “do what they may not have been designed to do.” But I’m not so sure. Many of the classic Haiku of Basho, for example, are embedded in his Journals. When they are presented to us as isolated poems they sometimes take on different meanings and emphases; that is one reason why I appreciate the effort Jane Reichhold went to in often translating the lede, the few lines before the actual Haiku appears. In other translations of Basho’s Haiku the lede is not presented and the larger context is, therefore, left out. It seems to me that the interest in Haiku sequences, in linking Haiku together, can be understood as closer to the original way that Haiku were used in Basho’s Journals.

If one thinks about it, Haiku are usually presented in groups. The traditional way of presenting Haiku in seasonal groupings is a standard example; though here we would usually have a succession of different poets grouped together by an editor. Still, it is actually rare that someone reads a single Haiku and leaves it at that.

One of the advantages of grouping Haiku together in a series is that the author can adhere to the traditional seasonal requirement in one of the Haiku in the series without feeling the pressure to have a seasonal reference in every Haiku in the sequence. I first noticed this in Johnny D’s long sequence; that there will be a Haiku with a seasonal reference and then this is followed by non-seasonal Haiku. In a sequence of Haiku the author can integrate the seasonal and non-seasonal and still feel an adherence to the traditional focus of Haiku. Kinzie appears to use this same approach in her sequence.

Kinzie’s sequence, ‘Canicula’, which means ‘Dog Star’, another name for Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, is presented in “A Formal Feeling Comes”. The opening Haiku is:

Fireflies float noiseless
In the high, perturbing din
Of the late locust.

This is a classically constructed Haiku. It contains a classic seasonal element (fireflies), it is syllabic, but flexibly so with its opening line of six syllables, well within the variation found in the classic Haiku poets of Japan. The use of sound is noteworthy; line 1 points to a silence while in line 2 that silence is overcome and then in line 3 the reason for the ‘din’ is finally shown us with the last word. The visual element of the fireflies is strongly present as well. Notice also the use of slant rhyme with “noiseless” and “locust”; it’s not a strong rhyme, but the sonic effect is felt. All in all, I think it is a beautiful, classic, Haiku.

The second in the series is:

The orchard dying –
Trunks badged with disease lean down,
Tranquil in their thirst.

The link with the previous Haiku is clear; locusts will do that to trees. But the night scene has a certain visual tranquility. There is a counterpoint between the causal basis of what is being observed and the visual impression which makes this Haiku complex.

The sequence quickly moves on to more abstract, more epigram like Haiku:

Want, predation, sleep.
Often all of these at once
In nature; in dream.

If I were to read this in isolation I would probably think of it as too much of an epigram, an observation, to be a Haiku. On second reading I might notice the way Kinzie dissolves the barrier between the objective and the interior worlds with the last line “In nature; in dream”. When placed in the series, though, I had no problem accepting this as a Haiku, so context does make a difference.

I sense that many modern poets using syllabic Haiku have hit on this solution to the seasonal versus non-seasonal Haiku question. If non-seasonal Haiku are placed in a sequence with a strong seasonal component, or a recurring seasonal component in long sequences (as in Johnny D’s long sequence), that undermines the distinction between the two categories for the non-seasonal Haiku are read against the backdrop of the seasonal Haiku and vice versa.

There is a movement in Kinzie’s sequence from the concrete in the opening Haiku to the more abstract, thoughtful, epigram like Haiku towards the end. This is also a movement from the objective world of nature into our interior world of thought and feeling. Kinzie does this so smoothly that one hardly notices it.

I enjoyed reading this sequence and hope to find more Haiku by Kinzie as I explore her work.

On Old Age

After sixty years one is less agile
And most ev'ryone is younger than you;
They tend to treat you as extra fragile,
Which is a good thing because it is true.

Time becomes more amorphous and less rushed
(Was it three, or perhaps ten years ago?)
And so one speaks less and one's tones are hushed,
Unsure, remote, hesitant, kind of slow.

It is the time of life to go within,
To become quiet, to escape the din,
To break free of all of the commotion,
To ride the ebb-tide into the ocean.

It is the time of sunset and return
When all the ties to this sad world are burned.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Haiku Analog Number 5!

Haiku Analog Number 5!

A reader of my post on Haiku Analogs commented at another site that there is another Haiku Analog called the Zip Haiku. I was unaware of this particular analog and appreciate it being brought to my attention. The Zip Haiku is a creation of John E. Carley a respected Haiku and Renga poet from England. Carley writes that the Zip is an alternative to the three-line, 5-7-5, formal Haiku pattern. Here is what Carley has to say about the Zip form:

“The 'zip' does not try to mimic the Japanese stanza directly. Instead it attempts to perform in English those functions which the Japanese stanza performs in that language.
“The 'zip' has a fixed total of 15 syllables deployed at will over two lines, each line broken by a triple space (caesura). The layout centres on these caesurae.
“The total (15) reflects the relative density of English to Japanese; it also ensures that the stanza does not fall too readily into a facile rhythms.
“Following the Anglo Saxon convention the pause-value ascribed to each caesura is weaker than that of the line break. The pause pattern is therefore weak/strong/weak.
“The interaction between pause structure and syntax paces both the semantic and phonic movement of the stanza. The layout encourages a degree of non-linear eye travel. No other punctuation is used. “Unlike much minimalist verse the 'zip' does not use overly abbreviated, forced or notational syntax. The presence of articles and principal verbs is therefore more frequent than otherwise.
“The 'zip' has regard for the phonic properties of English, but rejects obvious versification. Complex figures of speech are avoided.”

Here are a few examples of the Zip:

orange and tan tan orange and tan
the butterflies beat on

at my feet a blackened penny
dark enough to buy my thoughts

For those who are interested you can find more information about the Zip here:

Comment: I am intrigued by Carley’s attempt to incorporate the structure of pauses found in both Japanese and Chinese verse through spatial placement. I differ from Carley regarding the Japanese language. Personally, if I were to engage in the Zip I would use 17 syllables; I wonder how Carley would feel about that.

I am encouraged by Carley’s explicit rejection of minimalism and the naturalness of the English used in the Zip. If there is one aspect of modern minimalist Haiku that I find bothersome it is the telegraph like quality that is the result of excluding normal English syntax as a result of a fixation on using “as few words as possible.” But, personally, I would prefer a true analog, that is to say a Zip of 17 syllables. But that’s just me. Carley has obviously spent a lot of time contemplating his approach and I enjoy the results. Maybe a 17-syllable Zip should be called Zip Plus! See how easy it is to come up with another form?
Update: Apologies to readers, but I am having difficulty formatting the Zip Haiku quoted in the post. The layout of the Zip requires spacing in the line, but when I put in the spaces, in accordance with Carley's prosody for the Zip, the spacing disappears when I actually post it on the blog. As I said, I've tried several strategies and can't seem to find a solution. So please hit the link to Carley's site, or read the comments to this post which focus on this aspect of this Zip to get a sense of the layout of the Zip. Thanks.

The Meaning of Statistics

A slow afternoon --
A hot wind on his skin and
Pink slip in is hand

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Mist of Time

The sun sets
The summer heat cools
Slowly my memory fades
Of those days long ago that I spent with you

Monday, July 19, 2010

Haiku Analogs

Haiku Analogs

The word ‘analog’, in the context of syllabic poetry, means two or more forms of poetry that share an overall syllable count, but that differ in how those syllables are distributed over the lines of the poem. In this post I am going to write a bit about analogs to the Haiku form. In the context of this post, I will be referring to syllabic Haiku; that is to say Haiku written in accordance with the 5-7-5 lineation. A lot of Haiku is written in free verse style, with no set lineation (see my post "Siblings" for a discussion of the three main approaches to Haiku in the west). Free verse Haiku does not lend itself to Analogs because there is no fixed line count and line count is the basis for generating analogs of syllabic forms. So from the persective of syllabic Haiku there are four Haiku analogs: the Monoku, the Crystalline, Haiku Prime, and Cinqku.

The Monoku

A Monoku resembles a syllabic Haiku in that both have seventeen syllables, but a Monoku is written on a single line. In other words, the syllabic Monoku is a one line poem of seventeen syllables. The Monoku has several sources. First, Japanese Haiku are sometimes written in a single line. This is particularly true when Haiku are written on a painting or photograph. This is possible in Japanese because the three sections of a Japanese Haiku are separated by ‘cutting words’, or ‘kireji’, that are readily recognizable by a Japanese reader. There are no equivalents to cutting words in English and for that reason English translators have used as a standard the division of the Haiku into three distinct lines; substituting lineation (and/or punctuation) for the cutting words in Japanese.

The second source for Monoku is, I suspect, the epigram. Haiku have a tendency to morph into epigrams anyway, even when written on three lines. This is particularly true when the Haiku poet drops the traditional seasonal reference. It is not clear where the Haiku ends and the epigram begins; this is sometimes true even for seasonal Haiku which at times can read like epigrams about the seasons.

The third source for the Monoku is modern free verse. One-line poems are a feature of short-form free verse and have been for some time. Since many Haiku poets have absorbed free verse norms and write in basically a free verse manner, it is not surprising that Monoku, or Haiku written on a single line, would appear as an option.

The Monoku has the ability to play on ambiguities which three line lineation would make problematic and thus there is often in the Monoku a deliberate use of wordplay. Here are some examples of Monoku I have written:

July late morning fog slowly lifting the pink camellias

An example of the ambiguity and word play is show by dividing the above Monoku into two sections:

July late morning fog slowly lifting

late morning fog slowly lifting the pink camellias

By deliberately not using punctuation and just writing a single line the feeling of the fog communicates while it is lifting, and the seeming way it lifts the camellias, can be communicated.

Here’s another:

no moon last night I remembered you are gone

The two sections are: No moon last night

And: Last night I remembered you are gone

The phrase ‘last night’ functions as a kind of pivot, shared by two phrases. This is a short-form Monoku, only eleven syllables, but it still has the kind of complexity one can find in a Monoku.

Not all Monoku have this kind of pivot:

vultures slowly circling above the field beneath swiftly moving clouds

What distinguishes the Monoku from the Haiku is that the single line of the Monoku has no breaks; it just goes from the first to last syllable. In this sense the Monoku differs from a Japanese Haiku written on a single line because in Japanese Haiku the single line is still divided into three sections through the use of cutting words. In the Monoku this usually does not happen and instead one has a complex statement with overlapping parts forming a complex whole.

I enjoy writing Monoku. Here are few to round out the presentation:

sixty years went by the falling maple leaves uncover bare branches

the empty bookshelves in the early morning silence is my scripture

pine incense placed upon a cliff between Andromeda and Saturn

An important poet in the development of the Monoku is Marlene Mountain whose work can be found at Marlene Mountain’s work is striking, cutting, sometimes bitter, opinionated, and intense. A lot of it is written on one line, but has deep roots in the Haiku tradition. MM is a free verser; that is to say specific lineation is not her concern so I don’t consider her to be a syllabic poet. But through her contacts and the intensity of her verse she demonstrated the efficacy of a one-line approach to Haiku, including the more syllabically strict forms of Monoku.

The Crystalline

The Crystalline is a creation of Denis Garrison, a well-known and highly influential poet and editor of many short verse magazines. For years he was the editor of Modern English Tanka. The Crystalline is introduced in his book “Eight Shades of Blue”, a collection of Haiku, Tanka, and Crystallines.

Garrison defines the Crystalline as follows, “DEFINITION: The ‘crystalline’ is a new haiku analogue; a seventeen syllable couplet that assimilates as much as possible from the Japanese haiku tradition into the English poetic tradition. A primary concern for the crystalline is the euphony of the verse. . .

“PROSODY: A crystalline is, ideally, a couplet of exactly 17 syllables. A couplet may be “regular” or “irregular” depending upon the symmetry of the lines. A regular couplet’s syllables are distributed 8 + 9 or 9 + 8. Other distributions are “irregular” but entirely acceptable if the verse works best divided unevenly.”

It is appropriate to note that some traditional Japanese Haiku are divided in this way in the sense that either a cutting word or conjunction of some kind will be placed at the ninth syllable, yielding two sections of eight syllables on either side of the central word. An example is the use of the word ‘ya’ in this placement. The result is a Haiku that could be counted in the way Garrison structures his Crystalline. The Haiku that are structured in this way also have cutting words at the usual placements to create the usual 5-7-5 syllabic structure. When both are present this creates complex syllabic patterns and phrasings that have a contrapuntal quality to them.

Garrison’s essay, “The Prosody of the Crystalline” contains much additional information and suggestions. If you are interested I recommend that you get the book “Eight Shades of Blue” which is available from (I recommend that you get it in any case since it is a superb collection.) But I won’t reproduce the entire essay here. Instead, here are a few examples from Garrison’s collection:

Day so bright, shadows seem like night,
Cool veranda, dark within the light.

Windy, wintry day, the dead leaves fly.
No birds will try this pallid sky.

Late winter sky, lonely miles from you.
The spruce hills turn a darker blue.

At the bottom of the wishing well,
a thank-you note lies bleeding ink.

Waiting for her at the clinic.
Windows writhe with rivulets of rain.

Notice the concern with the lyrical and musical aspects of poetry; the frequent use of alliteration and assonance, and the explicit use of rhyme. The Crystalline is concerned with bringing these elements of poetry into the Haiku context in a flexible couplet form.

Haiku Prime

Haiku Prime is a four-line analog to the traditional syllabic Haiku. I am the originator of this analog. It consists of the first four prime numbers: 2-3-5-7, which added up make 17 syllables. It is one line short of the Prime: 2-3-5-7-11, for a total of 28 syllables, an analog for the Four-Seven Quatrain. The Prosody of Haiku Prime is very simple, consisting solely of the syllabic form. Like Garrison with the Crystalline, I have a strong interest in poetic euphony and I would encourage poets interested in Haiku Prime to incorporate the full range of poetic skills into Haiku Prime, such as rhyme, assonance, and alliteration. Regarding lineation, run-ons are to be avoided and in general the syntax and lineation should match.

Part of my interest in developing the Haiku Prime is that I wanted to see how a Quatrain form would work when the Quatrain did not have lines that were all the same syllable count. In other words, I wanted to apply what I had learned from Chinese Quatrains to a Quatrain form with varied line count and the Haiku Prime seemed like a good candidate. For this reason, end rhyme is strongly encouraged. Here are a few examples of Haiku Prime:

Gray dawn
Mist in the morning
In summer it does not last

A Psalm
Before dawn
Before the world wakes
While the air is cool and calm

Toast and tea
Such simplicity
And the sound of morning mist

Makes me smile
His music’s sunny
Haydn makes life seem worthwhile

The Cinqku

The Cinqku is another syllabic creation of Denis Garrison, who seems to delight in creating syllabic forms and particularly in creating analogs. Here is Garrison’s Prosody for the Cinqku:

DEFINITION: The "cinqku" is a new tanka analogue; a seventeen syllable cinquain that assimilates as much as possible from the Japanese haiku and tanka traditions into the English poetic tradition. A primary concern for the cinqku is the effective use of the line break.
Cinqku is a cinquain [i.e. five-line] form of tanka, one that is a closer analogue to tanka than is the American Cinquain (Crapseian) and that maximizes the utility of the line break technique. A cinqku is a cinquain with:
· a strict syllable count (2,3,4,6,2) making 17 syllables on 5 lines
· no title
· tanka style free diction and syntax
· no metrical requirement
· a turn that may be similar to kireji or a cinquain turn.
Single cinqku generally are not titled however a poem consisting of several cinqku may be titled. Linked sequences are excellent natural forms for cinqku.
This was taken from an online site which can be found here:

Here are a few of Garrison’s Cinqku also found at this site:

five cold years
but never gone—
our bedroom's fragrant with
her scent

July storm
writhing steam lifts
through the downpour—falling,

And here are a few by the British Poet Brian Strand who is a significant syllabic poet of the short forms in the essay and many other short forms as well:

the first
heavy frost
whitens the lawn—
overnight fall becomes

bells echo
across the square—
sepia memories

the hedge a
welcome haven---
down my neck raindroplets

by a smile,
the warmth of love
engaged and now lives on---

Unlike the Crystalline, the Cinqku is not presented in any of Garrison’s books. Additional information regarding the Cinqku can be found here:

The Cinqku continues to undergo evolution in Garrison’s thought. In an email to me he wrote, “I developed cinqku as a haiku analog but later found it more interesting as a set form variety of minimalist tanka.” In this I think the Cinqku resembles the Lanterne, another minimalist Tanka-like five-line form. Like the Haiku Prime, which I sometimes think of as a cross between the Haiku and the Chinese Quatrain, Garrison’s Cinqku arises out of the intersection of two older forms, the Haiku and the Tanka. Garrison is the perfect person to facilitate such a cross as he has written Haiku and Tanka for many years, as editor has had contact with nearly all the Haiku and Tanka poets in the U.S., both major and minor, and has an intimate knowledge of Japanese culture having been raised there.

Concluding Remarks

One of the reasons I write about analog forms, forms of syllabic verse which have the same overall syllabic count with different lineation, is that analogs offer a key to understanding how syllabic verse functions. Analogs are a way of clarifying the interaction of lineation and syllable count which goes to shape a particular syllabic form. Composing in analogs demonstrates, as no theoretical understanding can, how these two factors work to delineate a particular form.

To summarize:

Syllabic Monoku: One line of seventeen syllables.
Crystallines: Two lines, seventeen syllables, divided into 9-8 or 8-9 with other variations.
Haiku Prime: Four lines, seventeen syllables, distributed as follows: 2-3-5-7.
Cinqku: Five lines, seventeen syllables, distributed as follows: 2-3-4-6-2.

These Haiku analogs are legitimate forms of poetry in themselves. They enrich the world of Haiku in the way that new kinds of roses or geraniums enrich the world of gardens. Give them a try if you find them attractive.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On The Book Of Psalms

Each morning I read from the Book of Psalms.
I might not have the time for other things,
But I make time for the island of calm
That lifts my heart and causes it to sing.

All my moods and all my inclinations
(The good, bad, the destructive, the holy)
Are laid bare in cadences whose motion
Speaks to all of us, speaks to me solely.

All of these conditions are transcended,
Seen in a new way, from another sphere;
In this way my heart and soul are mended
From compulsive anxiety and fear.

Homage to the Psalms for they set us free,
Homage to the song of eternity.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


The afternoon light
Casts warm shadows on the street --
End of work traffic.


I tried to free myself from dread-filled emotion.
I tried to free myself from slavish devotion
To the wayward ways of a cruel world filled with sin;
But the more that I tried the farther I fell in.

I tried to be wise, but it was no solution,
I tried to gain wealth, but it lead to confusion,
And then I tried power, but it's an illusion,
A rip-tide that leads to moral destitution.

And so I said that everything is vanity,
That this care-filled life is pointless activity,
A vast pathetic dance, a pathetic folly,
That there is no diff'rence between a dog and me.

All's a masquerade of deceit and deception.
My life, soon forgotten, will not rate a mention.

Friday, July 16, 2010


The summertime owl
Turning his head in the tree
To look straight at me

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Looking Out the Window of the Store Where I Work

Days are long and slow
Afternoon clouds from the sea
Diffuse the sun's glow

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Counting 'Ku' -- Part 2 -- Counting Syllables

Counting ‘Ku’ – Part 2 – Counting Syllables

Gabi Greve’s description of how the Japanese count syllables has brought back to me, in a forceful way, one of the reasons why I think that a syllabic approach to Haiku in English is legitimate. Gabi’s description of Japanese counting Japanese syllables is charming. One commenter, a kindergarten teacher, suggested that this method of counting could be used in English, and I agree.

Now here is a question for my readers: Suppose in an English poetry class the teacher demonstrates how to count in Japanese style. The class then proceeds to apply this method of counting when they are writing Haiku in English. The question is – are Japanese and Americans counting the same thing?

Many in the Haiku world in America would say ‘no’, they are not. The idea is that the Japanese language is so different from English that even though both the Japanese and Americans would be counting, what they would be counting would essentially differ. It would be like comparing the counting of apples and oranges; the counting might be the same but you are counting different fruit.

My view is that the answer to the question is ‘yes’, they would be counting the same thing. And what would that ‘thing’ be? Repeatable, recognizable, units of sound; in other words ‘syllables’. Each language has repeated units of sound that stand out, that do not necessarily carry a dictionary type meaning (e.g. in English ‘ing’ is such a sound unit), but are heard as discrete. That is what syllable means.

The reason the issue has become confused is that people in America have compared the specific units of sound in Japanese and compared them with units of sound in English and discovered that the units of sound are different. For example, in Japanese a concluding ‘n’ is heard as a discrete sound, therefore a syllable, while in English it is not. Conversely, ‘ing’ is heard in English as a discrete unit of sound, therefore a syllable, while it doesn’t exist in Japanese at all.

But this happens when one compares any two languages. Given any two languages X and Y, there will be sound units, i.e. syllables, in language X that do not exist or are not heard as distinct in language Y and vice versa. This is not unusual. In fact, it is the norm. One example I like to use is that in French poetry, under certain conditions, the French count a silent-to-English-ears ‘e’ as a syllable. But English speaking culture has never concluded that the French ‘don’t count syllables’ or that what English speakers and French speakers count is completely different. Similarly, there is no reason to draw the conclusion that Japanese aren’t counting syllables when they are counting. They are counting syllables, just like Americans are counting syllables when they compose syllabic verse, including Haiku.

The idea that the Japanese ‘don’t count syllables’ has become a standard view among many American Haiku poets. I believe it is nothing more than an urban legend, a story that has taken on its own life but which has no basis either in linguistics or poetics. The Japanese language is nothing special, it is just an ordinary language spoken by ordinary people and like every other ordinary language the Japanese count syllables, just like in French, Russian, Navajo and Bantu; and just like we do in English here in America.


I am fortunate
My life has been blessed
Parents who were kind
Teachers did their best

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finding Refuge

There is no safety anywhere on earth;
Nations come and go like seasons that turn
And works of art, no matter what their worth,
Are consumed, a forest that has been burned.

Realizing this, it can break your heart,
That all that we love, all that we perceive,
Will end up less than dust, will fall apart,
Lost within the tides of eternity --

A whisper, a vastness, from before time began,
A permeating presence without any end,
A shelter, a refuge that we can't comprehend,
An endlessness upon which everything depends,

A stillness, a silence that leaves no trace
Opens the heart to the presence of grace.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How the Japanese Count Their 'Ku'

Good Friends:

I am a member of a Haiku Yahoo Group hosted by Gabi Greve. Gabi has resided in Japan for many years. She is trilingual; German, Japanese, and English. She studied Haiku with Japanese Sensei, continues to do so, and in general her views are as well informed as you are likely to find. Recently she posted on her Yahoo Group a description of how Japanese count when they are writing Haiku and I found it so engaging I felt certain that readers here would be interested. With Gabi's kind permission here is her description:

counting beats . . .
shall I start with my thumb
or the little finger ?

Or as I wrote way back in 2004

fingers wiggeling
in the autumn air -
Japanese haiku meeting

One of the endearing features of a haiku meeting (ku-kai) in Japan is
everybody sitting around counting on their fingers, usually of the
left hand. After all 5 7 5 is still very much en vouge in Japanese
Haiku, despite some free verse, gendai and other movements.

How do you count with your fingers?
One, two, three, for your THREE, three fingers sticking out?
Right! But Wrong in Japan!

Here is how the Japanese count with one hand,usually the left.
Palm facing your face, all fingers stretched out is the start.

ONE: Fold your thumb towards the palm of your hand.
TWO: Fold your pointer finger over the thumb.
THREE: Fold your middle finger over the thumb, joining the pointer.

So your three looks like three fingers folded, not sticking out ! Surprise!

FOUR: the ring finger (called <>medicine finger<> in Japanese), is folded.
FIVE: the little finger is folded, so NONE is sticking out.

Now still using the same hand with all fingers folded, here we go again:

SIX: the little finger is sticking out again. (This is also a sign indicating a girlfriend of a married man) )
SEVEN: the ring finger is sticking out again.

Thus the middle line of a haiku is completed. :o)

For me, observing cultural differences is always quite fascinating.
So is the development of haiku in various culture spheres and languages.

Five <> seven <> five suits the Japanese Language, but does not come naturally in many other languages, unless used very skilfully.

Happy Counting!


You can find the original post here:

In addition to Gabi's studies and her own Haiku, Dr. Greve runs the World Kigo (Season Word) Database, an ongoing project to develop a world-wide Saijiki, or dictionary of seasonal words and references. It is a huge project. It can be found here:

Thanks, Gabi!


At the Hospital

Intensive care --
Gladiolas in a vase
In the waiting room

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Thirty-thousand days,
Enough days for a lifetime --
The summer lightning


We walk this earth.
We have
But a short time.
We resemble grasses;
Green in the spring,
Brown in the summer heat,
Withering in the winter wind.
Those who understand this
Put aside their useless quarrels.
The cosmos is unfathomably vast.
The human mind is very small.
An act of kindness is never wasted;
It is the gateway to the deathless and unborn,
It is the exultation of the heart.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


A cool afternoon
In the middle of July
Wind from the ocean

A Review of Poems One -- by Johnny D

Poems One:
A Collection of poems, Haiku, Senryu and Tanka written between 1996 and 2007
By Johnny D
Codex Terra Publishing, 2008
Printed by
ISBN: 9781847996732 -- $14.95

Johnny D is a British poet. This is his first published collection. For the purposes of this review I will focus only on the Haiku which, as it turns out, constitute the majority of poems in this collection. Johnny D writes, “The Haiku form originates in Japan, and on the simplest level is a poem in three parts, arranged in five, seven and five syllables – a seventeen syllable poem… I am told that Japanese lends itself to these very well, because of the way syllables can be re-used in a way which they cannot in English. I don’t know for certain, as I do not speak Japanese. What I write is a seventeen syllable English poem, arranged following Haiku structural rules where appropriate. I also chain them together sometimes to make a longer poem.

“Why do I do this? Mainly because I love the way this limitation forces me to think more about each and every word in the poem.” (from the ‘Introduction’, pages unnumbered)

That’s the best reason to write in the syllabic form of Haiku; because the limitation is understood as a means of focusing one’s thought. That is one of the great advantages of syllabic form; by accepting the limitations of the form the mind becomes focused. It resembles what happens to the mind in meditation when one focuses on the breath or another object of concentration. When one does this a certain kind of clarity emerges that poetry that does not have formal parameters often lacks.

Elsewhere in the Introduction, Johnny D talks about the other aspects of traditional Haiku. At times D applies them:

Moonlight on the grass
Cat walking in the shadows
Everything is grey

This is an enticing nightscape. The seasonal element is not explicit, but in other ways it is a traditional Haiku. Here is one that does have the seasonal element:

A pallid petal
Broken loose from a long stem
Stranded on cold gravel

This is a Fall Haiku, I think. The cold gravel combined with the pallid petal combines to narrow the seasonal possibilities in a classic Haiku manner.

Most of Johnny D’s Haiku are not seasonal. Most of the Haiku are introspective, thoughtful reflections on his life. Here’s an example:

Darkness and silence
Seep through my empty house
Missing my children

This is from a series D titles “Entropic Haiku”; the “pallid petal” Haiku was from the same series. Here is a more matter-of-fact Haiku:

The final brush stroke
Completes my work for the day
Sitting, drinking tea

An ordinary moment, yet a moment worthy of observation. This Haiku is from a long series consisting of 105 Haiku and Senryu, with a few rare Tanka also included, which he numbers with Roman Numerals. The Haiku, Senryu, and Tanka in this series are on the left-hand page while other poetry is on the right-hand page. Thus the Haiku series and his other poems are interwoven. I like this effect. It feels contrapuntal to me. The syllabically structured series offers a steady pulse, then one pauses to read a poem in another form with a different pulse, then one resumes the steady pulse of the 5-7-5 (since the few Tanka are also syllabic they also continue the basic pulse). I think it works well. It feels to me like going down a river and stopping now and then to look at something, getting back in the boat and continuing the journey.

The series is a diary. Most of the Haiku in this long series are observations from life and they resemble, I think, Shiki’s idea of ‘sketch from life’. These are also combined with reflective thoughts. There is a steady sense of impermanence in the series:

Grass grows and grass dies.
Under a grey sky I stand
Watching the grass die.

There was sun today
The garden warm and golden
For a few minutes

Johnny D has the ability to spotlight common moments that we have all had:

Sitting at my desk
Staring at some paperwork.
What nonsense it is.

A Haiku like this returns us to the much discussed question of when does a Haiku slip into an aphorism or a mere diary entry. But this series is explicitly a Diary in poetic form. Johnny D’s work, I think, broadens the field of Haiku, opening up Haiku to the possibility of an aphoristic Haiku, or Haiku as aphorism. One of the ways he accomplishes this is by placing his introspective and thoughtful observations in groups which contain other, more traditional, Haiku. When reading a Haiku like the one above in isolation, it might not seem to have a Haiku quality to it, or it might seem forced into a Haiku mold. But when placed in the series it seems to have a completely natural presence as part of a larger landscape of observations, introspections, and aphorisms. I think this is a well thought out solution to the seasonal Haiku verses non-seasonal Haiku discussions. I’ll demonstrate this by quoting the two Haiku that precede the one just quoted:

Water bestows life
On this small black rock. Once dust,
Now it shines brightly.

Tiny small snail
Stuck to the window. Why did
It go there anyway?

Sitting at my desk
Staring at some paperwork,
What nonsense it is.

The first Haiku is a philosophical observation. The second is a proper, seasonal, Haiku, reminiscent of Issa. The third is introspective, expressive of feelings. These three are part of the long, 105 Haiku sequence I mentioned earlier and I can’t fully convey the ebb and flow that Johnny D offers in this series. But I enjoyed the way he smoothly moves from objective observation of nature, to introspection, to philosophical comment. I find it remarkable that he is able to do this without any sense of awkwardness.

This tendency to gather Haiku into larger groupings dominates the collection. I found only a few stand-alone Haiku. Here is one of them:

Boxing Day Haiku

A rock in my bag,
Reminds me of many things.
It’s not just a rock

Boxing Day, December 2005

At times Johnny D displays a certain grittiness. His Haiku and poems are not refined in the way that the Haiku of Carruth and Salter are. I mean that he does not seem to consciously use poetic devices such as rhyme, pivot, or metaphor and his lineation is, for the most part, consistent with grammatical divisions. That’s not where his focus is. Johnny D’s poetic world is more plain, more focused on the rhythms of ordinary speech. He seems to like to focus on a small human act and draw meaning out of it:

Sleep is a blessing
Which helps to ease the pain
Of being alive.

My boy is angry.
He beats his fists on my knee,
Without knowing why.

Again, notice how the lineation is congruent with natural speech patterns. I think this is an important aspect of Johnny D’s Haiku. It is often uncritically stated that 5-7-5 is ‘natural’ for Japanese, but ‘unnatural’ for English. This is one of those views that has no basis in actual English, but gets repeated as a kind of urban legend among English language Haiku poets. The truth is that there are nursery rhymes, lyrics, and poems which are written in five syllable and seven syllable lines in English. In addition, ordinary speech in English often consists of five and seven syllable statements. There is nothing at all unnatural, or even awkward, about using five and seven syllable lines in English poetry. What is true is that traditional English poetry has not focused on exploiting these patterns of five and seven syllables. Johnny D’s Haiku demonstrate how natural such usage is and how rewarding such usage can be.

This is primarily, though not exclusively, a collection of urban Haiku, but Johnny D has an eye for the intersection of the urban and the natural so that the world of nature never completely disappears:

Ice bound roots and soil
Amid the broken pieces
Of an old green pot

I read this collection twice, then put it aside, then read it a third time. It is unusually reflective and revealing and what it reveals is the mind and heart of someone going through the ups and downs of life, but also having the capacity to reflect upon the meaning of those ups and downs. In the end, though, Johnny D makes observations that will help to carry us through our own days:

A fall of angels.
White blossom floats on the breeze,
And drops to the earth.

In closing here are two Haiku that are sequential, numbers XIX and XX, in the long, 105 Haiku sequence. I think they demonstrate well the scope of Johnny D’s understanding and the scope of his Haiku:


Fear is a killer.
Every time you are afraid,
You die a little.


In the smallest bud,
Life demonstrates its great strength.
It seems eternal.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ebb Tide

The pool at tides' edge --
I can almost remember
The color of your eyes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Me and Japanese Poetry -- 3

Me and Japanese Poetry – Part 3

So there I was going to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Now I needed a job. So I applied for an opening with the Janitorial staff at the University itself. The rule was that the University wasn’t supposed to hire students as janitors. But I adopted an early version of the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy. When I applied they didn’t ask and I didn’t tell. So I got the job. (The rule led to some funny situations. In my second year I was elected to be the Union Representative for the Janitors. So I would finish class, go to my locker and change into work clothes so I could attend the negotiation meeting looking like a “Janitor”.)

One building I was assigned to clean was the Geophysical Institute, a famous institute that studied mostly high atmosphere phenomena, such as aurora. The institute was linked to two others, one in Russia and one in Norway. I discovered that for the most part scientists loved to talk about their work; even to the night janitor. And they were completely willing to explain technical terms and in general talk in a way I could comprehend. Some of the scientists there were Japanese and I got to be friendly with them. Their English was good, but I would ask how to say such-and-such in Japanese and they would tell me and over time I absorbed a lot of basic vocabulary; things like “hello”, “what time is it”, counting, “please”, “thank you”, etc. It was all very informal. But years later, when I went to Korea and Japan to study Buddhism, I found that I could get around Kyoto with what I had learned. Not bad. (There was no attempt to teach Japanese writing, which was probably a good thing. For those who don’t know, the Japanese writing system may be the most complicated in the world; there are actually three distinct writing systems you have to learn and none of the three are alphabets. All three systems can be used in a single sentence. Imagine having to learn the Latin alphabet, the Greek alphabet, and the Cyrillic alphabet because all three systems of writing could be used in a single sentence in “English” and you have somewhat of an idea of how it works.)

This was an auspicious beginning to learning Japanese. Friendly, informal, intimate. Sometimes I would ask about Japanese poetry and they would respond with as much as they knew. This was the first time I heard about Sugawara no Michizane, a Japanese poet from the from the 800’s who was later deified by the Shinto hierarchy and has now become a major Deity in the practice of Shinto. As a Deity Sugawara no Michizane became known as Tenjin.

This was the first time I caught a glimpse of the high status that Japanese poets occupy in Japanese culture. Sugawara no Michizane is not the only poet to be deified in Shinto; much more recently Basho has been inducted into the Shinto Pantheon. Coming from a culture which relegates poetry to a very marginal role, this information was eye-opening for me. It began a long process of looking at the function of poetry in culture in general, what role it plays, and what is its function.

Summer Scene

Clinging to the branch
Sparrows in the steady wind
And dust from the ranch

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Syllabic Haiku Bibliography

Good Friends:

I am just starting a project to gather a bibliographic reference list of Haiku in English that follow the traditional syllabics of 5-7-5. I am interested in the following:

First, books of Haiku that are written in 5-7-5, original work, in English. This kind of book would resemble Richard Wright's "Haiku: This Other World". Not every single Haiku in the book has to follow the 5-7-5 syllabics; some of Wright's Haiku drift from that count. But the Haiku in the book should be weighted towards that traditional count.

Second, translations of Haiku into English that adhere to the 5-7-5 count; that is to say that when translating the translator uses the 5-7-5 count in the English translation.

Third, books by a single poet that include Haiku, along with other forms and types of poems, with the Haiku in the traditional 5-7-5 format. Examples would be Hayden Carruth's "Collected Shorter Poems 1946 - 1991", Mary Jo Salter's "Open Shutters", and Yeshaya Rotbard's "The Calligraphy of Clouds".

Fourth, anthologies of poetry that include Haiku in the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic form. An example would be the Fourth and Fifth Editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry which includes some of Richard Wright's syllabic Haiku.

Fifth, magazines that were or are published that use the 5-7-5 syllabic form as a criteria for selection.

Occasional publications, such as chapbooks, or saddle-stapled endeavors, or other self-published efforts, that follow the 5-7-5 syllabics.

I am not interested in:

Single Haiku that follow the syllabic form but appear in an anthology of Haiku, or poetry in general, dominated by free verse Haiku.

Magazines that may have one, or a few, Haiku that happen to be in 5-7-5, but are otherwise dominated by free verse Haiku. An example would be "Modern Haiku".

If you know of such publications I would appreciated being contacted. You can contact me at:

Please put "Haiku Information" or "Haiku Bibliography" in the subject heading so that I can spot it when it arrives. I have a lot of filters on my email so putting this in the subject will tag it for me.

Thanks in advance for your help with this project.

Best wishes,


The Tea Snob Speaks

A little light verse for today --

Brewed fast
In a bag
Tastes really bad
It's like drinking dust and makes me feel sad

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Me and Japanese Poetry -- Part 2

Me and Japanese Poetry – Part 2

In the late 60’s I moved to Alaska to go to school at the University in Fairbanks. I loved Alaska. I loved everything about it, including the long winters. Well, when you’re young and more vigorous fifty below zero feels like a wonderful challenge.

My first encounter with Haiku was in Alaska. It was in the early 70’s. A book came out titled “Alaska in Haiku” by David Hoopes and Diana Tillion, published by Tuttle in 1972. I saw it at the school bookstore and purchased a copy. I immediately took a liking to it. It made a strong, and favorable, impression on me.

Recently I looked up “Alaska in Haiku” at Amazon and found a used copy for sale. Looking over the volume today, thirty-eight years later, several things strike me. First, the authors have a commitment to a classic approach to Haiku. For example, the Haiku are arranged according to the four seasons, which is the standard manner in which Haiku are published in Japan. In traditional Haiku the seasonal element of a Haiku is a requirement of the form.

But what really struck me when I got the used copy is that the Haiku in “Alaska in Haiku” are syllabic; that is to say the authors write Haiku adhering to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count. I had not remembered this. But looking back it makes sense; my first impression of Haiku was Haiku written in accord with the classical strictures of the form and this first impression has stayed with me. In other words, I think this first encounter with Haiku left an impression in my mind that good, even excellent, Haiku can be written, are being written, following the traditional syllabic pattern so that in later years when I would hear that English language Haiku poets should not adhere to the traditional syllabic count (something I would hear, and do hear, quite often) that first impression I had in Alaska would subconsciously remind me that perhaps this wasn’t really such a good idea and that there exist counter-examples that do adhere to the traditional syllabics.

I was unaware of the growing disagreement among English language Haiku poets regarding the efficacy of adhering to a traditional syllabic structure. The disputes that were taking place, mostly on the East Coast, I think, simply didn’t make it to the Alaskan bush. I think it was an auspicious introduction to Haiku and as in my encounter with Renga in my teen years, this encounter planted a seed in my mind which would eventually bear fruit, many years later.

Here are a few Haiku from “Alaska in Haiku”:

Beside the snowdrift,
The gray mountain rock is warm
Under the young leaves.

A waxing spring moon
Unfolds it gilded pathway
Upon flooding tides.

The snow-capped peaks
Cause my eyes to lift above
The net I’m mending.

Across the tideflats
A light from someone’s cabin –
It is not quite dark.

Upon the vast sea
A single boat leaves its wake –
For a brief moment.

Renouncing the world –
The autumn leaves are falling
In my place of birth.

Wild geese coming down
Call one unto another –
Each night’s colder now.

The winter moonlight –
Shadow of the totem pole,
Shadow of the spruce.

Night below zero,
And the long valleys echo
The sound of the stars.

Who knows, maybe some day this collection will be reprinted.

One Time When I Visited A Seriously Ill Friend At The Hospital

Can you stay with me awhile?
Please don't leave, at least not yet.
There's some things I should tell you,
They've been too long left unsaid.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Some Haiku by Mary Jo Salter

Some Haiku by Mary Jo Salter

Mary Jo Salter is a well-known, living American Poet. She was born in 1954, studied under the famous poet Elizabeth Bishop, and has been an editor for The Atlantic and The New Republic. From 1995 to 2007 she was Vice President of the Poetry Society of America.

Salter is well known for her interest in formal poetry and has, at times, written in the Japanese forms of Haiku and Tanka. I’m going to focus on the Haiku that appear in her collection “Open Shutters” published in 2003, paperback edition 2005, Alfred Knopf Publisher.

Because of Salter’s strong interest in formalism, her Haiku are syllabic. Salter was influenced in her approach to syllabics by Marianne Moore, a poet of critical importance in exploring the possibilities of syllabic verse in English. Moore’s approach to syllabics was not to take pre-existing syllabic structures, such as foreign imports like Tanka and Haiku, nor to use native syllabic forms such as Cinquain. Moore also avoided the approach of Elizabeth Daryush who developed a syllabic approach to the Sonnet; in the hands of Daryush the focus on poetic feet was dropped; instead Daryush focused solely on syllable count.

Moore’s approach was to create complex syllabic counts that usually repeated themselves through the poem several times. They are unusual in that the line counts often vary from very short counts to long counts in rapid succession. Here is what Salter has to say about Moore in an interview:

NL: You often write in form, and Marianne Moore is known for her formal syllabics, if I am right.
SALTER: That's right. Syllabics being a form where you are only counting syllables and not counting beats. Her stanza forms were unusual in their shape because they would often vary from very short to very long lines. Interestingly, near the end of her life, she claimed she wasn't really writing in syllabics, or wasn't thinking that way. She was about 80 when she said that. There's no doubt in the world that she was writing in syllabics, but I think she objected to being pigeonholed as a person who was preoccupied with counting syllables. What it really was about for her was making shapes on the page that were suitable for the subject matter. Finally, despite the fact that she was making beautiful shapes on the page, she really wanted us to hear poetry.
NL: If one reads books on poetic form, when you get to the little section on syllabics, the authors always mention Marianne Moore, so her attempt to suppress that part of her style didn't work; she's pigeonholed, anyway, I suppose.
SALTER: Well, you know, poets often are. In a way, it's one of the more legitimate pigeonholes. Before her, there was no one who so systematically used syllabics in English. Many poets had used them occasionally, especially those who were influenced, for example, by Japanese poetry that has, as you know, haiku, tanka, all of that. It was a way, I think, for her of acquiring or holding onto a more deliberately prosaic voice, a voice that sounded like a person talking to another person. If you are concerned enough with shaping a stanza, but you're not preoccupied with the stresses, you're going to sound a little more like people talking.

(The complete interview can be found here: )

In spite of this interest in Moore’s approach, Salter herself seems to have found pre-set forms congenial for her own poetic expression. In the collection “Open Shutters” Salter offers examples of both Haiku and Tanka. Her approach, like Hayden Carruth, is syllabic. That is to say Salter’s Haiku use the 5-7-5 syllable count as the starting point for Haiku composition.

Beyond that, though, Salter does not seem to have adopted other markers of traditional Haiku. The seasonal element, for example, is not strong in the Haiku found in “Open Shutters.” Sometimes the seasonal element appears:

A page of haiku:
among the caught fireflies, one
lights the whole bottle

“Fireflies” is a classic seasonal word and since fireflies only appear at certain times of the year, we can readily enter into the seasonal feeling of the Haiku. I think that this Haiku uses an implied metaphor, or an analogy, to link the opening line with the closing two lines. Hayden Carruth’s use of metaphor was explicit, but Salter’s approach is more indirect. What I sense here is the feeling one has when reading Haiku, particularly if it is a long collection, that one Haiku on the page “lights up”. The Haiku are “caught” on a page the way fireflies are caught in a bottle. The two parts of the Haiku mutually illuminate and reinforce each other. This is a technique I call “resonance”; in some respects resonance isn’t really a metaphor because each image can stand by itself. Some Haiku and Tanka poets refer to this kind of approach as ‘juxtaposition’. Each image, when placed together, have certain common features, which is like a metaphor, but the point isn’t stated explicitly. I normally don’t like Haiku about Haiku, but I think this one speaks to why Haiku continue to be attractive to so many people, an experience Salter clearly has had.

Most of Salter’s Haiku do not have a seasonal element. Often they are emotionally strong but understated:

She’s alone in bed.
In an earlier time zone
he dines a lover.

As I read this I had the sense of seeing this as both summing up a relationship that either is, or soon will be, falling apart, and a feeling that this is a snapshot from the past which explains what went wrong. This is an excellent example of what some writers of Japanese forms refer to as “dreaming room”. By “dreaming room” is meant that the offered image leaves the reader room to expand the meaning in multiple directions. The feeling of these kinds of poems resembles catching just a fragment of a conversation that one finds intriguing, but one never learns the lead-in or how it concluded.

Notice also Salter’s subtle use of the sense of time. In line 1 we read that she is in bed. In line 2 Salter refers to ‘an earlier time zone’. Does that mean that the ‘she’ of line 1 has retired early? If so why? This adds to the dreaming room sense of the Haiku.

Like Carruth, Salter isn’t shy about using poetic technique to enhance a Haiku and she sometimes uses rhyme to good effect:

Ice cubes in a glass:
outside, the chilling shake of
rattlesnake through grass.

The Haiku is seasonal; clearly summer. Lines 1 and 2 are united by the reader thinking that the “chilling shake” refers to the ice cubes. It is a nice turn, and surprise, when Salter reveals that the “chilling shake” actually refers to a rattlesnake. This is from a three-Haiku sequence titled “Florida Fauna”, the title giving us location information.

Lines 1 and 3 are pulled together by the rhyme, making the Haiku tighter and more unified. Line 2 is a kind of pivot; at first we think it applies to ice cubes, but then it pivots and is applied to the rattlesnake. This kind of pivot for Line 2 in a Haiku (and at various places in a Tanka) is a well-known technique in Japanese poetry and adds complexity to the texture of a Haiku.

This pivot technique is also used in the first Haiku I quoted. Notice how the Haiku cold be broken down into two parts:

She’s alone in bed.
In an earlier time zone


In an earlier time zone
he dines a lover.

Line two could be attached to either line 1 or line 3.

This sense of pivot, though, is muted by Salter’s use of punctuation. The full stop period at the end of line 1 isolates that line and reduces the tendency for the reader to think that line 2 might be a part of the thought of line 1. The same is true of “Ice cubes in a glass:” which ends with a colon, again this mutes the sense of line 2 as a pivot. My sense is that Salter is consciously using the pivot technique, but also wants to communicate to the reader her own sense of how to take in the Haiku.

Like Carruth, Salter is not shy about using punctuation. Though her punctuation is not as dense as Carruth’s, all her Haiku are punctuated; for example all her Haiku end with a period. As I mentioned in my post about Carruth, there is a tendency today among American Haiku poets to eschew punctuation altogether. Some Haiku poets I’ve talked to about this argue that lineation by itself is sufficiently expressive to communicate to the reader. Though I understand what they mean, I think the Haiku of Salter and Carruth are good examples of how to use punctuation expressively and how punctuation can be a resource for the English language Haiku poets. Again, as in Carruth, I sense the influence of Emily Dickinson on Salter’s use of punctuation. In Salter’s case I suspect conscious emulation because she has often commented on her great admiration for Dickinson.

In the Haiku I’ve quoted Salter’s lineation tends to break some lines at unusual, non-grammatical points. But here is an example of a Haiku where the lineation and the grammatical structure are congruent:

Pebbles on the beach:
the waves, without swallowing,
deliver a speech.

Again there is the use of metaphor and the use of end-rhyme to satisfying effect. Salter’s use of a variety of approaches to lineation show a poet who has a really sure command of how to end a line effectively.

In closing I’d like to highlight how Salter will often turn the reader’s expectations around:

Dark in the cabin.
No lamp but the blue moon of
the computer screen.

The reader is setup for a standard nature Haiku with the moon as the central image. It is night, the lights are off, and line 2 introduces the idea of a blue moon. “Blue Moon”, of course, is the name given for a month with two full moons; the “blue moon” is the second full moon in a month, hence the common expression “once in a blue moon”. Line 3 all of a sudden takes us in a different direction by pointing to the light of the computer screen as the source of the light. All of a sudden the reader discovers that “blue moon” is a metaphor, as is “lamp”. This is skillfully done and I admire the way this Haiku builds on the reader’s expectation of a scene from nature, and then undermines that in the concluding line. I think it is very effective.

I look forward to reading more Haiku from Salter.

Other Worlds

Last night I saw you
In the house of memories
Summer never ends

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Choosing Memory

On the sunlit field
The first touch of brown appears
On the blades of grass

The sound of a dog scratching
At the fleas by its collar

Sorting through the bills,
Trying to prioritize,
Which one gets paid first?

Leaves lie thickly on the ground
After yesterday's windstorm

She asks her best friend,
"I don't like it when he shouts.
So, what would you do?"

A crack in a large boulder
Impercpetibly widens

It's filled with moonlight
In the frigid and clear air
Two friends walk briskly

T.G.I.F. at the bar,
Time for outrageous stories

(Or is it propaganda?)
With the morning news

The Senate didn't notice
But the plums bloomed anyway

Behind the houses,
Leading away from the town,
Lots of raccoon tracks

He chooses a memory
From the forest of his past

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Songs From the Earth

Listen to the
And the waves
At the ocean
Land's end
All rivers
Flowing into
In the sky
Sunset colors
In the cold
While nights lengthen
Of peace
Of the past
Of the future

Friday, July 2, 2010

The View From My Window

And warmth
On the pine
Two hours before

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Me and Japanese Poetry: Part 1

Japanese Poetry and Me: Part 1

Dear Friends:

I have a long association with Japanese Poetry. It has had a strong influence on how I write and how I view poetry in general. My views regarding Japanese Poetry have changed over time. They have evolved. At this time my views on the topic differ to a significant extent from those widely held by many practitioners in the U.S. of Japanese forms (Tanka, Haiku, and Renga). I have wanted to write something about the views I hold, why I hold them, and why I think they are plausible interpretations. But I have hesitated. Primarily, I do not want to get into an esthetic dog-fight with those who have a different perspective. I have no wish to change their minds, even if I could do so, which is highly doubtful. At the same time, I have wanted to offer a defense, or apology, for the views that I do hold. How to balance these two considerations has been a conundrum that I have had difficulty solving.

The solution I have hit upon is simply to tell my own story and allow that story to speak for itself. Having come to this approach I plan on offering a series of posts detailing the unfolding interaction of Japanese Poetry in my own mind and heart.

I first learned about Japanese Poetry in High School. I read about a form called ‘Renga’ somewhere in the writings of John Cage, though I can’t locate exactly where it was at this time. The passing reference to Renga intrigued me and I followed up on it as best I could. At that time, the mid-60’s, there wasn’t a lot available. Hardly anything was translated and the material I was able to locate spoke in terms of passing references and emphasized the complexity of the Renga form.

Nevertheless, the seed had been planted in my mind. And this seed took root, for some reason I tended it carefully so that over the years as new material appeared I would read and absorb it. Looking back it strikes me as significant that my introduction to Japanese Poetry was through the form of ‘Renga’, rather than through the more widely known and accessible Haiku. By the mid-60’s there was already a sizable body of translated material for Haiku, there were Haiku Societies, and there were a number of American Haiku Poets. All of that went right by me. In the way that adolescents can be amazingly single-minded and focused, I simply didn’t take into my mind the presence of the western world of Haiku and remained focused on Renga. I think this focus on Renga has colored my how I view Japanese Poetry ever since.

More to come,


Summer Night

Under the tent of the sky
Under the light of the moon
A warm wind blows the curtains
In the empty living room