Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dispersing Envy

A quiet morning
December stillness and cold
Fog upon the snow

Looking out the kitchen window
With her cup of breakfast tea

Some vitamin C
And some other supplements
Taken at each meal

He has begun to feel
That they are growing apart

With the wind they start
To scatter and disappear --
Apple blossoms fall

Outside of the new mall
Teenagers are gathering

The light of evening
Just after the sun has set
Lingers with the heat

The novice on her retreat
Recites the prayers for the Hour

There is a power
Silent and unobtrusive
Deep within the heart

"Let me help you with your cart,
That looks awfully heavy."

Dispersing envy
Through common acts of kindness
Recall where we are

With bare branches and the stars
The half-full October moon

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As Night Begins

Days end
At the store
I turn out the lights
I make sure that I lock the door

A Vision

Melodies fall from the clouds
Streams of stars flow through the glen
On a branch of the oak tree
There's an angel now and then

Monday, December 12, 2011


The pine tree waltzes
Beside the granite still pond
The warmth of starlight

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The End Of Idolatry

The lives
Of nations;
They don't survive
(Though they try and strive)
The ravages of time.
Nations are not a refuge,
They turn into dust and refuse,
Shards placed under a museum's dome;
Only the eternal is our true home.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Warm days in winter
The sky is cloudless
I begin to pray
God's love is boundless

Friday, December 9, 2011


Thin clouds
 5 A.M.
A bright full moon
Slowly descending --
The first hint of sunlight
Pales the few remaining stars
In an hour the moon will be gone
Like the moments of this silent dawn
Like the last notes of a solo flute's song

Thursday, December 8, 2011


The silent traffic
Crossing the polluted stream
Herds of ghost mammoths

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Message From Far Away

The soaring voice
Caresses a note
Turning it in the air
Like catching a ray of sun
As it mingles with a warm wind
Whose origin is a distant land
Located somewhere south of memory

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Impermanence

Will fade
Will disappear
Like all that you hear,
Like the sound of a bell,
A receding ocean swell,
A story that you once heard tell,
The last remnants of a tree that fell,
Or an old fear that is finally quelled,
Shattered when touched by the omnipresent spell
Cast upon the currents of the rivering world

Monday, December 5, 2011


Life is more complicated ev'ry day,
I do not understand why this is so
And though I try and try to simplify
Duties accumulate like drifts of snow

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011


After all these years
You say you want to 'make up' --
The winter silence

Friday, December 2, 2011


The sun rises late,
The days are brief, the air cold,
The solstice draws near

Hanukkah candles for sale
On display at the bookstore

There are more and more
Cards for every occsion
For all of our needs

A thought resembles a seed
In the garden of the heart

Plum blossoms restart
The cycle of the seasons
The cycle of time

Searching for the perfect rhyme
To mark the line and rhythm

The new axiom --
The professor finds its place
In the house of thought

All this work is not for naught
If we can share our journey

"You're good company,
Let's spend more time together,
After summer's through."

A correspondence ensues
Via nightly emails

As the moon sails,
Pacing its monthly phases,
Its light ebbs and grows

Autumn tells us what we know;
Space is vast and deep and kind


Dear Friends:

I had alredy posted 'Afternoon' earlier this year.  Sorry about that.

So I'm following up with another Renga for your reading pleasure titled 'Axiom'.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Neal Henry Lawrence Day

Good Morning:

Another year has gone by and it is again the anniversary of Neal Henry Lawrence: born January 22, 1908, died November 3, 2004.  Lawrence lead a remarkable life.  During his 96 years he was a business man, fought in W.W. II, became a monk, and a Tanka poet.  As far as I know he was the first American born Tanka poet to produce a substantial body of work.  Four of his Tanka collections were published during his life.  'Shining Moments' is still in print, while his others are available via Amazon now and then at not too high prices.

Lawrence set a precedent for a syllabic approach to Tanka.  All his Tanka are in the 5-7-5-7-7 form, the form that this type of poem has followed for over 1400 years.  His work is remarkably varied, covering topics from the traditional seasonal poems, to religion, to politics.  Here is one of his Tanka that I suspect conveys something of his personal life as a monk:

The abbey bell rings
Tolling life's passing moments
Of joy and sorrow,
Of time for meditation
And to say the rosary.

I think the best way to celebrate this day would be to compose a syllabic Tanka.  And perhaps to take up, once again, one of Lawrence's books.  I always find them worth rereading.

Best wishes,


Monday, October 24, 2011

Popular Haiku

One way of understanding how well a new poetic form is taking root in a culture is to look at its popularity. That is to say, is the poetic form part of the consciousness of ordinary people. For example, when the Sonnet was first transmitted to England it landed at court and for a while was the exclusive preserve of court, or court-connected, poets. After a generation or two, though, the Sonnet spread and became part of the fabric of English poetry so that one found Sonnets being composed by all classes of people.

From this perspective I think it is instructive to look at how popular culture in the U.S. has accepted Haiku. The most popular books of Haiku, the ones that sell a lot and are republished, the ones that are sometimes published by major publishers, are found at the level of popular culture. I distinguish two types of popular Haiku. The first type is Haiku Humor and consists of books that deliberately make fun of their subject. The second type I think of as Topical Haiku and consists of books on a specific topic, such as gardening, or old age, or cats, horses, dogs, children, etc. There is a lot of overlap between the two groups, but some of the Topical Haiku do not have a humorous intent.

Collectively these collections share certain characteristics. First, overwhelmingly Popular Haiku takes a syllabic approach to Haiku. The best-selling books of Popular Haiku, such as ‘Haiku for Jews’ or ‘Redneck Haiku: Double-Wide Edition’, are all syllabic in construction. That is to say they take the 5-7-5 syllable count as their starting point in composing their Haiku. This contrasts with the Haiku written by official Haiku Societies in the U.S. which take a free verse approach to Haiku. This contrast is striking and demonstrates to me that at the popular level Haiku is understood by most Americans to be a syllabic form of poetry that resembles other syllabic forms such as the Crapsey Cinquain or the Fibonacci. For Popular Haiku, syllabic count is central and the offerings of Popular Haiku are far from the free verse norms that pervade academic poetry in general and official Haiku Societies specifically.

I think this aspect of Popular Haiku is underappreciated. One sometimes hears that five syllable and seven syllable lines are ‘unnatural’ for the English language. This is often put forth as one justification for modifying the Japanese syllable count in English language Haiku. Popular Haiku, simply by its commitment to a traditional syllabic approach, undermines this kind of assertion. It would be difficult to maintain that five and seven syllable lines are not an intimate part of the English language after a few volumes of Popular Haiku.

The second characteristic I find in many of these works is what I would call an ‘in-your-face’ attitude. Sometimes crass (see ‘FU Haiku’), at times even gross (see ‘Zombie Haiku’), Popular Haiku often focuses on the aspects of our lives that are overlooked by the more consciously poetic. The tone of most of these volumes that I have read is not subtle; there is no attempt, for example, for the author to disappear. In fact, the opposite is often the case with the author stepping right in and making comments, judgments, and remarks about the chosen topic. And there is a kind of ‘so there!’ tone to much of it. I don’t mean that I, or the general reader, will take offense. It’s more that the authors of these books don’t really care to not be present and are completely comfortable letting you know what they think. This contrasts with the esthetic of authorial objectivity which is often held to be an ideal of traditional Haiku.

The third characteristic is simply that these volumes seek to appeal to a broad audience. This is obvious by my descriptive use of ‘Popular Haiku’, but it is still worth noting. Years ago when ‘Haiku for Jews’ was first published I was working in a small independent bookstore. The owner ordered this from the publisher and it arrived complete with a little display case so that you could place the book on the counter right next to the cash register. ‘Redneck Haiku’ has taken the same approach as have others in the field of what I call Popular Haiku. In other words, the target audience of Popular Haiku is not primarily poets, not even Haiku poets. I get the impression that the publishers of Popular Haiku would actually prefer that their works not be placed in the poetry section of a bookstore. Rather, they are targeting the impulse buyer primarily, and secondarily those who enjoy good humor and a quick read. Many of these works would be better placed in the humor section, or perhaps the religion section (e.g. ‘Haiku for Jews’ or ‘Episcopal Haiku’), or the movie section (e.g. ‘Vampire Haiku’), than they would in the poetry section of a bookstore.

A fourth characteristic is the vernacular use of English. I have observed that for the most part Popular Haiku is written in vernacular English, complete with articles and typical parts of speech. The feeling I get when reading Popular Haiku is that of overhearing a conversation, of actual English speech. This contrasts with the style of English used in Official Haiku which cultivates a kind of English that lacks articles, prepositions, modifiers: I sometimes refer to this kind of English as Haiku Hybrid English or HHE for short. It is a very strange type of English, but in the right hands is effective. Popular Haiku ignores HHE and writes in what is clearly an ordinary, colloquial, easily understandable English. Depending on the topic, the English used in Popular Haiku often reflects the sub-culture that is the focus. ‘Haikus for Jews’ and ‘Redneck Haiku’ both use the relevant syntax of the group they are focusing on. And there are many other examples.

The fifth aspect of Popular Haiku is another contrast with Official Haiku: That is that Popular Haiku is not minimalist. This is a function of its vernacular usage. Ordinary English, ordinary language, is filled with repetitions, redundancies, and what I call ‘start-overs’. In contrast, Official Haiku has a commitment to a minimalist presentation which seeks to do away with repetitions and redundancies. The governing ideal in Official Haiku is ‘less is more’ and the fewer syllables used the better. That is not an esthetic one finds in Popular Haiku.

A sixth characteristic is that the authors of Popular Haiku, for the most part, seem unconcerned about traditional aspects of Haiku composition other than the syllabic count. The seasonal component, for example, is often not present. I have noticed, however, that some authors of Popular Haiku do manage to incorporate the seasonal element, though it is not always clear if this was a conscious decision based on traditional Haiku, or simply a reflection of Popular Culture itself. For example, if a Haiku in a work of Popular Haiku mentions Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, those are both seasonal references, but they are also a pervasive part of American Popular Culture. My gut feeling is that these seasonal references arise more from the field of popular culture rather than from an attempt to incorporate traditional Haiku elements. But I’d be happy to be wrong about that.

Another aspect of the unconcern about many traditional aspects of Haiku is that in Japan many of these works would be thought of as Senryu rather than Haiku. But for Popular Haiku authors the distinction between the two has vanished. For Popular Haiku authors Haiku has become, in an American cultural context, a syllabic form consisting of three lines of seventeen syllables distributed as 5-7-5. For Popular Haiku, if a poem has this form then it is a Haiku.

I think there is much to be said for this point of view. For one thing, it defines the form in objective terms. A lot of Haiku discussions I have read, and participated in, revolve around ethereal esthetic issues; that is to say whether or not the Haiku is ‘indirect’ enough, or ‘objective’ enough, etc. These kinds of issues are then used to determine whether or not something is a Haiku. But I think that is a mistaken approach and often leads down blind alleys. If a Haiku is defined formally, through syllable count and lineation, then one can accept what is written as part of the form.

There is one aspect of traditional Haiku which Popular Haiku in America has latched onto: the Aha Moment. The turn, or juxtaposition, the insight brought about by the coalescing of disparate elements so beloved by Haiku Poets is surprisingly close to what happens in humor. So I can see why Haiku has attracted humorists. The difference is that for the traditional Haiku poet the juxtaposition of elements has a more contemplative function. In Popular Haiku the juxtaposition of elements is meant to surprise and delight the reader resulting in a humorous response, what we commonly call the ‘punch line’.

The quality of Popular Haiku, as one would expect, varies. If I were forced to pick a single work as the best representative of Popular Haiku I would choose ‘Redneck Haiku: Double Wide Edition’ by Mary K. Witte. First, it is very funny. Second, because of the excellent humor you can re-read it. Third, it focuses on an aspect of American culture that is significant, but doesn’t get much coverage. The characters, who thread their way through the Haiku, are what are often called ‘trailer trash’ and the concerns, inclinations, habits and hopes of this part of America. There is an intimate familiarity on the part of the author with these people. I found myself growing fond of Wanda and Bubba as I read through the collection. The author has an eye for the ordinary:

Fried chicken, biscuits,
mashed potatoes with gravy.
Perfect summer meal.

But she also has a good grasp of the emotions of the people she’s describing:

RV at Wal-Mart:
Shopping while just passing through
or putting down roots?

This is a good description of the rootlessness and wandering that trailer culture in America often embodies.
And, of course, there is excellent humor:

Moonshine, shotgun shells,
Wild Turkey and motor oil.
Christmas shopping done.

The emergence of popular Haiku signals that Haiku has entered the mainstream of American poetry and has become an indigenous form. That is to say that syllabic Haiku have become a part of American poetry. I think it is all to the good and shows Haiku taking on a life of its own, demonstrating that the transplant has indeed taken root on foreign soil.

In closing, here are a few examples of Popular Haiku I recommend:

Redneck Haiku: Double-Wide Edition
Mary K. Witte

Haikus for Jews
David M. Bader

Episcopal Haiku
Sarah Goodyear and Ed Weissman

Vampire Haiku
Ryan Mecum
Note: Mecum has also written ‘Werewolf Haiku’ (my personal choice) and ‘Zombie Haiku’. Warning, Mecum is true to his chosen topic of horror movies and some people I’ve shown these to have found some of them gross. Personally, I thought they were funny; but maybe that shows what a sick sense of humor I have.

Haikus for Punsters
(Note the English plural!)
Paul Treatman
Note: Side splittingly funny. Treatman has published five (yes, Five!) volumes of puns in Haiku form. But be warned: he published only a single Haiku on each page. If he had tripled up, all five volumes could be sold as one. Still, at the bookstore I work at I’ve sold quite a few complete sets and customers have come back saying they were satisfied.

Office Haiku
James Rogauskas

John Chu

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys
Bob Raczka
Note: More traditional than most Popular Haiku books, this one covers all the seasons but shares the Popular Haiku use of colloquial English and more down to earth themes. It is written as an Introduction to Haiku for young boys.

There are Haiku for Dogs (and even for specific breeds), Cats, Horses, for butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. If you go to Amazon just put in ‘Haiku’ and see what pops up. It’s a great exploration and you will be pleasantly surprised at the wide range of topics that American poets have put into Haiku form.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Golden poplar leaves
Bright in the light of sunrise
In my neighbor's yard

New statues of ducks and quail
Clustered around the front door

Snails are hiding
Underneath the wooden steps
A long lost letter

"Let's talk about this some more,
Bring it out in the open."

Slipping on the ice
The small car comes to a stop
Next to a parked truck

"I can't rely on you,"
She returns the ring he gave her

The office lobby
Sun pouring in the windows
And afternoon heat

Next to the espresso stand
Six or seven apple trees

A few petals fall
On the coats of passersby
They don't seem to mind

The full moon between some clouds
Traversing the Aries sky

His recurring dream,
One that he looks forward to,
In the land of calm

A single angel standing
On a bridge across a stream

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One Thing Remains

Of books --
Take a look,
They won't last long
They will soon be gone
The last one on the shelf
Neglected, gathering dust
While we attend to other things
Like journeys to other galaxies
After our planet is devoid of seas --

Or the silent presence of eternity

Monday, October 3, 2011

The 500 Haiku of the Carpenter: A Review

The 500 Haiku of the Carpenter
By Peter Britell
ISBN: 9781460927359

The distinctive feature of this book is how the author handles haiku lineation. The consensus among western haiku poets is that the haiku form consists of three short lines. For those taking a syllabic approach to haiku, the three lines are in 5-7-5 syllables, for a total of seventeen syllables. This mimics the syllabic structure of Japanese origin. Haiku poets who are strongly under the influence of contemporary free verse tend to abandon a specific count and consequently line count can vary among this type of free verse haiku. Free verse haiku has much more in common with western free verse than with the Japanese haiku.

‘The 500 Haiku of the Carpenter’ is a collection of 500 syllabic haiku. That is to say the haiku are written in 5-7-5, for an overall count of seventeen syllables. But the author takes the second line of seven syllables and using a unique approach to lineation, divides that line into sub-lines. Here is an example:

In the falling snow
     I saw the face
     of a girl –
she smiled your smile.

(Number 57)

Here the second line is divided into a 4 + 3 structure and both parts of the second line are indented. Here is another example of a 4 + 3 structure for the second line:

Full moon of July,
     sliding over
     silent pines –
we hear your music.

(Number 129)

Not all of the second lines are divided into a 4 + 3 structure. Some use a 3 + 4 division:

Ghost schooner, tonight
     I sail to
     moonbeams ending;
moon-wind fills my sails.

(Number 289)

Sometimes the author divides the second line into 5 + 2, as in one of my favorites:

Loud cherry blossoms
     on this still April
     morning –
I see temple bells.

(Number 388)

As you can see from these samples, most of the haiku in the book preserve the seasonal element of classic haiku. There are some haiku, though, that are non-seasonal:

An iced cold beer
     slowly guzzling down
     my throat –
hospital day dream.

(Number 385)

The author’s non-seasonal haiku tend to be introspective, though there are also some that are humorous:

Why do the children
     put beans in their ears?
     What place
is better for beans?

(Number 326)

This has a senryu quality to it.

Still, most of the haiku are specifically seasonal and the author seems to be consciously striving for a traditional haiku feel.

The division of the middle line mimics the Japanese, and East Asian, concerns with mid-line pauses. In traditional East Asian poetics, both five and seven syllable lines are supposed to have a pause a specified locations and it is part of the craft of Chinese and Japanese poetry to become skillful at placing those pauses in the right place. The pause is like a grammatical pause, or the pause one has when adding an aside. This is an aspect of East Asian poetics which has not been emphasized in the west because it is very difficult to map onto the English language. Yet here, Britell is doing exactly that with the way he is structuring the second line. The technique of lineation used in this book retains the overall syllable count found in the Japanese original, and at the same time offers a solution for the pause that traditional poetics asks for in the seven-syllable line. I think this is an elegant approach and it works well in the hands of this haiku poet. Here is the author speaking about haiku and how he feels about the form:

Hear the clear music
     in seventeen
     syllables –
wind chimes in short words.

(Number 328)

Having spent some time with this collection, I have an overall admiration for the author’s skill and unique voice. His haiku do indeed have a wind-chime like quality to them; by that I mean they are attractive not only to the mind, but also to the ear and the other senses. I also appreciate that the author feels free to use a wide variety of poetic techniques to enhance his haiku. Here is an explicit use of metaphor:

Without you, this house
     like an empty
     ship sailing
in a windless sea.

(Number 405)

There are haiku in this volume about work, love, aging, children, and, of course, the overall theme of the flow of the seasons permeates the work. The layout is regular; all the haiku begin with a capital and end with a period, emphasizing that this author’s approach is to express a complete thought, or present a complete picture, in the seventeen syllables of the traditional form. The regularity of the layout gives the collection a steady flow as one moves from one haiku to another. The author, I believe, has taken some care in the sequence of the haiku and although each haiku is complete and framed by the opening capital and the closing period, yet I found a sense of ease in the way the reader moves from one haiku to the next. It reminded me of well-crafted paragraph writing where the sentences easily link to each other.

This book seems to be an ongoing project. There is an earlier edition called ‘The 400 Haiku of the Carpenter’. Perhaps there will be more coming in the future. I look forward to that possibility.

In closing, here is another of my favorites:

Old age came walking
     down the snow-
     covered street –
“Keep walking,” I said.

(Number 472)

Monday, September 26, 2011


A tree swaying in the wind
In the middle of a field
A vulture pecks at a corpse
Partaking of a fine meal

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dreams End

The lake of thunder
Rolling over the gossamer mountains
Dawn of night


Thin clouds
Slow dusk
Stars hushed

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Night Shift

The janitor is finished
Cleaning up after others,
As the dawn dissolves the night
He disappears from our sight

Friday, September 23, 2011

Time and Season

Summer heat
Autumn stalls
The ninth month
Dry leaves fall

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quaker Meeting

Entering silence
Encountering the light within
The journey back to the source of endlessness begins

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Afternoon

August afternoon
They say it will get hotter
For the next few days

He takes his sunglasses with him;
The parking lot has no shade

The local grocer,
Apples under the awning,
With grapes and peaches

Some bees looking for flowers
Hover over the sweetness

Groupies stampeding
As the stage door bursts open,
And paparazzi

Sorting all her appointments
On her brand new palm pilot

The bus boy gathers
The cafe patrons' dishes
And the meager tips

"Fall is my favourtie season,"
She informs her companion

Under the full moon
Lovers talk of where they'll be
Fifty years from now

Purple and blue irises
Blooming in his May garden

Clouds form in the sky
Whlie birds descend to the trees;
A gathering storm

The November spring thunder
Permeates the homes and streets

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Into the silent land I'll walk,
A tracker of the signs of love,
Into the land that leaves no trace,
There to be reborn from above

Friday, August 5, 2011


Every time I leave my house
I wonder if I will return;
Impermanence has many forms,
A lesson that I've slowly learned.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

On Contemplation

Rocks are hovering in the sky
A riot takes place in silence
In a mirror that's made from wood
I see a hidden vein of good

Back to Blogging

Good Friends:

I have been deeply involved in a writing project this month and this has minimized my presence here.  However, that project is coming to a conclusion which will allow for more time here at Shaping Words.  I appreciate the Followers who have signed onto this blog, more than I expected.

Now it's back to blogging here at Shaping Words.

Thanks for your patience,


Saturday, July 30, 2011


Wind blowing the leaves of the trees
By the road streched across July
A tarot reader spreads her deck
While dolphins between the clouds glide

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The summer solstice sun is slowly set-
ting, as the shadows take on darker hues,
Tasks that I didn't get around to yet
Are transferred to my list of gotta-dos.

But I suspect I'll forget about them,
I don't mean for it to turn out that way,
But new days have their own demands and then
What seemed important yesterday just fades.

I found a letter that was discarded,
(I think it fell out of a truck of trash)
Reading it, my feelings were bombarded --
A fragment of a story now long past.

I decided not to throw it away;
Who knows, perhaps she'll want it back some day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Surprised by Flowers

Red geraniums
Next to the backdoor
In the alleyway
Behind the bookstore

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Textual Criticism

Today a young man said I was a nerd,
To be honest this took me by surprise,
I thought I was too old, but when I heard
His remark it struck me as kind of wise.

Nothing makes me happier than sitting
Among stacks of almost forgotten books,
Discovering why a phrase is fitting
Or how an author misquoted and took

A word, phrase, or sentence out of context,
Hoping that no one would ever notice,
Or take the time to track down the source text,
Revealing the reasoning as bogus.

Thoughts are like trails with many twists and turns,
Around that curve is something more to learn.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blessing From the Past

I remember a time of love,
It happened many years ago,
Angels crossed the face of the moon
As the quince blossomed in the snow

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Fountain of Age

Beauty in the dawn
Beauty in the children's song
Beauty in the day
Beauty hidden in the way
Wisdom blossoms in old age

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beyond Thought

Theologies are systems
Of thoughts that are human made,
They are insignificant,
Unlike God, they will soon fade

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Some Days

The Days
Of cloudless skies
Some days of our lives
Are also unhindered,
Days of easy wandering
Minus neurotic pondering
When the sun rises in the morning
Colors of the clouds slowly transforming

Friday, May 13, 2011

Homage to Emily

'The world is not conclusion'
That is what the poet said --
The cosmos like a stream flows,
Like a feather in the wind

Thursday, April 28, 2011


The first crescent moon
Above the apple blossoms
An ocean of stars

Framed by the kitchen window
The woman with bright red hair

Saturday is free
Inspired by a good friend
Bread in the oven

He pauses to read the mail
There is a letter from mom

"No news is good news"
"A penny saved is a penny earned"
"A stitch in time saves nine"

At the University
A lecture on Folk Wisdom

As the bare branches
Bending in the freezing wind
In the prarie wind

Warmth seems to flow through the gloves
As they hold each other's hands

Walking to the park
Something they enjoy doing
As a weekend treat

Just as the sun has risen
Before the heat of the day

There is a slight breeze
The sound of the maple leaves
Resembles wind chimes

A flock of swans headed south
Smoothly coasting from cloud to cloud

Monday, April 18, 2011

Apple Blossoms

Cool in the moring
A few leaves are still clinging
To a few branches

Is it Monday or Tuesday?
Days of retirement blend

Dry snowflakes falling,
Like white dust on the dry ground,
Scatter in the wind

As a stranger's car drives by
Exceeding the speed limit

While clucking her tongue
She disapproves of the way
Children act today

Opinions fill cyberspace
There's no time for calm or grace

A few grains of sand
Shifting at the river's edge
Ripple the surface

Sharp rays of intense sunlight
Sweat descends into the eyes

As she adds water
To her small garden fountain
In her small front yard

The shadow of her lover
Approaching with the full moon

Briefly the wind holds
The scent of apple blossoms,
The sound of an owl

"I knew you'd be here tonight."
Wave upon wave of silence

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


In the morning
We say goodbye to each other,
At night we return --
This routine is comfortable;
One day it will be different.

Monday, April 11, 2011

True Love

I've fallen in love with eternity,
Though I don't remember exactly when
It happened many years ago to me,
Like a flower blossoming in a glen.

Eternity's presence is pure beauty
But its beauty is difficult to see;
Like a sunrise that remains neglected
Due to constant busyness and unease.

I can see it when I have rejected
Seductions from the world of constant change;
Saints and Sages have always suspected
It lies beyond this sorrowful world's range.

On the field of silence, there I have found
A stillness dancing on luminous ground.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There's not much traffic
At this time of the morning
While night still lingers
And the sun has not risen --
The hours of the morning calm

Saturday, March 26, 2011


This morning I went on the internet
After a night of deep and restful sleep;
Checking the news only made me upset
As I felt the evening calm slowly creep

Away.  I know the world's full of problems,
I do not need the news to tell me so,
It's as if the world is filled with goblins
Intent on mischief wherever they go.

After many years I now understand
That there's something simple that I can do;
Though silence and stillness may not seem grand
They bring mercy to all, not just a few.

A moment of silence is a moment of grace,
A moment of stillness is the kindness of space.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Haiku and High Timber: A Review

Local Haiku: A Review of “Haiku and High Timber”
Poems for the Northwestern Heart
By Charles Walker
Illustrated by Victoria Seitzinger

ISBN: 9780982762707

One of the interesting things about contemporary poetry is the phenomenon of the ‘local poet’.  A local poet is a poet who writes embedded in a particular locality, never achieves national recognition, but is often recognized by local organizations such as towns or counties.  Where I live, in Sonoma County, Northern California, there is a County Poet Laureate.  This local laureate will appear at the County Fair and other events.  Often local poets write from the perspective of their own geography and habitat.  The first haiku book I ever encountered was such a work, called “Alaska in Haiku”. 

Charles Walker has written such a work.  “Haiku and High Timber” is a collection of Haiku that is intimately about the Northwestern United States, specifically the area around Florence, Oregon.  Walker’s introduction to Haiku is worth noting: “My experience with haiku grew out of my time in Japan as a member of the U.S. Army of Occupation, immediately after World War II.  During my service there, I became acquainted with a few senior members of the leadership in Kyoto City and Shiga Prefecture.  One of them, Dr. Motonori Matsuyama, a respected teacher and oceanographer, first introduced me to haiku.”  Walker took to it and continued to write haiku for his whole life.

Walker takes a syllabic approach to haiku.  Walker writes, “What is haiku?  In English, and at its simplest, it is a three line verse of five, seven and five syllables that collectively express a complete thought.”  This is a clear definition and one that leads to a formal approach to haiku in English.  In addition to following the traditional syllabic count of 5-7-5, Walker also capitalizes the first letter of each line, which is the traditional approach of most English language poetry.  In this respect Walker follows the lead of Richard Wright.

Walker organizes his haiku into the classical four seasons; that is to say there are four chapters, one for each of the four seasons.  The illustrations, by Victoria Seitzinger, are a significant part of the book and many of the pages have a haibun feel to them, as the haiku (usually more than one) are arranged around the illustrations.

Walker’s approach to haiku is contemplative and thoughtful.  Most of Walker’s haiku are in two parts; a natural setting followed by a comment, observation, generalization, or emotional reaction.  Here are some examples:

Douglas fir needles
Carpeting the forest floor
Wooded cathedral

Line 3, ‘Wooded cathedral’, is Walker’s way of making a comment on the scene.  Walker is telling us that he considers the scene to be in some sense holy.

Here is a similar one:

Life, death, life renewed
Fallen trees on forest floors
Sanctified silence

Again, the idea of ‘sanctified’ expresses Walker’s relationship to nature.  There is a lot of information packed into this haiku.  The way fallen trees act as nourishment for new trees is an observation that extends beyond a mere depiction of the scene.

Here’s one from his ‘Winter’ chapter:

Cold crystalline night
Stillness in all of nature
Icy purity

Notice how in all of these examples the third line gives us a kind of summation.  Again there is the idea of nature as holy, this time with the word ‘purity’.

Here’s one from the ‘Summer’ chapter:

Sagebrush, sand and rock
Desert vastness overwhelms
Silent voices speak

Here Walker seems to have moved out of the forest into the eastern regions of Oregon.  Again, Walker combines observation (Sagebrush, sand and rock) with his emotional reaction (overwhelms), topping it off with a contemplative summary (Silent voices speak).  This kind of pattern makes Walker’s haiku thick with meaning, the result is that they bear rereading.

Walker is very concerned with the human destruction of nature and some of his haiku are focused on that theme:

Evergreen forests
Pristine, priceless, prime resource
Clear cut – for profit

Others seem to arise not so much from observation of nature, but rather from contemplating the meaning of the world we live in:

Planets exploding
Entire galaxies dying
A soft summer night

Interestingly, in this haiku it is line 3 which is the observation of nature while lines 1 and 2 are the contemplation, reversing his usual order.

For Walker the world of nature and the world of his internal emotions and the world of quiet contemplation, of introspective consideration, are porous to each other.  Because they are porous to each other Walker is able to unite them seamlessly in his haiku.  This gives Walker’s haiku a unique voice as they tend to be both descriptive and contemplative, about nature and about emotions; Walker’s haiku inhabit a both/and world.

There is one other aspect of this book that I would like to point out because I have not seen it before.  Walker will use a line, usually with variations, repeatedly through the work.  This technique creates resonances and echoes which I found pleasing.  It’s kind of like a theme, or rhythmic unit, being used in different movements of a symphony, giving a sense of unity to the whole.  For example:

Page 18: Autumn changes all
Page 29:  Priorities change
Page 60: But change is coming
Page 62: What brings forth the change
Page 68: I sense deeper change
Page 78: Continual change
Page 87: Priorities change
Page 91: Priorities change

This kind of repetition with variation is done skillfully, so that the reader at first does not notice it.  The example I picked is the most obvious one, but there are others that are more subtle.  It is a kind of verbal braiding and I think it goes a long way to giving “Haiku and High Timber” a sense of unity that the reader absorbs intuitively.

If there is a weakness to Walker’s collection, I would say it is those few haiku which are too self-consciously allusive:

Seagulls on pilings
Where the fishing boats come in
Waiting for Godot

I find this too effortful and I doubt that younger readers will even know the reference Walker is trying to use.  In addition, it is not at all clear how the scene in the haiku relates to the play referenced in line 3.

Fortunately, such slips are rare and do not appear to damage the forward momentum of the collection.

I think this is a worthwhile collection.  It can teach a haiku poet how to integrate painting a scene with emotional reaction and/or contemplative comment in a way that the overall effect is a unity rather than an argument.  It is a worthy addition to the corpus of syllabic English haiku.

In closing:

Still and silent dawn
The aroma of wood smoke
Other times and places

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Facets of Morning

The clear air
My morning walk
An overcast sky
I am free of questions
I'm feeling a sense of calm
Two horses in my neighbor's field
Blackbirds sitting on a distant fence
The last remnants of the night slowly fade
The first buds on the maple tree have appeared
I recall a friend I haven't seen in decades

Sunday, March 6, 2011


There is a vast cosmos
Beyond the human realm,
Its presence is healing,
It's where we really dwell

Saturday, March 5, 2011


At night there are many stars
Scattered across the heavens,
At such times I am amazed
That beauty's freely given

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Quietist Speaks

Putting politics aside
The world is less constricted,
I'ts more open, like the sky,
And I feel less conflicted

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The frantic moon --
After waking from a nightmare,
The cold of my room

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Night Walk

Feral dogs snarling
Hidden behind the plum trees
The winter moonlight

Thursday, February 17, 2011


In winter
Seasonal rain
Intermittent rain
On the roof and the ground
A soothing stochastic sound
Interrupted by gusts of wind
Which after a moment soon die down
Like an argument that has just ended
Or friends whose contention has now been mended,
A dispute whose reasons can no longer be found

Monday, February 14, 2011


Penetrating cold
Some clouds in the afternoon
An airplane passes

Cars are coming and going
As the holidays draw near

Many people fear
Giving the incorrect gift,
Saying the wrong thing

"It's a misunderstanding,
I think this will lift your gloom."

They are in full bloom,
Cherry trees under the moon,
And a wind sung song

It doesn't take very long
To digitize what's been seen

January green,
A photoshoot in the lush
Overgrown garden

Across the street a few men
Shooting hoops, their weekend sport

Forget the report
Due on this Monday morning,
"I'll do it later."

Late at night is much better,
Distractions have disappeared

And now it is clear
As he looks into her eyes
That he has found love

While in the clear sky above
A flock of swans migrates south

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Etheree Day!

Good Morning:

Today is Etheree Day, a day set aside for appreciation of the Etheree form of syllabic verse. I chose this day to celebrate the Etheree because it is the birthdate of Etheree Taylor Armstrong, the poet who first proposed this form sometime in the 1980's.

I have become enamored of this simple form. It is a ten-line form with the syllable count as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. I have found that I enjoy the way it gradually opens up. I also like the way it concludes with a 10-syllable line, which is so strongly embedded in the English poetic tradition. The closing 10-syllable line often feels cadential in a rhythmic sense and has reverberations in much of traditional English poetry.

In honor of Etheree Day I thought I would take the time to review a book of Etheree poems by Carol Knepper. It is called "My World of Etherees".

If you want to know how Etheree are constructed I can't think of a better collection than this. Ms. Knepper has internalized the form and its dynamics in the way that sonnetteers sometimes internalize that form, so that the form becomes part of their consciousness. I get the impression that Ms. Knepper thinks in Etherees.

If you want to know the variations on the Etheree form that Etheree poets are developing I can't think of a better collection than this. Ms. Knepper has examples of the original form, which I noted above. She also has examples of the reverse Etheree (10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1), the double Etheree (both 10 to 1 and then 1 to 10, as well as 1 to 10 and then 10 to 1). She also has triple and quadruple Etheree and other variations. Ms. Knepper is playing with the form and the result is a reference volume for all these possible variations.

If there is a weakness in Ms. Knepper's collection I would say it has to do with lineation. At times I find the lineation arbitrary in the sense that she will sometimes end a line with a preposition or a conjunction or a verb that pulls us too quickly to the next line, weakning the sense of the unfolding of the form. Here is an example:

blood is
thicker than
water we might
wonder why at times
our closest friends are not
kin which perhaps is because


Almost every line in this particular Etheree has what I would think of as a weak ending. For example, I think "is thicker", "might wonder" and "not kin" naturally form units and when I write Etheree I tend to try to make the line ending more in sync with grammar. However, it neeeds to be pointed out that Ms. Knepper's approach to lineation is well within the standards of today's free verse, so others may not react in the way that I do. Also, I think that this weakness (if it is a weakness) does not fatally undermine the Etherees in which they appear.

Most of Ms. Knepper's Etherees are didactic; that is to say most of her Etherees express a point of view, offer an insight, or make a clear ethical point. Poetry has many purposes and didactic poetry has a long and rich history. The earliest example in the west I know of is Empedocles' philosophical poem where he presents his metaphysical views. Lucretius was another significant example of the didactic philosophical poem and his "On the Nature of Things" had a pervasive influence in the classical world.

My personal tendency is to compose descriptive poems, but some of my poems are didactic. The challenge of composing a didactic poem is to mould one's thoughts, or views, or opinions, within the formal constraints of the chosen form without sounding simplistic or preachy. Ms. Knepper manages to do this and the result is a thoughtful collection which tells us a lot about how Ms. Knepper views the world. She sounds like someone I would like to meet and have some discussions with regarding the issues of the day. Here's one of my favorite examples:

Time and Space: A Quadruple Etheree

goes on
in its way
even when we
feel that it pauses
for we are tiny specks
in this wondrous universe
yet in self-conceit we believe
that the planets revolve around us
yet it may be comforting to perceive
the minor nature of our own struggles
that so occupy those days and nights
since indeed each human problem
is naught but a speck of dust
when placed in perspective
hence helping us view
problems as less
in this

The Etheree continues for two more cycles. This is a really skillfully done work. Here the lineation is assured and clear. In addition, she sometimes will use rhyme to clarify lineation; note the "believe" and "perceive". Also note the three lines ending "less, momentous, this"; the repetitive "s" sound is used very effectively to define the lines at this point in the Etheree.

Not all of her Etherees are didactic. Some are seasonal and in these Ms. Knepper demonstrates that Etherees can illuminate classical nature topics as well. There is a series of four Etherees on each of the four seasons where each Etheree begins with the words "I love the . . .". They are all reverse Etheree, beginning with a 10 syllable line. They are wonderful evocations of the seasons.

So well done Ms. Knepper! And for those interested in Etheree I highly recommend this volume. The ISBN is 9780978231880. It is available from

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Flow of Grace

The silent morning;
The sound of the rising sun
In the winter air

While eating a quick breakfast
He wanders through cyberspace

There is just a trace
Left of the first settlement
In the field of wheat

She walks away, she retreats
From the family gathering

As the moon, singing
In the crisp October air,
Disples the darkness

The Matins Psalms as witness
To the endless flow of grace

He longs for the face
Of one who has departed
Many years ago

"All's impermanent," I know
This truth as a comforter

The Russian River,
Keeper of the tides of time,
Like a melody

The blossoms of the plum tree
Open in the gentle wind

"I think we should end
This quarrel we have had.
Life is very short."

Though she thought of a quick retort
It no longer felt important.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Here's a light verse Tanka, penned on the occasion of Syllabic Tanka Day. Those who have worked in retail will, I think, like it:

He wants a latte
With soy milk, not too much foam
With room at the top
For some cinnamon sprinkles . . .
The barrista's face wrinkles

English Syllabic Tanka Day


Today is Syllabic Tanka Day. More precisely, it is English Syllabic Tanka Day. It is a day set aside to celebrate Tanka, written in English that follows the syllabic pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.

For nearly 1,400 years Japanese poets have found the form of Tanka congenial for poetic expression. This makes Tanka one of the oldest continuously written syllabic forms in the world. In addition, Tanka is the root of all other currently written forms of Japanese poetry, including Renga and Haiku.

Tanka came to the U.S. late. People began writing Tanka only in the later half of the 20th century. My sense is that it has yet to take root; it is still a form whose potential in English is being explored. My observation has been that the defining form, the 5-7-5-7-7, is not yet secure among Tanka poets in English.

Which makes this day all the more worthwhile celebrating. Take some time to read some English language formal Tanka that is based on the centuries old syllabics of 5-7-5-7-7; perhaps some of Neal Lawrence's Tanka are worth reading today, or the Tanka found in "The Calligraphy of Clouds" by Yeshaya Rotbard.

Better yet, compose some syllabic Tanka on your own. It is a rich form, possessing a deeply musical quality. I think you will find it eminently satisfying and when you do write syllabic Tanka you will join in with some of the most celebrated poets in Japanese history.

Enjoy Syllabic Tanka Day!


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Intention of the Author: Part 2

To fill out what I mentioned in Part 1, I'd like to give some theoretical examples that would mimic what happened to Emily Dickinson's poetry. I like syllabic poetry and I have a special fondness for syllabic quatrains. Syllabic quatrains have a regular line; that is to say that all the lines of the quatrains have the same number of syllables.

Suppose I were to take Walt Whitman's poems and reshape them in accordance with my personal likes. I mean suppose I made all of Whitman's lines regular, and, for good measure, tossed in some strong end rhymes.

I think most people would see this as undermining Whitman's intention as an author. At best I think my rewrite could be viewed as 'poems inspired by Whitman', but I think it would be a mistake to think of them as Whitman's poems.

In a previous post I spoke about taking Shakespeare's Sonnets and reworking them in accord with modern free verse norms. In other words, Shakespeare's Sonnets would be transformed into lines of irregular length, end-rhymes would be removed, metaphors translated or eliminated. Again, I think most people would be able to see this as undermining Shakespeare's intention. Again, at best these rewrites might be considered 'poems inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnets', but it would be a mistake to think of them as the actual Sonnets of Shakespeare.

What I'd like to suggest is that the same logic can be applied to translation. I mean that the intention of the author should be primary and to the degree that it is possible, the intention of the author, the poet, should be manifest and visible in the language into which the poems are translated.

What has happened, however, is that the intention of the author is often ignored and what is offered instead are a version of the original that bears no formal relationship to the original. Here is an example of what I mean: traditional Chinese poetry is syllabic, formal, and uses end rhyme. Traditional Chinese poetry is not free verse. Yet the way Chinese poetry has been translated into English leaves the English speaking public with the strong impression that Chinese poetry, even ancient or traditional Chinese poetry, is a type of free verse and that it closely resembles modern free verse norms. I'd like to suggest that this situation could only come about by ignoring the intention of the author and imposing on the poem an esthetic which is alien to the author's intention, thereby denying the reader access to a representation of what the author actually wrote.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Waves roll in from the ocean,
How long will the ocean last?
How long will clouds grace the sky?
Endlessness is hard to grasp.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Intention of the Author -- Part 1

When Emily Dickinson died in 1886 her close relatives entered her house and eventually her private room where she wrote poetry. This was a small room upstairs. It had a small desk in front of a window and it was at this desk (really just a small table) where, evidently, she wrote her poems.

They discovered thousands of poems separated into neatly bundled packets, tied together with ribbons. This took everyone by surprise. Although Dickinson's interest in poetry was known, and she had published a few poems decades before, and although her letters often contained poetry, she kept this collection hidden away.

Her relatives recognized the high quality of the poems and set about getting them published. They faced one difficulty. Emily's poems were, in some ways, eccentric by the standards of the time. Her sense of rhyme was quirky, her rhythms sometimes awkward in the sense that one line of a poem might have a few extra, or a few too few, beats.

So her family set about editing the poems. Smoothing out the rhythm and reworking the rhymes so that the rhymes were all 'pure' and slant rhymes were removed as much as possible. The intent was generous; they wanted to get Emily's poetry out into the world.

For many decades the Emily Dickinson people read and knew was this edited version. It was only in 1955 that the poems were published as Dickinson had written them, with all their irregularities retained, including sometimes eccentric spelling.

Today people prefer to read the version that Dickinson wrote.


This isn't obvious. Some of the edited versions are good poetry, are memorable and, I think, would receive good comments at a contemporary poetry seminar. It's not that the edited versions are terrible or lacking in any value. People enjoyed and admired the edited versions for many decades.

What is critical, I think, is that the version we read today reflects Dickinson's intention. That is to say the poems we read today are the poems she intended to write. The earlier versions are interpretations, or commentaries, on Dickinson's poems. The earlier versions stand between us and Dickinson, blocking our access to what she actually wrote. I think it is for this reason that today we prefer to read the unedited version rather than the sometimes more polished versions that were first published, but did not reflect Dickinson's unique voice.

This is the first post in a series about the intention of the author and translation, and how this has effected the access that we have to foreign-language poetry, particularly that of China and Japan. As I progress in this series I would like the reader to keep this example of Dickinson's poetry in mind. I'm going to use it as a template, or a measure, regarding a cluster of issues that center on translation.

Come What May

At the coffee shop,
"I've a confession to make . . ." --
The winter storm's stopped.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Greetings for 2011

Good Friends:

I've been absent from this blog for a bit. First it was the holiday rush at work my dayjob. Then my access to the net ran into some problems. And after the holidays I experienced a kind of post-holiday crash and I didn't want to do much. Just sort of taking a rest seemed in order.

But two to three weeks is enough of that!!

Here's wishing you all a prosperous and poetry filled 2011.

Best wishes,


January Morning

The oak tree's branches
Shrouded in the winter fog --
Last night's dreams