Thursday, June 28, 2012

Windy Morning

Windy June morning
The branches of the trees bend
In the summer wind

The neighbor's chi gong routine;
A peaceful, flowing stillness

Seen through a window
Clouds hovering in the sky;
When did they arrive?

Lovers under a full moon
Gaze fondly at each other

The night is quiet
October contemplations;
The past, the future . . .

Autumn is not summer's death,
It is the birth of winter

He's sad and happy;
On his fortieth birthday
Friends reminiscing

A squirrel lines his nest with leaves;
He's very meticulous

Several times a day
She catalogs the email
Without reading them

Purchased on a sudden whim
A blue vase of white roses

The family altar,
An angel hovers nearby,
Incense and candles

For just a few brief minutes
Mountains catch the sunset light

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Eternal Typo

Dear Friends:

I spend a lot of time trying to keep track of new publications in syllabic forms.  I work full time, and have the other usual social commitments, but in my free time I am likely to search various sites on the web to see what is the latest in syllabic poetry.  I do this by going to amazon, lulu, authorhouse, and other print-on-demand publishers and putting in key words like ‘haiku’, ‘tetractys’, ‘cinquain’, etc.  And then I see what comes up and what draws my attention.

POD (print-on-demand) technology has given many poets, of all kinds, the opportunity to publish their works without having to go through traditional channels.  As recently as twenty years ago a poet interested in syllabic forms would first have to find a publication that was interested in their work, submit many times, and after some years perhaps gather their poetry into a single volume.  That has all changed and I think it is all to the good.

There is, however, one aspect of POD that I would like to draw attention to.  That is the frequent appearance of typos in the published literature.  Almost always these are typos that spell-checkers won’t catch.  A particularly prominent one is the misuse, or absence, of apostrophes where they should appear.  And, congruent with this, a confusion over the ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ in English.  Other things the spell-checker won’t catch are homonyms like ‘hear’ and ‘here’.  (As an aside, I am not referring here to regional differences in English spelling like the American ‘color’ vs. the British ‘colour’.)

In reviewing POD books of poetry I have not mentioned these.  I have refrained for several reasons.  First, I suspect that the authors will spot them and the errors corrected at the next ‘printing’.  It is fairly easy in POD technology to insert a correction, and I have seen this done with a number of works.  Second, I am sympathetic to the difficulty of catching one’s own mistakes.  I have, in the past, worked at several magazines and one of my tasks was proofreading.  I could spot others’ errors even with a quick scan.  In contrast, when I try to proof my own work I often miss the most obvious errors.  There is a psychology involved: because I know what I mean to say, and because that is prominent in my mind, I can easily miss what is actually on the paper/screen.  When I look at someone else’s work, I don’t have that preconception clouding my observation.

This leads to what I hope people will take as a friendly suggestion: if you are using POD services, before sending your work to the publisher have a good friend read your work.  And ask them to read it for typos.  If you know someone who was an editor, or has a background in English spelling and grammar, that would be a plus.

I have a friend who recently used POD to publish his novel.  He used POD to print out his first complete effort.  He then gave copies to friends specifically asking for typo and grammar corrections.  I believe he gave copies to four friends.  He told me that between us we uncovered hundreds of minor mistakes that he had not seen himself.  After correcting his text he went on to use POD to publish his book and it is now up at Amazon and has been reviewed by several publications.  This is the kind of procedure I would like to see poets adopt as well.

I don’t want to overstress the point.  I’ve been involved with books for decades and I have great stories to tell about typos that got through to publication.  I remember one that appeared in a work by a contemporary physicist on new science-based cosmologies.  In the chapter on entropy he described the gradual running down of the cosmos and wrote of ‘the heat death of the university.’  I bet he got quite a few jabs from his colleagues over that one!  And remember, this was Oxford University Press; very prestigious.  Yet it got through all the way to publication.  It was corrected in the second printing, of course.

Nevertheless, I have seen it often enough in the new poetry volumes I read, both in my own work and in others, that I think it is worth noting.  Just a friendly reminder from a fellow poet.

Best wishes,



Prior to dawn,
After the moon has set --
Dreamless darkness

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Haiku Companion by James Moore: A Review

The Haiku Companion
James Moore

This is a collection of 830 Haiku divided into two sections.  The first section is ‘The World We See’ and is somewhat more extroverted.  The second section, ‘The Lives We Live’ seems more contemplative, more inward, and contains more philosophical Haiku.  These are generalizations; there is a lot of overlap between the two sections.

Moore writes that he first learned about Haiku in the 1960’s, in high school.  Moore describes himself as both a traditionalist and one who deviates from tradition.  The deviation is in terms of content; Moore allows his Haiku to cover many non-seasonal topics, as well as philosophical and religious observations and what I would call ‘epigrammatic’ Haiku.  A large percentage of Moore’s Haiku, though, are topically traditional.

Moore is a traditionalist in the sense that he sticks to the 5-7-5 syllabic structure of Haiku.  Moore writes, “All of my haiku in this book are written in the traditional style – five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line and five syllables in the third line. Although I have occasionally adopted some of the other styles with different numbers of syllables between the various lines, I find the traditional 5-7-5 structure more challenging and, therefore, more rewarding.”

An aspect of ‘Companion’ that I found rewarding was how Moore has an expansive sense of time.  In this collection I get the feeling of time as a field, rather than a series of instants or photographs.  Here is Haiku 106:

Today’s snow is down
Tomorrow’s is yet to fall
I walk between them

This skillfully broadens the present, in L3, into a broader field of time; the past in L1, and the future in L2.  It all hangs together in a unity of image.  Here is 674:

I watched a farmer
Labor an entire summer
On just a gamble

Here a whole season, summer, becomes a moment in both the life of the farmer and in Moore’s life as well.  Here is 302:

In mid-winter dreams
Fantasies of summer sun
Memories of fall

Again, a sense of the present, a dream present, is expanded by placing it between the past, L3, and the future, L2.  This quality of how the present is embedded in a ‘field of time’, inclusive of both past and future is one of the great strengths of this collection.

I sense in this collection the benign influence of Richard Wright.  I particularly see it in Moore’s human-centered Haiku.  Haiku 649 is a good example:

A shot of whiskey
Sits on his bedside table
Waiting to be sipped

Moore’s human-centered Haiku have the range of humanity found in Wright.  Here’s 156:

Despite a hard snow
The two men walked through the field
Laughing together

Another aspect of this collection I appreciate is how Moore integrates traditional poetic tools into Haiku.  Here’s are examples of simile and metaphor:


The late winter dusk
Subtle as a baby’s breath
Quiet on soft snow


After heavy rains
The thin woodland creek looks like
Breakfast tea with cream


The scent of lilacs
Roll through the open window
Like an avalanche

Moore, at times, makes skillful use of rhyme:


On some winter nights
I watch the snowmen dancing
Under the moonlight


A sizzling red sun
Evaporates in the lake
When the day is done

And, like many Haiku poets, Moore takes advantage of personification:


A bright harvest moon
Reassures dark autumn skies
High above the farm

Moore also takes advantage of allusion, which in traditional Japanese poetry (both Tanka and Haiku) is often used, but has become more and more difficult for modern poets because of a lack of standard reference sources for such allusions.  But Moore manages it:


Once upon a time
In a land far, far away
It all turned out well

Finally, Moore is open to the use of the imagination and the fantastic:


Imagine a night
Where the darkness is so thick
The phantom stumbles


Seven Seraphim
Sat at the top of the dune
To watch the sun set

I would offer that if you are Haiku poet curious about how to integrate English poetic tools into Haiku, the ‘Companion’ will show you how to do it.  With its broad range of techniques it is almost a textbook for such a project.

Moore’s philosophical, or contemplative, Haiku have their own unique tone.  This one reminds me of Shiki:


The moon does not care
Whether I laugh or cry
It rises and falls

This one integrates a contemplative observation with metaphor:


Like cat paws on snow
Friends leave soft, shallow footprints
Walking through our thoughts

‘The Haiku Companion’ is a worthy addition to the growing corpus of Syllabic Haiku.  It is skillful, thoughtful, contemplative, rich in imagery, and quietly lyrical.

In closing, here are two that especially moved me:


A piece of lost mail
Becomes part of the snowdrift
Until the spring thaw


What I know of God
Is the smallest of pebbles
On Mt. Everest

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why Stoicism Is Attractive

On the beach
By the river
Flowing to the sea
As far as I can see
(A grove of trees behind me)
Waves and sky steadily recede
Into the haze of the horizon
Where those who are spinning the threads of fate
On the wheel of fortune, on the wheel of time
Determine the trajectory of our brief lives.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Slowly evening falls --
The heat of the day lingers
Into the darkness

The barest lunar sliver
Doesn't even cast shadows

Stone cold earth, rock hard,
With a dusting of thin frost
Sparkling in the headlights

They exchange diamond rings,
"And with these rings I thee wed . . ."

Contrapuntal threads
Of the Baroque orchestra --
Patterns in the air

Planets spin around the sun
The river of the cosmos

The coffeemaker
Automatically turns on
Before he wakes up

As the morning gets colder
And as the nights get longer

She tends to remain,
Even after waking up,
In her spacious bed

Holding on to a brief dream
That steadily slips away

After forty years
Retirement has arrived,
Now he has some time

To contemplate the plum trees
When they blossom in the snow

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rapid Sunrise

It's warm this morning
And the sun rose rapidly
In the cloudless sky

An airplane slowly descends,
Headed towards San Francisco

Where night revelries,
Beginning at 10 PM,
Spill into the street

As the full moon casts shadows
That never seem to stand still

Branches twist and turn
And the power lines snap and fall,
But there is no rain

"Do you think we can borrow
From your brother or sister?"

Where did the love go?,
Abandon is abandoned
To life's daily chores

Snow on Tuesday afternoon
Slowly blankets the driveway

"Be back for dinner,
And don't forget your mittens,"
Mom has her checklist

A cat howls, a beagle barks,
A flock of sparrows departs

In the small back yard
The blossoming cherry tree
Is suddenly pink

All the candles on the cake
For his sixty-fifth birthday

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Deep Time

Gossamer mountains
Beside the constant river
The voice of the turtle

Friday, June 15, 2012


Bitter rioters --
After the revolution,
More of the same

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Moon Song

Slanting sunlight rays
Filtered through the Douglas Fir
And the window blinds

Taking a vacation day
It's still light past 8 P.M.

Though dinner is done,
Conversaton continues
Into the long night

The song of the rising moon
Is heard in ev'ry dwelling

Frankincense burning
At the Orthodox altar
For Vespers Service

The presence of the divine
In ev'ry ripple of time

The cold of the day
Doesn't feel like a hindrance
When it's shared with friends

Walking slowly through the park
On paths that are familiar

His moments alone
Away from obligations
Without a cell phone

Blossoms of the apple tree
Grace the yard across the street

In her husband's eyes
She sees her own reflection,
Her best intentions

A home contains many realms,
There's no need to travel far

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sweet Dream

Sitting on a rocking chair
Placed between the moon and mars
Comets singing songs in space
While I commune with the stars

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Transmission and Differentiation

One of the more surprising aspects of discussions in the west regarding how best to adapt Japanese forms into the English language is that disagreements on how to do this are traceable to differences in how they view the Japanese language.  It is surprising that these kinds of arcane linguistic arguments could carry such weight and even more surprising how they lead to differing conclusions as to how to compose Japanese forms in English.

Roughly there are two approaches.  The first approach, the one that is sponsored by most official Haiku organizations, the one that most editors of Haiku and Tanka Journals (both online and hard copy) use is that the Japanese language is somehow so different from English that there is, in fact, a huge gap or chasm between how the two languages work.  The conclusion from this analysis is that it is insufficient for English language poets to simply adapt the normative Japanese procedures for poetry composition onto the English language because such a procedure fails to recognize the central differences between the two languages.  This is why official Haiku and Tanka organizations do not advocate counting syllables, even though Japanese poets themselves count; in fact they count on their fingers.  The basic idea is that the Japanese syllable and the English syllable are so different that one cannot really compare the two.  The first result of this kind of analysis is a free verse, meaning uncounted, line when composing Japanese forms in English.  The second result is that a short count, shorter than the Japanese count, becomes normative.  This is put forth as actually adhering more closely to the Japanese form, even though a central mechanism for composing Japanese poetry, the mechanism of counting, is abandoned.  

The second approach, the one used by the majority of Haiku poets in English, the one used by what I refer to as ‘Popular Haiku’, the one put to good use by such poets as Richard Wright, James Hackett, Susan August, Hayden Carruth, Mary Jo Salter, and others, is that Japanese procedures for composing Haiku and Tanka can be mapped onto the English language without difficulty or much modification.  In other words, since the Japanese count syllables to shape their poetic forms, the same counting procedure should be used in English.  That is why those following this second approach count 5-7-5 for Haiku and 5-7-5-7-7 for Tanka; because that is the counting done by Japanese poets.  The result of this kind of analysis is the establishment of an English syllabic form, similar to such English syllabic forms as the Crapsey Cinquain and more recent creations such as the Tetractys or the Rictameter. 

I have gone back and forth regarding these two perspectives.  At times I have ardently defended one or the other.  My perspective at this time is that it is doubtful that one can prove one view over the other.  It depends on how you look at the two languages, what features of the two languages you decide to make central.

Official Haiku is impressed by the brevity of Japanese syllables and the fact that there are sounds which Japanese count as syllables which English does not count.  For example, the sound ‘n’, when it is not initial, is counted as a syllable.  So the Japanese word ‘nan’ receives two counts: Na-n.  There are other examples of sounds in Japanese that are counted but which elude the English speaker.  For example, a concluding ‘u’ sound is so short that it almost becomes a glottal stop.  When English speakers hear the Japanese word ‘desu’, what they hear is ‘des’, but what Japanese hear is ‘des-u’; again an example of a two-count word that English speakers would hear as one count.

For the Syllabic Haiku poet all of this makes little difference.  While it is true that Japanese syllables are shorter than English syllables, and that Japanese sounds are sometimes counted that would elude an English speaker as strong enough to deserve counting, the Syllabic Haijin is not concerned with this and does not consider it significant. 

The difference is this: for the Free Verse Haiku poet the implication drawn from observing the Japanese language is that English Haiku poets should proceed so as to mimic the overall duration of the Japanese Haiku; it is a matter of matching the actual durational length of the Japanese.  Arguments along this line will reference studies done of the difference in the syllable durations of the two languages.  The implication of this is that this feature, the actual duration in seconds, should be mimicked by English language poets.  In order to accomplish this, counting English syllables must be put aside because English syllables are ‘too long’ to achieve this kind of mimicking.

In contrast, for the Syllabic Haiku poet it is not a matter of matching the actual duration of the Japanese language Haiku.  Rather it is a matter of the relative duration within each linguistic community.  Since Japanese syllables are overall shorter than English language syllables, relatively speaking, 17 Japanese syllables are to the Japanese language as 17 syllables are to the English language.  Or, to look at it from the English language direction, since English language syllables are overall longer than Japanese syllables, in an English language context the longer duration of the 17 English syllables is proportionally the same as the 17 Japanese syllables are in a Japanese linguistic context.  Schematically:

17 syllables are to the Japanese language as
17 syllables are to the English language.

This is why the Syllabic Haiku poet is simply not concerned about the fact that their Haiku are longer, longer in duration, than Japanese Haiku; because the Syllabic Haiku poet isn’t focused on mimicking the actual duration of the Japanese Haiku.  Rather the Syllabic Haiku poet mimics the counting procedure itself and maps it onto the English language based on this kind of proportional understanding.

Each approach fixes on an aspect of Japanese Haiku (or Tanka) and proceeds from there.  Free Verse Haiku fixes on the actual duration of the Japanese Haiku.  Syllabic Haiku fixes on the counting procedure used in Japanese poetry and maps it onto the English language.  And because each approach focuses on a different aspect, the results differ.

Is one approach demonstrably superior to the other?  I doubt it.  But there is a lot of confusion about this.  At times the Free Verse Haiku followers seem to have an almost ‘evangelical’ zeal in advocating for their view of how to proceed with composing Haiku in English.  I use the word ‘evangelical’ deliberately because of its religious connotations.  In online discussion forums I have read several people remarking on this quasi-religious aspect of Haiku in English, so there are others, beside myself, who have noticed this as well.

What I mean by ‘evangelical’ here is a sense emanating from Free Verse Haiku followers that they need to convert Syllabic Haiku poets to the Free Verse fold.  I have observed several sad cases in online forums where a Haiku newbie posted a 5-7-5 Haiku and was immediately informed that this is a na├»ve, ‘beginners’ approach; an approach left behind by those who have come to a more sophisticated understanding.  In two instances I observed the Haiku newbie abandoned Haiku altogether in the face of this kind of online intimidation.

To give the reader an idea of what this is like, imagine if someone posted a Petrarchan Sonnet at an online forum and was immediately told that real sonneteers write Shakespearean sonnets, that they really need to learn more about the Shakespearean rhyme scheme, etc.  The two approaches to the sonnet are perfectly valid and I doubt that such a critic would be able to post such advice without being challenged.

But with Syllabic Haiku, because of the newness of the form in English, people are kind of defenseless against the assertions of the Free Verse Haiku advocates.  If the person interested in Haiku is aware of Richard Wright, that will form a good line of defense (‘If it was good enough for Wright it’s good enough for me.’ -- Indeed).   And I have seen this operate as a successful deterrent.  On the other hand, I have, as mentioned above, observed sad cases where someone becomes interested in Haiku and then is driven completely away from that interest by the tone of the critique from the Free Verse Haiku advocates.

What I hope for is a broader recognition that the two approaches to Haiku in English have evolved now to the point where they are two different forms of poetry.  They have common roots.  They share a common ancestor in Japanese Haiku.  But they have now grown up and gone their separate ways. 

What does this mean practically?  First, it means that the standards for Haiku composition by one group shouldn’t be used to evaluate the Haiku of the other group.  It’s apples and oranges.  Here’s an analogy: suppose a sonneteer criticized a villanelle for having repeated lines.  After all, sonnets don’t require repeated lines, so why should the villanelle?  This kind of criticism would be perplexing at best, laughable in some contexts.  If the criticism was offered seriously, it would show that the critic just doesn’t ‘get’ the villanelle and is unwilling to accept the villanelle on its own terms.

I want to suggest something similar for Free Verse Haiku and Syllabic Haiku.  Both of these approaches mimic aspects of the Japanese original, but they mimic different aspects.  And because they mimic different aspects they have evolved into distinct forms of poetry that are as unlike each other as the sonnet and the villanelle.  What this means is that the Free Verse Haiku poet or critic will have to view Syllabic Haiku on its own terms; those terms being that the 5-7-5 syllable count is the starting point upon which everything else hangs.  In turn the Syllabic Haiku poet will need to allow Free Verse Haiku to have its play, its range, and its own approach.

A second way to recognize that Syllabic Haiku and Free Verse Haiku are different forms is to grant them distinct space.  In online forums, for example, I have noticed that if someone posts a Syllabic Haiku on a ‘Haiku Forum’, the Free Verse Haijin immediately move in with their irrelevant critiques, based on the standards of Free Verse Haiku, but which they misapply to Syllabic Haiku.  My suggestion is that in online forums Syllabic Haiku be given a separate space for people to post on.  This separation would acknowledge that we are, in fact, dealing with two distinct forms of poetry.  The same kind of separation would be useful for Haiku magazines, electronic or paper.  The mixing of the two genres creates confusion and editors of most Haiku journals tend to be advocates of Free Verse Haiku.  By separating the two forms editors would have an easier job of accepting Syllabic Haiku on its own terms.

I think the two forms have become so distinct, so distant from each other, that a poet could easily write in both forms; just as a poet could compose sonnets and villanelles.  The starting points are different, the esthetic ideals are different, and the results are different.  Perhaps it would be easier to do this if the two forms had different names.  Maybe that will come in the future.  But for now, they share the name of their ancestor, which is not a bad thing as long as we keep in mind that they are now adults and have their own lives to live.

Monday, June 11, 2012


A warm June morning --
I watch the elephant of time
Slowly grazing

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cool Morning

A cool June morning
Even though it is summer
It still feels like spring

A crisp, clear, empty blue sky
Not even a bird flies by

It's a weekday, but
There's hardly any traffic;
Silence as absence

A Sagittarius wind
Briefly shakes the wooden gate

A cascade of leaves
Tumbles past the closed window
And the vase of roses

She pulls her knitted cap down
Over her ears and forehead

An indifferent dog
Sniffs its way through spilled garbage;
But it's just old clothes

He hopes his shoes will last through
The whole of a harsh winter

The rising full moon
Somehow seems malevolent
When one wants shadows

The last to leave the office
Locking the door behind them

A workplace romance
Since they are both unmarried
There is much laughter

They still like to tell stories
Of those days when they first met