Friday, October 26, 2012

When Basho Rhymes

When Basho Rhymes

Basho is the most famous of all Japanese poets.  His reputation has become international.  Basho remains a constant source of inspiration for Haiku poets and more than a few Haijin, both in Japan and the West, consider Basho’s Haiku to be the ideal exemplars that we should model our own efforts on.

Over the years my appreciation for Basho has steadily grown.  As readers here know, my favorite form of poetry is Renga.  Basho was primarily a Renga poet and it is out of his lifelong involvement with Renga that his Haiku emerged.  Some of the Haiku we so appreciate were, in fact, the opening verse, the hokku, of an actual Renga that Basho led and participated in.  It is my feeling that Renga was never far from Basho’s mind; for one thing it was as a Renga teacher, guide, and mentor that Basho earned his living.  My sense is that nearly all of Basho’s Haiku are written to the standards of the opening verse of a Renga; whether they were actually used that way or not.

After Basho’s dedication to Renga, his primarily literary output is his travel journals.  Some of these are very brief; little more than short haibun.  Some of them are more extensive.  The most famous is his “Narrow Road to the Interior”, “Oku no Hosomichi”.  It has been translated into English at least six times, probably more.  That makes sense: it is short and its language is, for the most part, accessible and direct.  The work is a wonder; beautiful in the way a landscape can be beautiful.  And just as we can return to landscape over and over, so this brief work rewards repeated reading.

The varying translations give us a chance to look at how translation philosophies effect the presentation of a work.  In this regard, keep in mind that Basho was a formal poet.  Renga is a highly rule-bound, disciplined poetic form.  In fact, I’m not aware of any other form that is so constrained.  And Basho immersed himself in Renga for his entire life.  In other words, Basho’s view of poetry was rooted in a highly formal poetic form.  It is only natural that this would be reflected in his other poetic and literary efforts.

Yet most of the translations of the ‘Narrow Road’ lean towards using a free verse approach to the Haiku that are scattered like jewels throughout the journal.  This masks the formal nature of the poems.  Further, such an approach masks the relationship between the Haiku within the journal.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that a free verse rendering of the Haiku leads the reader to think that each Haiku emerged free of a pre-existing formal shape, that there was no formal discipline, in the sense of counted lineation, involved in Basho’s Haiku composition.  In the original, they all have the same syllabic contours; they share a shape, a count, and a rhythm.  This aspect was clearly significant to Basho; after all Basho could have written Tanka poems instead of Haiku for his journal.  There is a lot of literary precedent for that.  Or Basho could have written Quatrains using a Chinese syllabic model.  Again, there is much precedent for that in Japanese culture.  I am suggesting that Basho’s choice to illuminate the ‘Narrow Road’ with Haiku was significant for him and that the reason it was significant had to do with the specific form that Haiku embodies.  All of this is masked by using a free verse approach to the translation of the Haiku.

There is one exception to this free verse approach that I know of.  It is the translation by Dorothy Britton which is published under the title “A Haiku Journey: Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province”.  Britton translates the Haiku retaining the basic Haiku shape of short-long-short.  In many instances Britton retains the actual 5-7-5 count; but even when she needs to amend the count for the purposes of conveying the meaning in English, she still manages to retain the basic contours of Haiku.  The great advantage for English readers is that they can immediately see that all of the Haiku in the ‘Narrow Road’ are formally related; that Basho was using a specific formal poetic structure.  This adds a significant dimension of meaning that the other translations simply do not offer. 

The other element that Britton uses to communicate the formal nature of the Haiku is rhyme.  Not all of the Haiku in Britton’s translation rhyme, but a significant number do.  Britton uses rhyme broadly; sometimes she uses slant rhyme, such as ‘bloomed/moons’  (Page 74).  Sometimes she uses perfect rhyme, such as ‘fain/rain’.  She also uses rhyme in the poems which are quoted in the ‘Narrow Road’, such as Tanka and Chinese Quatrains.  For example, on Page 57 Basho quotes a classic Quatrain by Tu Fu, which Britton translates as follows:

Even though a country is defeated,
Its mountains and rivers remain.
And o’er the castle ruins, when it is spring,
The grass will be green again.

Surprisingly, Britton is able to retain the rhyme-scheme of Tu Fu’s original: A-B-C-B.  She is even able to mimic the caesura structure in several of the lines.  The line count  is longer than the original.  But given the original form, Britton manages to incorporate a surprising number of the original poem’s poetic contours, including the rhyme.

Let’s take a look at one of the Haiku from the ‘Narrow Road’.  I’m going to take the last Haiku in the journal.  I have personally found it to be one of Basho’s most moving Haiku, one that I am personally fond of.  In Britton’s translation it reads:

Sadly, I part from you;
Like a clam torn from its shell,
I go, and autumn too.

The count is 6-7-6; well within the range that Basho himself would, a few times, use.  Notice the rhyme between lines 1 and 3: ‘you/too’.  The theme is parting, but in this short verse parting is depicted on three levels: parting from a companion in Line 1, forced parting in Line 2, and the autumn season falling away into winter in Line 3.  All of these images reflect and reinforce each other. 

Also note the rhythmic parallelism in the translation between line 1 and 3: they are both in 2 + 4 scheme, which gives the translation a further sense of unity.

There is one other aspect of Britton’s translation that I’d like to highlight: the rhyme in the translation reflects the rhyme in the original.  Here is the original Japanese:

hamaguri no
futami ni wakare
yuku aki zo

Notice the perfect end-rhyme in Basho’s original, ‘no/zo’.  It is often stated that Japanese poetry does not use rhyme; but I think that this is an exaggeration.  What is true is that rhyme is not a part of the ‘recipe’ for Japanese forms.  That is to say neither Tanka nor Haiku are defined by a rhyme scheme in the way that a rhyme scheme defines a Sonnet, or in the way that a rhyme scheme defines a Chinese Quatrain.  In other words, poets are not required to rhyme; but that does not mean that they do not use rhyme.

Jane Reichhold in her translation of the complete Haiku of Basho has a closing section on ‘Haiku Techniques’.  One of the techniques she notes is rhyme.  Reichhold writes, “ . . . if the reader takes the time to read the romaji [roman alphabet transliteration] version of Basho’s poems, one can see how often the old master employed the linkage of sound in his work.  The rhyme occurs here with hagoshi (“through leaves”), hoshi (“star”), and seven “oh” sounds:

nebu no ki no
hagoshi mo itoe
hoshi no kage

a silk tree
even through the leaves weary
of starlight

(Page 399, Basho: The Complete Haiku, Reichhold translation)

Seven ‘oh’ sounds in 17 syllables!  That emerges from conscious poetic craft.  To my mind, this kind of sound-crafting by Basho legitimizes the use of end-rhyme in translating his Haiku into English, especially when the end-rhyme is in the original.

What I want to suggest here is that we should be inspired by Basho’s example of conscious poetic craft to use similar tools available in English language poetry.  Such tools include assonance (the kind of rhyme that Reichhold was referring to in her example), alliteration, and rhyme, especially end-rhyme.  Why should we deny ourselves these tools of poetic craft when our Japanese sources used them? 

Britton’s translation of Basho’s Haiku inhabits the same poetic world as Basho; a world where the shaping of words into significant forms was the norm, a world where the sensual surface of a poem was carefully crafted for the readers’ pleasure.  This carefully crafted sensual surface signals to the reader that here there is something significant, here the reader should pay attention, here, if we follow the beauty, we can access the source.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Good Samaritan

In the parking lot
My mind was lost in a dream.
I stumbled and fell.
A stranger stopped and helped me.
I never saw him again.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Messenger

Under a gray sky
The sound of oak leaves falling
In the parking lot
She bumps into an old friend
Whose hair, once red, has turned gray

Thursday, October 18, 2012


By the ocean's edge
I wait patiently for more
Memories of you
Riding the incoming waves
Or the last rays of the sun.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A New Age Perspective

Ev'rything is nice
Music without dissonance
Food that has no spice
Safe within my upscale house
I bought for the asking price

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The intersection --
Hesitantly turning right
When the light turns green
The car slowly disappears
Into the cold morning fog

Comments on this Blog

Good Morning Friends:

I have received a few inquiries about comments on this blog.  These have asked me to make comments easier.  So I thought I would post about comments to the general community.

When I first started 'Shaping Words' I had an open comments policy.  Almost immediately spammers took advantage of this.  I regularly had adbots posting comments, which were actually links to ads, some of a nature that I found morally questionable, which I then had to take time to remove.  Unfortunately, the internet is thick with these kinds of intrusive, ad-driven, annoyances.  Reluctantly, I decided to put in place the mechanisms for filtering out the spammers and adbots.  Hence the procedure for posting at this time.  I know that 'captcha' can be irritating.  At other blogs where I have wanted to comment I have at times found them frustrating and unreadable.  I also know that at least once I have accidentally deleted a comment that I intended to post, simply by clicking on the wrong place.  So there are disadvantages either way.  On the whole, though, I still lean towards the more restrictive comment policy.

If anyone has some suggestions for alternative comment procedures, please feel free to post them here and I will consider them.

Best wishes,


Friday, October 12, 2012

Based on a Poem by Li Po

All of those old men
Sitting on the park benches
Are like autumn leaves.
One strong wind and they will fall,
Never to be seen again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Clark Strand on Counting Syllables

Clark Strand on Counting Syllables

There are a lot of manuals for composing Haiku these days.  The ones I have read all have good suggestions for the budding Haiku poet.  Having said that, most of the Haiku manuals are written by those who are committed to a free verse type of Haiku composition and tend to either ignore formal Haiku, are hostile to such an approach, or sideline it after giving a syllabic approach a brief nod.

The one exception to this is ‘Seeds from a Birch Tree’ by Clark Strand.  It was published in 1997, paperback in 1998.  It is the one manual that advocates for a syllabic approach to English language Haiku.  In particular, I found Strand’s observations on the meaning of counting to be insightful.

On page 24 Strand writes, “The place to begin is counting syllables – five-seven-five.  At this point the mathematician and the child are about on par.  If anything, the child may be better at counting naturally, and with presence of mind.”  Notice how Strand is pointing to the universal accessibility of counting.  There is nothing mysterious about counting; it is something anyone, even a child, can do.  One of the virtues of a syllabic approach to Haiku is that it makes Haiku accessible and non-mysterious.  Rather than relying on some kind of esoteric experience of the ‘now’, or some kind of minimalist ideology, the syllabic Haiku poet simply begins by counting five-seven-five. 

Later in the same chapter Strand writes, “If we have no interest in using haiku as a spiritual practice, it is unnecessary to count syllables at all.  We could, for instance, write a haiku in any form – one line, four, or seventeen – and include the season or not as we pleased.  But I doubt we could take much long-term satisfaction from this kind of haiku.  I doubt if haiku would endure beyond a few decades in America if it were practiced in this way.” (Page 26) 

Here Strand links the idea of Haiku as a spiritual practice with the act of counting and suggests that the two are intimately, even necessarily, related.  That is to say Haiku can be a spiritual practice because of the counting of the syllables.  I think Strand is on to something significant here.  My view is that when a poet engages with a pre-established form the poet, to a degree, surrenders a part of our habitual self-centeredness.  By acquiescing to a form that transcends any individual poet, the Haiku poet enters into a larger community and begins to comprehend things from a larger perspective.  And all this can be accomplished by the simple act of counting just as others have counted: five-seven-five.

What about Strand’s assertion that Haiku would not endure beyond a few decades in America if it abandons counting as its starting point?  At first this would seem to be an overwrought prophecy.  After all, there are numerous Haiku Societies which currently exist and have abandoned counting.  I look at this differently.  As I have previously posted, my view is that Syllabic Haiku and Free Verse (meaning uncounted) Haiku have become entirely different verse forms.  They have the same historical roots, but over the decades they have become different forms.  This is masked by the fact that they share the same name.  But it is not difficult to see, and hear, the difference.  (See my post ‘Transmission and Differentiation’.)  From this perspective Strand’s view seems to be accurate.  Once counting was abandoned the route taken by Free Verse Haiku has moved steadily farther and farther away from Haiku as commonly understood and practiced in Japan.  It is my view that most Haiku Societies in the U.S. (with the significant exception of Yuki Teiki) are now simply Free Verse Associations with all connection to Haiku having been severed.

Strand continues, “Because haiku is so subtle, it is necessary to have some definite form.  Otherwise, beginners will have no place to start, and experts will soon forget their beginner’s mind in the obsession over where to break a line.” (Page 26)  It is like serving tea; you need a cup to contain the liquid, otherwise it will just spill onto the table.  And pouring tea into a cup is the same for someone new to tea as for someone who has gained expertise in tea.  In the same way, counting syllables, five-seven-five, is the same for the poet writing their first Haiku as for the accomplished Haiku poet with many decades of experience. 

Strand concludes this chapter, “Counting is a universal practice.  Its humble, straightforward vision of man and nature is at the core of all human experience.  However far we may stray from it, everything comes back to this.” (Page 27)  When we count syllables we unite ourselves with all human beings; the shopkeeper counting change, the carpenter measuring a board, the musician counting measures, the pregnant woman counting the days until birth, the birthday celebrant counting the years of his life . . . 

Later in the book Strand returns to the theme of counting.  In the Chapter ‘Haiku Mind’ Strand writes, “When you count the syllables for a haiku on your fingers and select a season word, already you have touched the Mind of Basho and all the other haiku poets of the past.”  This is the point I made in my series about ‘Free Verse Mind’ where I talk about how composing formal verse means entering into a conversation with the tradition, with others who also compose verse in this way.  In contrast, Free Verse Haiku severs this connection.  Strand continues, “How could it be otherwise than this?  People ask me what Haiku Mind is, and I offer various explanations in accordance with the place and time, but the truth is, it is only this.

“A haiku is a seventeen syllable poem on a subject drawn from nature. . . I stress its importance again, not because it is difficult to grasp, but because it expresses the proper frame of mind for composing haiku, which is the one thing everyone forgets.  Somehow it tends to become overcomplicated or obscured over the course of study.  Or we develop the idea that we should go beyond it – beyond what is simple and plain.  Therefore, it needs to be reclarified at every stage of practice before going on.  A haiku is a seventeen-syllable poem.”

I am particularly struck by Strand’s observation that people ‘develop that idea that we should go beyond it’, that is to say beyond the five-seven-five structure and seasonal reference.  I have often seen this idea expressed by Free Verse Haiku Societies; their view often seems to be that a formal, syllabic, approach is something for beginners, but mature poets go ‘beyond’ this.  It is one of the commonest ways of brushing aside a syllabic approach.  And Strand is on to it.  What really happens when we abandon five-seven-five is that we end up writing in a different form altogether, rather a different type, a non-form.  We spill the tea on the table.

Strand’s book is full of insights that will assist both those new to Haiku as well as the experienced Haiku poet.  Naturally, there will be sections where one, perhaps, sees things differently.  That will be true of any manual of poetry.  But the great virtue of this book is that it gives us access to why a formal approach to Haiku, an approach based on counting five-seven-five syllables, is so rewarding.  The book is packed with useful insights and asides any Haiku poet can use and find inspiring.  Over the years I have read it several times.  For all those composing syllabic Haiku, ‘Seeds from a Birch Tree’ is a fine companion on the way.


At the restaurant
Your face glowed by candlelight
Three tables away
Four strangers were conversing
On the issues of the day

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Santa Cruz sunrise --
The first light touches the earth
The way an iris
Touches unsuspecting eyes,
A smile from a passing stranger

Monday, October 8, 2012

Grandmother of Form: Adelaide Crapsey Day 2012

Grandmother of Form

Today is Adelaide Crapsey day, the anniversary of her passing.  I think of Crapsey as the Grandmother of English Syllabic Verse.  Her meticulous research into English prosody, her analyses of the syllabic structure of English, laid a foundation from which she was able to intuit a different approach to writing English poetry.  Because her life was so short (September 9, 1878 to October 8, 1914) she was not able to complete her projects.  But she was able to lay the foundation for a syllabic approach to English poetry.  Simply by creating a syllabic form, the Cinquain, Crapsey demonstrated the efficacy of English syllabic verse.

At the time Crapsey was writing and doing research metrical poetry still dominated.  The avant-garde was, however, beginning to emerge and ‘verse libre’ was making significant inroads.  But Crapsey steered a course that offered a different alternative; neither a traditional metrical one nor one grounded in free verse.  Evidently this was not easy for her to do.  The research she did into English prosody must have been very time consuming: she literally counted all of the one and two syllable words in works like ‘Paradise Lost’ and this was long before the use of computers or other technological assists.  In other words, she counted them all by hand. 

Why did she do this?  My sense is that she had an intuition that the predominance of one and two syllable words in English was significant for English language prosody.  But she needed to feel a strong foundation for this intuition.  The predominance of these short words tilts English towards a syllabic approach in the same way that a language like Chinese, consisting of one-count words, single syllables, lends itself to a syllabic approach to poetry.

There are other poets who made significant contributions towards a syllabic approach such as Dylan Thomas and Marianne Moore.  But neither of these poets created a specific English syllabic form, a form that others could use.  This is why I consider Crapsey to be the most significant of the early English syllabic poets, because she saw the possibility of a specific syllabic form for the English language.  This, I believe, is a crucial step in establishing English syllabic verse.

So let’s take a moment to express our gratitude to Adelaide, the Mother of Form.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sudden Wind

Sudden Wind

It's dark so early
And it was gray the whole day
Of cold and drizzle

Crocheting a large blanket
While sharing family news

Afternoon T.V.
Reruns of Perry Mason
Followed by Star Trek

Pluto in the telescope
Coursing slowly through the signs

A crystal clear sky
On a night without a moon
Beyond city lights

The scent of cherry blossoms
Drifts like incense in the air

Grandfather's advice
Through constant repetition
Casts a kind of spell

"I never gave it much thought,"
(That's not entirely true)

Glasses of iced tea
Leave rings on the wood table
After the ice melts

It was an office romance;
Surprisingly, it lasted

The diagnosis
Is a six month prognosis;
Nothing can be done

A sudden wind tears the leaves
Off the oak and chestnut trees

Friday, October 5, 2012


"I am getting old,"
She says at age thirty-two.
I wanted to laugh
But I saw fear in her eyes,
"You're not so old," I advised.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Almost a Ghost

The aging Marxist
Trying to hand out pamphlets
To those rushing by
In front of the Post Office
A youngster checks his i-phone

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beneath Our Feet

Beneath Our Feet

I recently took a trip to visit some friends in Portland.  My hosts were most gracious and I had lots of time to write poetry and read some books I had been meaning to get to for a long time.  One of these books was Robert Pinsky’s ‘The Sounds of Poetry’.  I really enjoyed Pinsky’s brief guide to aspects of English prosody.  It is written in a breezy, highly accessible style; in addition the author uses the first person so you feel like you are being taught by knowledgeable Uncle who feels passionately about the topic of prosody.  At times Pinsky is opinionated.  And at other times he can be dismissive.  But on the whole I found the book thoroughly enjoyable.

I was particularly struck by a section in Chapter 3, ‘Technical Terms and Vocal Realities’ where Pinsky discusses the role and function of iambic interpretation of English ‘vocal realities’.  Such interpretation of English has been central to English formal verse for many centuries and remains so to this day for many English language poets.

What I found revealing, and applicable to a syllabic approach, was Pinsky’s discussion of alternative ways of parsing English speech.    Pinsky uses Robert Frost’s poem ‘To Earthward’ as an example.  Pinsky focuses on the line ‘Love at the lips was touch’ and parses the line in a standard way, as iambic trimeter, with the first grouping, ‘love at’, possibly a trochee (which I found a little odd; it seems to me ‘love at’ instantiates an iamb fairly easily).  Here is what Pinsky writes about different ways of parsing this line:

“What reason is there not to divide each line differently, for instance by describing the first line,

‘Love at the lips was touch,’

“as two feet: one thunketta (‘Love at the’) followed by a thunk-pa-thunk (‘lips was touch’)?  Though I have invented somewhat silly-sounding terms, they make sense: they describe something all can hear.

“But still other descriptive terms for the same line – the same vocal reality – would also make sense.  For instance, I could also describe the line

‘Love at the lips was touch’

“as an initial monosyllable (“Love”) followed by an anapest (“at the lips”) and an iamb (“was touch”).”

Pinsky offers a few other possible parsings of the line and then concludes:

“What is wrong with these terms?  Nothing – in the sense that, though arbitrary, they do register something that is there in the sound of the words.  Each set of terms does give a roughly accurate description of what one hears.”

(Robert Pinsky, ‘The Sounds of Poetry’, pages 54 and 55)

Pinsky goes on to reject these alternatives on the basis that such an approach fails to distinguish between ‘rhythm and meter’.  Pinsky’s view is that the iambic meter is central, and that the other types are a rhythmic reading that overlays the underlying iambic pulse.

The syllabic approach to English poetry has a different understanding.  Let me illustrate by making an analogy to music.  Let’s start with twelve even pulses:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12

How will these twelve evenly spaced pulses be felt?  One way is to have three measures of 4-4 time:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 : 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 : 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

This will produce the kind of rhythm that is used in countless songs and compositions. 

Another way of handling the twelve pulses is four measures of 3-4 time:

1 – 2 – 3 : 1 – 2 – 3 : 1 – 2 – 3 : 1 – 2 – 3

This is a common dance rhythm, the basis for the minuet and waltz.

One could have six groups of two pulses each:

1 – 2 : 1 – 2 : 1 – 2 : 1 – 2 : 1 – 2 : 1 – 2

Which is often heard in marches.

One could have two groups of six:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 : 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6

This is an alluring rhythm found in many compositions.

And one could divide the twelve pulses into one group of five followed by a group of seven:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 : 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7

Composers like Bartok and Brubeck might do something like this.  It is also one of the basic structures for Japanese poetry.

Each of these arrangements articulates the twelve pulses differently.  Underneath all of these arrangements lies the bedrock of the twelve pulses and their steady march forward.

What I want to suggest is that the flow of syllables resembles the flow of pulses in music.  And the metrical arrangement of syllables into iambs, trochees, anapests, etc., is a way of arranging the syllables, just as different meters in music are different ways of arranging and combining the steady flow of the musical pulse.

From a syllabic perspective the English language isn’t primarily iambic or primarily anapestic.  Just as music allows for different meters so also the steady flow of syllables allows for different arrangements of metrical validity.  The reason Pinsky was able to uncover numerous ways of parsing the rhythm of ‘Love at the lips was touch’ is the same reason that the steady pulse, or beat, of music can be arranged in different meters.  An iambic interpretation of the line is legitimate (and knowing Frost was likely the poet’s intention).  But other rhythmic arrangements are also legitimate and equally valid.

Pinsky’s view, and it has a lot of support from centuries of metrical verse, is that a particular meter underlies the English language; that particular meter is the iamb.  From a syllabic perspective it is not a particular meter that underlies the English language, rather it is the flow of syllables.  In other words, beneath the metrical feet of English language poetry one finds syllables.  And syllables are congenial, are willing, to be shaped into various metrical arrangements; just as the pulse, or beat, of music is congenial, willing, to be shaped into various meters, or groupings.  Both the flow of syllables and the pulse of music are fluid as to the possibilities of grouping them into metrical units.

I enjoy visiting coffee houses and listening to people talk.  Similarly, I enjoy hearing people talk on the street, at the store where I work, and in other ordinary situations.  What I hear is a flow of sound that has a basic, but fluid, pulse.  This fluid pulse ebbs and flows, becomes slower or faster, but always seems to be there, even as the conversation moves from one person to the other.  I think it is this pulse that allows us to distinguish particular words in an ordinary conversation.  It is generally not appreciated that there are no spaces between words in ordinary speech; rather there is a continuous flow of sound, interrupted by breaths, emotional stressing, thought searching, and other considerations.  It is the underlying fluid pulse which allows us to parse the flow of sound into units of words and it is the syllable which is the carrier of the pulse.

It is for these, and other, reasons that I tend to think of syllabics as more fundamental, more primal, than meter.  I realize that this runs counter to centuries of English language prosody; a point I take seriously.  Yet, I don’t think a syllabic view of English language poetry is in conflict with a metrical view.  To continue with the musical analogy, arranging the twelve pulses into particular groupings doesn’t conflict with music in 4-4 time, or in 3-4 time.  Similarly, regarding the syllable as the basic unit of English language poetry allows for iambic constructions, but it also allows for other kinds of metrical constructions as equally valid and equally a part of the English language; a point that, I believe, Pinsky illustrates rather well.  But it would be wrong to insist that 4-4 time is the primal reality of the musical pulse, thinking of 3-4 time as somehow a substitution.  And, I think the same can be said for poetic meters; namely, that an iambic pulse does not exclude the possibility of other arrangements of the flow of English syllables.  Looking beneath our feet at the syllabic stream of the English language and one finds a wide range of metrical possibilities.  Some, such as odd-numbered lines, have only recently been used systematically.  Others, I suspect, remain to be discovered.



Fog in the morning
Wet leaves covering the ground
The sound of a crow

Lovers lingering in bed
Comfortable with each other

Touching the window
A branch of the apple tree
Covered with blossoms

He returns to his report,
His boss wants it on Friday

Trucks on the highway;
Office supplies, groceries,
Food, furniture, clothes . . .

"After you go to the gym,
Could you pick up a movie?"

On Sunday morning,
In the church's parking lot,
Empty spaces

Underneath a spacious sky
A family gathering

Beneath the oak trees
Sheltered from the steady heat
And the constant glare

The strength of the July sun
As it reaches its zenith

Bright white drifts of weeks-old snow
Covered with many footprints

Under the full moon
A rabbit stops to listen
Before vanishing

Monday, October 1, 2012


Strange afternoon --
Summer heat in October
And I'm overdressed

The willow beside the stream
Still has its leaves; the oaks don't

On the other side
Of the National Forest
Children are playing

In the thickly falling snow
It seems that ghosts come and go

She throws the I Ching --
What did he mean when he said,
"I'll see you later?"

Due to office politics
The branch office changes hands

This October spring
The plum blossoms disappeared
After a few days

"Yes, I know that you love me.
Do you know I don't love you?"

He prints the email,
"I can't think about it now,"
He says to himself

The longest day of the year --
The full moon will have to wait

For almost three months
Above the arctic circle
There's constant daylight

Rising from the tundra plain
An enduring mountain range