Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Dream of Home

A Dream of Home

In a dream I was standing on the moon
Watching the earth rise on a field of stars.
It felt completely natural, like home,
Though there was no one else, I was alone.
There was an atmosphere, the wind was warm
And I did not have to wear a space suit;

I wore shoes, pants, a shirt; which seemed to suit
The situation.  It seemed that the moon
Was like the Arizona desert; warm,
Stark, silent, with a nightscape thick with stars.
In such a place you aren’t really alone,
There’s the feeling that the cosmos is your home.

The moonscape felt familiar, like home,
Or the strange way Dad’s hand-me down suit
Fits just right.  Sometimes, when I am alone,
I will look up at the face of the moon,
Or, if the moon is new, at the bright stars,
And feel within a touch that’s kind and warm.

The first spring wind is singularly warm,
And there are places you’ll always call home,
Distant galaxies give birth to new stars,
While these cleaning rags were once a new suit
That I wore while dancing under the moon,
A memory that says I’m not alone.

Solitude does not mean being alone,
That’s why my lunar solitude was warm,
That’s why the rocks and dust upon the moon
Looked like the furnishings one finds at home,
Or clothes hung in a closet, shirts and suits,
Or the sparkling light of the summer stars.

Some seasons are known only by the stars,
Though distances are great stars aren’t alone.
Yesterday a friend bought me a new suit.
At the memorial it felt warm,
The service took place in her old wood home;
After, people lingered until the moon,

The summer moon, and the numberless stars,
Like a perfect suit for a night that’s warm,
Touched us with a type of grace that’s felt at home when we’re alone.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Even in Winter

Frost on the ground
A cloudless sunrise
The sound of the furnace
There are tasks I have to do
Projects that I need to finish,
Reluctantly I relinquish
The pause that I place after prayer,
Yet a certain stillness stays with me
As I walk past a familiar oak tree

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Syllabic Sonnet Day for 2013

Syllabic Sonnet Day for 2013


Today is Syllabic Sonnet Day; a day put aside to celebrate English language sonnets that are syllabically constructed and shaped.  The shift from a metrical to a syllabic sonnet is a subtle one.  When reading a syllabic sonnet it might not feel all that different from reading a metrical sonnet.  This is because, I think, the two different approaches can produce overlapping results.  I mean by this that a sonnet which the poet constructed syllabically might also be metrically consistent.  By that I mean a line of ten syllables can also be a line of iambic pentameter.

The shift has more to do with the focus of the poet when shaping the sonnet.  For the syllabic sonneteer it is the syllable count of the line which is the primary factor shaping the poem; plus other factors such a rhyme scheme and grammatical structure.  For the metrical sonneteer it is the steady rhythm of the iambs that is the primary focus. 

An interesting consequence of this shift of focus is that the tendency for the syllabic sonneteer will be to have a line count that is determined by the syllables and will rarely deviate from that ten syllable count.  There will, naturally, be exceptions, but the weight will be on the ten count.  The syllabic sonneteer has the option, through using various types of feet substituting for the iambs, to vary the line length in terms of the syllable count as long as the metrical count remains the same.  Again, this is a subtle difference, one that might not be apparent at first.

Personally, I have found a syllabic approach to the sonnet to be rewarding.  It creates a flow that is more conversational.  When this is combined with a traditional rhyme scheme the effect is, to my ear, musical in the way a recitative is musical. 

So let’s take a moment to honor the Queen of English language poetry forms; the sonnet in all its permutations.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Richard Wright Day for 2013: My View of Richard Wright's Place in English Language Haiku

My View of Richard Wright’s Place in English Language Haiku

Today is Richard Wright Day.  This year the day also happens to be Thanksgiving Day.  (For those reading this blog who are not from the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday where families and friends gather together to celebrate by having a feast; often turkey is the centerpiece of the feast.  Stores are closed, for the most part, on this day; although that is being whittled away under the pressure of commercialism.  This national holiday has a variable date.  It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, so it is unusual that it would coincide with the other remembrances that are falling on this day.)

In addition, today is also Hanukkah, a Jewish festival of lights.  Like the national holiday, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah has a variable date in terms of the standard solar calendar we all use.  That is because the date of Hanukkah is based on the lunar/solar Jewish calendar.  So it is very unusual that both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah would fall on the same day.

And finally, on this day some Japanese honor the haiku poet Basho.

So it seems to me to be a particularly auspicious day to consider Richard Wright, his haiku, and what he contributed, and continues to contribute to that genre, and to poetry in general.  Wright died in France in 1960 on this day; that would make it 53 years ago.  As is now well-known, during the last 18 months of his life, Wright took to the craft of Haiku, composing something like 4,000.  From this large collection Wright culled 817, but it took more than thirty years before Wright’s collection was published.

Since the publication of his book Haiku: This Other World, in 1998, Wright’s reputation as a poet has steadily increased.  Numerous articles have appeared analyzing various aspects of his haiku; entire books devoted to the subject have been published and others are awaiting publication.  His haiku have been frequently anthologized, not only in genre specific anthologies of ELH, but also in anthologies of 20th century poetry and anthologies of English language poetry in general.  Teachers of haiku in Japan have, at times, used Wright’s haiku to illustrate an approach to ELH taken by some poets in the English speaking world.  It is true that there have also been some critical essays.  This is to be expected, even encouraged.  Given the wide range of approaches to haiku among ELH practitioners it would be strange if there were not some criticism.  Still, in general it appears to me that the appreciation for Wright’s output has steadily increased with time.  It is my view that it will continue to do so.

For me the primary gift that Wright offers ELH is a merging of the English language poetry tradition with the form and esthetic of the Japanese haiku.  Wright accomplished this in a manner that is so lucid and with such ease that if someone were to read Wright’s haiku who was unaware of its Japanese origins, I think such a reader would draw the conclusion that haiku is a native English language form.  There is no sense of stress or strain; Wright appears to be completely at ease within the confines and structural demands of syllabic haiku.

I’d like to illustrate my point with some examples.  Consider Wright’s use of rhyme.  About sixty out of the 817 use rhyme; that’s about 7% of the haiku in the collection, a modest amount.  Sometimes the rhyme is explicit, sometimes slant.  Here are some examples:


Holding too much rain,
The tulip stoops and spills it,
Then straightens again.

Here lines 1 and 3 rhyme.  The strength of the rhyme depends partly on the dialect of English spoken; in some dialects ‘again’ is a complete rhyme to ‘rain’, and in some dialects it will be slightly off.  But in either case it will be heard, I think, as the closing semi-vowel ‘n’ is distinctly audible.  The effect of the rhyme is pleasing without being overstated.


A layer of snow
Is pulling the mountains nearer,
Making them smaller

Here it is lines 2 and 3 that rhyme.  Again the rhyme is understated, using the ‘er’ sound.  Both of the closing words for lines 2 and 3 are also two syllables and there is also a resonance to the word ‘layer’ in line 1.  I have noticed that Wright seems to favor this ‘er’ rhyme; it shows up in a number of his haiku (see 486 and 495).  The ‘er’ sound is one of those closing sounds that has a gentle effect, one that is grasped by the ear, but does not have that definiteness, or heaviness, that mark rhymes that are more strongly felt, such as ‘light/night/bright’, or ‘dream/stream/scheme’.  Perhaps this is because most words that end with an ‘er’ sound are trochees and, it seems to me, that Wright favors this kind of rhythm, though there are exceptions to that as we shall see.

One last example of rhyme:


One crow on a limb;
Another goes to join him,
Then both fly away.

Here lines 1 and 2 have a strong rhyme; limb/him.  Each line ends in an iamb, giving the haiku an overall rhythmic unity.

In these examples of rhyme, Wright has thoroughly integrated the traditional use of end-rhyme in English language verse into the haiku form.  The merging is done skillfully; the rhymes don’t sound like slogans, ads, or nursery rhymes.  They have the effect of clarifying the syllabic form and providing a moderate sense of rhythmic pulse; like a bar-line in music.

Wright also effectively uses traditional techniques such as metaphor, simile and personification.


As still as death is,
Under a circling buzzard,
An autumn village.

Here we have an example of simile.  The stillness of the village is compared to the stillness of death.  This is tied seasonally to autumn, when things are dying.  The image is further deepened by the appearance of the buzzard.  Though the buzzard is moving, it is moving in a circle, rather than going to a specific location.  This hovering is in itself a kind of stillness.  Death, buzzards, autumn; the haiku is united by an abundance of yin imagery which creates a seamless presentation.  So even though the haiku is in two parts, those two parts being deliberately compared to each other, they are energetically united.  This brings the two parts into an unstated, and subtle, unity.  This is really an excellent example of using a western poetic technique and uniting it with the energetics of yin and yang upon which Japanese haiku is grounded.  And it is done effortlessly, with no sense of self-consciousness or cleverness.


Over spring mountains
A star ends the paragraph
Of a thunderstorm.

This is a wonderful metaphor that links the world of writing with the world of astronomy; that is to say the human and celestial worlds are intertwined in this haiku.  I think it also refers to the common habit humans have of talking about the weather.  Weather events are ‘paragraphs’ in our conversation.  But because the weather is ever changing, any specific event is simply a paragraph in the overall saga of the weather.  Just as a paragraph in a book, no matter how interesting, is just part of a longer story.  The linkage to a star points to a domain that transcends all of these changes in a gentle way, by pointing to the source of beauty.

Personification is a feature used frequently in Wright’s collection.  Personification in this collection is the attribution of human motives to non-human things.  These can be living things such as animals and plants, or they can be inanimate objects as well. 


Fierce sunflowers
Have forced every cloud fleece
Out of the hot sky.

Here the sunflowers are described as ‘fierce’, a descriptor normally reserved for a type of human action.  In addition, the haiku depicts a causal link between ‘fierce sunflowers’ and the hot, cloudless sky, as if the sunflowers were responsible for the way the sky looks.  This kind of paradoxical causation is also a frequent feature of Wright’s haiku.  What is being described here is a kind of resonance, or a causal synchronicity, rather than a billiard ball type of causation.  Yet this kind of causation does operate in our lives; we feel it, we sense it, but it is difficult to articulate.  Wright’s ability to uncover these kinds of relationships is one of the treasures of his collection.


In the autumn air,
Distant mountains are dreaming
Of autumns to come.

The idea of nature dreaming is encountered now and then in poetry.  Wright picks up on this theme.  There is a shift in time in this haiku that makes it attractive to me.  The shift is from the sense of the season’s flow from a human perspective, to the sense of the season’s flow from the perspective of a mountain.  Mountains have a longer perspective; this autumn is just one of many autumns, countless autumns.  This time-shift is gracefully shown in this haiku through the use of personification.


Did somebody call?
Looking over my shoulder:
Massive spring mountains.

This haiku has received critical acclaim from reviewers for its mysterious tone and moving effect.  I believe the effectiveness of this haiku is due in no small part to its use of personification; the sense we have all felt, at times, of nature actually speaking to us.

Personification, in my opinion, isn’t just a technique in Wright’s haiku.  Personification depicts a world in which awareness and consciousness permeate the cosmos.  From this perspective it is legitimate to attribute to things, both animate and inanimate, psychological states, motivations, and prehensions.  Wright’s haiku remind me, in many ways, of Whitehead’s view found in Process and Reality.  I’m not suggesting that Wright studied Whitehead or that he was a ‘process poet’; but I do find the world view of these two remarkably similar.  That view is that awareness is not an add-on to existence but rather is an inherent factor that is found everywhere, not just in human beings.

There are more examples I could quote showing, for example, how Wright uses metrics, alliteration, allusion, synecdoche, and anaphora, among other devices.  Wright also constructs his haiku using different techniques including; the single sentence, the pivot, the juxtaposition, and the list.  All of these are used skillfully. 

All of this points to the great gift of Wright’s work: the integration of the western poetic heritage into the haiku form.  This is the great lesson I have slowly learned, and continue to learn, from studying Richard Wright’s haiku: that it is possible to welcome the western poetic tradition with open arms.  At times I feel that some western haiku poets have almost an adversarial relationship to the western tradition.  In a way this is understandable; if you are attracted to a non-western poetic tradition, it makes sense that you would question the western poetic tradition, or aspects of it, in order to access the non-western tradition.  If you were completely satisfied with the western tradition it is doubtful you would look outside of that context.  So I can understand the impulse as at times I have shared it.

Yet, ultimately, I think that Wright’s approach is more fruitful.  Wright’s approach is one that builds upon the past in a constructive way.  That is why, I think, that Wright’s haiku are so effective; because they resonate deeply with the heritage of verse with which we are all already familiar.  Yet, at the same time, transforms that heritage by placing it in a new context.  It is an amazing achievement.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fibonacci Day for 2013

Good Morning:

I've been extra busy at work so my posting pace has slowed down.  But I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the Fibonacci.  I celebrate the Fibonacci syllabic form on November 23rd because when written in numbers it is 11/23.  These are the syllabic count for the first four lines of a Fibonacci: 1-1-2-3.  Continuing, the form is 1-1-2-3-5-8-13, etc.

Take a moment to go visit the Fib Review.  Or take a moment to pen a Fibonacci on your own.  I find the Fibonacci to be an exuberant form; it starts slow and then takes off.  A friend of mine started written them and told me she found them kind of 'addicting'.  I think it is the exuberance which is so attractive.

Give it a try -- you will enjoy it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013



Before dawn
November cold
The moon has gone down
The sound of my footsteps
There is no wind this morning
The Orion constellation,
Like an adagio for my eyes,
Sends me an invitation to the sky.

Friday, November 15, 2013



Thick and cold
November gray


That’s a difficult word,
One that is not often heard;
Lack of things means you’ve not prospered,
That abundance has been deferred.
Perhaps some tragedy has occurred.
There must be some kind of explanation;
An ongoing rationalization
For a psychological repression?
That it’s attractive is beyond conception,
It can’t be voluntary renunciation.

There is beauty in the sight of a leafless tree,
A distant solo flute’s exquisite melody,
In a room a single book that is often read,
A few words overheard that a stranger once said,
A walk along the beach when the ocean is calm,
The transcendental presence that glows in a Psalm
That opens a door that allows us to perceive
Waves of vast spaciousness from a limitless sea.

Monday, November 11, 2013


A few strangers
Memories like leaves scatter,
Is that me in that picture from years ago?
I used to believe that there were many intriguing things that I could know --
Having entered the roaring blizzard of silence and endlessness the pursuit of knowledge became a greed to forgo,
In the middle of a field whose perimeters are only vaguely perceived, in the shade cast from a massive boulder, dropped by an ancient glacier, there lies the last patch of slowly melting snow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Two Resources for Composing the Very Short Line

Two Resources for Composing the Very Short Line

An aspect of contemporary syllabic forms in English which has intrigued me for years is that many of these forms require writing poetry in very short lines.  I define a very short line as a line of four syllables or less.  The syllabic forms which require very short lines include Cinquain, Fibonacci, Lucas, Etheree, and Tetractys.  And the Lanterne form consists entirely of very short lines: 1-2-3-4-1 syllables.  I am not aware of any other time in the history of poetry where the very short line was such a persistent feature of poetic form.

The very short line poses a challenge to the syllabic poet.  If the very short line is written well, it functions like a seed, or a very condensed and articulate statement.  If it does not function well, the very short line will lack definition and the specific shape of the syllabic structure will be lost.

Recently I have encountered two resources for composing very short lines of poetry.  The two resources are: A Dictionary of Haiku by Jane Reichhold, and New and Selected Poems of Samuel Menashe, edited by Christopher Ricks.  Together the syllabic poet can learn much from these two works on how to construct very short lines in forms like Fibonacci and Lanterne.

Reichhold’s Dictionary was published this year.  It is a huge work; about 5,000 Haiku with a page count a little over 300 pages.  The work is arranged along the lines of a traditional Japanese Saijiki; that is to say that the Haiku are classified by Season, and within each season by Topic, and within each Topic by Subject.  This arrangement makes the Haiku easily accessible; the reader can digest one Subject at a time.

Reichhold’s approach to Haiku is what I refer to as a ‘free verse’ approach.  By that I simply mean that Reichhold does not hold to a syllabic count or structure.  Her approach is a three-line, highly condensed, no wasted words, approach.  It is a minimalist approach in the best sense of that word, the sense of no wasted words.

Here is an example:

meditation with my partner
the spider

This is from the New Year Season, Animals Topic, Insects Subject, and is found on page 302.  For the syllabic poet, notice Lines 1 and 3.  Line 1 is two syllables, Line 3 is three.  In spite of the shortness of the lines, they have integrity, they feel like a line.

Here is another:

because it called to me
the moon sets

(This is from the Fall Season, Moods Topic, and ‘being needed’ Subject on Page 170.)

Notice the one syllable of Line 1.  It functions like a statement and has a double meaning.  It both refers to waking up, getting up, and it also refers to the fact that the moon is up in the sky.  This is nicely balanced by the fact that the moon is setting.  This is an excellent example of how to use very short lines effectively.

And here is one of my favorite:

on the far mountain

Riechhold’s Dictionary is an endless resource of how to shape a very short line that also has integrity.  I recommend it to the syllabic poet, particularly if you have an interest in those forms like Fibonacci (which start out with the first four lines being very short [1-1-2-3]), or the Tetractys which also opens with four very short lines (1-2-3-4) or Lanterne, which is nothing but very short lines.  Studying this work will be of great assistance.


The second resource I’d like to suggest is the poetry of Samuel Menashe.  I had not known about Menashe until I read Sparring with the Sun Jan Schreiber.  Schreiber recommends Menashe and I followed up and I’m very glad I did.

Menashe was a minimalist poet whose tight, highly regulated, verse packs a lot of meaning into very few words.  Here is Menashe’s most famous poem:

Pity us
by the sea
on the sands
so briefly

Menashe is a metrical poet, but notice that this poem also can be understood as syllabic; a Quatrain with 3 syllables per line.  It uses a standard Quatrain rhyme scheme of A-B-C-B.  I have found that this rhyme scheme feels strongly cadential, an appropriate usage for a poem with this topic.

Notice how each line has integrity; there is no enjambment even though each line is very brief.  Lines 2 and 3 are prepositional phrases.  Line 1 is, all by itself, a sentence, which is then commented on in Lines 2, 3, and 4. 

Here is another:


Ghost I house
In this old flat –
Your outpost –
My aftermath

The same rhyme scheme is used for this Quatrain; but the rhyme for Lines 2 and 4 is slant.  Again, notice how each line has integrity, how each line holds a thought and contributes clearly to the whole.

Not all of Menashe’s poems consist solely of very short lines; but enough of them do to make this a rich resource for those composing in syllabic forms that include very short lines. 

The challenge for the syllabic poet writing very short lines is to write in such a way that the linebreaks do not feel forced, artificial, arbitrary, or anorexic.  By ‘anorexic’ I mean a line that lacks a sense of wholeness on its own.  This sense of wholeness can be grammatical or image based, or both, but if that sense of wholeness is not present the reader will feel that the linebreak is arbitrary and meaningless and will link the line to the following line, in an attempt to create a sense of wholeness.  The result will be a loss of the particular syllabic shape of the poem.

In practice what this means it that radical enjambment is put aside.  Radical enjambment is a pervasive feature of free verse poetry these days.  My observation has been that when poets move from free verse to syllabic verse, the greatest difficulty they have is overcoming this tendency to compose lines that spill over into the following line, without the ameliorating usage of metrics or rhyme.  While radical enjambment can be effective in a free verse context, when used in a syllabic context, and in particular when used in very short lines, the syllabic shape is lost.  When the syllabic shape is lost, the reader, or listener, looses the pulse of that particular form.

Generally speaking, lines that end in an article, the or a, and lines that end in prepositions, will feel enjambed and will lack a sense of wholeness.  The reader/listener will feel a strong tendency to either attach the word to the next line, or to bring the following line up and make it one, longer, continuous line.  A modifier, an adjective or adverb, that ends a line can also feel enjambed, but the feeling is not usually as strong.  And if the modifier is rhymed, or falls on a metrical accent, that will minimize the sense of shapelessness.

Very short lines that consist of nouns often have a sense of wholeness.  The template for this is the list.  When writing a shopping list, for example, each item stands on its own.  Or when writing a list of ‘things I like/dislike’, or ‘things that are distinctive about where I live’, the list will often consist of items that consist mostly of nouns.  A list can give a lot of information.  For example, a list can give the reader of a poem a sense of place and/or a sense of time/season.  In my own shaping of very short lines, this is the approach I use most often.

Reichhold takes what I call a free verse approach to Haiku.  And Menashe is a metrical poet.  Neither of these poets write syllabics.  But the syllabic poet, writing in English, has to learn to gather lessons in the craft of syllabic shaping from many different sources.  This is because syllabic poetry in English has not, as yet, established a canon; either of significant works or of established procedures.  This is both a plus and a minus.  It’s a minus because, at times, it can leave the syllabic poet feeling a little lost.  It’s a plus if the syllabic poet takes advantage of their situation and remains open to whatever can assist in the craft of shaping words into syllabic forms.


A Dictionary of Haiku: Second Edition
Jane Reichhold
ISBN: 9780944676240

Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems
Christopher Ricks, Editor
ISBN: 1931082855

Both are available at Amazon

Monday, October 28, 2013


A cold wind as the dusk starts to gather
The azure day departs,
A meaning darkness imparts
Found within our silent hearts

Friday, October 25, 2013


Junkyard cars rusting
Under crushed metal thunder

Aspects of Old Age

My left knee is stiff.
The years flew by like a swift.
Dusk falls as a gift.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Types of Haiku at "Under the Basho"

Five Types of Haiku

One of the views I have about Haiku in English, a view I have touched on repeatedly at this blog, is that English Language Haiku (ELH) has split into a number of different poetic forms.  Further, I believe that these forms are now so different from each other that they have little in common; that they are as different from each other as, say, the Sonnet is from the Villanelle.

This is a fringe view among ELH haijin.  And I can understand why that is the case.  For a long time these different approaches to ELH have lived in the same journals, met at the same conferences, and intimately interacted with each other and so it makes sense that participants in ELH would view the different approaches as in some obscure way the same form.

Yet, I do see signs of a growing understanding of just how different these forms have become.  I first noticed this at the Haiku Foundation.  The Foundation held a Haiku contest and they divided the contest into three separate categories of Haiku; a free verse, 3 line approach with a minimalist esthetic; a 5-7-5 approach, and a more consciously avant-garde approach.  This seemed to me a tacit admission that the different approaches to Haiku have become distinct enough that they need to be evaluated on their own terms as opposed to one approach as the standard by which all ELH is judged.

A new website further supports the view that these forms have matured and become distinct forms.  The new website is called “Under the Basho” and it can be found here:

I believe it was started by Don Baird who is a longterm ELH Haijin and has familiarity with many individuals in the ELH community.  When you go to the home page, notice that at the top there is a tab called “Haiku Styles”.  Click on that tab.  What you will find is a list of five styles of modern ELH Haiku: Traditional, Stand-Alone Hokku, Modern Haiku, One-Line Haiku, Concrete Haiku.  The first category, ‘Traditional Haiku’, is what I mean when I say ‘Syllabic Haiku’; that is to say a three-line poem of 5-7-5.  The site also contains descriptions of each form, so that the reader can discern both what the various approaches have in common, and also what distinguishes each type from the others.  I think it is very well done.

At the site the author of the page (Baird?) writes:

“Into the 21st century the descendants of Basho's hokku multiply daily into various styles of poetic expression but all bearing still a scent of the Basho hokku dna. While the family resemblances may sometimes seem tenuous, those examples of high seriousness and individual accomplishments of poetic expression deserve to be appreciated.”

I like the way this is put forward.  I often think of the various approaches to ELH as the children, or descendants, of Japanese Haiku; I think of them as siblings and view many of the arguments between them as kind of like sibling rivalries.  Each descendant wants to claim the inheritance of the Japanese original, but the truth is they all have the requisite ‘hokku dna’ to make such a claim.

One of the consequences of viewing the various approaches as distinct forms is that it allows one to appreciate the forms on their own terms instead of evaluating the other approaches based on one’s own specific approach to Haiku.  For example, recently I wrote a very enthusiastic review for Amazon of a Haiku collection that was all done in what I think of as ‘free verse Haiku’; what “Under the Basho” refers to as ‘Modern Haiku’.  I did this even though I, myself, take a syllabic approach to Haiku.  I had no problem doing this because I see free verse Haiku as a distinct form; that is to say it has its own standards, techniques, and esthetic ideals.  Just as I would not evaluate a Villanelle based on the formal requirements of a Sonnet, so too I do not evaluate free verse Haiku based on the standards of a syllabic approach.  Comprehending the different approaches to Haiku as distinct forms has the effect of opening one’s self to these other approaches and allowing for the appreciation of each of them.  That is why I find “Under the Basho” such a worthy project; it is allowing space for these different approaches to breathe without imposing the standards of one approach on the others. 

So take a look at the website and, if you are so inclined, you might want to submit some of your own Haiku for the next edition of “Under the Basho”.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


A grove of ancient oaks
Like a dream that recently spoke
Night song

Friday, October 11, 2013

Donegal Haiku: A Review

Donegal Haiku by Francis Harvey
A Review

I enjoy reading Haiku collections that are centered in a specific geography.  I don’t always get the specific references, because I won’t always be familiar with specific geographical features and what local residents feel about them.  Even so, there is something rooted about these kinds of collections that I find appealing.  Charles Walker’s Haiku and High Timber is a good example of such a collection.

A new one that I have come across, published just this year, is Donegal Haiku by the Irish poet, Francis Harvey.  I am not familiar with Harvey’s poetic output; but from what I have read he has received many prizes for his poetry.  Harvey’s approach to Haiku is in most respects traditional; seasonal reference is common, but also absent in a number of Haiku, and the Haiku are structured syllabically.

In the world of English Language Haiku (ELH) there seem to be three main approaches to Haiku construction.  The first is the single sentence Haiku, next is the list Haiku, and the third is the juxtaposition Haiku.  Harvey uses all three modes of construction.  Here is a list Haiku:

Snow on the mountain.
Crowsfeet and your first white hair.
The end of autumn.

Each line ends with a full-stop period.  Each line is its own image or statement.  There is in this Haiku an interesting seasonal shift.  Line 1 would seem to place the Haiku in the winter season.  But line 3 goes on to clarify that it is a late autumn Haiku; late enough for snow.  So the seasonal placement is nicely ambiguous.

Line 2 invites us to think of it as an analogy to Line 1 without explicitly saying so.  This analogical inference weaves the two lines together.  And Line 3 seasonally resonates with the two images. 

Here’s another example of the list approach:

Five crows in a tree.
The wind ruffles their feathers.
The leaves of my book.

Again the three lines end in full-stop periods.  Again there are three distinct images listed.  The season is inferred here rather than stated.  My inference is that this is a summer Haiku, because he is reading outside.  The use of the word ‘leaves’ in line 3 resonates with the ‘tree’ of line 1, creating a point of unification.  This Haiku is a kind of collage and is an effective use of the list approach to Haiku construction.

Here’s an example of the single sentence approach:

The sea slinks off to
its lair on the horizon
to dream of the moon.

The image here is difficult to grasp but tantalizing; my sense is that Harvey is communicating a feeling through images.  As the last line indicates, the Haiku is in a dream mode which is a legitimate arena for Haiku.

Here is an example of juxtaposition:

I watched him that day
take his last walk on the strand.
The tide was ebbing.

Line 3 is a mild juxtaposition; it is not startling, but it shifts our awareness from the human being who is being watched by the author to the world of nature, placing the incident in a larger context.  And the ebbing tide is a nice resonance for a ‘last walk’.

Here is a stronger use of juxtaposition:

Dreams of the Trappist:
snow falling on snow and clouds
colliding with clouds.

The relationship between the two parts (line 1, and lines 2 and 3) is more distant than in the previous Haiku.  It takes more energy to link the two on the reader’s part; but I find it an effective use of the juxtaposition approach to Haiku.

Sometimes Harvey’s Haiku are humorous:

He was so obsessed
with death he began sending
mass cards to himself.

This is a single sentence zinger Haiku; designed to give us a laugh at someone’s obsession. 

A few times Harvey uses poetic devices such as rhyme:

The sound of the sea
in the middle of Ireland.
The wind in the trees.

I like this Haiku.  It creates a mild tension in lines 1 and 2 (how could there be the sound of the sea in the middle of Ireland) which is nicely resolved in line 3.  I would have preferred no punctuation at the end of line 2, so that line 2 could function as a pivot line; but that’s just my preference.

Here’s an example of personification:

Not a breath of wind.
The vanity of clouds
in the lake’s mirror.

I think this is nicely done; it’s a good usage of personification (which was also used in the above Haiku about the sea going to its lair).  I enjoy personification in Haiku because it opens a door to greater intimacy with the natural world.  I think the attribution of human psychological characteristics, such as vanity, to the natural realm makes sense if you think of the realm of nature as also conscious.  That is to say if clouds have consciousness, then attributing psychological states to them is not that great a leap.

I enjoyed this collection and have read it several times.  Harvey effectively uses a variety of techniques for Haiku construction all within the confines of a traditional syllabic approach.  Harvey has a distinctive voice or tone which I find attractive.  I suspect it is the tone of his locale.  This little book is an invitation to join him there.

A cloudless blue sky.
The wind blows wisps of black smoke.
Her hair in her eyes.

Donegal Haiku
Francis Harvey
ISBN: 9781906614744

Available from Amazon

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Where the river meets the sea at land's end
Once again I feel free
As strong waves of memory
Drift into eternity

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tanka River


My latest book is called "Tanka River" and it is now available for purchase.

Tanka River contains five collections of Tanka:

Sketches from Life
The Gallery at the Gate of Repentance
Still Life
A Sequence on Love

In addition to the five collections of Tanka, the book "Tanka River" contains seven Tanka Melodies.  These are melodies specifically designed for the Tanka form.  The melodies can be used to create songs by combining verses from various sources.  The melodies function well for Tanka in general; they are not specifically for the Tanka I have written.  I have used these melodies on several occasions to create Tanka songs using Tanka from various sources and the audiences enjoyed them.  The melodies are simple, folk-like tunes.

Tanka River
ISBN: 9781490550756

Available from Amazon and it can be ordered from your local bookstore.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sundial

The Sundial

Heaps of leaves cover
The stone sundial in the park
By a stone angel

A visitor slowly strolls
His ‘Visitor’s Guide’ in hand

Sold at the newsstand
The latest tips on races
And some candy bars

While above the sound of cars
An airplane seems to hover

Drifts of snow cover
The stone sundial in the park
And the memorial

The bronze plaque testimonial
Long lists of forgotten names

An old man who’s lame
Playing chess with a stranger
He can hardly see

“If it were up to me
We would build a highrise here.”

The councilman sneers,
Grinning avariciously,
And shakes someone’s hand

At the rickety newsstand
People seem to speak lower

The New Moon covers
The stone sundial in the park
With the touch of stars

Observed through some jailhouse bars
It looks like another world

Like a dream unfurled
After twenty years apart
A surprised greeting

At the small A. A. Meeting
He’s trying to recover

While a hawk hovers
Above the stone sundial
In the city park

An old dog can barely bark
While the sun is rising fast

“This is unsurpassed,
These days that I’ve spent with you,
I’d like them to last . . .”

Holding hands as they walk past
The smiling teenage lovers

July shade covers
The stone sundial in the park
By the grove of trees

Standing there, he looks displeased
By the message he received

“It’s hard to believe
That they would really fire me
After all these years.”

There’s an odd absence of fear,
But other times were tougher

Like when his mother
Went to work day after day
For very little pay

Even so, she’d often say,
“Beauty’s there to discover”

Plum blossoms cover
The stone sundial in the park
By the great boulder

Answering her granddaughter,
Grandma says, “Now I’m older.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Long Song

Long Song

Early September
Under a sky without clouds
A field of dry grass

The heat of the afternoon,
I should be doing something

A plane is passing
Almost at the horizon
Where the hills begin

There is a path that is thin
And narrow; a few use it

“I prefer diets
That are not too restrictive,
One I can live with.”

Studying the ways of thrift
He balances his checkbook

Then he takes a look
At the tulips around him
At the city park

A doorway into the past
Where all our fears have decayed

Free from all dismay
Besides the frozen river
A fox stops to gaze

At two lovers both unfazed
By the inclement weather

It seems forever,
Rain has fallen all month long
And now the clouds part

Above the abandoned mart
A full moon that’s extra bright

And then there’s the sight
Of numberless autumn leaves
Swept up by a breeze

She is tense and ill-at-ease
From a weird, disturbing dream

Things aren’t what they seem,
Nothing on this earth will last,
Scattered by time’s blast

Things vanish into the past
Echoes that we can’t recall

But before they fall
Apple blossoms in the dawn
In the open field

A steady wind has revealed
The touch of eternity’s song

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cinquain Day for 2013

Cinquain Day for 2013

Good Morning:

Today is Cinquain Day, referring to what is also called the ‘Crapsey Cinquain’ or, sometimes, the ‘American Cinquain’.  It is a form created by Adelaide Crapsey early in the 20th century.  It is a five-line form with the syllable count as follows: 2-4-6-8-2, for a total of 22 syllables.

It is an attractive form.  Personally, I find it to be a greater challenge than the more well-known, and more widely dispersed, syllabic haiku.  For me, the last line, of 2 syllables, carries a lot of weight; if that last line is not successful, it undermines the entire poem.

But it is also a rewarding form to write in.  And there exists now a substantial quantity of Cinquain poetry.  As a form, it appears to have found its modest place in the world of English language verse.

For those interested in this form I would like to recommend two publications: the anthologies produced by Amaze magazine for the years 2006 and 2007.  Amaze was a journal devoted to the Cinquain which published from, I believe, 2002 or 2001, through 2007.  It was an excellent publication and I, for one, was disappointed to see it go into hiatus.  But I understand how publishing a poetry magazine can be very time consuming.  And the legacy left by this magazine is fruitful.

In 2006 and 2007 the editor, Deborah Kolodji, gathered the material for those years into these two anthologies.  The anthologies begin with the Cinquain published that year.  Amaze published four times a year and the Cinquain are gathered according to the issue, and then within each alphabetically by author.  After the Cinquain are gathered articles, including book reviews, the history of the Cinquain, and other topics.  These articles are uniformly well-written and informative.

I have read these two anthologies several times.  The Cinquain in the anthologies show a variety of approaches to the form.  Taken together for the aspiring Cinquain poet they offer inspiration and a sense of how the syllabic structure of the Cinquain is treated. 

So if you find yourself attracted to this little jewel of a form, I recommend that you get both of these anthologies.  They are available from

Amaze: The Cinquain Journal
2006 Annual
ISSN: 1935-8849

Amaze: The Cinquain Journal
2007 Annual
ISSN: 1935-8849

Available at

To find these two volumes at lulu, put the word ‘Amaze’ in the ‘search’ function at the top of the page.  The two anthologies will appear five or six items down when the search is done.