Friday, June 28, 2013

Corrective Lens

Interpretations --

We do not see the world.
What we see is our own mind,
We see ev'rything through glasses
That distort all the things that we find,
As if orange was the color of grasses,
Like those who believe that nothing surpasses
Their desires that crumble like broken fences,
As if a solid mountain range contained passes,
As if truth was determined by vote of the masses,
Or those who believe that the only thing we can grasp is
That which can be measured and observed by the five senses,
Unconcerned and unaware that all those things become ashes --

But all becomes clear when we think of this: ev'rything vanishes.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Haiku in English Poetry Anthologies: Part 2

Haiku in English Poetry Anthologies: Part 2

In this second post on Haiku in Poetry Anthologies I’m going to look at Haiku in the Norton Poetry Anthology: Fifth Edition, and Haiku in the ‘American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 2’, published by the Library of America.

The Library of America has published a multi-volume collection of American Poetry.  The purpose is documentary.  The intent is to publish a thorough history of American Poetry.  I believe it is the most extensive documentation of that history; its volumes range from the 17th century to the two volumes covering the 20th century.  (I believe there is a third 20th century volume in the works.)

The Norton Anthology is focused on the entirety of English language poetry and as such is a larger undertaking.  The purpose is to put in a single volume the significant poems from the entire history of English.  It starts with Old English poems and finishes with late 20th century efforts.

Haiku appears in both of these volumes in the form of selections from Richard Wright’s Haiku.  As far as I know, these are the first appearances of Haiku written in English appearing in general anthologies of English language poetry. 

The ‘American Poetry’ anthology also includes some of Wright’s early, free verse, poetry.  Though Wright is best known for his novels and autobiographical works, Wright published poetry early in his career.  The ‘American Poetry’ anthology places his late Haiku in the larger context of Wright’s early poetry, which is helpful.  I haven’t seen anyone else do this.

The ‘Norton Anthology’ only includes Wright’s Haiku, not his earlier poetry.  The ‘Norton Anthology’ is an immense undertaking.  To try to distill the entire history of English Language Poetry into a single volume is a herculean task.  I find myself in awe of the result.  It is an amazing in its scope.  It is a really fine job.  No doubt everyone who peruses the volume will find specific poets that are not included that they would like to have seen therein.  I would have liked, for example, to have had selections from the King James Bible; but I can understand the logic of excluding poetry done by a committee.  It must have been difficult to winnow this vast field of verse and I bet the editors had many long discussions about just who to include and who to pass over.

The inclusion of six of Wright’s Haiku in the Norton Anthology is due in particular to Mary Jo Salter, one of three editors.  In an interview she specifically mentions how good she felt about getting Wright into the anthology.  Salter is a good conduit for the inclusion of Haiku in such an anthology because she has written Haiku herself and has spent time in Japan.

If you compare the six Haiku found in the ‘Norton Anthology’ with the nineteen Haiku found in the ‘American Poetry’ anthology there is a difference in emphasis.  This is likely a reflection of the editor’s stylistic preferences.  The ‘American Poetry’ anthology covers a wider range of Wright’s Haiku, nicely balancing landscape Haiku with Wright’s more human-centered Haiku.  The anthology begins with the well-known opening Haiku from Wright’s collection:

I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.

The ‘Norton Anthology’ includes the often quoted Haiku 31:

In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.

Interestingly, between the two anthologies they share only one Haiku, Number 21:

On winter mornings
The candle shows faint markings
Of the teeth of rats.

I’m intrigued that this would be a Haiku that both editorial groups would be drawn to. 

The Norton Anthology also includes some haiku-like poems by Ezra Pound:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Some writers regard this as the first Haiku in English.  And there is Pound’s version of Ts’ai Chi’h:

The petals fall in the fountain,
the orange-colored rose-leaves,
Their ochre clings to the stone.

But in terms of Haiku that is consciously written as Haiku, Wright is the significant presence in both of these anthologies.

The presence of Wright’s Haiku in the Norton Anthology is a sign, I think, that Haiku has become a presence in English literature.  While the presence of Wright’s Haiku in the ‘American Poetry’ anthology is also significant, because the American Poetry series is multi-volumed, and has a documentary approach, it makes sense that there would be room for Wright’s poetry.

The Norton Anthology has a much broader scope in time and therefore the winnowing process for inclusion is stronger.  In short, the editors had to be much more selective.  They wanted to include exemplary poems spanning the entire history of English language poetry.  For this reason, the inclusion of Haiku is evidence for Haiku having become fully a part of English language poetry.

I am aware that some ELH Haijin have a different approach to Haiku than Wright took.  And this might generate some ambivalence about the inclusion of Wright as representative of ELH.  This isn’t unusual in poetry.  Some people have a specific view, for example, of how an English Language Sonnet should be constructed and the inclusion of Sonnets not aligned with this view might be a cause of some discomfort.

But I would like to suggest that the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku in a book like the Norton Anthology is a significant step for ELH in general.  It is an acknowledgement that this form has a place in our poetic heritage; that is to say that as a form it has a presence along with forms like the Villanelle, etc.  In this sense, whether one agrees with Wright’s approach, or advocates for a different approach, one can still celebrate the appearance of Haiku in this anthology context.

From the larger perspective of syllabic poetry in general, I see the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku as a significant step for syllabic poetry.  There are other examples of syllabic poetry in the Norton Anthology; e.g. Marianne Anderson, and some poems by Dylan Thomas.  But, in my view, Wright’s Haiku are the first inclusion in an Anthology of the prestige of the Norton Anthology where a specific syllabic form is given space.  I mean that a form that is shaped by the counting of syllables as opposed to the counting of poetic feet. 

As I said above, I think the inclusion of Wright’s Haiku in these anthologies is a cause for celebration among ELH poets in general.  It is a first appearance of the form in a general anthology context.  I suspect that in the future, now that the door has opened, a broader range of Haiku will become noted; just as different approaches to the Sonnet are now routinely included.  That is something we can all look forward to.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Haiku in English Language Poetry Anthologies: Part 1

Haiku in English Language Poetry Anthologies: Part 1

I have posted before about how syllabic Haiku, that is to say Haiku written in the 5-7-5 syllabic shape, has become a part of American poetry.  We can see this by the large number of works published by ordinary people, on a wide range of subjects, using the 5-7-5 format.

Another way of seeing how deeply syllabic Haiku has sunk roots into American culture is to look at how Haiku are now appearing in poetry anthologies.  I am not referring to anthologies of American or English Language Haiku; those are mostly done for a small, targeted, audience.  They are like Sonnet anthologies in that they target people who are interested in a specific form.

I am referring to general anthologies of English language poetry, meaning anthologies that have the purpose of presenting to the reader a broad swath of English language poetry.  Naturally these anthologies include a wide variety of forms including sonnets, villanelles, ballads, lyrics, free verse, etc.  Recently, such anthologies have begun including syllabic Haiku.  I think this signals that there is a general, wide-spread, recognition that syllabic Haiku now has a place in the garden of English language poetry.  There are three examples I am aware of: The Giant Book of Poetry by William Roetzheim, American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume 2 published by the Library of America, and the Norton Anthology of Poetry: Fifth Edition.

The first example is The Giant Book of Poetry by William Roetzheim.  This is a personal collection.  The criteria of selection is simply poems that Roetzheim particularly likes.  In the ‘Introduction’ Roetzheim writes, “This book started out as a flurry of yellow sticky notes.  I was new to poetry and as I devoured hundreds of books of poetry over a four year period, I pasted yellow sticky notes on those poems I especially like . . . Eventually I decided to organize these into a single document . . . It was a very small step from that document to this book.”  The book has received glowing reviews; the book has endorsements from people like Ted Kooser, Mark Strand, and Billy Collins.  I have enjoyed this anthology.  Because it is one man’s selection based on his own personal responses, there appear in the book poems you might not find that are more historically based.

For example, Roetzheim includes translations of poems into English that have had a significant impact on him.  This is unusual for poetry anthologies, but I can see the logic of doing so.  It is as an English poem that Roetzheim became acquainted with them, rather than in their original language. 

It is translations of Haiku that Roetzheim includes in his Giant Book.  The translations are from the four books published in the late 1950’s by Peter Beilenson.  Beilenson uses a distinctive layout: the Haiku is given the basic three line format, but the second line, the seven syllable line, is indented and divided into two parts.  Here is the first Haiku from the Giant Book, it is by Moritake:

     BRANCH? . . . OH NO!

And here is one by Ryusui:

     THE DARK FIELDS . . .

Note that Beilenson uses an all caps typography which Roetzheim keeps.  This four line, or perhaps 3-1/2 line, format is one that some contemporary American Haijin have adopted.  The best example of this is Peter Britell, though Britell drops the all caps typography.  The breaking of the long line into two parts has some justification in East Asian prosody.  It is one option for mimicking the caesura that such a line is supposed to have.  Though I do not use it myself, I think it is a reasonable approach to take.

But back to the Giant Book.  Here is a Haiku by Jokun:

     TO GROW OLD . . .

And here is one by Shiki:

     FULL-BLOOMING . . .

And finally, there is one by Roka:

     ON THE GRAVE . . .

That’s it.  Just those five.  In an anthology of about 600 pages these five Haiku constitute a modest presence.  But what I find interesting is that they have a presence at all.  Roetzheim includes these Haiku in the same way that he includes four Rubai from the Fitzgerald translation of Omar Khayyam.  I also find his choices interesting in that he does not include any Haiku by Basho, Buson, or Issa.  His choices are personal: he really liked these Haiku poems so they were placed in his anthology.  It’s an interesting collection.  All five of the Haiku are seasonal, which one would expect from traditional Japanese Haiku.  Four of the Haiku use seasonal words, and the last Haiku names the season explicitly.  All five of the Haiku have a turn in the last line, giving each Haiku the classic two-part structure.  All in all I think this small collection does well in presenting the basics of traditional Haiku to any reader who might happen upon this anthology.


The Giant Book of Poetry
Edited by William Poetzheim
ISBN: 9780976800125

Friday, June 21, 2013

Crossing the Valley of Dusk

Late afternoon
No one is in the store
The sky will turn into night soon
Moon roar

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Beautiful and Pointless: A Reivew

Beautiful and Pointless by David Orr
A Review

How would you go about introducing someone to poetry?  Say you are at a family gathering and there are some cousins present you haven’t seen in a long time.  They ask you what you are doing.  You mention that you are writing poetry, or that you just got a poem published; something like that.  Your cousin is surprised and a little intrigued and asks you about poetry; like what is it?  Or perhaps a co-worker learns that you write poetry and asks you about poetry.  How would you go about showing, or telling, someone who is completely unfamiliar with poetry what it is and why it attracts you?

This is the task that David Orr set himself in writing Beautiful & Pointless.  Orr loves poetry, but he recognizes that the contemporary poetry scene is baffling for many people.  Orr’s approach is to compare poetry to a foreign country; Orr picks Belgium.  And just as a visitor to Belgium will learn about the country a little bit at a time, so also someone new to poetry will go through a similar process of becoming familiar with the territory.

Orr is an entertaining, and often witty, writer.  He has a way with anecdotes and asides that keep the reader engaged.  But, in all honesty, I don’t think Orr achieved his self-proclaimed task of writing a guide to modern poetry for those not familiar with it.  For one thing, Orr spends a lot of time airing modern poetry’s dirty laundry; that is to say factional disputes.  I doubt this would be encouraging to a newcomer to the land of poetry.  For another, there are extended discussions about the nature of form, and other topics, which assume that the reader already has an extensive knowledge of poetry in order for the discussion to make sense.  I believe that a complete newcomer to poetry would find Orr’s Chapter on Form obscure. 

That doesn’t mean that I think the book is bad, only that I don’t think Beautiful & Pointless works as an introduction to modern poetry.  I do think, however, that Orr’s book is a good book for contemporary poets to read.  The book is an excellent summary of the situation of modern poetry, its various factions, perspectives, its culture of competitive grantsmanship, its isolation in modern Universities which has both plusses and minuses.  As a report on the world of modern poetry in the U.S. it is well done and well worth the read.

Orr also has a good grasp of competing narratives that try to explain the situation of modern poetry.  On pages 63-65 Orr writes an amusing summary of the various ways that poets relate the history of modern poetry.  Please read it; it is very entertaining.  But to sum up: if you are a free verse poet your general narrative is that in the early 20th century poetry broke free of its metrical shackles and embarked into new and exciting territory.  There may have been some setbacks (e.g. Auden), and some odd hangers-on to the traditional approach (Frost, Wilbur, Millay, Brooks), but eventually, by the 60’s, poets heroically cast off the last remaining constraints and now we have a situation which is truly free, expressive, and boundless.

On the other hand, if you are a traditional poet (which is a large percentage), the narrative is that in the early 20th century some poets succumbed to the blandishments of modernism and experimented with avant-garde approaches that have, for the most part, proven to be dead-ends.  In the middle of the 20th century poets recovered (e.g. Auden), but then all hell broke loose in the 60’s and 70’s, and it has been downhill ever since with free verse poetry becoming more and more obscure, more and more isolated, more and more out of touch with an audience.

Which narrative is true?  The thing is, there is some truth to both of these narratives.  They are not factual analyses, but elaborate tales used to place one’s own approach to poetry in a favorable light. 

I would like to suggest a third narrative; one that Orr does not touch on, but one which has been helpful to me in my journey through the modern poetry landscape.  What I would like to suggest is that in the 20th century the center of poetry moved from self-identified poets to popular song.  This way of looking at 20th century poetry begins by redefining the borders of the land of poetry; the borders become larger, the country more extensive.  It is instructive to me that Orr does not mention song lyrics as a part of poetry.  What I would like to suggest is that we do this, that we embrace song lyrics as a significant part of 20th century poetry.  Try this out yourself and see if it does not change your narrative understanding of 20th century poetry.

One way of seeing the connection between popular song and poetry is through the ballad.  One of the most popular 20th century poets, Robert Service, is famous for his ballads, but he is not the only one.  Gwendolyn Brooks wrote numerous ballads; I suspect she is best known for these ballads and they are frequently included in anthologies.  The poetic ballad deliberately mimics the rhythmic shape of the sung ballad; and it would be an easy matter to put these poetic ballads to music.

Another way of approaching this is to note how often song lyrics appear by themselves in collections to be read, without the music.  There is a big, thick, book, “Bob Dylan: Lyrics 1962 – 2001”.  It contains the lyrics of Dylan’s songs from his first album, ‘Bob Dylan’, to his 2001 album ‘Love and Theft’.  There is no music, just the lyrics.  In other words, the book is a book of poems.

There is a lot of precedent for this.  The Confucian Classic, ‘The Book of Odes’, or ‘The Book of Songs’ is a similar collection of the lyrics of songs that Confucius collected from various regions of China.  What we observe in such a collection is that poetry and song, though they differ, are nevertheless porous to each other.

The separation of song lyrics from their original musical context so that they can be read as poetry, on their own, without musical support, recognizes that poetry and music inhabit different, though intimately related, regions.  This kind of separation allows for multiple melodies to a single poem, or the use of the same melody for many different poems.  A good example of this is Dylan’s song ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which may be Dylan’s most performed poem/song.  After its initial release on Dylan’s album ‘John Wesley Harding’, Jimi Hendrix soon followed with his own version.  The version by Hendrix is really different, musically, from Dylan’s; there are extended electric guitar riffs and rhythmic changes.  Interestingly, Dylan responded favorably to Hendrix’s version and subsequently uses the Hendrix interpretation in Dylan’s own performances.

It is my suggestion that modern poetry is as popular as poetry has ever been, that modern poetry has a huge, massive, following; but that one finds that audience and that following in popular music.  My suggestion is that Bob Dylan is one of the 20th century’s major poets; right up there with Auden, Frost, and Millay.  It is in this region where poetry has continued to generate poems of great beauty and widespread appeal.

Dylan is an outstanding example of a songwriter whose works are read as poetry; but there are many others.  The songs of Hart, Hammerstein, and many Broadway tunesmiths are recited by people at a popular level.  A song like ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered’ has become a standard and on several occasions I have heard people recite a verse or two from that song without singing it; in other words, recited the song as a poem.

Orr does not touch on the role of popular song as a conveyer of modern poetry.  Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review and also writes for Poetry magazine.  Orr is, therefore, deeply embedded in modern poetry culture.  It is my thesis that one of the things that happened to poetry in the early 20th century, is that poetry isolated itself from song and no longer thinks of song, popular song, as a resource or ground in which poetry is rooted.  There are exceptions (like Gwendolyn Brooks), but for the most part I think this is accurate.

Here is an anecdote illustrating what I mean.  A few years ago I gave a reading of my Tanka at a Haiku Society.  I read from a sequence of Tanka all on the theme of love.  Many of these Tanka rhyme and more than a few use images from popular culture.  During the question period I was asked about sources of inspiration.  I mentioned country-western music as one source.  When I said this there was visible eye-rolling and shaking of the heads.  This is, in part, a class issue, I think.  But another part is simply a view that poets have of themselves as embodying ‘high’ culture, of poetry as something extraordinary and Olympian.  This creates a gulf between poets and popular culture which is difficult to bridge.  Some poets, though, are open to it.  In A. E. Stallings’ latest collection, ‘Olives’, there is a wonderful sonnet that uses the diction of country-western music and references Hank Williams (another powerful songwriter whose lyrics make good poems).

So in the end, I feel that Orr’s book is an illustration of how modern poets, self-identified poets, have created their own isolation.  It isn’t simply that poetry is ‘another country’, with its own peculiar habits and customs; the primary metaphor that Orr uses.  It’s more like poets have become gatekeepers to the land of poetry and are charging high fees for anyone who wants to enter.  The result is that fewer and fewer people bother; particularly since the land of song is just down the road and there are no gatekeepers at its entrance.

So how would you introduce people to poetry?  Here is how I would go about it.  I would do it the same way I would introduce someone to baking or gardening.  I would start with something simple and accessible.  For baking I might start with a simple bread recipe, or maybe something even simpler like a dinner roll recipe.  I would want to start with something that would, in all likelihood, work.

In the same way, if someone asked me about poetry I would start with poems that are readily accessible.  I might use some of Emily Dickinson’s poems; the easier ones.  Or I might read the famous passage from Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and time for every purpose under the heaven . . .”  (the King James version, of course; we are trying to introduce poetry, after all).  Or I might read from a nursery rhyme, something familiar.  If the person I’m talking to seems receptive, I might include a sonnet by Wordsworth, like the one written on Westminster Bridge.  A scene from Romeo and Juliet might be worth considering.  And, of course, Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’ almost guarantees a positive response.

I would avoid poems that are complex or allusive; say poets like T. S. Elliot or Geoffrey Hill.  Those could come later, after some experience.  I would avoid free verse poetry which is not distinctively poetic.  Free verse resources would be the Psalms (the 23rd Psalm almost always works) in the King James version, and some of Whitman’s poems; ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ is another example that almost always works in the sense of communicating.

It seems to me that this really is the only way to let someone know what poetry is about.  This is similar to learning about music, or, again, baking.  This is why I think ultimately that Orr’s book misses the mark.  Arcane discussions about form won’t draw a newcomer into poetry; only poems will. 

Still, Orr’s book is a valuable book for poets to read.  I often found it insightful in the sense that it is an insider’s often humorous look at the world of poetry in the early years of the 21st century.  If you haven’t already, and you are interested in poetry, or are a poet yourself, I recommend that you get a copy; you’ll enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Past in the Present

The Past in the Present

Those of us who have a long-standing interest in English Language Haiku often have a personal collection of favorites.  I have a group of ‘top ten’.  I’ve noticed over the years that this clutch of Haiku favorites shifts as I make room for new Haiku that I am reading.  Yet there are a few that seem to lodge themselves in the top tier of my favorites and have stayed there over many years.

One of my favorites is a Haiku by Charles Walker:

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

(Haiku and High Timber, page 65)

Ever since I have read it, this Haiku has stayed with me.  I find it particularly attractive and exemplary. 

The syllable count is 5-7-6, for an overall count of 18 syllables.  This is well within the bounds of traditional Haiku.  The long Line 3 does not feel overextended.  The lineation is clear; there are no run-ons.  Each line depicts an element of the Haiku.

The structure of this Haiku is of the list type.  That is to say that this Haiku is not a single sentence type of Haiku, nor is it a two-part Haiku centered on, or pivoting around, a juxtaposition.  Grammatically, each line is a phrase; notice the absence of any verb.  Each line is an item and the three lines together form a collage that creates a coherent whole.

Line 2 depicts the temporal setting: Still and silent dawn.  This tells us the time of day, but Line 1 also is a seasonal indicator.  A ‘silent dawn’ is not likely to be Spring or Summer because dawn in those seasons is likely to be accompanied by bird calls and perhaps the movements of trees in a seasonal breeze.  Spring and summer both contain activity in the morning hours.  Both fall and winter are possible candidates for the season as depicted in Line 1. 

Line 2 narrows the focus both in terms of time and space: ‘The aroma of wood smoke’.  First, in terms of space Line 2 brings our attention from the general setting of dawn to the specific act that is happening; wood smoke from a fire and its aroma.  Notice also the adding of the sense of smell to the Haiku in Line 2.  Line 2 contains both visual and olfactory elements.  In addition, the season is now likely confirmed as fall as camping in Winter season is more rare than camping in the Fall season.  With Line 2 I tend to think of the month as either October or November.

Line 3 expands the sensation of both time and place; it is both a temporal and spatial shift.  The combining of both temporal and spatial expansion in a single line is done elegantly, smoothly; and it is one of the reasons why I place this Haiku in my ‘top ten’ Haiku.  In lesser hands line three might have been a comment about the sky, an expansion of the visual setting.  For example, ‘Beneath the clear sky’, or ‘A few autumn clouds’, or ‘Bare oak tree branches’, etc.  Or, perhaps a more modern approach, might have added something personal such as, ‘The taste of coffee’, or ‘Vanishing dreams’, etc.  Another possibility would be to add a detail to the scene: ‘The distant mountains’, or ‘Oak tree shadows’, etc.

All of these possibilities work and no doubt the reader can think of additional possibilities.  And they would have rounded out the Haiku in a pleasant way.

The key to the beauty of this Haiku is the sudden expansion that Line 3 offers by placing the morning scene into a broad spatial and temporal field.  Line 3 also offers us an observation of what is going on in the interior of the implied person who is present.  In Lines 1 and 2 we have a Haiku that is painting a picture, a landscape.  But in Line 3 the person appears and we enter into the subjectivity of the person who is by the fire.  It is the subjectivity of the person that functions as the gate to the expansion of the temporal and spatial moment.

In Line 3 we interact with the person in the Haiku; the person is recalling ‘other times and places’.  This takes the Haiku scene beyond the present moment, from the isolated now, into the larger dimensions of time and space.  This Haiku demonstrates how our moments are not a series of separated snapshots; rather they are woven into the fabric of the past, emerge from the past.  The now is not a finger snap; it is a vast field that incorporates previous experience in both time and in space.

This kind of temporal and spatial shift is what makes this Haiku sparkle.  Spatial shifting in Line 3 is found in many Haiku; it is an effective technique.  Temporal shift in Line 3 is more rare, but I have observed it in, for example, some Haiku by Edith Shiffert.  Combining a temporal and spatial shift, and using subjectivity as the gate to this shift, is, I think, rare.  At least I have not often encountered it.  And to accomplish this shift with such elegance; well, Walker has really done a fine job here.

There is a quiet, contemplative, and relaxed feeling about this Haiku.  This Haiku illuminates the nature of the 'now'.  We have a tendency to shrink our understanding of the present down to a single moment; to isolate the now as if it is disconnected, as if it stands alone.  This Haiku opens up the now into its larger dimensions. It guides us easily to ‘other times and places’. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ancient Hymn

Cool mornings give way
To weekend hikes with old friends
In warm afternoons

With a few hawthorns blooming
At the entrance to the park

Two lovers hold hands
And dream of hours together
And a long future

The fountain at the courthouse
Is turned off to save water

The heat of the day
Continues into evening
With a sky that's clear

A comet, for a few nights,
Appears on the horizon

While at the zenith,
In the cool October air,
The half-full waxing moon

Lighting the deserted walk
That meanders through the park

Several flashlights
As policemen scan the grounds
For possible clues

The snowfall accumulates
(A world without rough edges)

On the Christmas trees,
For Sale at the Used Car Lot,
Many-colored lights

Dad sings to his son a hymn,
A song that's ancient and new

Saturday, June 15, 2013

After Returning from a Solitary Retreat

They call it Sky Farm.  That's appropriate.
It is located in a high valley
Hidden between Napa and Sonoma.
Its purpose is silence and solitude.

There's more than enough time to contemplate
Without all the noise and strife and folly
That generates such a foul aroma,
So that life appears abysmal and crude.

Alone in the hills I can sense the great-
ness of God, the presence of the holy,
The eternal, from which the corona
Of His endless, rivering grace shines through.

When I leave I think, and this brings some tears,
I could live this way for a million years.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Human Condition

One foot in the stream
Of this world of constant change,
A vanishing dream;
One foot in eternity
A refuge of true safety

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making the Best of It

Comet in the sky --
I won't hold it against you,
Your many, many lies

Monday, June 10, 2013

Haiku for Sports Fans: A Review of "Five Seven Five Sports"

Haiku for Sports Fans

I have touched before on how Haiku has become part of English language poetry and that one of the ways that we can see this is through popular Haiku.  There is a lot of popular Haiku published these days on every conceivable topic.  And this demonstrates, I think, how the 5-7-5 rhythm has become a part of English language poetry.

One of the topics that popular Haiku focuses on is sports.  Sports are a major concern for a high percentage of people and so it makes sense that the intersection of sports and Haiku would generate Haiku on this topic.  A recent example of this is Five Seven Five Sports: 2012 in Haiku – Language of the Games, by Andrew Hanson.

I found this collection to be intriguing.  It is distinctive in that the Haiku in this volume all consist of syllabic, 5-7-5, Haiku stanzas: that is to say that each entry has 5-7-5 stanzas, of various lengths, ranging from 1 to 14 stanzas. The emergence of the Haiku stanza is yet a further indication of how deeply Haiku has sunk roots into English poetic culture.

In the past I have been aware of Haiku stanzas only by famous practitioners of poetry such as Richard Wilbur.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find the Haiku stanza form in popular Haiku as well.  I take this as evidence that the 5-7-5 rhythm of Haiku is strong enough to create its own variations.

Hanson’s book is a major undertaking.  It is done as a calendar of sports events for the year 2012.  Each day of the year there is an entry for some sporting event that occurred on that day.  Thus there are 366 Haiku stanzas (2012 was a leap year), one for each day of the year.  The stanzas are of actual sporting events that were held on that particular day.  So for sports fans who also happen to like Haiku, this is a fantastic volume.  It is a record in Haiku stanzas of an entire year of specific sporting events. 

As mentioned above, the stanzas range from 1 to 14 verses.  The sports events that are covered consist of both college and professional competitions.  In addition a wide range of types of sports are touched on including baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, tennis, etc.  It is an amazingly complete record of the 2012 sports season.

Hanson’s Haiku are all in the 5-7-5 traditional syllabic format.  For the most part, Hanson’s lineation is based on grammar; each line is a grammatical unit.  Here is the entry for August 5:

Human lightning bolt
Running for independence
Usain in London;

41st long stride,
With head leaning for the gold –
Olympic record;

Unstoppable force
Strikes across the stadium –
Black, gold, and green cape.

At times, Hanson uses poetic devices such as alliteration.  Here is an example from March 31:

Kansas moves forward,
Inbound to the title game,
Foes failing to foul.

Line 3 is nicely alliterative. 

And here are the stanzas for October 30:

Checking into game,
Allen taps KG’s shoulder –
No-look pass on bench . . .

On broken-down play,
A drift behind Celtic’s back –
Ray buries big 3 . . .

Shot clock running down,
Ray squares in replacement’s face –
Soft Miami bank . . .

Ringing D-Wade’s neck,
Rondo, too far behind, fouls –
A heated finish.

The non-sports fan, like myself, will miss much of the action.  Even the more casual sports fan, I suspect, may have to look up some of the names.  Hanson names players and strategies with the assumption that the reader will understand whom or what he is referring to.  But for the dedicated sports fan, like my older brother, I think these stanzas will be readily accessible.  So these are specialized Haiku stanzas written for a particular audience.

And I have found that this is often the case with popular Haiku.  The Haiku by Ryan Mecum, whose Haiku are focused on the horror film genre, assume that the reader knows the specifics of werewolves, vampires, and zombies.  In other words, Mecum’s popular Haiku are written for a knowledgeable audience in a specific field.  Likewise, Hanson’s sports Haiku are written for people who are already soaked in sports; the kind of person who readily recites sports statistics, knows famous games and players, and is familiar with the rules governing various sports in detail.

But even if you are not a sports fan, this collection is worth looking at.  It is a good example of the Haiku Stanza and how the form of the stanza can tell a brief story.  All of these entries tell a story, a story about a game won or lost.  In other words, these are narratives, condensed narratives, but nonetheless narratives, often with the main characters named.  As a Haiku poet, the tendency is to avoid narrative and instead focus on bare description.  So Hanson’s Haiku stanzas are a good teaching, or guide, on how to use the Haiku form in a narrative context.  Even a single stanza entry has a narrative context.  Here is the one for April 7:

Sergio beckons
Birdie brother on the twelfth –
Two roaring Amens.

The integration of story-telling into Haiku has not been undertaken in a significant way by the English Language Haiku community.  It is here, I feel, that Hanson’s work significantly expands the range of Haiku topics.  So even if sports is not of significant interest to you, if you are interested in Haiku, its scope, its range of subject matter, I think this collection has a lot to offer.  In closing, here is one I particularly enjoyed, it is for April 26:

Patented headband –
Cloned this night by Wolves teammates –
Absorbs one more blow;

A charge drawn and called,
One final substitution,
A bench full of hugs;

Head tap from the coach
Prompts removal of symbol,
Towel over head;

Fourteen years of work
Coming out Brad Miller’s eyes –
Bittersweet liquid.

Five Seven Five Sports: 2012 in Haiku –
Language of the Games
By Andrew Hanson

ISBN: 9781481714419


Saturday, June 8, 2013


What did people do
With all of their evening hours
Before the T.V.?
They told each other stories
As the moon rose in the sky.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Moon as Companion

The Moon as Companion

Susan August has written four books of Haiku that I have previously reviewed.  I find her work well crafted and a delight to read.  August covers a wide range of topics in a crisp, no frills style.  Here is one of her Haiku that I particularly enjoy:

walking late at night
in a city far from home
the moon is shining

(Haiku Applecart, Susan August, page 26)

Again, notice the sparseness of the style.  There are no modifiers, no adjectives or adverbs, in the Haiku.  The lineation is straightforward: each line is a grammatical unit.  Line 1 is a verb phrase.  Line 2 is a prepositional phrase.  Lines 1 and 2 lead up to Line 3 which is a simple sentence.  There is a word used in the Quaker tradition that, I think, describes the esthetics of this Haiku: the word is ‘Plain’.  If you go into an old Quaker Meeting House there are no decorations, no icons or statues, not even a pulpit or cross.  All you will find are rows of wooden benches.  This is ‘Plain’.  It means simple, unadorned.  This Haiku reminds me of that kind of Plain presence.  Plain as applied to Haiku style refers to a lack of figurative language; there are no metaphors, similes, or other poetic techniques.  The Haiku does not rhyme or use metrics.  The only determiner of lineation is grammar, which is used effectively and is sufficient for clarity.

The line count is the classic 5-7-5 of traditional Haiku and the count feels completely natural to the English language.  The Haiku seems to arise effortlessly out of an English language context.

August’s Haiku uses the technique of pivot where Line 2 is kind of a hinge.  Reading Lines 1 and 2:

walking late at night
in a city far from home

We have a simple statement of an activity.

Reading Lines 2 and 3:

in a city far from home
the moon is shining

We have another simple statement, a simple observation.

Line 2 functions to unite the two parts of the Haiku.

Notice also what is left out: the city is not named and the phase of the moon is not explicitly referenced.  In traditional Haiku from Japan, where a Saijiki is used, this would be a Fall seasonal Haiku.  This is because when the word ‘moon’ is used it is automatically used as a Fall Season Word, unless the Haiku explicitly says otherwise.  The moon of the Haiku, or its energy, fits the Fall season, and I’m willing to go along with the traditional attribution, though I don’t know if August intends it that way.  As a westerner she may have wanted to be deliberately ambiguous about the season.  Either way, it is effective.

Also left out is any description of the person who is walking late at night.  Is the person male or female?  What is their age?  Why are they in a city far from home?  To visit family?, for work?, to give a talk?, perhaps they plan to move?, perhaps they are starting a new career or going to college?  All of these questions remain open in the presence of this bare description of an act.

This Haiku is amazingly open-ended and it is that open-endedness that allows the reader to enter into it.  Each reader will fill in the Haiku with details, but those details will differ for different readers.  In addition, those details will change for a single reader over time.

I enjoy the way the Haiku moves from the individual person to the celestial in a stepwise manner.  Line 1, ‘walking late at night’, is about a person.  Line 2, ‘in a city far from home’, is the larger setting, the city, in which the walking occurs.  Line 3 expands the setting of the Haiku further by noting the presence of the moon.  So in each line the Haiku moves outward, expanding the context; moving from an individual concern to a celestial dimension.  This is done so simply, so naturally, that the reader does not feel that the movement is forced or manipulated.  It is very skillful.

I also a feel a kind of resolution in this Haiku.  The movement to the celestial presence of the moon unites the individual walking through the city with the people who are still at home.  The individual is far from home, but the moon in the sky is shared by the person walking and by those who still remain at home.  They share the moon and so the moon becomes, in this Haiku, a companion and a dispeller of loneliness.

It is the sparseness of a Haiku like this that allows us to return to it; for each time we come back to it we can find new possibilities, and new ways to explore its possibilities. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Once Upon a Time

In the month of June
A dinosaur sings a tune
Grazing on grass by the sound of a river
While the leaves of the trees in the constant breeze quiver
Unaware that even a million years will disappear much too soon

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Evening clarity
After the heat of the day
The cool summer moon

Suspended at the zenith,
Above the small city park

She watches a cloud,
As its face shifts and changes,
Just like her feelings

Again the leaves are falling
Hesitantly, one by one

"Now we have to part,"
He speaks slowly, with regret.
"It didn't work out."

The dry creek waits for the rain
An angel waits for a prayer

Saturn shifting signs,
Equinoxes, Solstices,
Workdays and weekends

At the University
The Board makes some long-term plans

As the winter wind
Whistles against the windows
And bends the branches

My Aunt crochets complex squares,
She has plans for a new shawl

Inspired  by
The colors of plum blossoms
And the morning air

The couple with no children
Decides to adopt a child

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Week Begins

The sound of sweeping
Outside of the bakery
On Monday morning
A pastery and coffee
Wakes me up, gets me going.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Sitting quietly
Waiting for the sun to rise,
Waiting for the hour
When ev'rything becomes clear --
Ev'ything passes away

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Some New Books


I'm having fun with the Createspace platform.  There are now available four collections by yours truly:

Lanterne Light
ISBN: 9781484880944

This book contains three collections:

Lanterne Light, a collection of Lanterne poems.
Destinations, a collection of Tetractys.
Skyscape, a collection of Cinquain.

A unique feature of this book is that at the end of each collection I have added melodies for the specific syllabic form.  These melodies can be used to sing the form that they apply to.  This allows readers to collect a number of poems in that form to create a song.  This can be done with the poems in 'Lanterne Light' or poems from other sources that are in the same form.


White Roses

This book contains three Haiku Sequences: Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, Towards June, and White Roses.  The first two sequences are strongly influenced by Richard Wright.  The third sequence, White Roses, uses techniques I have learned from a variety of contemporary syllabic Haijin.


Poems of Place

The three collections in this book use both free and formal approaches.  pine and pond are haiku inspired free verse that depict the life of a small pond over the four seasons.  Tea Etheree are all written in the Etheree form and all focus on the topic of tea.  And Water Psalms are free verse explorations in a fantastic or dream mode, centered on the nature of water.


And as I previously posted, Safe Harbor is also available for $12.00.  The ISBN is 9781482551983.  Safe Harbor contains three collections: Cathedrals, a collection of Etheree; Scones, a collection of Fibonacci; and Safe Harbor, a collection in a form that I invented.

All of these titles may be purchased through Amazon or they may be ordered through your local bookstore.


Oaks and boulders scattered across the field,
The clouds conceal gathered
Stars, galaxies unnumbered --
Friends I can't quite remember