Monday, April 29, 2013

Nick of Time

The branches are bent
Sagging with the weight of rain
From the gray May sky

A quiet Sunday morning
Lilies blooming in the garden

The neighbor's old dog
Checking out the neighborhood
On its daily round

Wind comes in from the ocean
Ev'ry afternoon at four

Dispelling the heat
That's built up during the day
The electric fan

Stirring the light of the moon
The fluttering white curtains

Department store sale
Forty to sixty percent
Off the listed price

As the kids return to school
The first brown leaves start to fall

On the roofs and lawns
On the sidewalks and the streets
By the doors and windows

Steadily the snow descends
All the trees are cotton white

She sits on the couch
A good time for the novel
Her friend suggested

"I saw the movie before,
But I liked the book better."

The noisy cafe
At the Doctor's suggestion
He gave up coffee

It's hard to know what to get,
People are so picky

She places the gift,
For their anniversary,
By the computer

It's larger than expected,
The tax return's arrival

In the nick of time
Just as the closing bell rings
The team makes a score

Above the sports field's night lights
Jupiter in slow motion

From clouds of galactic dust
A new star is being born

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Healing Words

Contemplating a Psalm before the dawn,
In the long hours of calm,
Before the noise of dot-com,
Is to the soul a sweet balm.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Walk Before Dawn

The full moon has not gone down when I start,
I depart and the ground
Looks like silver, like a crown
Of starlight -- silence, no sound.

Free Verse Mind 5: Sunrise

Free Verse Mind 5

A few weeks ago I was reading an interview with Mary Jo Salter.  I was reading a lot of material found on the web about Salter because she has a lot of sympathy for syllabic poetry in English, has written some herself, and has reflected that interest as editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry (an astonishingly great collection of English language poetry from Old English examples right down to the present). 

In one of the interviews, the interviewer asks Salter about rhyme in a way that reflects a certain attitude common among many free verse poets.  I found it instructive.  Here is the exchange:

NL: A few years ago, Carolyn Kizer was interviewed in this magazine – by the poet Michelle Boisseau – and Carolyn discussed the difficulty, especially nowadays, with rhyme. She said, basically, all good rhymes – the normative rhymes – have been used up. The job of a contemporary poet writing in English is to use rhymes that don't recycle everything that's already been done. You use a considerable amount of rhyme in your writing, and I'm wondering how you approach that problem.
SALTER: It's a fascinating question, because some of the poets whom I admire differ so much on this. I can only conclude that you have – again, it's back to temperament – you have to figure out what your temperament tells you to do. For example, Richard Wilbur, whom I admire about as much as any poet alive, feels strongly that he does not want to write off-rhymes. He wants them on, really nailed. It's interesting, because he, himself, is a great fan of Emily Dickinson, as I am, and she was one of the strangest off-rhymers you'll ever see. If Carolyn Kizer means that all of the exact rhymes have been used before, that's absolutely true. In terms of making up new ways for sounds to chime with each other, there are some excellent poets writing today who are pushing the boundaries of what a rhyme is: poets such as Paul Muldoon or Derek Walcott, who make us hear differently, the way Emily Dickinson did.

(You can read the entire interview here: )

I want to make a number of observations about this.  First, note that popular culture is not at all concerned that all the good rhymes have been used up.  I am thinking of popular song which continues to simply go forward using those very same rhymes which English poetry has been using for centuries.  What I think this reveals is the gap that has opened up between song and poetry; and that modern free verse poets have self-alienated themselves from song.  This estrangement from song is something new for poetry and is one of the distinguishing features of free verse.

Another observation would be that the sun rises every morning.  I tend to take a walk early in the morning, just about sunrise.  And, sure enough, the sun just keeps rising, right on time, each morning.  Is this boring?  Has the sun used up its quota of sunrises?  Should the sun consider another approach to the shedding of its light?

Plums blossom in late winter/early spring year after year.  And year after year we enjoy them.  Birds fly south in the fall: fall after fall.   And the moon cycles through its phases month after month.

What I would suggest is that the repetition of a rhyme, its frequent use in song and poetry, mimics these natural occurrences.  And that this connection with the patterned unfolding of events in the world, and the connection that rhyme has to this kind of patterning, is part of what makes rhyme so effective.

In another interview, Salter touches on this:

Here's a question we also asked Marie Ponsot, one we think is fun for poets to ponder: Do you think forms live naturally in language, or does one have to summon them?
I'm fascinated by the messages, you could even say instructions, that different languages seem to offer poets. Take some of the most common rhymes in English: "night/bright" (which suggests a contrast in meaning); "light/bright" (which is nearly synonymous); or grief/relief (which suggests a hoped-for sequence of feelings), etc. Those particular conjunctions of sound and meaning are inherent in the English of our time, and depending on the sort of poem you're hoping to write, you're either going to aim for or away from them. But you can't pretend they're not there. Not only that: your goals are going to be different if you're writing with French words, and within French grammar and culture. To the extent that forms live "naturally" in language, they only live within a particular language in a very specific way. Forms come out of such distinctions. I have no idea whether this is what you're asking!but it's an angle I think from, often.
(The full interview can be found here:

Salter does not directly connect the appearance of rhyme with repeated appearances of natural phenomena; but Salter does note that rhyme is built into a language, that rhyme is something that naturally occurs.  If one looks at language as a part of nature, in the way one would look at trees, for example, then the appearance of rhyme in a linguistic context resembles the appearance of leaves on trees, or the emerging of certain kinds of plants in spring.  And just as different regions of the earth generate different kinds of plants, so also different language regions will generate different rhyme contexts and associations.

If this is true, why do free verse poets (most of them) think otherwise?  What is it that puts them off about using a rhyme that many others have used, that popular culture still uses without hesitation?

I would like to suggest that it partly has to do with the need to be original, to be unique.  In a previous post on Free Verse Mind I pointed out that when I compose a sonnet, and I adopt a standard rhyme scheme, say Shakespearean, I do not own that rhyme scheme.  That rhyme scheme isn’t something I have created, it is not my property and I cannot claim credit for it.  In an important respect, when a poet composes in a predetermined form the poet decides to conform to a tradition.  And when a poet decides to conform to a tradition that reduces the range of originality that the poem embodies, reduces the sense that the poem is the work of a single individual.

I believe that the same applies to specific rhymes.  How many times has ‘love’ been rhymed with ‘above’ or ‘dove’.  Lots of times.  Can we even count them?  Or how many times has ‘night’ been rhymed with ‘light’ or ‘right’.  Again, lots of times.  So when a poet uses that kind of rhyme there is a sense of the poet using a collective resource rather than writing something original.  Popular song is simply not concerned about this, but modern free verse poets are.

There is another way of looking at using a rhyme that has already been used a lot.  And that is to look at such usage as a form of allusion.  What I mean is that a rhyme that is widely used in poetry and song has a cultural resonance formed from threads of association to other usages of this same rhyme.  These shared usages give the rhyme cultural depth through the allusive associations.  If I rhyme ‘blue’ and ‘you’, there is a meaning derived from all those songs and poems that share that rhyme and this sharing enriches the meaning of the rhyme.

I suspect that this is one reason why such rhyme usage still predominates in popular song; because popular song isn’t embarrassed about making those connections.  In contrast, free verse mind is all about being an individual and in this context being an individual means being an autonomous individual.  To use a rhyme that is widely shared and known is to lose a degree of autonomy; it is to confess that one is relying on others. 

If there is one aspect of modern free verse poetry which alienates it from popular culture it is the lack of rhyme.  When I read free verse poets referring to how rhyme has been exhausted through overuse I have to wonder where they live.  They must work very hard at isolating themselves from the culture at large to come to that conclusion.  No one outside of their self-referential circles of free poets feels that way.  Composers of popular song do not feel that way and neither do their listeners.  All you have to do is listen to a cd of popular song and that impression of exhaustion will disappear in a single hearing. 

I’ve said this before, but I think it is worth repeating:  From my perspective, rhyme is the most underutilized tool in English language poetry for the syllabic poet.  My sense is that this is the case because most poets who come to syllabics do so after a stint in free verse, usually of a long duration.  For such a poet, and I include myself, using rhyme isn’t at one’s fingertips in the way it is for songwriters or metrical poets.  It is a new skill that needs to be cultivated.  One way to cultivate this sense of rhyme is to see how using rhyme connects us with the nature of our language, English; how using rhyme connects us with nature in its patterned unfolding.  In a sense, rhyme is the sunrise of poetry.

Friday, April 26, 2013

On Old Age

The stream flows past the snow-covered boulders,
I am older and slow;
The caw of a distant crow
Like a lantern's fading glow

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What I've Learned at My Hermitage

Steadily the traffic flows down the street --
On retreat hermits know
The pace of the season's flow,
Even mountains come and go.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

White Roses

Mid-morning sunlight
White roses climbing the fence
Next to the driveway

On a Saturday in May
A rooster pecks at the ground

"It's in the details,"
The lawyer looks at the case,
Sifting evidence

Of geological time
Displayed on the canyon walls

Snow on the ledges
Shadows rapidly lengthen
As days quickly pass

Her daughter is a stranger
With friends and views of her own

Light from the stained glass window
And candles of remembrance

Mingling with the sharp incense
And the sound of falling leaves

Rolling down the street
On his well-dented skateboard
Jumping the high curb

Busy shoppers holding bags
Purchases from here and there

Moonlight can't compare
With the glow of the city
Or the internet

This is their first face to face
They first met in cyberspace

What will people read
From the books published today
Centuries from now?

"It don't matter anyhow,
I know you didn't mean it."

The afternoon heat
Makes it hard to concentrate,
To apologize

At the fountain by the store
In the city's public square

There's a rainbow in the air
Between clouds of gray and white

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hackett, Again

I have been having a bit of a dry spell lately.  The poems I’ve posted recently have been from notebooks that are about a year old, for the most part.  It’s not a complete drought; just a slowing down in output.

As usual when I go through a period like this I pick up a Haiku poet and enter into a dialogue.  I do this by responding to their Haiku with a 7-7 response; turning the Haiku into a Tanka, or a Tan-Renga. 

One of the results of doing this is that I get to know the Haiku poet very well; what kinds of Haiku they usually compose, what subject matter they tend to focus on, the rhythm of their writing, etc.  This time I have picked up James Hackett, in particular his four volumes of Haiku Poetry.  Here are a few thoughts about Hackett’s Haiku that have emerged from this interaction.

First, I have noticed that juxtaposition does not play a central role in his Haiku.  Many of his Haiku are single-sentence Haiku.  The focus seems to be on presenting a complete and compelling image.  For example:

Each bud of iris,
although tightly sheathed in green,
hints the hue within.

This is one of Hackett’s close-focus observations.  Hackett had to really observe the iris buds to notice this particular aspect.  It seems that Hackett is particularly good at these kinds of minute appearances that we often miss in the rush of our lives.

There is also in Hackett’s Haiku a strong sense of Haiku as poetry.  Here is an example:

As twilight tolls,
petals fall into the dark stream
revealing its flow.

Again, we have a single image without juxtaposition, a single, complete sentence.  Notice the unobtrusive slant rhyme of tolls/flow.  Each line ends in a single syllable word and each one of those words is metrically emphasized and this gives the Haiku a strong sense of musicality and cadence.  A Haiku like this has a strong sense of conscious poetic craftsmanship.

There is also an overall sense of lyricism that I have picked up.  I think that is why Hackett’s Haiku are often expansive; long-count Haiku are common, for example.  A sense of rhythm and flow trumps conciseness in his presentations.

This engagement with Hackett has changed my opinion about one aspect of his Haiku.  I used to contrast Wright and Hackett by noting that Wright’s Haiku contain depictions of the downtrodden and desperate; whereas Hackett, I suggested, didn’t seem to be in touch with this region of humanity.  Then I came upon this:

Too cold for snow:
the loneliness standing within
each flophouse doorway.

This is, I think, well done.  The loneliness of poverty is depicted as even colder than the winter snow.  There is a unity here that is thoughtful and revealing at the same time.  And there is a humanity about it as well.  It is true that Hackett does not have as many Haiku focused on the less fortunate as Wright; but I was wrong about them being absent altogether and it is good to note that Hackett’s world is wider and more encompassing than I had previously assessed.

A distinctive feature of Hackett’s Haiku is what I think of as the ‘thoughtful observation’ Haiku.  For example:

Wind now sweeps through
the trees touching the same leaves
never, and again.

Here Hackett is making a philosophical point.  By ‘philosophical’ I don’t mean argumentative or some kind of reason based inference.  I find this kind of Haiku similar to the terse statements of Heraclitus, “You cannot step into the same stream twice.”  It is like sharing a personal insight. The poet’s voice is present in Haiku like this; Hackett is speaking to us, asking us to look at the world in a particular way.  But it is not an argument Hackett is presenting; rather Hackett draws out an implication from an observation of nature and then presents it to us for consideration.

At times this voice of the author comes forth in the first person:

Among these mountains,
I’ve lost my longing to live
in an ancient time.


My pillow, sweet grass . . .
my view, a cloud ever changing,
ever the same.

This ‘ever changing, ever the same’ resonates with ‘never, and again’.  It is a persistent theme.

Here’s one of my favorite of his ‘thoughtful observation’ Haiku:

Need friends ever speak?
There’s tea to taste, and windsong
from the garden trees.

My appreciation for Hackett is deepening.  It’s a nice feeling to revisit a Haiku poet and discover aspects one had previously overlooked, to kind of grow into the poet’s presence.

In closing here is one of Hackett’s Haiku, followed by my response:

Viewing new snow . . .
the shape of my loneliness,
every winter breath

beneath the waning last quarter moon
beneath the limbs of the bare oak tree

Outside My Window

The deodar tree
In meditative stillness --
No wind, morning light

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The gray April sky
Following a night of rain
A windless morning

The early blooming iris
In the corner of the yard

Next to the garage
A shed for gardening tools
The door wide open

Letting in the evening heat
Letting in the full moon light

Into the office
Where she continues to work
Hoping for a raise

Numbering the flow of days
As the years become decades

It's not so easy
Lifting the heavy boxes
As when he was young

Piling up at the front door
Leaves of brown and red and gold

In the empty house
In the abandoned village
Ghosts in the mirror

Covered with crystals of ice
Branches sparkle in the sun

Through the woods the trail
Winds among the pines and ponds
The hearty hikers

Snapping pictures of the view
They want to remember

The days of their honeymoon
Will nourish them for years

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Another Ocean

Mint tea
At the cafe
I could spend the whole day
Listening to what people say --
Word sea

Sunday, April 14, 2013


A slight breeze flutters
The new leaves of the oak tree
In the sunrise light

Two small cats run quickly past
The old apple tree in bloom

Behind the wood fence
Children playing hide 'n seek --
They can't stop laughing

While the clouds are drifting by
While the sun begins to set

Overhead she sees
A flock of ducks headed south
She wishes them well

Music from the flowing creek,
Water flowing over rocks

Cools the intense heat --
They need to wear sunglasses
Because of the glare

Holding hands they stop and stare
Into the future they'll share

In the living room
Of the condominium
Through the large window

Pours the yellow winter light
In the waning afternoon

On the downtown street
On the store window displays
On the curbside trees

The glow of the gibbous moon
A few hours before dawn

Silence in the air
The rooster has not yet crowed
Even dreams subside

In a room at the hospice
Grandfather breathes his last breath

Now it's hard to find
The grass covered forest path
No longer in use

Gathering dust on the shelf
The flute that's no longer played

A stranger whistles a tune
That he learned from his best friend

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Country Western tunes
At the morning coffee shop
Red geraniums

Friday, April 12, 2013

Unexceptional: Part 3 -- Keeping Track of Time

Unexceptional: Part 3 – Keeping Track of Time

One way of approaching the issue of the relationship between Japanese and English syllables is to look at how different cultures count other shared experiences.  The example I would like to consider here is the calendar.

Human beings live immersed in the flow of time.  It is a stream that has no borders.  But human beings have developed ways of keeping track of time by dividing the flow of time into units.  These units vary among different cultures. 

For some the day begins at sunrise, while for others the day begins at sunset. 

For some the year is based on strictly solar observations; this is true for the dominant, Gregorian, calendar used in the world today.  For others the year is based on strictly lunar observations; this is true of the Islamic calendar.  For still others the year is based on a combination of solar and lunar observations; this is true of the Jewish and Chinese calendars.

Even though there are different approaches for keeping track of time, they are all counting the same stream of time; it’s just that they are using different markers for their counting. 

In the same way, different languages parse the stream of language differently.  Some languages will mark a certain sonic appearance as significant, as carrying enough weight to count, while other languages will pass over that sonic appearance.  But it’s not that they don’t hear it.  And it’s not that the different groups are counting different things.  Just as different calendars all keep track of time, so also different cultures keep track of syllables but have different markers for doing so.

The Chinese calendar and the Gregorian calendar are doing the same thing: keeping track of time.  And when Japanese speakers and English speakers count syllables they are doing the same thing: keeping track of the stream of sound by parsing it into countable units.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


April afternoon;
A surprisngly cool wind
For this time of year

The gardens are holding back
Waiting for the earth to warm

He thinks about it.
He decides not to tell her.
What good would it do?

Only a short time ago
The whole area was farms

Rows of lemon trees
Blooming in the gentle wind,
Warm even at night

Her replacement doesn't show
So she takes a second shift

At the hospital
In the emergency room
They wait patiently

No one notices the moon
Full in the crisp and clear sky

He smiles tightly,
She spent a lot of money
At the hairdresser

Crowds gather at the new store
For its Grand Opening Sale

Even though it's cold
And even though it's snowing
It's still beautiful

A garland of emeralds
With semi-precious stones

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


A dog is barking
Locked in an old beat-up truck --
Ancient hatreds

Computer Up and Running

My computer, whose name is Dan, is back and healthy again.  The Computer Doctor did an excellent job.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Elizabeth Daryush Day for 2013: Women in Syllabic Poetry

Today is Elizabeth Daryush Day (12-8-1887 to 4-7-1977).  Daryush is one of the significant pioneers in the use of syllabics for English language poetry.  I am particularly taken by her syllabic approach to the sonnet.

Because it's slow at the store, I'm going to take a moment to note in passing something I have observed about syllabic poetry in English: that is the prominence of women poets writing syllabics.  Consider:

Adelaide Crapsey: The first poet to propose a syllabic form for the English language.
Edith Shiffert: A fine syllabic haijin and renga poet.
Marianne Moore: Who is famous for her syllabic approach.
Helen Craig McCullough: Who used a consistent syllabic approach in English in her translations of Japanese poetry.
Etheree Taylor Armstrong: Who proposed the Etheree syllabic form.
Susan August: A contemporary syllabic haijin.

It's not that syllabic English poetry is only women; but notice the prominence of women.  There are, of course, significant male syllabic poets; the most important is, I think, Richard Wright.  And Wright is known for having a deep empathy for women, which comes through in his Haiku as well as his other writings.

Again, there are important male syllabic poets, such as James Hackett.  Still, the pivotal role that women have played in English syllabic verse is worth noting.  I'm not sure what it means or if there is some significance to be extracted from this.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Helen Craig McCullough Day for 2013

Just a quick note as I arrived at work early:  Today is Helen Craig McCullough Day.  She is the eminent translator of the Waka Kokinshu, an ancient collection of over 1000 Tanka/Waka.  Waka Kokinshu is the most influential collection of Tanka in Japan.  McCullough, however, didn't just provide us with a wonderful translation; which would be an accomplishment in itself.  McCullough has also demonstrated the efficacy of using the 5-7-5-7-7 syllabics in English because McCullough followed the traditional syllabic shape in her translations into English.  The result is an astonishingly vivid collection of English poetry which, I believe, will form the basis for the emergence of Tanka in the English speaking world.

Best wishes,


Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Brief Absence

Dear Friends:

My computer caught a nasty virus and is now at the Doctor's being treated and upgraded and getting spiffed up.  I have been told this may take a few days.  During this time I will not be posting, unless I find time to post from work, which is unlikely.



Quatrain Day


Today is April 4th, 4/4: what better day than today to celebrate the syllabic quatrain?  Here I am particularly focusing on the single verse quatrain; things like the single verse quatrain found in Chinese classical poetry, or the Rubai of Persia/Iran, or the Englynn from Wales, etc.  The single verse syllabic Quatrain is found in widely diverse cultures.  It is a great form, marvelously flexible, it is also often highly memorable with a sing-song, lyrical quality to it.

Take some time today to read some Quatrains from classical Chinese, Persian, or Welsh sources.  If so inclined, pen one, or more, of your own.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Saint Anthony

The vast heart of God
Anthony in the desert
The harp of silence

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ascetic Landscape

The sand dunes of space
Angels at an oasis
Palm fronds of starlight

Monday, April 1, 2013

Past Imperfect

Like rain from the fourth month overcast sky --
Try to ignore the past;
Desert winds the boulders blast,
Boulders that a glacier cast