Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Spring rolls
Sweet and sour
The Chinese rest'rant
I take a break for an hour
I turn off the cell phone so it won't have the power
To disrupt my excavating a poem from an uncarved block where it's trapped, where it glows

Monday, July 29, 2013


Clapping hands
The pulse of a band
Hawking wares from a sidewalk stand
An a capella choir sings praises to the sky
At a family gathering a newborn baby sometimes giggles and sometimes cries.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Perception Horizon

Sometimes I feel like I am walking blind,
It's kind of like a sigh
Heard in a room I walk by,
Things sort-of-seen by the eyes

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Dream warnings
And images
Vanish with the sun
The day has just begun
I turn to the day's tasks
It's a housecleaning day
Which I find satisfying
Cleaning all of the dishes
Running the washer and dryer
Hanging up the clothes in order
Outside I trim the garden border
In the late afternoon it's time for tea
A voice from the dream realm returns to me,

"All of these things, ev'rything that you see,
Resembles the sand cast up from the sea,
Shifting, changing, without stability,
Like smoke in the air, leaves falling from a tree,
This is their inevitable destiny,
They will soon be gone even from memory;
But there is one thing which never disappears,
It transcends all our sorrows, transcends all our fears,
Finding this realm means the cessation of all tears;
It is accessed through the door of the infinite heart,
Turning to the formless is how we begin, how we start,
It is the path of beauty from which we must not depart,
It is found in the stillness at the center of the storm,
It is found in the silence before anything was formed,
Before there was light, before there was night, before any thing,
There exists the grace-filled song of silence that eternity sings."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Me and Marianne Moore

Me and Marianne Moore

A consciously syllabic approach to English language poetry means having an odd relationship to one’s contemporaries.  The resources for a syllabic approach are few.  Most overviews of English poetry that I have read give a brief nod to a syllabic approach, but then quickly move on to other matters.  Invariably in these brief discussions Marianne Moore is brought up as a significant poet whose approach was syllabic.

Oddly, Moore has had very little impact on me; I would say that the impact or influence has been non-existent.  And I have been a little puzzled about that.  This post explores my own feelings about the place Moore has in English syllabics.

I like Moore’s poetry; it’s humor, its objectivity, the way she will focus on the ordinary such as her poem on pigeons or the one on nectarines or ‘to a steamroller’.  But Moore never inspired me to actually write poetry syllabically.  And that has been my overall impression.  I mean that Moore’s poetry does not lead others to adopt a syllabic approach.

Why is that so?  My view is that although Moore often organized her poetry into syllabic stanzas, her poems nevertheless sound like free verse.  I mean that the sound of her poetry, that what a listener hears, is indistinguishable from the sound, the sonic contours, of free verse.  Critics have noted this.  In the Wikipedia article on Syllabic Verse the author notes:

Syllabic poetry can also take a stanzaic form, as in Marianne Moore's poem "No Swan So Fine", in which the corresponding lines of each stanza have the same number of syllables. This poem comprises 2 stanzas, each with lines of 7, 8, 6, 8, 8, 5, and 9 syllables respectively. The indented lines rhyme. As in accentual-syllabic verse, there is some flexibility in how one counts syllables. For example, syllables with y- or w-glides may count as one or two syllables depending on the poet's preference. Moore counts "Dahlias" (a y-glide) as 2 syllables, and "flowers" (a w-glide) as 1.

"No water so still as the
          dead fountains of Versailles." No swan,
with swart blind look askance
and gondoliering legs, so fine
          as the chintz china one with fawn-
brown eyes and toothed gold
collar on to show whose bird it was.

Lodged in the Louis Fifteenth
          Candelabrum-tree of cockscomb-
tinted buttons, dahlias,
sea urchins, and everlastings,
          it perches on the branching foam
of polished sculptured
flowers — at ease and tall. The king is dead.

Because these lines are longer, irregular, and frequently enjambed ("as the / dead fountains"), it is quite clear that the symmetry of syllables is not meant to be audible. Moore's use of end-rhyme is telling. Only 2 lines in each stanza are rhymed: these are emphasized for the reader by indentation, but hidden from the listener by radical enjambment ("fawn- / brown" and "coxcomb- / tinted").

(The full article can be found here: )

I believe it is the very frequent use of enjambment, run-on lines, that undermines Moore’s syllabic project.  I mean that because the lineation is not audible, because it is only something observable on paper, and then only if the reader makes a conscious effort to count, the heard result is simply that we are hearing a free verse poem. 

I find it instructive that none of Moore’s stanzaic poems have generated a following.  I mean that other poets have not seen the syllabic stanzas as inspiring enough to formally copy and write their own poems in a similar shape.  Poets have not chosen to mimic Moore’s stanzas.  In contrast, Adelaide Crapsey’s Cinquain has been mimicked and copied and given rise to a lot of poetry; there is a sizable body now of Cinquain that follow the Crapsey pattern of 2-4-6-8-2 syllables. 

Crapsey’s Cinquain, in contrast with Moore’s syllabic stanzas, have clearer lineation.  Here are two examples:

I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.

November Night

Listen . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

In both of these examples the lineation is clear; each phrase occupies a line.  I believe this is why Crapsey’s Cinquain has inspired others.  There is a match between the form on the paper and what the listener hears.  There are times when Crapsey used run-ons in some of her Cinquain; but the enjambment is not as radical as in Moore.  And these run-ons were often mitigated by rhyme and meter so that other factors than grammatical phrasing assisted the reader/listener in feeling the shape of the Cinquain.  In Moore’s poetry, that is usually not the case.

In other words, I do not feel that Moore’s poetry inspires others to compose syllabic poetry.  Moore’s example did not inspire me.  For me it was the poetry of Richard Wright that clearly revealed the potential for syllabic verse.  Like Crapsey’s Cinquain, Wright’s Haiku inspire others to compose using a similar approach.  Like Crapsey’s Cinquain, Wright’s Haiku uses lineation that is clear, where there is a match between grammatical phrasing and syllabic shape.  Enjambment is rare.

Because a syllabic approach to English language poetry is new, there is a paucity of examples for a syllabic poet to draw on.  I mean this in comparison to the two other great traditions of English language poetry.  The metrical poet can draw on the vast majority of English language poetry as a resource and teacher.  The free verse poet has many models to learn from.  The poet who chooses a syllabic approach has far fewer resources. 

For this reason, I think, the syllabic poet, writing in English, has to learn to apply poetic techniques learned from non-syllabic contexts to syllabic poetry.  I’ll give two examples from my own journey.  The first, which I have previously posted about, is Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson is a metrical poet; but I learned from Dickinson many important techniques that can be applied to syllabic poetry.  In particular, I learned how efficacious rhyming is for clarifying lineation and was able to apply that to my own syllabic approach.

From the free verse tradition, I have been strongly influenced by Jane Reichhold; a well-known Haiku and Tanka poet.  I learned from Reichhold ways of tersely shaping a line without the line becoming anorexic; clarity of lineation is one of Reichhold’s great strengths and she showed me, continues to show me, how clear lineation is done in a free verse context.  It was Reichhold’s influence which opened for me how to shape the very short lines which begin a significant number of syllabic forms.  I am referring here to lines shorter than four syllables which are found in the Cinquain, Lanterne, Tetractys, and Fibonacci.  Reichhold’s example was pivotal for my own approach to these very short lines.

Drawing on these two poets, neither of whom uses a syllabic approach to poetry, has given me tools for the shaping of specifically syllabic forms.  But, oddly, Moore’s poetry has not offered me such tools.  In some ways I find this disappointing.  On the other hand, I can appreciate Moore as a free verse poet who effectively used syllabic stanzas to organize her free verse.  It’s just that I haven’t found her approach nourishing to my own explorations.


Subdued tones
Coffee and a scone
The July field littered with stones
The song of a bird blends with the ring of my cell phone

Thursday, July 25, 2013


The rising of the sun in mid-July,
The sky glows, the night's done,
Messages from dreams are shunned
The day's chores have just begun

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The House with the Broken Windows

On the dusty table leaves from a birch
As I search I cradle
Sounds from scenes I am able
To recall, like a fable

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Friendships Endure

People from my past are more real to me
Than the people that I meet on the street
Or at the cafe where I pay a fee
(A cup of coffee) so that we can meet
And sit and talk away the whole morning.
But in the background I hear the voices
Of those long gone.  I'm not still in mourning.
But the conversations and the choices
I made with all those others years before
Are present like a persistent chorus.
They're my companions and I would no more
Ask them to leave than I'd ask for crocus
To bloom in the hot summer air.  They are
My friends and like the stars they are not far.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

On a Summer Evening

The sound of a guitar in the warm night
The delight of the stars
So bright they seem close, not far,
A balm for our inner scars

Friday, July 19, 2013

Stephen King's Toolbox

Stephen King’s Toolbox

I recently read novelist Stephen King’s memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.  If there was one point I got out of the book it is that King is a hard worker; he writes daily and sets himself a goal of something like 2,000 words a day.  And he rewrites and edits meticulously.  This has all paid off for King in one of the most, perhaps the most, successful writing career in history.

King is a novelist and not everything King says about the craft of writing is applicable to poetry.  But a surprising amount is.  In particular, I enjoyed the section where King describes what he metaphorically calls his ‘writer’s toolbox’; which is a list of tools that King brings to every writing task.  The Chapter, called Toolbox begins on page 111 and continues through page 137.  I particularly found pages 114 through 122 helpful.  Let’s look at King’s toolbox and see how it applies to writing poetry:

The first tool, what King calls the commonest tool of all (page 114) is vocabulary.  Vocabulary is the single most important tool for a poet as well.  Vocabulary is what poets draw upon to make their poems.  Vocabulary is like flour for a baker, or bricks for a bricklayer, or pitches for a tunesmith.  As King notes, different people use different vocabularies; some have a very learned and complex vocabulary while some have a more ordinary vocabulary and, perhaps, one that is less complex.  King suggests that the best way to increase one’s vocabulary is simply to read; and that makes great sense to me.  For the poet, reading a lot of poetry is the single best way to cultivate one’s own vocabulary.

There is another way for poets to expand their vocabulary which King doesn’t mention; perhaps because it is more suited to poets than novelists.  And that is to simply listen to people as you go through your day.  When you go to the grocery store, the bank, wherever you go, just listen to the people as you walk by, as you are standing in line, passing them on the street.  I don’t mean that you should snoop.  I mean that instead of daydreaming or thinking about something-or-other, just listen to people as they are talking in a natural and unobtrusive way.  My favorite location for doing this is at coffee shops.  It is amazing what you can learn about how people use words in these kinds of ordinary situations.  If you work retail you are in an ideal situation because you cannot pick and choose who you are going to interact with which means that you will be exposed to people whose word choices and usages are different from your own.  While waiting on customers and engaging in the banter of buy and sell, listen to their speech, phrasing, the way they accent a syllable, or drop a syllable, the way they frame a thought, etc.  I am suggesting that the poet be attentive to the waves of words they are swimming in.  Listening in this way will naturally expand your vocabulary; it will also expand usage beyond what you engage in as the result of your upbringing and education.  I have found that in ordinary speech people are often hovering at the edge of poetry and, sometimes, for short bursts, spontaneously speaking poetically.  This can be hugely enriching.

 But the important thing for a poet is to feel free to use the full range of vocabulary that one already has no matter what the source.  It is important that a poet not think of some words as inherently ‘unpoetic’.  The full range of our vocabulary, whatever it includes, is there for the picking. 

The second tool is grammar; and I couldn’t be more delighted to read that King included this much neglected subject as an essential writing tool.  It is my personal feeling, based on reading a lot of contemporary poetry, that this is a tool which needs to be consciously honed by many poets today.  My impression is that there are a lot of modern poets who just don’t have a good grip on English grammar.  I say this because of such simple things as observing an inability to distinguish between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, or confusion over when a word is a plural and when a word is a possessive (let alone plural possessive).

I also sense a lack of grammatical chops when I read poems, mostly free verse, where there is zero coordination between lineation and grammatical structure.  Yes, I know, no doubt the poet was using their ‘feelings’ to determine lineation.  Sure, sure.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the primary reasons for the slovenly lineation which is so common among free verse poets today is simply a lack of understanding regarding basic sentence structure, parts of speech, phrasing.  At least from my perspective, and from King’s as well, that is the conclusion one is forced to draw.

King has some interesting things to say about grammar which, I think, apply to the poet as well.  On page 121 King writes, “One who does grasp the rudiments of grammar finds a comforting simplicity at its heart, where there need be only nouns, the words that name, and verbs, the words that act.

“Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence.  It never fails. Rocks explode.  Jane transmits.  Mountains float.  These are all perfect sentences.  Many such thoughts make little rational sense, but even the stranger ones (Plums deify!) have a kind of poetic weight that’s nice.”  Right on, Stephen.  I can’t help but think that some of the weirder projects for cultivating a grammar in English Language Haiku that limits, or eliminates, verb usage is derived from a lack of basic grammatical understanding.

King goes so far as to recommend that you purchase Warriner’s English Grammar.  I was not familiar with this grammar.  When I looked it up online I found that it is a basic English Grammar that was widely used in grade schools for many years.  Obviously King used it, remembers it, and likely still uses it.  I agree with King; every poet should have on their shelf a basic grammar to reference and to refresh their understanding.

That’s the end of King’s first level of his toolbox; though he has more tools at lower levels of the toolbox.  As a poet I would add one more to the top drawer of a poet’s toolbox: lineation.  Lineation is not of crucial concern for the novelist; but for the poet it is absolutely essential.  And for the syllabic poet it is doubly essential.  I have written about this before, so I won’t repeat myself except to say that without a sure grasp of how to define a line, a syllabic poet’s work will, in all likelihood, end up reading like, and sounding like, free verse.  It is lineation which distinguishes a syllabic approach to poetry from that of free verse and metrical verse.

King’s book On Writing is an easy read.  The mixture of memoir and tips on how to write is well balanced and keeps the reader engaged.  I learned a lot from this enjoyable book; perhaps you will as well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Carpenter's 600: A Review

I wanted to let readers know that Peter Britell has issued an expanded edition of his Haiku.  I previously reviewed the '500 Haiku of the Carpenter' (click on the 'Review' category to find it).  I like Britell's Haiku hugely.  I find his work original and engaging. 

Britell's book of Haiku started out with 'The 400 Haiku of the Carpenter', which was published in 2010.  Then this was expanded with 'The 500 Haiku of the Carpenter', published in 2011.  Now, in 2013 he has published the '600 Haiku' edition.  This is an interesting aspect of print-on-demand technologies that I am seeing more and more.  With print-on-demand it is much easier than when using a traditional publisher to re-edit one's work.  In Britell's case, he has used print-on-demand services to regularly expand his collection of Haiku.  My sense is that Britell composes Haiku throughout the year and then winnows what he has written; and those that he thinks are worthy are added into his collection for a new edition.

I have done the same already with one of my own collections; revising 'Safe Harbor' after its initial issue because I found one of the poems didn't really fit in.  It was a simple matter to change it because I was using print-on-demand technology.  In my own mind I suspect that in a year or two I will probably add poems to 'Safe Harbor' and to 'Lanterne Light' in the same way that Britell has added to his collection of Haiku.  In the standard world of book publishing this relationship to one's work would not have been possible because the publisher and editors would have resisted this kind of revision. 

There is, however, precedent for this kind of revision.  I'm thinking specifically of Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass'.  Depending on how you define an 'edition', Whitman issued six to nine editions of 'Leaves of Grass' over his lifetime.  If I recall correctly, the first edition was self-published.  This first edition was a slim volume; about 100 pages.  The last edition, the 'deathbed edition', is over 400 pages. 

I have enjoyed watching Britell's collection expand.  He is a fine Haijin.  I have not made a systematic comparison between the editions, so I don't know which 100 Haiku have been added to this latest release.  I only know that I enjoy his approach to Haiku.  I find it articulate, with a sureness of image.  In terms of the craft of Haiku, the lineation is secure and the seasonal approach predominates. 

Britell uses an approach that retains the three-line structure but he indents the second line and divides it into two parts.  Here is an example:

Clear winter silence;
          sliver crescent moon
between tree branches.

This way of constructing the second line allows Britell to communicate a subtle caesura to the reader while at the same time preserving the 5-7-5 overall structure.  I find this an efficacious approach and in the hands of this particular author it works very well.  I believe that this approach to composing syllabic Haiku goes back to Peter Beilenson's translations of Haiku that appeared in the late 50's and early 60's.  But Britell's approach is singularly effective.  Britell continues to demonstrate just how effective this approach is.

Another aspect of Britell which I appreciate is that he is open to using the full range of poetic tools; that is to say he is not averse to using techniques like metaphor, personification, rhythm, etc.  Here is an example:

Spring, which was so near,
          is far off now,
          like a girl
waving from a train.

This is a really well-crafted, and effective, usage of metaphor.

Britell's Haiku are often nature-centered, sometimes human-centered, often serious, sometimes humorous, and at times he mingles these realms in a single Haiku.  For example:

In the night reaches
          wild winds chase
          the cold rain --
a glass of old wine

Britell's Haiku are a great pleasure to read.  They are finely crafted and resonate in the mind and heart.  I am happy to see that his collection of Haiku is continuing to grow and hope for more in the future.

The sea this morning,
          quiet as a
          baby's dream --
but tomorrow comes.


The 600 Haiku of the Carpenter
ISBN: 9781483959719
Available from Amazon
Distributed by Ingram, so your local bookstore should be able to order it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


The Russian River flows into the sea,
I see the sunset close
One more day of common woes
Gold leaves fall on a red rose

Saturday, July 13, 2013


In the open grotto of emptiness
(A vastness, a hollow)
Crossing the sky a swallow
Casts a fast moving shadow

Friday, July 12, 2013

Geek and Form

Geek and Form

Yesterday I published a Fibonacci Poem called ‘Geek Poetry’.  The background of this poem consists of some conversations I recently had regarding Fibonacci poetry. 

I work at a Spiritual Book and Tea Shop.  The Book part of the shop is kind of new agey; though we strive to also have depth in each of the religious sections by including central texts of each tradition.  Still, New Age sells.  We have a section on Numerology.  Last week a customer purchased about seven books from the Numerology section, including several books that are specifically about the Fibonacci sequence and numbers.  As he was checking out we struck up a conversation; it isn’t often that someone purchases books on Fibonacci from our store and I was curious.  I mentioned that I wrote Fibonacci poems.  He was aware of Fibonacci poetry, though the customer is not himself a poet.  It turns out he is a mathematician with a focus on mathematical sequences; hence the interest in Fibonacci.  But he finds the Fibonacci poetry attractive and interesting.  Then he said, “Have you ever considered using the Lucas?”  And I got to respond, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have written some Lucas poems.” 

The Lucas sequence is another numerical sequence generated using the same additive procedures as the Fibonacci.  The difference is that the Lucas sequence begins with the number 2 and 1, whereas the Fibonacci starts with 0 and 1.  Hence the Lucas sequence is 2 – 1 – 3 – 4 – 7 – 11 – 18, etc.  (The Fibonacci sequence is 1 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 8 – 13, etc.)  There are interesting relationships between the numbers in the Fibonacci and Lucas sequences.

Anyway, as I was saying, back to the customer, he smiled when I said I had written some Lucas poems.  Unfortunately, he had an appointment to get to, so our conversation drew to a hasty close.  But the last thing he said as he walked out the door was, “Geek poetry, I love it.”

The second conversation about Fibonacci I had was with a friend, I’ll call him George, who loves poetry and even teaches a class in poetry at a Junior College once a year.  George teaches a formless approach, or a free verse approach, to poetry because he believes introducing students to formal elements will make them feel bad about themselves.  George is a therapist by profession and views poetry as a means to a therapeutic end.  For this reason, no rules are to be introduced because it might interfere with ‘self-expression’ and the therapeutic goal. 

When I published ‘Safe Harbor’ through Createspace I gave my friend George a copy.  The second collection in the book consists of Fibonacci poems.  George asked me about them.  I told George about the Fibonacci sequence and how the numerical sequence can be applied to the syllable count to generate a formal, syllabic, structure.  George was not pleased; in fact he frowned.  He then said, “What does that do for you?”  Doesn’t that just strike you as the kind of question a therapist would ask?

My answer was general, not form specific.  I talked about how surrender to the parameters of a form focuses the mind, how it gives the poet a sense of joining a community of poets who share an interest in the form.  But from George’s point of view such a procedure is limiting; it impinges on self-expression and that is a bad thing.  As usual when it comes to poetry, George and I disagreed.

For the mathematician customer, who delights in the world of numbers, applying a numerical sequence, such as the Fibonacci or Lucas, to syllabics made immediate sense.  This is because for such a mathematician numbers are a felt presence.  Because numbers are a felt presence, and in some sense inherently esthetically attractive, it makes intuitive sense to use those numbers, and numerical sequences, for poetic purposes.  For the therapist, poetry has become completely subjective and functions as a vehicle for self-expression.  From this perspective using a specific numerical sequence, such as the Fibonacci or Lucas, subverts the therapeutic purpose because the adoption of such a sequence is not, from a therapeutic point of view, an example of self-expression; the sequence comes from ‘outside’.  This affirms what I have suspected for some years; namely that the therapeutic point of view is subversive of formal poetry in general.

The final conversation regarding Fibonacci happened just a few days ago; also at the store.  The store uses window washers who come to the store once a month.  They are a couple.  They wash most of the store windows on Main Street.  Usually the husband is the one who washes our windows.  As they have been washing our windows for over ten years I have got to know them over time.  At one point, about six years ago, I had to attend traffic school and she was also a member of the class; we got to commiserate with each other about how unfair it all was; but we also whispered funny, snarky, asides to each other during class. 

In other words, I have grown fond of both of them over the years.  This month I gave him a copy of ‘Safe Harbor’ after he washed the windows.  A few days after receiving it he dropped by to tell me how he and his wife were reading the poems to each other and enjoying them.  He mentioned specifically liking the Fibonacci group of poems.  I, of course, liked getting this kind of feedback.  I also liked that they specifically enjoyed the Fibonacci poems; not because they know about numerical sequences, but just because they liked the shape and the subject matter.  This was not a geek’s response, just the response of someone enjoying the poems as written.  And it was not a therapeutic response either; at least not in the sense that they were concerned about poetry as self-expression.

My own view, as often stated here, is that syllabic poetry is a craft; like pottery or baking or carpentry.  Composing a Fibonacci poem resembles a potter deciding to make a cup.  A cup has, broadly speaking, a form.  If a potter decides to make a cup, that decision functions to determine a large number of decisions for the potter.  Similarly, a syllabic poet crafting a poem in accordance with an objective form (a form whose parameters, or shape, are exterior to any specific poet) will yield to the shape of that form.  If a syllabic poet decides to compose a Fibonacci certain consequences follow, such as the opening very short lines.  Just as the potter accepts the limitations of what it means to shape a cup, the syllabic poet accepts the limitations of the Fibonacci (or other syllabic form).

The potter makes a cup and, hopefully, someone will be attracted to its craftsmanship and then use the cup at home, or the office, to drink from.  The syllabic poet makes a poem of a specific shape and, hopefully, others will find it attractive and enjoy reading it.  This is, I think, what keeps the syllabic poet engaged with form. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Geek Poetry

It is like a game
(Ev'ry game of chess is the same?)
Some people, I suspect, think that this is kind of lame,
Counting those syllables without any sense of shame,
But it's all good, no one's to blame --

It's not about fame,
It's about

Monday, July 8, 2013


In summer heat the woodland creek runs dry;
Sometimes I try to speak
But the right words that I seek
Are like dust that was concrete

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Old age
Finger-snap days
I'd like to think I'm wise
Trying to remember brings sighs
Dusk haze

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


In the hot air
Under the cloudless glare
A cafe that is filled with nerds
Fast words