Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sundial

The Sundial


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

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

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

While above the sound of cars
An airplane seems to hover

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

The bronze plaque testimonial
Long lists of forgotten names

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

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

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

At the rickety newsstand
People seem to speak lower

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

Observed through some jailhouse bars
It looks like another world

Like a dream unfurled
After twenty years apart
A surprised greeting

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

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

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

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

Holding hands as they walk past
The smiling teenage lovers

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

Standing there, he looks displeased
By the message he received

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Long Song

Long Song


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

The heat of the afternoon,
I should be doing something

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

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

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

Studying the ways of thrift
He balances his checkbook

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

A doorway into the past
Where all our fears have decayed

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

At two lovers both unfazed
By the inclement weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, September 9, 2013

Cinquain Day for 2013

Cinquain Day for 2013

Good Morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available at www.lulu.com

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



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Now and Then

Now and Then

A few weeks before
The solstice of September –
A warm cloudless sky

A few yellow marigolds
In the planter by the door

On the wooden deck
(A few planks need replacement)
An abandoned book

On the dust-covered table
A chorus of full moon light

Falls on broken glass
And the gentle counterpoint
Of scattering leaves

“I see now I was deceived.
It is time for you to go.”

Like the melting snow
Often love will slip away
Into yesterday

Where he used to like to play
Office buildings have been built

The new guy feels guilt
For defending a client
Who is filthy rich

Tech-support fixed a glitch,
A virus from who knows where?

Drifting on the air
Great clouds of yellow pollen
Fall on the parked cars

“Please give him my kind regards,
I’m glad he will recover.”

Somewhere or other
(Perhaps it was just a dream)
She is young again

Years like waves roll by and then
There are only a few friends

To remember when
Cherry blossoms always fall
In a brisk warm wind

The tall green grass dips and bends
By a spring at rainbow’s end



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

War Mongers

When they decided to destroy Iraq
They attacked with great joy,
Like children playing with toys,
They have no heart, just a void

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syllabic Haiku Day 2013

Greetings:

Today is Syllabic Haiku Day; a day set aside to celebrate the tradition of Syllabic Haiku in English.  Haiku is the most widely practiced syllabic form in English.  It is practiced by a wide range of poets, from complete amateurs to professionals at Universities.  Recent developments in Syllabic Haiku that I have observed are; the emergence of the Haiku Stanza Poem, and the Epigram Haiku (pithy thoughts expressed in 5-7-5 syllabic form).  I hope to have more to say about the Epigram Haiku in the near future.

Take some time today to read or reread some syllabic Haiku, or compose some of your own to add to the already rich tradition.



Monday, September 2, 2013

Sparring with the Sun: A Review

Sparring with the Sun
By Jan Schreiber
A Review

Jan Schreiber is a new name for me, though he has been publishing poetry and criticism for some time.  I came across this volume of poetry criticism and decided to give it a read.  I found it to be highly engaging and insightful.

It is a collection of essays, some of which have appeared previously in publications like Contemporary Poetry Review.  The book covers quite a lot of ground offering valuable insights along the way.

Sparring is divided into three sections: Part 1 is ‘Six Poets of the Late Twentieth Century’.  Part 2 is ‘The Aspirants’.  And Part 3 is ‘The Sorting-Out Process’.

In Part 1 Schreiber discusses six late modern poets all of whom chose to incorporate into their poetry, to various degrees, formal aspects from the poetic tradition.  The poets discussed include Elizabeth Bishop, Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, Robert Lowell, Howard Nemerov, and W. D. Snodgrass.  While each of the analyses is helpful, the overall impression given in Part 1 is that formal elements from the English language tradition continued to exert a pull on poets even when modernism in the form of a doctrinaire, free verse, approach was at its strongest.  And the overall results are uniformly efficacious.  If you want an introduction to how some poets in late modernism remained rooted in the traditional elements of English verse, Part 1 is the best I have read.

Part 2 is sub-divided into two parts.  The first part of Part 2 is called ‘Lost and Found’.  Here Schreiber discusses a few poets who have been neglected and that Schreiber feels are worth taking a second look at.  I learned, for example, about the poet Samuel Menashe, who I had not heard of before.  Menashe is a kind of minimalist, and I normally dislike how minimalism has effected poetry, particularly Haiku and Tanka.  But I was intrigued by the few poems Schreiber quoted and went to Amazon and ordered Menashe’s collection from The Poetry Foundation ‘Neglected Masters’ series.  What a treat!  Really wonderful poems; sharp, articulate, resonant, well-crafted. 

So Part 2 of Schreiber’s work has already panned out for me, introducing me to a poet previously unknown to me that I am finding rewarding to read.  Perhaps you will find some new poet in this section as well.

The second section of Part 2 is ‘Modernism’s Last Gasp?’  It is an exploration of the direction that modernism, by which Schreiber means free verse, and, I think, the more avant-garde wing of free verse, is headed.  Schreiber analyzes five recent modern verse publications.  These five were approved of by no less a source than the New Yorker.  Schreiber’s analyses are balanced; he finds both things to admire and things to critique.  But the overall tone of Schreiber’s reviews is that modernism has become tedious and sloppy.  There is, in addition, a tendency to solipsism, to opaque imagery that no amount of focus will allow for the unpacking of its meaning.  It’s not that the poems are difficult.  Schreiber notes, “There is nothing wrong with having to work at elucidating a poem, as long as the reward justifies the effort.  We learned much as a culture from the effort to understand the poems of Dickinson in the nineteenth century or Stevens in the twentieth, but it is disappointing to apply oneself diligently to a text only to come up with chaff.”  (Page 134) 

Schreiber’s overall view of late modernism is one that resonates with me.  I have been particularly struck by the increase in what I refer to as slovenly lineation.  I am sensitive to this because, with my focus on syllabics, it is my view that a syllabic poem requires clear lineation if it is to communicate its form to the hearer of the poem.  Late modernism runs counter to this kind of discipline; radical enjambment is common and the complete disjunction of grammatical phrasing and line break is pervasive.  Schreiber does not raise this specific point about lineation; but his observations about a growing laxness fit well with my personal take on late modernism.

Schreiber points out that form gives the poet a tool of focus, “The epigram, the quatrain, the sonnet have the virtue of forcing writers to be inventive in cooking the fat out of their lines.” (Page 135)  One of the attractions of writing poems within formal parameters is that the form functions as a kind of lens; the poet is not relying solely on personal whim.  The form functions as a means to winnow the vast stream of images and associations that run through the mind, a means that lies beyond personal taste. 

But is Schreiber right that we are witnessing the ‘late days of modernism’?  His view is that some late modern poems have become ‘. . . quaint, old-fashioned, and surprisingly uninspiring, except for a few loners that stand out like mica in dust …’ (Page 143).  Here he's talking about a specific poet, but I believe the remark can be generalized.  I sympathize with Schreiber’s view that the avant-garde experimentalism feels like it has run its course.  In looking at experiments from the 70’s and 80’s they seem, now, amazingly dated; like some fashion accessory or an 8-track.  And late modern poets who continue in this vein look, well, kind of sad. 

But it is difficult to see how this will pan-out.  I am not so sure this is the ‘last days’, or even the ‘late days’, of modernism.  What I see developing, in contrast, is a both/and approach.  I am thinking here of poets like Dana Gioia who composes excellent poetry in both formal, metrical, and in free verse.  My good friend, Sandy Eastoak, is another poet who is equally efficacious with free verse and formal verse.  This is a trend which I see very gradually emerging.

From this perspective we are not witnessing the last days of modernism so much as the absorption of modernism into the overall layout of English language poetry.  For a century free verse and formal verse have been seen as in opposition.  And free verse poets thought of themselves in that way; that is to say free verse poets thought of themselves as overthrowing the strictures of an outdated heritage.  And traditional poets obliged this perspective, only reversing the value judgments.

But with the emergence of poets like Gioia and Eastoak, and others who write with equal facility in the two modes, this kind of ideologically based opposition is beginning, I think, to be perceived as contrived.  If my observation is correct, than what I suspect will happen in the near future is that poets will see both formal and free approaches as options rather than as oppositions, with more and more poets writing now and then in one or the other of the modes.  In a way it is like what is happening in the world of cooking where chefs have become skilled in more than one approach to cuisine; say Japanese and French.  Such a chef may cook one way and then the other, or may even mix the two cuisines in a single meal.  Similarly, a poet like Gioia will present both free verse and metrical verse in a single volume of his poetry without feeling that they should be separated or that they clash.

Part 3 of Sparring deals with the ins and outs of poetic criticism.  There is a lengthy discussion of Yvor Winters and his influence on 20th century American poetry.  I was unaware, for example, of how many of his students had gone on to significant positions or how widely Wineters’s views have been dispersed.  Schreiber’s presentation is sympathetic, knowledgeable, and at the same time revelatory of some shortcomings.  Altogether a highly informative chapter.

In the penultimate chapter Schreiber discusses ‘The Functions of Poetry’.  I think it is the most open ended of the chapters.  It deals with the pervasive sense among poets of the loss of their place and their audience in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  In an insightful analysis Schreiber points out that, from a certain perspective, poetry has not lost its audience, “If poetry serves and fulfills all these functions – social, psychological, and spiritual – then why is it so widely ignored and even disdained?  One might answer that it isn’t.  In various forms – popular song including folk and rap, limericks and other light verse, rallying cries of street demonstrations, na├»ve compositions for birthdays and other special occasions – rhythmic language thrives.” (Page 189)

Precisely.  It isn’t that modern poetry has lost its audience; it’s that the audience for poetry has, for the most part, abandoned most free verse presentations.  Popular song is the audience for modern poetry; it is where modern poetry can be found.

Regarding avant-garde poetry, Schreiber notes, “Yet very few people read the latter sort of poetry.  Why?  For one thing, ‘art’ or ‘high’ poetry is still recovering from a serious deformation foisted upon it early in the twentieth century, when it was deprived of the very qualities – rhythm and rhyme – that made it adhere to memory, and at the same time required by the aesthetics of the age to be incomprehensible to all but a small coterie.” (Page 189)

If this seems harsh, consider how a poem like Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ has become a cultural artifact.  I can’t think of any modern free verse poem that has become so well-known and so well loved.  Or consider how the Villanelle by Dylan Thomas, ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ has become one of the most widely quoted, read, and understood of modern poems.  Both of these poems are formal, highly structured.

Yet, once again, I find myself wanting to step back from this kind of conclusion.  For one thing, I can think of free verse poetry that is widely appreciated, though it is not modern.  I am thinking of the King James Bible’s version of the Psalms.  There was recently a Science Fiction Series, part of the Stargate franchise, called ‘Stargate Universe’.  In an early episode one of the main characters, facing a crisis on the spaceship, goes to his room, closes the door, sits on his bed, and begins to recite from memory, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .’  What I found attractive is that it felt completely believable.

Normally we do not think of the Psalms as free verse poetry.  That’s because we have, unfortunately, absorbed the narrative that fee verse represents a break with tradition, that fee verse is iconoclastic in its stance towards the traditional heritage of English Language prosody.  But if we connect free verse with the Psalms, that narrative starts to feel like bad story telling.  Instead of free verse being a break with the past, free verse can be seen as something that was always present in English poetic culture.  The difference during the modern period was that it emerged into the foreground and, in addition, at times became deliberately obscure and enormously self-involved.  So, in the end, I am not able to completely agree with Schreiber’s views.  Even so, the thoughtful presentation and the knowledgeable analyses are rewarding to read.  Schreiber’s style is lucid and pleasing to the ear.  It is also avoids being strident, a great virtue in a field, poetic criticism, where stridency is often encountered.

From the perspective of syllabics, Schreiber does not comment on its usage except noting in passing that J. V. Cunningham adopted syllabics during one part of his career.  It is understandable that Schreiber does not deal with the emergence of syllabics such as Haiku and Cinquain; such an approach is still marginal and has not exerted a big impact.  In comparison to metrical and free verse, syllabics remain a fringe concern. 

For the syllabic poet, however, I think that Schreiber’s analyses and overview offer useful material.  For example, Schreiber is able to articulate why so much of late modern free verse is incomprehensible.  For the poet coming to syllabics from free verse, this kind of information can help by assisting those newly interested in syllabics to understand why a free verse approach to lineation needs to be abandoned in composing articulate syllabic verse.

My favorite section of Sparring was Part 2 because it led to some new discoveries.  But all three sections have depth and are worthy of study and engagement.  Take a look at it; I think you will enjoy Schreiber’s take on where poetry stands as a new century continues to unfold.

Sparring with the Sun:
Poets and the Ways We Think about Poetry in the Late Days of Modernism
Jan Schreiber
ISBN: 9781938308062
$17.95

Available at Amazon or



Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sogi Day for 2013

Greetings:

Today is Sogi day; the anniversary of Sogi's passing.  Sogi is my favorite Japanese poet. He was a Renga Master, meaning he not only participated in Renga, he also taught Renga.

For me Sogi is a particular inspiration.  Sogi wrote several solo Hyakuin (100 Verse) Renga.  Two of these have been translated and annotated.  It was the Hyakuin Solo Renga, 'Sogi Alone', written towards the end of Sogi's life, that inspired me to compose solo Renga.  One of the writing projects I referred to in my previous post is to pull these solo Renga together and, using print-on-demand technology, publish them.  I have discovered that I have written a large quantity of these over the years.  And it is all due to Sogi's influence.

Many thanks,

Jim