Saturday, November 28, 2015

Richard Wright Day -- 2015

Today is Richard Wright Day and this year I don’t have a long post or analysis of his work.  I’ve just been too busy.  Nevertheless I wanted to take a moment to pay my yearly tribute to Wright and to his contributions to English Language Haiku and syllabic verse in general.  It’s a good day to read Wright’s collection of superb haiku poetry, or maybe to compose a haiku tribute to Wright.

I spend time studying Wright’s work; there is a lot to learn from his approach to haiku and syllabics.  I am in the process of building a concordance of Wright’s published haiku.  I am almost finished with the concordance and several things emerge from this project.  First, the vocabulary is accessible by ordinary readers.  There are no high abstractions or obscure words, no made-up words.  The concordance appears to be dominated by nouns that name objects in the world that anyone can relate to. 

Second, the vocabulary is mostly short-count words.  Rarely you will find a word that has 4 counts or higher.  An exception is found in haiku 653:

You can see the wind
Absentmindedly fumbling
With apple blossoms

The word ‘absentmindedly’ is a rare 5 count word; but it works.  It’s an ordinary word, a word one hears in conversation.  So it fits the overall vocabulary.

Haiku 87 is another example that uses a 5 count word:

The cat licks dew-wet cobwebs
From between his toes.

Here the 5 count word holds an entire line.

Again, such words are extremely rare, but when Wright does use them they don’t cause the reader to stumble.  They read smoothly and fit in with the overall sense of the haiku he is writing.

Another aspect of Wright’s haiku that comes through in the concordance is the ordinary syntax that Wright uses.  Articles appear in almost every haiku, as do prepositions.  Unlike many ELH haijin that have been influenced by the cerebral construction of an artificial syntax that is pushed by official haiku (what I refer to as 'Haiku Hybrid English'), Wright’s haiku accept the English language as it is.  From my perspective that is one of the chief virtues of his haiku and it is an ideal that I would like to see many more ELH poets adopt.

I will have more to say about what the concordance shows.  But for now this is enough.  Let’s take a moment of appreciation for Richard Wright and the haiku he has bequeathed us.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Ghazal for November

A Ghazal for November

The maple leaves are red in November,
I recall what you said in November.

The sky is vast and cold shadows are cast,
Most of the birds have fled in November.

Letter received, she was badly deceived,
Now she rips it to shreds in November.

Solid earth becomes sand, where do I stand?,
When there’s nothing but dread in November.

Incense on the altar, I pause, falter,
I pray for someone dead in November.

The rising sun, the day has just begun,
With those Psalms that I’ve read in November.

I’m alone, I reach my brother by phone,
Holidays are ahead in November.

I completely refuse to read the news,
I’ll do something instead in November.

It is not quite night, at dusk there’s the sight
Of unraveling threads in November.

Somehow I knew, what you said wasn’t true,
I was being misled in November.

I, Wordsmith Jim, find shelter in a hymn,

That’s the place I’ve been led in November.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Haiku of Bill Albert

The Haiku of Bill Albert

One of my ongoing projects is to recover some of the haiku written in the past which have now all but vanished.  Now and then I take time to see what is available from used book sites and then, using my intuition, select what I think might be valuable.  At other times I will notice in an older essay on haiku that the author mentions in passing a haijin or book I have never heard of.  This then sends me on a search.

That is how I discovered a small volume called Haiku by Bill Albert.  It was published in 1991.  As far as I know it was never reissued.  And I am not aware that Albert’s haiku have ever been placed in any anthology that I have read. 

The collection of haiku is truly excellent.  They have a secure basis in the traditional syllabic shape of 5-7-5, they are seasonal, and they are elegant in their use of language.  Most of the haiku are in two parts though the sense of juxtaposition is muted.  I appreciate this.  Using renga parlance, the two parts are ‘close’, which means accessible.  Often the two parts are divided along sensory lines.  Here is an example

The frost-sharp window
shatters the violet dawn –
The garbage truck squeals.

Lines 1 & 2 are visual; they also set both the season and the time.  Line 3 shifts to a sonic sensation that is strident, merging with the verb used in line 2, ‘shatters’.

Here is an example where the two parts focus on two sonic elements:

A sapling’s branches
patter against the window –
a car not starting.

‘Sapling’ is a season word, so line 1 sets the season.  Line 2 introduces the sound of branches against the window; implying a breeze.  Line 3 introduces a sonic element of a car turning over but not starting.  The two sounds are similar and the reader can hear them merge.  This is a nicely contrapuntal soundscape.

Here is one I particularly like:

A full moon tonight . . .
all of the light in my room
comes from a street lamp.

It’s a nice setup.  The ‘full moon’ is a season word indicating autumn.  The reader is set to think of a room flooded with moonlight, and then Albert puts in a little twist.  Instead of moonlight in his room it is a streetlamp’s light that fills the room.  There is a contemplative and lonely mood to this haiku which continues to resonate with the reader long after reading it.

Albert’s approach to lineation interested me because he effectively uses certain means that I often find fault with.  For example, Albert will end a line with a preposition:

Two crows rise from
the hollow of scrub-oak
the northeast wind.

Here the count is 4-6-4.  Line 1 ends in the preposition ‘from’.  Normally I think lines ending in prepositions are careless; but with Albert I found myself seeing how such an approach can work effectively.  In a way this haiku is a list haiku; each line has its own image.  The ‘from’ links two of the images together and I think that is why it works to end line 1 at that point.

Here is another example of line ending usage that surprised me:

Awakened by the
sudden cold of the spring night –
The frogs singing.

Line 1 ends with ‘the’ and, again, normally I think of such usage as sloppy.  Here Albert makes it work by having line 2 be a self-contained image so that the word ‘the’ acts as a kind of link in the same way that the word ‘from’ does in the previous haiku.  I found this to be skillful.

A few times Albert uses a single line approach to his haiku:

Branches lattice the chipped moon.

This is a striking image.  It is one of the very few single line haiku that I have resonated with.  Most single line haiku are infected with obscurantism and self-conscious displays of avant-gardism.  Albert’s single line haiku are, in contrast, accessible and striking.  My sense is that Albert now and then, not often, experiments with the haiku form, but that his overall approach is strongly rooted in the traditional 5-7-5 syllabics and the necessity of a seasonal reference.  For this reason his experiments still retain some connection with the haiku tradition.

According to the ‘Publisher’s Note’ placed at the end of the book, Albert died in 1988 at the age of 37.  The ‘Note’ does not tell us the cause of his early passing.  But I get the impression that it was some kind of degenerative disease.  This is a pattern among haiku poets: think of Shiki and Richard Wright.  Of course not all great haijin were chronically ill; most were not.  But it is still intriguing how, at times, really good haiku comes from those whose lives have been circumscribed by a long illness.

In any case, Albert worked on his haiku and left a modest number of notebooks.  His friends gleaned what they considered to be his best and published the haiku as an offering from their friend on their friend’s behalf.  They had to do this for Albert because Albert seems to have been disinclined to publish on his own behalf.  The ‘Note’ says, “He was without worldly ambition, made no effort to publish or otherwise promote himself.  His ambition, turned inward, was purely aesthetic: he was aiming to write the perfect haiku, and in the best tradition of the form, wanted to write it anonymously.”  Albert seems to have been a modern Emily Dickinson in his distrust for the more worldly aspects of poetry, such as publication and promotion.  What is remarkable, given Albert’s attitude, is how many friends he had who participated in the publication of this work.  The list of people who donated to get the book into publication is over 200.  It seems that Bill Albert made a significant impression on a wide group of people in spite of, or perhaps because of, his reclusiveness.

I am grateful to the friends of Bill Albert for taking the time to publish these haiku.  It is a rich and rewarding collection.  It deserves to be reprinted and more widely known.  Readers may be able to find a used copy on amazon or

Children stop chasing
fireflies to watch shooting stars --
the porch light flickers

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Brief Note of Thanks

This year has been very productive for me.  I’ve published a number of poetry books and read a lot of really well done work.  In the last month I have received emails from people telling me how much they like this blog.  And there have been a number of authors who have noted my blog in their own books, usually on their acknowledgement page.

It is gratifying to have this kind of feedback.  Poetry is such a marginal activity in the world today. Like most poets I don’t make my living through poetry; I have a full time job to pay the bills, and other obligations besides.  Writing poetry and talking about poetry on this blog is the way I spend a lot of my free time.  So it is good to hear from others that this blog has touched them in some way.  I think poets need to take care of each other, support each other, advise each other, and, yes, critique each other.  I see this happening more and more online and it is a good thing to see. 

So, thanks to those of you who have emailed or written, linked or passed on by word of mouth information about this site, encouraging others to look over my essays, poetry, and reviews.  It means a lot.

Best wishes.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pi Poems, by Becket -- A Reivew

Pi Poems, by Becket – A Review

One of the intriguing things about the emergence of syllabic forms in English language poetry is how often the syllabic shape of these forms is determined by mathematical constructs.  Forms that are based on some kind of maths include the Tetractys, Fibonacci, Etheree, and Lucas.  The Tetractys is based on Pythagorean number theory; the Fibonacci and Lucas are based on related number series; and the Etheree is based on the standard counting sequence of 1 to 10. 

Given that background, it makes sense that someone would use the number Pi as the basis for a syllabic form.  The number Pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.  It is a mathematical constant.  It is also an irrational number; meaning that the resulting ratio continues without ever coming to a conclusion or repeating.

The poet Becket, who does not give us his first name, has published a collection of poems based on this numerical sequence.  As far as I know this is the first book of Pi poems.  Becket writes in his ‘Introduction’,

Similar to the way each line of a haiku is written according to a set number of syllables, the syllables for each Pi poem line is determined according to the number of Pi – 3.1415926535 . . . and on into infinity.  So the first line of a pi poem would be 3 syllables, according to the first number of Pi; the second line would be 1 syllable . . . and so on until the poem is finished.

The challenge in using an irrational series like Pi is that with the constantly fluctuating numerical count there will be a strong tendency for the poem to read like a free verse poem.  In the Fibonacci there is an overall shape to the poem, a steady increase in line length which the reader can feel as the poem grows.  The same is true of the Etheree.  But with an irrational number the series will fluctuate; there will be no perceived repetition of numerical sequences and no overall shape for the reader to use as a basis for comprehending the shape of the poem. 

Becket’s solution to this is to base the structure of his poems primarily on grammar.  But Becket is not consistent with this approach.  Here is an example where grammar defines the lines:


Do not stop.
Keep going on.
Never surrender
because our lives are journeys from peace
to peace,
between which dwell deserts
of misadventures,
and too much worry.
Fearfulness undermines progress.
So sidestep fear, leap over self-doubt,
push away biting
demons crouching interiorly,
to breathe,
and be kind.

With the exception of the transition from line 14 to 15 (biting/demons) the lineation is grammar based.  Many of the lines end in periods.  Five of the lines are full sentences.  This works well and the reader can enter into the numerical sequence that underlies the lineation.

On the other hand, some of the Pi poems seem to have completely arbitrary lineation:



This is a standard sentence and there is no strong feeling as to why the words have been laid out vertically rather than horizontally; nothing is added by their placement and the reader doesn’t really see anything new.

Sometimes Becket will use rhyme to define a line:


Right now will
away like grass.
wither while sorrows
wilt like meadow heather in autumn
Whether I suffer or
jubilate, my life
keeps going.
So I go.

The pass/grass rhyme is effective, although there will be the tendency to sonically move ‘pass’ to the end of line 1.  And the use of ‘weather’ and ‘Whether’ as initial words for lines 7 & 8 resonates nicely with ‘wither’ at line 5.  Overall this is a good example of lineation which effectively uses a few devices to present to the reader/listener the underlying syllabic shape.

Here is one of Becket’s shortest Pi poems:


The present
the only gift.

Here is another example where this reader feels like the lineation is arbitrary, that nothing is really added to the thought by putting it on three lines.  ‘The present is the only gift’ seems to me to be just as effective.

The subject matter of the Pi poems is almost entirely focused on the poet’s inner feelings.  I think that is its greatest weakness.  Whether the poems are read as free verse or syllabic verse, the subject matter is remarkably self-centered; but oddly, we learn almost nothing about Becket himself and his specific life.  That’s a shame because he has led an interesting life.  Becket is a former monastic and is currently an assistant to Anne Rice; the author of famous vampire novels.  I would like to have read more about his specific biography in his poems. 

What I noticed is that there is almost nothing of the world in the poems: no tulips or oaks, no birds or beasts, no mountains or streams.  And the world of human beings is mostly absent as well: no trucks or bridges, no houses or offices, no specific men, women, or children.  A few times Becket introduces the wider world through metaphor or simile; see the above poem that mentions grass and heather.  But that poem is unusual; it is one of the reasons why it is one of my favorites.  More typical is a poem like this:


Fear never
my yearning to
the sickness in me
that spreads from me whenever I fail
to love.

The world of Pi Poems is about the author’s own fears and psychological, as opposed to sociological, difficulties and his hope of overcoming these limitations.  I believe that his approach to these poems is rooted in the literature of affirmations.  I have to confess that I do not find this type of literature attractive.  I know my limitations; this kind of writing always strikes me as self-absorbed.  On the other hand, I have friends who have benefitted greatly from the use of affirmations; so I recognize that it can have value.  If you are one of the many who find affirmations attractive and helpful (e.g. readers of Louise Hay or Wayne Dyer or the Hazeldon books of affirmations) you will probably be more receptive to the subject matter than I am.

My difficulty with Becket’s Pi poems is their abstractness and their psychological orientation.  The above poem about the interaction between fear and love is not placed in any specific incident; it remains a floating abstraction.  Perhaps it resonates with your own experience, perhaps not; it is not clear what I can do with it or what there is to learn from it. I am intrigued by this collection and its attempt to use a numerical series that never repeats, and wildly fluctuates, as the basis for a poetic form.  At times Beckett meets that challenge effectively; at other times my feeling is that it falls short.  On the other hand, I am not particularly inspired by the subject matter; it is too self-fascinated for me.  So in the end I am ambivalent.  I want to give it four stars for trying out a difficult form and, at times, succeeding with it.  But I have a two stars feeling for the subject matter.  As I said above, other readers might find the subject matter more agreeable.

I wonder if others will follow the lead given by Becket.  My feeling is that there is a yearning among 21st century poets for form.  But that yearning is not met in MFA programs, Universities, official poetry journals, or in the numerous volumes of free verse that are churned out year after year.  But this yearning will find an outlet and one of those outlets is the emergence of various syllabic forms that an individual poet finds attractive.  There have been a lot of these offered since the eighties.  A few, such as the Fibonacci, have developed a following, along with the older Cinquain and syllabic Haiku.  It will be interesting to see if the form that Becket has presented in his Pi Poems generates a following.

Pi Poems – for the one who needs them . . .
By Becket
ISBN: 9781941240182

Available from Amazon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetry For Sale, by Pat Nolan -- A Review

Poetry For Sale
By Pat Nolan and Poet Friends
A Review

Renga is my favorite form of poetry.  Those who have read this blog regularly know that my personal poetic output is dominated by renga and that I have been involved in writing renga for over 30 years.  There are a few others who have found renga congenial, but the number of English language renga poets is very small.

like some awesome god
in my aspirations I’ll turn time
back after midnight
reflections in a black glass
eclipse of the autumn sun

reflections in a black glass
eclipse of the autumn sun
          visiting brother’s
          cigarette ember at dusk
          father’s ghost coughs

(Page 50)

Here is an interesting factoid about those renga poets in the U.S. – In the early to mid-80’s two of the tiny number of people who have spent a lot of time devoted to renga lived in a small town in Sonoma County, California.  The name of the town is Monte Rio.  It has a population of 1,152 people as of the 2010 census; less than that in the 80’s.  A third poet who has devoted a lot of time to renga is Jane Reichhold who lives just up the coast, in Southern Mendocino County.  So three people who found in renga a vehicle for their own poetic expression resided, at first unknown to each other, within easy driving distance, and two of them lived in the same rural town.

under a pay phone’s dim glow
static from long distance lies
          imported jonquils
          whole flock of ‘em in a jug
          hello, fake spring!

          imported jonquils
          whole flock of ‘em in a jug
          hello, fake spring!
damn tank takes forever to fill
one more flush should do it

(page 89)

In the early 80’s I moved to Monte Rio.  Soon after I started the first English language magazine devoted to renga.  I was completely unaware that residing in Monte Rio was Pat Nolan who was another person devoting a lot of time to the renga form.  Eventually I would meet Nolan; I learned about him through a mutual poetry friend.

Both Nolan and I were catalyzed into the world of renga by the work of Earl Miner.  When Miner published his Japanese Linked Poetry it opened up the world of renga in a way that no previous scholarly work had been able to do. 

I took to writing renga by adopting many of the features of topic placement and gradually learning about linking and shifting and primarily looking at renga as a solo form, though I have engaged with others poets in composing renga as well.  Nolan’s approach was more social than mine.    And Nolan found in Miner’s work specific features that he chose to replicate in his own explorations of the renga form.  A distinctive feature of Miner’s translations of Japanese renga was to repeat each verse (with the exception of the closing verse) to highlight the nature of the link and shift that takes place as the renga unfolds.  Nolan and his renga partners liked the effect this had on renga poetry and adopted this repetition procedure when writing, or leading, his own renga.  This is in some ways a new approach to renga; in Japanese renga the verses are not repeated.  Miner repeated the verses in his translations in order to shed light on certain ambiguous features of the Japanese language which can be used as pivots as verse X assumes different relationships to verse X - 1 and to verse X + 1.  For example, because the Japanese language uses pronouns less frequently than English, and because the Japanese verb does not decline by number or sex, it is possible for a verse to refer to a woman when linked to the previous verse, and then refer to a man when linked to the following verse.   But Nolan, and his cohorts in renga, found the effect of this repetition in itself esthetically appealing, adopting it as a distinctive feature of their approach to renga.

And now, after more than 30 years of writing renga, Nolan has gathered 11 renga into his latest book Poetry For Sale: Haikai no Renga (linked poetry).  The title is taken from one of the opening verses (hokku) in the collection which is derived from a haikai by Basho and Kikaku that has the title ‘Poetry Is What I Sell’.  It reads:

Mortality not debt
leads me to hoist another
poetry for sale
                   after Kikaku

 Poetry For Sale is a fantastic collection.  Anyone interested in the interaction between Japanese and English poetry needs this book.  And anyone interested in renga should definitely get it.  It is an immensely pleasing collection: entertaining, surprising, sometimes sharp and witty, sometimes introspective, sometimes descriptive, the renga unfold with great skill and elegance.  They are a pleasure to read.

a butterfly’s premonition
it’s safer not to move
          me and my paper lantern
          not surprisingly a scoop
          among a river of stars

          me and my paper lantern
          not surprisingly a scoop
          among a river of stars
the howl of dogs
hushed by the silence of birds

(Page 77)

I have to admit that the feature of repeating all the stanzas at first puzzled me.  It is not the route I have chosen with my own renga.  However, I have come to appreciate this innovation.  If you read the renga aloud you’ll get the pleasing effect the repetition has.  By repeating the verses they take on a chorus like feeling.  On November 6th I heard a reading from Poetry for Sale; two of the poets, Pat Nolan and Sandy Berrigan, read from one of the renga and the effect of the repetition was soothing.  The innovation works in a musical way that I find very pleasing and attractive.  The repetition makes the renga journey accessible.  I suspect this is particularly true for those who have no previous experience with the form.

And speaking of the renga form, Nolan and his partners chose a respectful, but at the same time relaxed, relationship to the numerous formal regulations.  This is explained in Nolan’s introduction, “Hardly Strictly Haikai” and in the ‘Forewad’ to the haikai ‘Random Rocks’.  Generally speaking one finds seasonal and topic placement, a rough commitment to the overall syllabic shape, and a traditional sense of pacing.  It has been my observation that this respectful yet relaxed approach is the stance that all renga poets have had to adopt in their relationship to traditional Japanese renga.  Nolan compares renga to the music of a jazz combo and that feels right to me.  In good jazz there are rules and at the same time there is improvisation.  Nolan and his partners have a good grasp of what the rules are (for example, topic placement), but they also have an intuitive sense of when to let the renga find its own way.  This is actually how the great renga masters of Japan related to the form.  A good example is how Sogi lead a 100 verse renga that does not contain any summer verses; Sogi allowed the energy of the renga to flow where it was going.

The book contains, with a one exception, renga written by two or more poets, which is the standard procedure for writing renga.  Pat Nolan’s partners in renga are Keith Kumasen Abbott, Sandy Berrigan, Gloria Frym, Steven LaVoie, Joen Eshima Moore, Maureen Owen, Michael Sowl, and John Veglia.  It is a great cast of characters.  Each of them has a distinctive voice.

The collection starts out with a solo kasen renga by Pat Nolan.  (All the renga in the collection are kasen, or 36-verse, renga rooted in the style of Basho.)  Nolan achieves the effect of having multiple participants by selecting haiku, and then editing them, from Blyth’s collection to form the verses of the haikai.  It is an effective collage.

The other ten renga all have multiple participants, starting with two poets and ending up with five.  Several of the renga, ‘Yellow Music’, ‘Poetry for Sale’, ‘Bamboo Greeting’, which is dedicated to Earl Miner, and ‘Random Rocks’ have a running commentary.  On the left page are the verses of the haikai, and on the right page are comments from the author of the verse which illuminate what the poets were thinking or trying to accomplish with their link.  This is really interesting and helpful for people who want to compose renga themselves.

Nolan notes in the ‘Introduction’ that, with one exception, all of them were written via snail mail.  Remember that this began when the internet was still nascent and in many ways unreliable.  Eventually Nolan used email attachments; but that was towards the end of these efforts.  The effect of this is that each poet could take their time considering their link.  This gives the renga a polished feel. 

a raven on the blue post
office box silent – still silent –
all their beauty gone
the mud rut of a bike tire
through pale confetti

all their beauty gone
the mud rut of a bike tire
through pale confetti
ice islands in thawed lawn –
shiny dribble melts a spilled moon –

(Page 62)  

Nolan and his partners have done a great job adapting renga to an English language poetic context.  Renga is a unique poetic genre; I don’t know of any other form which has the effect that renga imparts.  It is a combination of the concrete details of life combined with a dream like sense of traveling, like some kind of strange astral journey.  It is a difficult form to do well.  It is remarkable how graceful this collection is.  My hope is that this collection will help others access this form so that they can also walk the journey down the renga road.

that was the reason I bought
the bamboo shower curtain
          at the merest touch
          flurries of blossoms cascade
          onto the bright grass

          at the merest touch
          flurries of blossoms cascade
          onto the bright grass
where the black rock fell off
a sunlit cliff – steam curls up

(Pages 143-144)

Poetry For Sale: Haikai no Renga (linked poetry)
Pat Nolan with partners and friends
Nuallain House, Monte Rio

The book is only available directly from Nuallain House, which is on the web here:

Monday, November 9, 2015

'Searching for You' by Leonard Dabydeen -- A Review

Searching for You
By Leonard Dabydeen
A Review

I reviewed Leonard Dabydeen’s earlier collection of poetry, Watching You, a few years ago.  Watching You is the first collection of Tetractys poems; meaning the first book consisting entirely of the Tetractys form.  The Tetractys is a five-line syllabic form with the count as follows: 1-2-3-4-10.  It is based on Pythagorean number theory where the first four numbers add up to 10.  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, so in a way the last line syllabically gathers the first four lines.

In Dabydeen’s second book, Searching for You, the author continues with his exploration of the Tetractys form.  But in this volume Dabydeen has added Fibonacci poems as well.  The relationship between the two forms is intriguing.  The overall count for the Tetractys is 20 syllables.  Dabydeen uses the six-line form of the Fibonacci: 1-1-2-3-5-8, which also adds up to 20 syllables for the overall count.  The two forms are similar in the overall shape; both forms start with a one-count word, then they open up into longer lines, but the pacing of how they open differs.  In both forms the last line has the longest count.  The interplay between the two forms is one of the things which gives Searching some of its charm.  The book is a demonstration of how a syllabic line in English functions by using two forms with the same overall count, that share an overall shape, but with different distributions of that count.

Dabydeen’s approach to lineation is grammatical; each line forms a grammatical unit.  In overall structure, most of the poems are single sentence poems so that they flow from the opening one-count line to the end where the reader usually encounters the longest line.  (There are some exceptions where Dabydeen uses a reversed structure of the lines.)  The two forms both start with a one-count word; so they share that in common.  As in his previous book, the first line often consists of a pronoun, which makes sense.  It seems to me that in this second book, though, Dabydeen is more expansive in his choice of opening one-count words.  The opening word in forms like the Tetractys and Fibonacci carries a lot of weight; a single word of one count holds an entire line.  And Dabydeen draws us in with his opening words.

Dabydeen writes his poems based on his personal experience, often commenting on his own emotional state, current events, the plight of refugees, and landscapes, particularly at night.  There is also a strongly religious element threading through the collection.  Dabydeen’s Hinduism plays a prominent role and some of the poems are invocations or prayers to deities such as Krishna. 

Lonely as a Star

no moonlight
behind the clouds
I sit on this bench lonely as a star.

This is beautifully shaped.  The lineation is clear.  There is an elegant integration of the landscape with the author’s interior mood.  There is also a judicious use of rhyme, tonight/moonlight, which helps us to feel the sense of the form.  And there is a sonic resonance between dark/star which also helps to clarify the shape of the poem.

Here is another Tetractys:


standing here
being with you
brings me closer to a wish coming true.

Again we see the well-crafted lineation and the judicious use of rhyme, you/true.  I also appreciate the way the first four lines tumble into the long closing line in a way that feels rhythmically natural.  It’s almost like you are hearing someone speaking this, pausing slightly at the end of each short line, and then opening their heart in the last, longer line.

Here is a seascape:


the sea
beckons me
from the boardwalk
I watch waves rushing to shore quietly.

Not all of his Tetractys rhyme, but I admire the skillful, and natural, way that Dabydeen uses rhyme in a way that is unaffected.  Here is an unrhymed Tetractys:

My Watch

my watch
snowflakes dance
this cold morning
sunshine pretends to keep melting the snow.

There are 125 Tetractys poems.  These are followed by 76 Fibonacci poems.  Here are some prayers to Lord Krishna:

your name
seek blessings
like flowers blooming
in a garden with trees of thorns.

this Age
in darkness
in Kali Yuga
free us from evil, Lord Krishna

I enjoyed reading the specifically religious poems in this collection; they add a deeper dimension to the collection.  Notice how in the second prayer to Krishna, Dabydeen starts two lines with ‘in’, while the last two lines use a mild end rhyme, Yuga/Krishna.  This gives the prayer a chant-like sound; I wonder how this prayer would sound put to music; I can almost hear the tune.

At times Dabydeen is philosophical:

So Much of Life

of life
is made up
of how we gather
all the things we do together.

Dabydeen is a major syllabic poet writing in English.  His two books are a significant contribution to the small, but growing, body of English syllabic verse.  His work is carefully constructed, wide ranging in topics, and imbued with both emotional and intellectual honesty.  His second book is a wonderful collection and I look forward to future publications.

Botany of Life

take you
where flowers
bloom in abundance
it is the botany of life.

Searching for You:
A Collection of Tetractys & Fibonacci Poems
By Leonard Dabydeen
ISBN: 9781514409756

Available from Amazon, Xlibris, or through Ingram Distribution.