“On a branch | floating downriver | a cricket, singing.” ~ Kobayashi Issa (Trans. Jane Hirshfield)

Cover of A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints

Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems from the book A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons In Poems And Prints, by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto (a PDF of which can be found here). I’ve been intent on the coming of autumn, but I decided yesterday that I need to appreciate the last days of summer, regardless of the flies.  I find that whenever am keenly focused on nature and in search of poems, I turn to Haiku, and admittedly, I am very fond of the frequent appearance of dragonflies in this type of verse.

Haiku is a traditional 13th century form of Japanese verse that depicts a moment in time, or as Cor van den Heuvel wrote in 1987, Haiku is the concise “essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature.” When translated to English, the formal Haiku is supposed to be composed of three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, with five, seven and five syllables. These 17 syllables are akin to the original form of 17 mora, which is a unit of Japanese syllable weight; however, it has been pointed out that roughly 12, not 17 syllables in English are equivalent to the 17 On (phonetic units) of the Japanese Haiku, which only goes to show that strict adherence to form does not necessarily a Haiku make.

Mori Shunkei,” Red dragonfly and caterpillar on plant” (1820, wood block print)

Over time, poets have moved away from the strict 17 syllable and line count while focusing more on the economy of form. Importantly, to understand Haiku it should be viewed as more than a short poem, more than a pithy description. For a poem to be Haiku, it must encompass a sense of awareness, an eloquence of brevity. One other aspect of Haiku that should be noted is the use of kigo, which are words or phrases traditionally associated with seasons. I actually found a world database on kigo which contains fairly comprehensive discussions of the Japanese term and its use in Haiku.

The Poetry Foundation has a good description of Haiku that can be found here. A more detailed history of the form can be found on the site With Words, and the British Haiku Society site offers a breakdown of the western views and approaches to the form. Historically, there were four Japanese poets considered masters of the form, sometimes referred to as the Great Four: Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Seventeenth-century Samurai poet Bashō is often classified as the greatest writer of  Haiku; to read more about him you can go here or here for a collection of his verse.

Because of the compact nature of Haiku, I am breaking my self-imposed Tuesday rule and featuring more than two; most of these come from the “Summer” section of the book, and I am including the page numbers on which each can be found. Enjoy.

More later. Peace.


After the thunderstorm
one tree catches the setting sun—
cicada voices

~ Shiki (p48)

Seen in the daylight
it has a red neck—
the firefly

~ Bashō (p48)

The warbler
amid the bamboo shoots
sings of old age

~ Bashō (p51)

The garden darkening
the night quieting—
peonies

~ Shirao (p52)

The coming of autumn
determined
by a red dragonfly

~ Shirao (p60)

The dragonfly
has died his body
autumn

~ Bakusui (p63)

The puppy
completely unaware that
autumn has come

~ Issa (p63)


Music by Rodrigo Rodriguez, “Hitomi (Eyes), composed by Horii Kojiro

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“When I stand upright in the wind, | My bones turn to dark emeralds.” ~ James Wright, from “The Jewel”

American Poet James Wright

Two for Tuesday: James Wright

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and cool, 71 degrees.

It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.

Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.

I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.

Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?

Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.

Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.

To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Northern Pike

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.


Laura Marling, “What He Wrote”

“Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for. For every profit in one thing, payment in some other thing. For every life, a death. Even your music, of which we have heard so much, that had to be paid for. Your wife was the payment for your music. Hell is now satisfied.” ~ Ted Hughes, from Orpheus

Ted Hughes on the first day of trout fishing season in April 1986. Nick Rogers-REX/Courtesy of Harper

“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter – your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil” ~ Ted Hughes, from “God Help the Wolf after Whom the Dogs Do Not Bark”

Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy and quite warm, 90 degrees.

Yesterday was the birthday of notable British poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930-October 28, 1998).

I know that I said I would continue the NRA post today, but I just can’t. I need a break. I worked on that frigging post for over eight hours, and my body hasn’t recovered. When I get into intense writing mode, I don’t pay attention to my posture, and I tend to sit with all of my muscles tensed. Of course, the result is that I pay for it afterwards. Today my shoulders are a bundle of knots, as is my lower back, which negates any relief I may have gotten from the trigger point injections.

I’m still awaiting a prior authorization on my Robaxin (muscle relaxer), which is what I take during the day, every day. I really need that. Well, that, or a masseuse. Don’t have either at the moment.

Corey and I both got a lot done yesterday: I wrote a thoroughly researched article, and he finished the fence on the back pasture for the goats. Hoorah, hoorah.

Sylviai Plath and Ted Hughes in 1956

Anyway, back to Ted Hughes, who some of you may know as the husband of the poet Sylvia Plath; their marriage and her suicide negatively colored his reputation as a writer until his death, but he was incredibly talented in his own right. Unfortunately for Hughes, the woman for whom he left Plath, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their 4-year-old daughter Shura after Plath’s death. Hughes spent the remainder of his life writing and farming with his second wife, Carol Orchard.

If you want to know more about Hughes and Plath, the 2008 book The Letters of Ted Hughes is a great read, as is his 1998 book Birthday Letters. I own the latter but not the former; it’s on my wish list. I enjoy reading the correspondence of writers as the majority of them lay themselves bare in notes and letters. It always strikes me as being much more immediate than a biography.

You can find a good biography here on the Poetry Foundation site. The Paris Review interviewed  Hughes for its “Art of Poetry Series” (No. 71) in 1995. You can find the article here. In the following quote Hughes discusses how location affected his writing, something I am always pondering myself:

Ever since I began to write with a purpose I’ve been looking for the ideal place. I think most writers go through it.

. . . When I came back to England, I think the best place I found in that first year or two was a tiny cubicle at the top of the stairs that was no bigger than a table really. But it was a wonderful place to write. I mean, I can see now, by what I wrote there, that it was a good place.

I chose “A Woman Unconscious,” the poem below, because once again, its content seems so timely, especially in light of the recent nuclear missile explosion in Russia

More later. Peace.


A Woman Unconscious

Russia and America circle each other;
Threats nudge an act that were without doubt
A melting of the mould in the mother,
Stones melting about the root.The quick of the earth burned out:
The toil of all our ages a loss
With leaf and insect.  Yet flitting thought
(Not to be thought ridiculous)Shies from the world-cancelling black
Of its playing shadow: it has learned
That there’s no trusting (trusting to luck)
Dates when the world’s due to be burned;

That the future’s no calamitous change
But a malingering of now,
Histories, towns, faces that no
Malice or accident much derange.

And though bomb be matched against bomb,
Though all mankind wince out and nothing endure —
Earth gone in an instant flare —
Did a lesser death come

Onto the white hospital bed
Where one, numb beyond her last of sense,
Closed her eyes on the world’s evidence
And into pillows sunk her head.


Music by You + Me, “Love Gone Wrong”

“I guess I´m too used to sitting in a small room and making words do a few things.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors have taken over the Ship

From “Let It Enfold You”

“EITHER PEACE OR HAPPINESS,
LET IT ENFOLD YOU” ~ CHARLES BUKOWSKI, FROM “LET IT ENFOLD YOU”

(Thought I had scheduled this the other day, but found it in my drafts folder. Sorry.)

Friday afternoon, cloudy, 83 degrees.

Happy Birthday Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920-March 9, 1994). I thought that I’d post a video with the poet reading his own work, and then I found the second video, with a bit of conversation and very cool graphics, so I’m including that as well.

Enjoy.

More later. Peace.


“The knack is this, to fasten and not let go.” ~ Donald Justice, from “Women in Love”

Acclaimed American Poet Donald Justice

Two for Tuesday: Donald Justice

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and less humid after the earlier showers, 84 degrees.

Yesterday was the birthday of American poet Donald Justice (August 12, 1925-August 6, 2004), who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, “Men at Forty.” I would always try to include this one on the syllabus of any American Literature classes that I taught, and it was always the older students who liked it best. I suppose that it’s the kind of poem that is like fine wine, best savored with some years added. I realize that I’ve featured this poem before, several years ago (April 2011), but that’s the great things about controlling my content: I can repeat things that I love.

Justice’s poems have been called elegaic and controlled. What I like best about his poems are the powerful single lines, such as the one that I chose for the heading, or this closing line from his poem “About My Poems”:

—Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.

Or these beautiful closing lines from “Invitation to a Ghost,” an elegy that Justice wrote for his friend Henri Coulette:

Come back now and help me with these verses.
Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.

You may not be as familiar with the Pulitzer Prize winning Justice as his writing was not flashy, like, say Bukowski, but he was incredibly influential to the genre, helping to shape the work of a generation of poets such as Rita Dove, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright via his association with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find a more in-depth biography on Justice here at the Poetry Foundation or here at the Academy of American Poets.


Men at Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

[This poem is not addressed to you]

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.


Music by Lana Del Rey, “Old Money”

“. . . life is always more complicated than the headlines allow; poetry comes in when the news is not enough.” ~ Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong aged two with his mother and aunt at Philippines refugee camp

“How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 85 degrees.

It’s a lazy kind of day, but when isn’t it? I’m currently surrounded by sleeping dogs, and both horses are waiting by the front door for treats. Last night in one of my dreams the front porch was wondrously clean, something that isn’t going to happen until the pasture fence is finished. The night before I had couple of dreams in which I was hiding from a bear, same bear in both dreams, but hiding with different people in each. Weird.

Portrait of Ocean Vuong in the playground behind the house where he grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut on April, 16, 2019 by Mengwen Cao

Today I’m featuring a SoundCloud from poet/writer Ocean Vuong. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1988; two years later he immigrated to Hartford, CT with six relatives after spending a year in a Philippine refugee camp. Vuong, the first person in his family to read, currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Guardian ran a detailed article on Vuong and his work in 2017.

Vuong’s debut book of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, won the coveted T. S. Eliot prize in 2017; he is only the second debut poet to win the T. S. Eliot prize (Sarah Howe was the first in 2016). The poems in this book deal with the war and the fall of Saigon with a mixture of myth and harsh reality.

Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019), was an instant New York Times bestseller, and has been hailed as, “a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break” (Los Angeles Times). The book’s title comes from a poem included in Night Sky, a section of which I’m including here:

In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.

~ from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”

I still remember the first time that I came across a snippet from one of Vuong’s poems—I was immediately mesmerized and spent hours searching for his poems on the web and then added his book to my wish list. His is the kind of writing to which people can only aspire. It is absolutely luminous.

(Today is the birthday of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792– July 8, 1822)

Telemachus

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

(Found on Foward Arts Foundation)


Music by Jasmine Thompson, “Mad World” (one of my favorite songs)

“At school my name sounds funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver . . .” ~ Sandra Cisneros, from The House on Mango Street

Poet, Novelist, Essayist Sandra Cisneros

“They say I’m a bitch.
Or witch. I’ve claimed
the same and never winced.” ~ Sandra Cisneros, from “Loose Woman”

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy, 81 degrees.

I awoke this morning to Sarah Bear (named for Corey’s primary school girlfriend) jumping on me; as usual, she was muddy and wet. In the mornings when they first go out, several of the dogs run through the pasture, which is heavy with morning dew. Sarah always seems to be the one who winds up getting the dirtiest, and her favorite thing to do once she comes back inside is to jump on me. So I greet most days smelling of wet dog. It’s very sexy.

Sandra Cisneros receiving National Medal of the Arts from President Obama

There’s so much that I want to do around the house today. Who knows how much of it I will actually be able to accomplish. Just cleaning up after the goats can be a twenty-four-hour chore (I so look forward to the day when the goat boys go outside once Zeke is weaned). One day I won’t have to worry about the constant influx of dirt and mud on the hardwood floors. One day we’ll have crushed shells or gravel on the driveway, and the horses and goats won’t have the front yard as their personal spaces. One day.

Corey comes home tomorrow. I hope that he gets a fairly early start so that he doesn’t get home as late as he did last time. The later it gets, the more that it stresses me out. I can’t wait for him to see how full the apple trees have become. We’re unsure as to what kind each tree is; I just know that the horses and goats are enjoying the apples that I’m giving them as treats, but truly there are way more than we thought we’d get this year as the trees really need to be pruned and fertilized properly.

Also, I made some homemade syrup for the hummingbird feeder, and they are flocking to it. We have about six regulars, including two male ruby-throated hummers. Anyway, that’s today’s news.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features two works, a passage and a poem, by multi-hyphenate Sandra Cisneros. She has won numerous awards, including NEA fellowships in poetry and fiction, and a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. I have several of her books on my wishlist. If you would like to learn more about this incredibly talented writer, go here.

More later. Peace.


from “A House of My Own”

As a Latina, I don’t want to inherit certain legacies. I don’t want to inherit mothers laying down their lives like a Sir Raleigh cloak and asking everyone to step all over them. I don’t want to inherit my mother’s fear of doing anything alone or her self-destructive anger. I don’t want to inherit my paternal grandmother’s petty jealousies and possessiveness I don’t want to inherit my maternal grandmother’s silence and passivity I don’t want to quedar bien, be nice, with the men around me at the expense of my own dreams and happiness I don’t want to be the mother of twelve children, seven, five, even one, but I do want to write stories for one child, five, seven, twelve, a million children.

I do want to inherit the witch in my women ancestors—the willfullness, the passion, ay, the passion where all good art comes from as women, the perseverance, the survivor skills, the courage, the strength of las mujeres bravas, peleoneras, necias, berrinchudas. I want to be bad if bad means I must go against society—el Papá, el Pápa, the boyfriend, lover, husband, girlfriends, comadres—and listen to my own heart, that incredible witch’s broom that will take me where I need to go.

I’m convinced if we’re to be artists of any worth we must lock ourselves in a room and work. There are no two ways around this one, no shortcut, no magic word to save the day. Take it as a given, you’ll cry, despair, think you’ll die, that you can’t possibly do it, that it’s a lonely task, you’ll lose faith in yourself, especially at night. But when you finish crying and despairing, you can wipe your eyes and . . . the work is still there waiting. So you better roll up your sleeves and get moving, girl! Nobody’s going to do the work for you. If you’re serving others other than your art, then it just takes longer. In the words of Tillie Olsen, “Evil is whatever distracts.”


Night Madness Poem

There’s a poem in my head
like too many cups of coffee.
A pea under twenty eiderdowns.
A sadness in my heart like stone.
A telephone. And always my
night madness that outs like bats
across this Texas sky.

I’m the crazy lady they warned you about.
The she of rumor talked about –
and worse, who talks.

It’s no secret.
I’m here. Under a circle of light.
The light always on, resisting a glass,
an easy cigar. The kind

who reels the twilight sky.
Swoop circling.
I’m witch woman high
on tobacco and holy water.

I’m a woman delighted with her disasters.
They give me something to do.
A profession of sorts.
Keeps me industrious
and of some serviceable use.

In dreams the origami of the brain
opens like a fist, a pomegranate,
an expensive geometry.

Not true.
I haven’t a clue
why I’m rumpled tonight.

Choose your weapon.
Mine – the telephone, my tongue.
Both black as a gun.

I have the magic of words,
the power to charm and kill at will.
To kill myself or to aim haphazardly.
And kill you.


Music by Shawn James, “Burn the Witch”