Sunday, January 31, 2016

Poetry Pantry #287

Photos of Mazatlan, Mexico
Taken by Mary

Greetings, Friends!    I was looking through photos on my computer this week & came upon photos I took of a trip to Mazatlan, Mexico, some years ago. Mazatlan really is a beautiful city, and I am glad that I had an opportunity to experience it!  Hope that those I have chosen give you a bit of the flavor of the city.

We had another good week at Poets United.  Lots of good poems resulted from Sumana's prompt of COURAGE at Midweek Motif!  This week Sumana's prompt will be IDENTITY.  So think ahead if you wish!

If you have not read Rosemary's Moonlight Musings in which she discusses her poetic journey and asks the readers about theirs, please scroll back and read it.  It is truly interesting to read HER journey, and also to read the comments others have made about their own journeys.

Tomorrow Sherry has another fascinating interview for us with someone whose initials are MZ!  Smiles.  Sherry had interviewed her a while back, but has come up with a great update, plus some of MZ's very unique poetry.

We all hope that Susan is accomplishing a lot at her retreat, and, of course, we are glad when she pops in here periodically.

With no further delay, let's share our poetry.  Use Mr. Linky below to link your poem.  Add a comment to the 'comments' below; and then take a look around to see what others have shared!  I hope I will meet all of you on the trail......   Have a great week.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Moonlight Musings

What Shoulders Do You Stand On?
– Stylistic Influences  

Do you like your poetry strict or random, sparse or ornate? Do you have one distinct style or many? 

And have you drawn on the work of other poets to expand your range? Probably we all do that, whether consciously or not. In my case it is often intentional.

When I was a much younger poet than I am now, my poetry was lush, sensual, full of metaphor and imagery, sometimes mysterious.  

Somewhere along the way I was introduced to haiku and fell in love with the great haiku masters: Basho, Buson, Shiki, Issa. (Basho is my first love, and I think many regard him as the greatest, but the others are wonderful too.) I began to want to pare my own poetry back, to find a way to write with their simplicity and transparency. I wanted my poems to be like glass, that the reader could see straight through to what I was describing, as if the words were hardly there. I wanted the words to be clean, clear windows, so the reader would not even notice the glass but see only what it showed.

I decided that the way to acquire this kind of clarity and immediacy was to learn to write haiku myself, so as to bring those qualities to the rest of my poetry. And so I began a journey which has lasted seven years so far. I don't know Japanese, so I have had to try and learn from haiku written in English, either original or in translation. In fact it's interesting to compare different translations of the same haiku master: it gives you the essence of what the poet was trying to say, somewhere beyond the varying interpretations. 

I discovered that the haiku is at once the easiest and most difficult form to write. Anyone can write three lines of observation of the natural world. It's not hard to do it with the syllable count of 5/7/5 words per line. After I read that 'syllables' in Japanese are much shorter than in English, so that our 5/7/5 haiku are unwieldy by comparison, and that many serious haiku writers in English now go for short/long/short lines instead – well it was easy enough to do that too.

But to write a haiku, a real, actual haiku – oh, that is so difficult that it often seems almost impossible. 

What makes a haiku? There are certain rules. I tend to think, now, that 5/7/5 is the least important. 

They must deal with nature. There should be a season word (a kigo) which identifies the season being written of in a way that readers will instantly understand, but which does not specifically name the season. Metaphor and simile are to be eschewed. Haiku don't rhyme, and they don't have metre. In many ways they are about as different from Western poetry as you can get. Some experts differentiate haiku from poetry altogether, as a separate and distinct art form.

There is traditionally a 'kireji', a word where the haiku makes a sort of turn. Some contemporary writers use a dash after the kireji, or even instead of it. It is often said that there should be a juxtaposition of two images. This is done without explanation; the reader is supposed to fill in the gaps. The haiku, if I understand correctly, demands the engagement of the reader. It is as if it makes a suggestion, and invites readers to find their own experience of what is suggested.

Is this getting to sound a bit mystical? Perhaps it should. Of all the definitions of haiku I've ever read, I most like Natalie Goldberg's in Writing Down the Bones where she says that it should give the reader a tiny experience of God. We could call it by a more familiar term: an 'Aha!' moment. And that, for me, is where the real difficulty lies.

I don't worry too much about season words. Haiku are international now, and different countries have different ways of denoting the seasons. In Australia, for instance, we don't see many of the cherry blossoms which, in Japan, mean Spring. If we put lorikeets in our haiku, Australian readers would know the season, but perhaps few others would. As we can't make the season universally recognisable, I don't try. Well, I sometimes just name the season, if it seems essential, or say something obvious about heat or cold. 

I do like the juxtaposition of images/ideas, though. And I hope I give my readers some 'Aha!' moments.

Haiku are very like a form of writing shared with the world by author / psychotherapist / Buddhist priest Satya Robyn: 'small stones'. Many of you will be familiar with them, but for those who aren't, small stones are brief observations of the external world, keeping oneself and one's reactions out of the picture. I embraced small stones too for several years, and still like to write them occasionally. Being a poet, I naturally put them into verse most of the time, although that is not a requirement. 

These practices worked. While I still struggle to master haiku – and expect that to be a lifelong quest with no guarantees – my other poetry did become, as I desired, plainer and simpler. I liked this effect. I thought that I was attaining the greater clarity I had sought. For a long time I was very happy about this. Then eventually I noticed, with alarm, that my poetry now lacked metaphor and had even lost some musicality of language. The pendulum had swung too far.

Having become so immersed in this understated, subtle style, I wasn't sure how to find my way back to a richness I had lost. Then I came across the Magnetic Poetry site which functions as a random generator of lines and phrases (based on the old fridge poetry idea). What a joy! If poetry is playing with words, here's the ultimate in playfulness. You can create all sorts of music and imagery without any real meaning. Or if you do manage meaning (which is not entirely impossible) still it's a bizarre, unexpected meaning. There are all sorts of strange twists and turnings. Simple and transparent it's not. 

Playing with this opened my mind up again to magical, musical word-play, to metaphor and mystery. Even when I'm not playing with this random word generator, I think more colour and drama is finding its way back into my verse. 

Is there a happy medium? If I work it right, shall I find my way to a balanced style with just enough transparency along with just enough imagery? I do hope not! That already sounds far too dull and proper. I think it's more interesting, to me at any rate, if I have a range of styles to suit the needs of particular poems. It was one of the haiku masters. (Shiki? Issa?) who said, 'If your writing doesn't interest you, how can it interest anyone else?' (Or something like that.)

In the same way, although I prefer to work in free verse (when I'm not trying haiku) I do also like to play with form. It's good to learn from the masters, I think. When the modern master, Samuel Peralta, was hosting the FormForAll posts at dVerse, he gave us examples of all kinds of sonnets from the older masters. He made it sound easy, and so it was. I'd always been in awe of the sonnet before and thought it beyond me. It was a delight to find I could do it after all – indeed, could do various kinds. 

Some free verse poets have an enviable ear. They seem to just know instinctively how the lines should fall so as to create poetry and not chopped-up prose. And there is room for all sorts of variations of style and mode within that criterion. But for many of us it can be tricky. After the years of experimenting with haiku, my poetry had in fact become prosy! Exploring form was an obvious strategy to try and restore the balance. I haven't stopped writing haiku – nor small stones – but I don't do them so often now. Instead, I play with other forms more than I once did.

Writing tanka was a nice place to go from haiku: still Japanese, with some of the same delicacy of touch, but romantic, with room for music and metaphor. Another option I've grown to love is the haibun, that mixture of prose and haiku which Basho himself initiated. It gives me a chance to make my prose poetic, in contrast to the verse becoming prosy, another way to counteract that trend. When I'm not thinking about line endings, rhythm etc. I can pay even more attention to heightened language and perhaps get the hang of it once more.

It's a great gift to have poetry communities such as this, which, with their prompts, give us the opportunity to try different ways of making poems, adding to our tool-kits and refining our craft. The presenters often introduce me to forms I didn't know before. It's fun to try something new.

You'll note I asked 'what shoulders' rather than 'whose'. If we began to list all the individual poets who have influenced us over the years, it would surely take a lot of space. In any case, such preferences are individual and subjective. Let's not debate the relative merits of Yeats and Yevtushenko, Piercy and Plath. Some will thrill to one, some to another, most of us to a number. Let us be grateful to all who came before, to show the way and sometimes break new ground. 

[I'll give you one tip. When you find a poet you admire, copy something they've written. I don't mean parody them, though that too can be a good way of learning. No, I mean copy down something of theirs by hand, word for word, exactly as they published it. In the process you will find yourself noticing how they did it, their tricks and techniques. 

If I remember rightly, that advice originally came from Stephen King, for fiction writers.]

I wonder what styles and modes of poetry have influenced you, what ways of making poems have inspired you to want to try your hand at something similar? Do you love simplicity or ornamentation? Brevity or discursiveness? Boundaries or wildness? Or do you want the lot?

Feel free to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Courage

source: Morguefile

Midweek Motif ~ Courage

"Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart courage to make love Known?"---William Shakespeare

"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare."---Mark Twain

"Courage without conscience is a wild beast"---Robert Green Ingersoll

"Courage is grace under pressure."---Ernest Hemmingway

We are all capable of controlling fear while facing danger, pain or even opposition with courage. Every one of us responds to adversity in some part of our life. That's what makes us a conscious being. We could not have survived without this virtue that gives us the strength to begin, continue and end this life journey.

Many find courage in the smallest thing of daily life and many feel that courage is a measure of our self-esteem and will.

And definitely it takes courage to be 'yourself'!

Now let's see how Anne Sexton marches her readers through the stages of life with courage:


by Anne Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it only with a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
                                           (The rest is here)

More 'courage' poems for today's inspiration:

The Survivor

by Primo Levi

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

The following are empty synonyms:
man and beast
love and hate
friend and foe
darkness and light.

The way of killing men and beasts is the same
I've seen it:
truckfuls of chopped up men
who will not be saved.

Ideas are mere words:
virtue and crime
truth and lies
beauty and ugliness
courage and cowardice.

Virtue and crime weigh the same
I've seen it:
in a man who has both
criminal and virtuous.

I seek a teacher and a master
may he restore my sight hearing and speech
may he again name objects and ideas
may he separate darkness from light.

I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
I survived.

Symptoms of Love

by Robert Graves

Love is universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares-
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?

Write a poem on the theme "Courage"

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky belowand visit others in the spirit of the community.

             (Next week Sumana's Midweek Motif will be ~ Identity)

Monday, January 25, 2016


This week, my friends, I have a special treat for you. One of our newer members, Matthew Henningsen, who writes at Matthew Henningsen's The Literary Doc, is a world traveler, as well as a poet. I had asked him if I might interview him, so we can get to know him better, and it turns out he leads the most interesting life, and has traveled the world. Be prepared for adventure, some great poems, and some really beautiful photos.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Poetry Pantry #286

Photos of Egypt
By Matthew Henningsen

The Great Pyraminds at Giza -
you can see a bit of the camel
Matthew was riding

The Great Pyramids at Giza

The Great Pyraminds at Giza -
you can see the Great Sphinx.

On the Nile by the border with Sudan.

This is the Temple of Abu Simbel!

Closeup of the statues at Temple of Abu Simbel
Temperature was 115 degrees F.

Greetings, Friends!  Nice to be with you for another Poetry Pantry.   We thank Matthew for sharing his photos with us again this week.  This time Egypt!

Thinking of Matthew, come back on Monday, as Sherry has done a very fine interview of him that I am sure all of you will enjoy.

Hope you all have read "The House of Belonging" by David Whyte, the poem that Rosemary Nissen-Wade featured for her I Wish I Had Written This series.  If not, do scroll back one page and take a look.

And return this week Wednesday for Midweek Motif.  Sumana's prompt will be 'courage.'    We are all looking forward to seeing what you write!

And now with no delay, please link your ONE poem below.  Stop in and say hello in comments.  And then visit the other links to see what poems others have written!  I know I will enjoy seeing what YOU have written!

Friday, January 22, 2016

I Wish I'd Written This

The House of Belonging
By David Whyte

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought

it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

Title poem from the book of the same name, published 1997. Printed with permission from Many Rivers Press, 
© Many Rivers Press, Langley, Washington, USA.

David Whyte, an English poet living in the United States with dual citizenship, is also interested in philosophy and theology, in bringing poetry to wider audiences, and in exploring the role of creativity in business. Since 1986-7 he has devoted his life to these preoccupations via lecture tours, workshops, and his organisation Invitas: the Institute for conversational leadership. Conversational leadership is the subject of some of his (prose) books. Wikipedia tells us he has written four books of prose and seven volumes of poetry. 

It also tells us that, as a younger man, he studied Marine Zoology and in his twenties lived for a time in the Galapagos Islands. His work as a naturalist has included leading some anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon and the Himalayas.

You can find out more about him and his work at his own website, where you can also buy his books. In addition he has a comprehensive Amazon page which includes audio CDs. Besides the poetry, I am particularly intrigued by a book called  Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. (What poet isn't fascinated by words?) I had a peek with the 'Look inside' option at Amazon, and found myself at the word Alone, nicely synchronous with the poem I've chosen for you, and was hooked at the first paragraph – beautiful writing marrying the sound and sense of the word. 

I don't often like poems with very short lines. Too often they merely fragment the syntax, but in this one the meaning flows beautifully, enhanced by the line breaks (after the first two verses eased me into the way to read it).

What the poem says is arresting, an unusual viewpoint. As someone who is finally experiencing adult aloneness and in many ways liking it, I find it affirming.

You can hear him on YouTube reciting poems, delivering lectures and being interviewed – including this little dissertation on Belonging, which is interesting in conjunction with this poem.

Some of his poems – not this one! – seem to me a bit preachy, but always redeemed by their profundity of thought, and their music. As in this poem, he is also wonderful at conjuring up vivid images.

His facebook author page has many examples of his writings, both poetry and prose, and you can even discuss them with him or read discussions he has had with other people.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Mountain

"A few hours' mountain climbing make of a rogue and a saint
two fairly equal creatures." 

"I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. 
And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land." 

Midweek Motif ~ Mountain

Mountains draw me to them, perhaps because I was born in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains and played on mountain sides as a child.   Heights and metaphors both scared me at one time, but I never could stay away.  Can you?  

Challenge:  Let's take each other into the mountains with this week's new poem ~ or at least onto one "mountain" of your choice.

Add caption


The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Li Po, “Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain,” translated by Sam Hamill from Crossing the Yellow River: 
Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese. Copyright © 2000 by Sam Hamill. 

excerpt from Chattanooga

    Some say that Chattanooga is the
    Old name for Lookout Mountain
    To others it is an uncouth name
    Used only by the uncivilised
    Our a-historical period sees it
    As merely a town in Tennessee
    To old timers of the Volunteer State
    Chattanooga is “The Pittsburgh of
    The South”
    According to the Cherokee
    Chattanooga is a rock that
    Comes to a point

    They’re all right
    Chattanooga is something you
    Can have anyway you want it
    The summit of what you are
    I’ve paid my fare on that
    Mountain Incline #2, Chattanooga
    I want my ride up
    I want Chattanooga
      . . . . 
    (Read the rest HERE at the Poetry Foundation.)

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,   
an unseen nest
where a mountain   
would be.

                              for Drago ┼átambuk

[Used here without permission.]  Tess Gallagher, "Choices" from Midnight Lantern:New and Selected Poems
Copyright © 2011 by Tess Gallagher.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.  

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Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others 
in the spirit of the community.

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(Next week, Sumana's Midweek Motif will be Courage. )

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