Thursday, December 22, 2011

hurrying from the bank

hurrying from the bank
the guard cradles
his Tupperware

Monday, December 19, 2011

working out an image

now that I know its name

This is the first version of a small idea/image I've been rolling around today. This particular one ends up being about the limits of subjectivity -- how the world can appear to be an undifferentiated mass before you learn the names of its individual parts -- and the poem sounds a bit egotistical because of that. Of course all of the nandina plants I'm noticing now existed before I knew what to call them. I was just slow to catch on to their identity and their beauty. But hopefully the poem gets across enough of the joy and magic of learning the proper names of things to overcome its egocentric basis...

Or how about:

learning a new name --

The ego isn't as abruptly stated in that version -- no "I" is bossily intruding and taking ownership of the reader's experience of the image...

Maybe I've just been saying the word "nandina" too much, but now this is starting to feel like one of those times when absolute minimalism might work:



Or just for fun, something more fanciful:

how long was she there
before I learned her name?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

where the house's shadow

where the house's shadow
falls on the grass --
morning frost

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


winter trees
show the shape
of their winter mind

Monday, November 28, 2011

giant holly leans

giant holly leans
away from the giant oak --
the smell of rain

Sunday, November 27, 2011

gas station bathroom

gas station bathroom --
on the sink, unmoving
a stinkbug

Friday, November 25, 2011

winter cleaning

winter cleaning --
the bluebirds' empty nest
comes out in one piece

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving eve

Thanksgiving eve --
the empty Metro train streaks
across the night sky

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Lost Shark

I don't have a new haiku for today, but wanted to share a link and get back into the routine of posting daily.

Over at his blog Another Lost Shark, Australian haiku poet Graham Nunn is chronicling his newborn son's first 30 days of life with a poem a day. They've been stunning so far. Here is his poem for Day 7:

what happens between
heartbeats is neither life
nor death, but something
ships do, darker and deeper
than the ocean: that instant
where prow hangs and
the world could go
with the next swell
or under

-- Graham Nunn

A wonderful project and poet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

warm November night

I had to take a hiatus there for a couple of days as things got busy in other arenas. Mostly my work as blue bluer books -- publishing artists' books and making handmade journals.

Since you're here at a haiku blog you may be interested in my most recent artist's book, stitching speechless, which is based on a series of haiku by Stephen Addiss. You can learn more here and here.

But now we're getting back on track here at no more moon poems:

warm November night --
the crickets
give thanks

Thursday, November 10, 2011

on the window

on the window
each water drop
shines white with the snow

This one feels very clunky for now, but I at least wanted to get the image down -- of water drops on the window reflecting and magnifying the brilliant white of snow on the ground outside. Not that there's snow outside here in NC right now -- this one is partially inspired by another photo by Bing Wright (as yesterday's was).

We'll see if this one comes up for re-working later...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Haiku from photographs V

against the gray sky
not a single bird

Today's haiku is inspired by a photograph from the book Everyday Pictures, a collection of work by contemporary American photographer Bing Wright. You can see the specific photo this poem is based on here.

I really don't know anything about Wright except that the book's title jumped out at me from the library shelf as one that might be conducive to inspiring haiku. I look forward to checking out the book and the artist's work more deeply.

Monday, November 7, 2011

playing wolf

playing wolf
in the arboretum
the husky wades upstream

Saturday, November 5, 2011

wedding band

wedding band
crusted with dirt
from our new garden bed

morning coffee

morning coffee --
the nagging dissonance
of leafblowers

Thursday, November 3, 2011

gallery talk

Variations on an image from tonight. Which one(s) work(s) best, if any?

gallery talk --
a man watching through the glass
blends into the night

gallery talk --
the panhandler outside
watches intently

gallery talk --
the audience watches
a homeless man outside

shielding his eyes
the homeless man peers in
at the artist's talk

gallery talk --
the panhandler outside
shields his eyes to watch

One of the key questions for me is, is it obvious enough what the phrase 'gallery talk' means? Is it clear that an artist or a curator is giving a public talk inside the gallery about the work on display there? Or is there a better way to set the scene? So much to consider for such a short burst of words...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

feeling stuck

feeling stuck
I check the forecast
for Timbuktu

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day --
each student takes a turn

Monday, October 31, 2011

Smithsonian poems

I missed my weekend entries the past couple of days because we had friends in town and I didn't stick to my one-a-day regimen. Now I'm having trouble tapping into the frame of mind I usually write haiku from.

That means it's time for a frankenhaiku -- one that takes randomly selected bits of text and stitches them together to see what happens. Sometimes I'll use lines from earlier, more intentional haiku; sometimes from another source. Tonight's poem is constructed from the November 2011 issue of Smithsonian magazine:

potato fields --
his abundant protests rang
growing love in suffered life

Pretty far from the conventional haiku spirit, so maybe frankenpoem is a more appropriate term than frankenhaiku this time.

If you're interested in the process: I used assorted dice to pick a page of the magazine to pull text from. Then rolled the dice again to pick which line of that page the text would come from.

Below are the 10 lines (from 10 different pages) I used to cobble together words and phrases that I liked the sense of. Even using the limited palette of words from these randomly selected lines, I haven't been able to resist editing it multiple times.

If you take the lines themselves in their entirety and read them as a 10-line poem, I like some of its moments, too (especially in the last 5 lines or so):

before the potato (and corn)
fields with up to 20 landraces the
on the orders of Pope Shenouda after his release. "At the
abundant, reasonably healthy food for
February) joined in protests against
Big Ching rang in the day with the People's Republic anthem
(left) and a metroplex growing to fit 23 million people
the Greek goddess of love
in the Netherlands, Belgium, Prussia
life. Yet they have long suffered

Friday, October 28, 2011

pool of broken glass, redux

In this previous post, I was unhappy with the repetition of the word "pool(s)" in such a short poem. How about some variations?:

pool of broken glass
the color of the sea
in tour brochures

pool of broken glass
the color of
screensaver seas

pool of broken glass
the color of

I like to let haiku stand alone without talking too much about specific scenes that inspired them. Sometimes extra description feels like cheating; sometimes it's because I want to let readers' interpretations be more open.

I hope that the image in these poems will remain evocative, but I also have to share the original sight that inspired it. It was a sculpture by 20th-century artist Robert Smithson that we saw recently at the Dia: Beacon art museum in Beacon, NY. The sculpture is called Map of Broken Glass: Atlantis, and its combination of lethality (giant shards of broken glass) and beautiful, inviting color was really effective. You can see it on the Dia: Beacon website here, although the photo doesn't do justice to the work's color.

Smithson is most famous for his larger Land Art works like Spiral Jetty, so it was interesting to see his sculptural work on a more intimate scale. Great use of materials and textures.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


On the outskirts of town there is a reservoir -- a many-fingered lake popular with the locals for boating, fishing, hiking. There was a lake like this near my hometown growing up, and now there's this one near my current, adopted hometown, three states away.

The similarities between the two are striking, although maybe less so when you learn that both lakes are man-made, created in the past 50 years or so. When we drive on a long, low bridge across an arm of water, it would be hard for me to tell you whether we were crossing the waters of my childhood or of my now. I guess the woods around this one are almost never blanketed in snow. Around that one the land is hillier and there's a slope cleared perfectly for sledding, despite the unavoidable, icy stream at the bottom.

Both lakes were created in rural areas, but that doesn't mean the land was uninhabited before. Small roads disappear into the waters of each. My brother and I would follow our dad down the gentle slope of such a road into the water with our fishing rods -- the macadam underfoot (and underwater) still new-seeming and almost untouched by mud or algae. One terribly dry year we paced the rocky foundation of an old farmhouse that had previously stood just off the road, but now was usually hidden well out underwater.

Tonight, as my wife and I drive onto a bridge across our local lake, she points to a parallel road disappearing into the water:

autumn dusk --
seagulls line the road
right into the shallows

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

five serenities

five serenities --
heads in the wig shop window
watch in unison

streaming clouds

streaming clouds --
two shadow animals slink
away from the streetlamp

Monday, October 24, 2011

crow flies by

crow flies by --
in his beak an eyeball
or an acorn

Sunday, October 23, 2011

commuter train

commuter train --
three still herons
face back the way we came

Saturday, October 22, 2011

subway mariachi redux

sharp red shirt
and cowboy hat --
duct-taped guitar

Still trying to work out the best angle of approach to the image of the subway mariachi player, from our recent trip to New York. Not convinced that this is it, either, but we'll keep playing with the image...

Friday, October 21, 2011

pool of broken glass

pool of broken glass
the color of swimming pools
in hotel brochures

I really don't like the repetition of pool/pools in such a short poem, but haven't come up with a solution yet. That will be something to edit/rewrite if I keep working on this image.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

subway mariachi

Margarite and I have been traveling so I put the blog posting on hold while we were away. Didn't stop the haiku writing, though, so now it's time to do some catching up.

We traveled to New York -- first to the city where we visited an old college friend of mine (who has also provided 2 guest haiku for the blog in the past). Then we went north to see friends near Poughkeepsie who greeted us with the news that they were getting married, now that the state would let them.

So it was an inspiring trip full of the unparalleled energies and beauties of 1). New York City, 2). seeing distant friends, 3). autumn in the Northeast, and 4). the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Seriously -- do you have any idea how photogenic sheep are?

More importantly for the blog, at least, there was plenty of fresh fodder for haiku.

Here's a first version of one image from the city:

bouncing down the steps
the subway mariachi's
duct-taped guitar

What I wanted to capture in that version was the bounce in the musician's step as he descended into the subway. But it sounds too much like the guitar has been dropped and is tumbling down the stairs. I'll try re-working it to improve on that.

Here's another approach to the same figure with a different focus:

subway mariachi --
his guitar patched
with fraying duct tape

Friday, October 14, 2011

satellite view redux

In a comment to yesterday's post, my friend Alan Mitchell offered this variation on my poem:

satellite view

a strange bird

I love it -- an example that even short, short poems can usually be improved by some judicious trimming. So here it is promoted from the comments to be a guest post for today. (Alan also contributed a guest haiku for this post on Sept. 11th.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

satellite view

by satellite view


a strange bird scolds

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

rat snake redux

rat snake
old judo partner
13 years of silence

Today's haiku is a frankenhaiku created using lines from poems that appeared previously on the blog. The lines themselves were selected using numbers elicited from my wife (who didn't know the system I was using, so the line selections weren't intentional in any way). Sometimes randomly generated results are surprisingly linear and coherent -- and sometimes they get a little weirder...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

rat snake

rat snake
along the roadside
a coil of moonlight

Monday, October 10, 2011

after each berry

after each berry
the thrasher
glares over his shoulder

Sunday, October 9, 2011

under the streetlight

under the streetlight --
stepping down from the curb
the possum stumbles

Friday, October 7, 2011

reading in bed

reading in bed --
her yawn echoed
by a passing car

Thursday, October 6, 2011

low, red moon

low, red moon --
my wife's breath sweet
with root beer

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

fogged mirror

fogged mirror --
streaks and spots
of clear reflection

The haiku in Sunday's post has had me thinking about this one from the archive. It first appeared in South by Southeast in 2001 (v.8, issue no.1).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


the bull looks from the cape
to the man

Monday, October 3, 2011

tiny words

Today instead of a poem of my own, I'd like to direct you to a fantastic site called "tiny words: haiku & other small poems". They share all of their content online and also publish print editions -- sometimes 3 or 4 issues spread out over the year, although all of 2011's poems will be gathered into one volume.

Today's haiku over there -- by Margarita Engle -- is exquisite. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

first cool evening

first cool evening --
from the shower
wisps of steamy song

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday senryu

the roar in his ears --
their first kiss
caught on the jumbotron

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Just finished reading through all the submissions to South by Southeast for the upcoming issue and emailing my input to our main editor, Steve. Some excellent poems in the submissions. I was going to say that it seemed like an even better batch than usual, but I can hear myself saying that before. So apparently each time I'm just re-impressed by what people send -- it's humbling and inspiring.

I normally dislike meta-poems of any kind, but after reading so many haiku and senryu, I'm not sure I can get my brain onto any other subject before bedtime...

finished reading --
all my thoughts form
in haiku rhythms

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Cage interlude

Today we received this wonderful book at my library. The subtitle is "John Cage's Complete Watercolors," but it's specifically about work he did at the Mountain Lake Workshop in southwestern Virginia.

The book is especially significant to me because my friend and collaborator (mentor, even) Stephen Addiss was involved with Cage's work at Mountain Lake Workshop. Wearing my other hat as the book artist behind blue bluer books, I've been neck-deep recently in producing 2 editions of an artist's book based on some of Steve's haiku. It's called stitching speechless. Given Steve's close relationship with Cage -- who in turn was HIS friend, collaborator and mentor -- our artist's book owes much to him, right down to the random methods we use to burn parts of certain pages, and to draw on them with smoke.

So for me, the book mentioned above was the perfect serendipitous find today to keep the flames burning to continue making progress on stitching speechless. (Please stay tuned to my blue bluer books blog for continued updates on that progress...)

Over here on "no more moon poems", though, today's poem is inspired by Cage's smoke-and-watercolor paintings in The sight of silence:

on paper

is permanent


the rocks
and empty

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You say tomato...

Here's another take on an image from several days ago. This couplet edges into non-haiku territory in rhythm and excess, but what the hell...

picking the last flurry of tomatoes,
admiring the burgundy mum about to burst

If I want to think of it in haiku terms I'll hyphenate the whole thing and call it one long season word. An adjective describing the verge between late summer bounty and early fall bounty. Or better yet, call it an adverb since seasons are always on the move and never static...

Monday, September 26, 2011


Several quick takes on one image.

* * * * * * * *

first fox
I've ever seen
from behind
the gravestone

* * * * * * * *

summer gloaming --
from behind the gravestone
a fox

* * * * * * * *

acorn underfoot
in the cemetery
the fox turns to look

* * * * * * * *

aren't they

darting from the graveyard

a fox

Sunday, September 25, 2011

two crickets

Even though it has warmed back up the past couple of days, there was a chilly snap last week that made a definitive break with summer. There may still be hot, humid patches, but at least some portion of each day reminds you that autumn is a-comin' in.

The onset of fall and the sound of crickets through the window tonight have reminded me of this haiku from when I was first beginning. I believe it appeared in South by Southeast in the late '90s, but I'm not 100% sure and haven't been able to find a back issue to give a more specific credit.

last night
two crickets --
tonight one

Saturday, September 24, 2011

final tomatoes

final tomatoes --
I admire the budding mum
about to explode

The first version of this haiku continues the trend of the past couple of days -- it sticks to a 5-7-5 syllable count. Whereas the past couple of haiku have fallen into that form naturally, though, this one feels more forced to me. I'd be more inclined to edit it down into something shorter like:

last tomatoes --
the burgundy mum
about to burst

I'm not completely sold on either version yet -- this'll be one to keep tinkering with...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Haiku from photographs IV

Like yesterday's haiku, this one is also inspired by a photo in Chase Jarvis's book The best camera is the one that's with you:

under the streetlamp
the bicycle balances
on its own shadow

It's a strange coincidence that both yesterday's and today's haiku happen to fit the 'traditional' 5-7-5 syllable pattern of haiku. I (and many other people who write haiku in English) usually don't stick to that rule. For one thing, the idea of 'syllables' in English does not match up exactly with that of onji in Japanese. Onji are shorter and slighter, so that 17 English syllables usually end up being much bulkier than 17 Japanese ones.

For that reason many haiku in English tend to be shorter than 17 syllables -- something like a 3-5-3 rhythm, or just short free verse. There's a feeling that haiku should strive for maximum simplicity, using only the words necessary to express what the author needs to say rather than satisfying formal requirements.

Of course there are also practitioners who feel that the formal requirements are, well, required if you want to call a poem a haiku. Clark Strand has a wonderful book called Seeds from a Birch Tree in which he makes the case that the formal discipline is an essential part of the haiku way.

As you can tell if you've read my haiku on this blog, I'm not that disciplined (to put it in a negative light); or rather I'm more interested in seeing what happens when you customize the formal elements in each new poem to fit the idea behind it (to give the positive spin). Every once in a while, though, if I'm writing the idea down and it's nearing that 5-7-5 form, I'll massage the words to make them fit.

That's what has happened with the past two entries. There are certainly syllables in each poem that I could cut away, but nothing feels forced or artificial in them and I enjoy their rhythms enough to think that they can carry the extra bulk.

Haiku from photographs III: The best image is the one that's in front of you

I discovered a book of photography in the library called The best camera is the one that's with you: iPhone photography by Chase Jarvis. That pretty much sums it up -- 241 pages of snapshots taken with the artist's iPhone, interspersed with quotes about the creative process.

As with the Daido Moriyama photos I've mentioned in earlier posts, these seemed to have some haiku spirit. In general, snapshots and haiku share an aesthetic of the momentary. Both capture fleeting images and juxtapositions that would be lost without the attention of a 'moment artist' there to make note. On the downside, both can also be banal, trivial, or too clever or cute to strike you in a lasting way. That's the danger and the reward, and one of the main reasons I took up this daily haiku practice -- to boost the odds that maybe a couple of poems will burn with their own light.

Or as Jarvis puts it in this book: "The dirtiest secret in photography: shoot a hell of a lot of pictures to get the ones you want."

For more about Chase Jarvis, check out his website. Today's haiku is inspired by a photo from The best camera...:

last train of the night --
the empty yellow handles
all sway to the left

Wednesday, September 21, 2011




Tuesday, September 20, 2011

lays down
with a

Here's a frankenhaiku for tonight, constructed from words and lines from poems that were previously posted on the blog. I decided what words/lines to use by doing little numerological tricks with the time in the corner of the computer screen. I won't go into the boring details of my impromptu formulas. But as usual with random methods like these I like the surprising almost-sense of the resulting poem.

Monday, September 19, 2011

walking in a cast

in a cast --

all day

a new rhythm

Sunday, September 18, 2011

flea market sound check

flea market sound check --
the mariachi drummer
lays down a funk beat

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A quick edit...

... of yesterday's haiku, which I think helps to make it a little more specific and 'visualizable'...

when she says

the ache

Friday, September 16, 2011

At the doctor today...

at the word

the ache

Rough riffs


Look! --
"The birds have freed the stop signs"
The hearse is feeding on cop vines
A curse has seeded Duchamp's wine
Diversive freedom plop times

I found these lines in a notebook from about 4 years ago, but it's a kind of exercise I still love to do to help blow the cobwebs out when things are getting stale. The first riff here (in quotes) is a quote from Robert Rauschenberg, taken from this book by Calvin Tomkins.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

plucking daffodils

Here's a final reminder that the deadline for submissions to the next issue of South by Southeast is tomorrow, Sept. 15th. If you've been considering sending something in, now's the time! Check out submission guidelines at the link above, or email them directly to our editor Stephen Addiss at saddiss at richmond dot edu.

In the SxSE vein, here's a haiku I had in the most recent issue:

plucking daffodils

       the neighbor boy's blond hair
             darker this year

(appeared in SxSE vol.18:no.2)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

no matter

no matter
no matter

Monday, September 12, 2011


by a bare bulb

hot water heater's

arcing spray

Sunday, September 11, 2011


It can be difficult to fit current events or human history into haiku. Sometimes it seems antithetical to the haiku spirit, which is so often associated with the observation of Nature with a capital 'N'. I have to remind myself that even Basho himself evoked historical events and figures in his work.

For the anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, here's an understated haiku by my friend Alan Mitchell. It is simple and direct if you read it with the context of Sept. 11th in mind. Without that context, it could speak to any number of events or situations, historical or Natural. An empire, a leaf, an aspiration or a glance. It could fit them all:



Saturday, September 10, 2011

A visual haiku

This weekend I'm going to feature work by colleagues instead of my own. For today, I'd like to share the visual haiku of Minnesota artist Scott Helmes.

Helmes writes concrete or visual poetry, and has produced over a hundred three-line visual poems that he calls haiku. You can see samples of his visual haiku here in Poetry magazine, and here in a Flickr gallery (which also includes other visual poems that he doesn't consider haiku). This feature on the Minnesota website includes a statement by Helmes about his haiku as well as a short bio.

These visual haiku are quite a departure from what I've been writing on the blog here. Instead of close observation of the natural world, his poems are made from colorful scraps out of glossy magazines. Instead of season words, they have illegible, torn letters still struggling to get their messages across. But there's still something of the haiku spirit in them.

First of all they're carefully constructed from the humble materials of everyday life. Haiku masters from another time and place such as Basho and Issa are celebrated for making beautiful poetry out of the most common and vulgar things around them. Helmes makes beautiful visual poetry out of the most common and vulgar expressions of print culture around us.

Second, good haiku constantly butt up against the insufficiency of language. Words just cannot meaningfully capture the haiku moment. Helmes' visual haiku revel in that insufficiency. In an early entry on this blog I talked about the importance of ambiguity in haiku, and how difficult it is to create a sense of ambiguity in English-language haiku. Helmes' poems may go too far in the ambiguous direction for many readers, but for me they breathe new life into the idea of the haiku form. I "read" them with the same appreciation and wonder I feel when I study a scroll of Japanese calligraphy, unable to understand the language.

The two photos I've posted here are of a three-dimensional visual haiku by Helmes called "Haiku no. 7" -- the only 3-D one that I've seen so far. Instead of cut-out scraps of magazines this one is made from three pieces of Japanese mulberry paper, which contributes to a more traditional haiku feel. The pieces of paper are dyed with spots of gorgeously deep colors -- red, indigo, and yellow-gold. Their edges are fuzzy and textured from the torn fibers.

Like when two images in a haiku resonate together perfectly, I can't begin to explain why it works. It just does. I hope the photos do the piece some justice.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Still toying...

...with the idea from yesterday's post. How about?:

brass band
in the distance --

crisp with ice

In his essay the other day on what makes a haiku, Curtis Dunlap talks of them as single-breath poems. I'm having trouble bringing the ideas of Veteran's Day and the frosted pansies together in words that will fit into a single breath. So this version becomes a two-breath poem. Not necessarily two haiku mashed together, or an attempt at a renga or any other kind of linked poetry. Simply a two-breath poem. How many breath units could you stack together and still have a wieldy poem? Would it have to be wieldy and stable? Or could the breath units remain steady but the thought behind them flit about like thoughts do? Of course they could, and I'm sure many poets have already considered this and worked from it. But it's a newer avenue of thought for me, so we'll see where it goes...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From the archive

Veteran's Day --
the pansies crystalline
with frozen rain

I'm struggling with this one. It's based on an image jotted down in a notebook in 2001, but which was never turned into a finished poem. In the version above I really dislike the word "crystalline", but my other attempts have been unsatisfactory as well. The juxtaposition of "Veteran's Day" and "pansies" has to be handled delicately so that there can be no implication of disrespect -- but at the same time, pansies are the essential cold-weather flower for the season, so I don't want to just change flora.

The other solution I'm happiest with so far is a little duller as an image, but the words work together better:

Veteran's Day --
pansies crisp
with frost

Maybe it's just not meant to be, but I'll keep tinkering with it. Sometimes a fresh day's perspective and a single altered word or even syllable can make it all click together.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An intro to haiku in English

One of these days I'm going to write a post about what elements I consider essential to a haiku, a senryu, and other variations of the form in English. I hope that there have been hints in my posts here and there when I evaluate and edit my own poems out loud.

For today, though, I'll refer you to Curtis Dunlap over at Blogging Along Tobacco Road. He gives a very thoughtful explanation of the basics. He touches on key ideas such as syllable counts (and the difference between syllables in English and onji in Japanese); the importance of season words for haiku; the use of juxtaposition of images; and the difference between haiku and senryu.

It's a great crash course with examples from his own work and others', as well as a short linkography at the end referring you to more good books and sites.

So what are you still doing here? Go check it out. And while you're there, be sure to dip into the work of numerous excellent haiku poets featured on the right and left sidebars, under the headings "Poets and poems" and "Haiku: Three questions".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

frog in the headlights

frog in the headlights
the flooded road
his pond

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sept. 15th deadline

Another quick reminder that the next deadline to submit haiku to South by Southeast is coming up on September 15th. Follow the link to see submission guidelines and info.

Keeping with the SxSE theme, here's another of mine from the last issue:

reading Beowulf --
on the parking deck wall
graffiti runes

Sunday, September 4, 2011

morning thunder

waking up
to thunder


two crows

Saturday, September 3, 2011

smell of fresh paint, take 2

smell of fresh paint --
through open windows
the same crickets still sing

smell of fresh paint, take 1

smell of fresh paint
my childhood bedroom
no longer

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A quick interlude

"Others have mentioned the lemon's close relation to the sun based on visuals like shape, color, radiance... But what about effect? Look at the sun and your eyes squint themselves shut, blinded and blocked by a shrinking purple spot. Bite into a lemon and your mouth clenches, puckers forcibly. Both brilliant aggressors of the senses, compelling you toward the soothing, the sweet, the dark -- cloud-covered moon, soft purple plum."

One of my favorite forms to write in other than haiku is the prose poem. Or at least a couple of years ago they came in bunches. This one -- picked out of a notebook and cleaned up a bit -- isn't perfect, but shows some of the same instincts as a haiku might. It expands outward from a tight focus. It takes two objects or images and sets them against each other to see how they resonate. At the same time it's wholly different. In it, lemons and the sun are abstract categories. If it were a haiku I would be focusing on some individual, real lemon(s) -- even if I didn't have a lemon in front of me to write about. I might write a haiku about an imagined lemon, but would try to make it concrete, real and convincing.

In any case, felt like a change of flavor for today's entry...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Take a trip across the web

For today's haiku, I'm going to make you hop a link over to Issa's Untidy Hut. The Hut is a blog written by Don Wentworth to go along with his magazine of haiku and other small poetry called Lilliput Review.

Every Wednesday Don features a haiku by a different person and today he posted one of mine. It was written back in March when everything here in North Carolina screamed Spring. At the time, though, it felt obscene to enjoy it as the grim news of tsunami and nuclear meltdown came in from Japan.

So stop on over at Issa's Untidy Hut -- hope you enjoy my haiku, but more importantly stick around to explore. Lots of great stuff over there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The real and the precious and the real

I'm exhausted after a hockey game tonight, and having trouble concentrating enough to work on a new haiku.

Instead, I went digging through my scrap pile of old papers and notes, and came across this from some years back. Not a haiku, but relevant in the sense that when you're a contemporary American person writing haiku, you always have to find a balance between respecting the long Japanese tradition from which it comes and blindly imitating it; between beautiful, delicate subjects and more modern, everyday things:

"Sitting outside reading some poems by Sam Hamill and thinking these particular ones were a little too precious, with a feeling of inauthentic chinoiserie*. At that moment a single white petal from a Bartlett pear tree floated in front of me and landed beside my crossed legs. Was it a message of some kind? It sure was damned precious. But if that petal was a message, then all the other things nearby had to be as well -- a bright, partial orange rind in the liriope bed; a cluster of five cigarette butts; each of the thousands of bricks that made up the courtyard..."

A lot of the notes I recover from my old scraps just don't work anymore. But this one still rings true. When you feel like your haiku might be getting too pretty or precious or sweet -- look for some orange rinds and cigarette butts to write about. And when your haiku are too reliant on trash and trying too hard to be gritty or modern, remember that the flower petals are just as real. It's all real; it's all notable, in one way or another.

*I don't remember which of his poems I'm referring to -- in general I have the greatest respect for Sam Hamill's writing, translations, and work with Copper Canyon Press. His book of essays, A Poet's Work, was very important to me when I was just out of college and starting to write more seriously.

Monday, August 29, 2011

sketched with dew

sketched with dew
on the morning air
this perfect web

Sunday, August 28, 2011

chorus of frogs

A couple of scenes from yardwork and gardening today seemed conducive to haiku, but I'm having trouble wrangling them into a suitable poem just now. One involved a neighborhood cat stalking birds and butterflies in our yard, and the other was a black widow spider scurrying out from the garden bed we were digging around in. The results so far are too cutesy or too melodramatic, respectively -- we'll see if anything comes of them later on.

For today, then, I'll share a haiku that was published in the most recent issue of the journal I help to edit, South by Southeast. Our next deadline is coming soon on Sept. 15th, so if you're interested in submitting your own haiku or ordering a copy of the magazine, pop on over to the link above for submission and subscription information.

In the meantime, this haiku of mine was published earlier this year in volume 18, no.2:



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are there male ladybugs?

Of course there are. But I just had that thought out loud and Margarite looked at me with an expression that said she didn't know where to begin... That has nothing to do with today's haiku, though:

after the music
the record's rhythmic
shush           shush          shush          shush

I like this sound-image a lot -- the way when a record player reaches the end of a side it keeps spinning, the needle playing a soft, new song of static. I don't think the haiku is quite working yet, though. It's too flat, a one-dimensional observation.

What would improve it? A story to go along with the image of the record? Maybe the people who were listening to the record have left the room, or fallen asleep, or are otherwise occupied. Or maybe it needs a counter-rhythm, or another sense to be engaged.

her soft snores --
the record player goes
shush           shush          shush          shush

morning sun --
the record player's soft
shush           shush          shush          shush

Not sure I've hit on it yet, but it's improving, I think...

Friday, August 26, 2011

noon glare

noon glare                               sleepeep                 the cricket still sings

Thursday, August 25, 2011

fluorescent hum

Thankfully the inspiration for today's haiku didn't actually happen today. If you get migraines you'll surely understand why. If you don't, I hope the poem still works on some level:

fluorescent hum --
the room ripples
around the blind spot


Many thanks to my friend Noah Scalin, who featured "No more moon poems" on his Make Something 365 blog today. Noah's work is the inspiration behind my starting a daily haiku blog. After you take a look at Make Something 365, be sure to check out his original 365 project, Skull-a-day. Fantastic stuff. Thanks, Noah!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

in the dry leaves

Before I stocked up on pocket-sized notebooks, I used to fold sheets of paper down into quarters and write on those. They fit perfectly into a pants pocket and weren't as stiff as a full notebook. So now there are stacks of them around the house, all covered with scribbled ideas for poems, or the titles of books to check out from the library, or just snippets of conversation overheard on the bus.

This evening when I went looking for a haiku to post here, I grabbed a rubber-banded stack of those old sheets. They turned out to be from a couple of years ago when we were living in a house in the woods of north Chatham County. It was as rustic a place as either of us had ever lived -- a mile-long unpaved road to get there, heated only by a woodstove in winter... and truly beautiful. Living there for three years was a treat.

When we moved into the house I thought it would be a non-stop source of haiku moments, but in the end I probably wrote the same amount there as I did anywhere. I guess it's more in the attention you pay and the time you commit to it, rather than the idyllic setting. Still, the haiku I DID write while we were there can take me right back in an instant.

The one I picked for today reminded me of how even the most mundane things there seemed wilder and more remarkable:

big as a deer
in the dry leaves

The more I roll that one around on my tongue, though, the blander it tastes.

Sometimes bland is good for a haiku -- you read it, wonder why someone would pay enough attention to such a thing to write a poem about it, and you end up sharing a greater appreciation for something ordinary for a moment.

But sometimes it's just bland. I'm not going to judge this haiku one way or another, but it did make me want to add some zing to it:

something in the dark
rattles the dry leaves
big as a wolf


in the dark
dry leaves rattle
big as a wolf

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

big toad sits

big toad sits
on the sidewalk

first fat
drops of rain

Monday, August 22, 2011

Maximally minimalist?

talking about everything but

Are those 4 words enough to be the poem in themselves? Not necessarily a haiku, because it lacks any close observation of something outside of the self... But is it enough to be a senryu, observing a tendency of human nature? Or does the poem need another element to give the reader more context?

Part of me thinks that it's enough. Every line or image I consider adding to the poem limits the reader's interpretation, whereas this phrase by itself can contain whatever experience the reader brings to it.

Some examples of elaborations that I'm considering:

bedside lamplight --
talking about
everything but...

his birthday --
talking about
anything else

Grandma's fart --
the conversation
gets faster and louder

Those are pretty clumsy examples, but they'll serve the point. How minimal is too minimal? When is more information enriching and when is it limiting and deadening? A lot depends on the reader, of course, but we don't get to choose all of our own readers. One reader might take the first phrase and rattle off a dozen situations that it evokes in her mind, from the silly to the heartbreaking. Each time she reads it will bring a different interpretation. Another reader might be totally put off by the lack of a clear reference and not make the extra step of supplying her own details. And that's assuming you care about readers at all.

Whether going maximally minimalist or adding plenty of detail, the trick is to be aware of the balance of what is lost and what is gained with each decision.

talking about anything but

Sunday, August 21, 2011

babel bird











Saturday, August 20, 2011

red sunset


the breakdancer
so smoothly

to his feet

Friday, August 19, 2011



sea oat

a grackle's

Thursday, August 18, 2011

low rumble


the straw wrapper
a question mark

by the
storm drain

This one is a little longer than I usually like -- especially that middle bit -- but I haven't figured out a way to cut or reword it that works for me yet. Maybe this one will remain a case where I stretch my own rules or inclinations and leave it at that.

It's also pretty straightforwardly descriptive, without the ambiguity I talked about in an earlier entry at the start of this blog. Ah well, a different kind of haiku for a different image and impression. There's room for the ambiguous and room for the descriptive -- I just don't want to get lazy or boring and always take the straightforward route...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday senryu

pre-game meal --
the sliced end of the zucchini

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

sky clearing


the birdfeeder

his neck

Monday, August 15, 2011

stripping mulberry

I've been neck deep in book arts activity for the past couple of days, meeting deadlines, etc., so how about a book-related haiku for tonight:

stripping the stringy bark --
the mulberry tree already was
the book

Plenty of reservations about this one as a haiku, but let's let it stand overnight and see if any solutions come up...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

summer storm

guttural thunder     gutter water mumble FLASH      thunderous rumble

Saturday, August 13, 2011

nodding off

nodding off

on the page
an 'o'

its wings

(originally appeared in South by Southeast, v.16:no.3, 2009)

Friday, August 12, 2011

old judo partner

old judo partner
dancing slowly
with his bride

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Klezmer clarinet

patio bar
a moth jumps & flutters
with the klezmer clarinet

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ghost crab cartwheels

This one comes from that same 1999-2000 notebook I mentioned the other day. Unlike that haiku, I remember this image well from an autumn trip to the Outer Banks.

I'm going to try 2 versions -- the first is a little long but is the rare example that I don't really want to cut down; the second is the same image hacked down into a more orthodox haiku size...

claw over claw
a ghost crab
cartwheels past
the unsurprised sanderling
facing into
the north wind

* * * * *

nor'easter --
ghost crab cartwheels past
the hunched sanderling

Hmm -- on second thought maybe I do prefer the chopped-down version!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dazed and confused


stream past
the moon
inches past
the flying car

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bus exhaust

One fun part of sharing a haiku every day is that on days when I don't write a new one, I get to go back through old notebooks and the mounds of crumpled scraps of paper on my dresser to find a likely candidate.

Today I picked up an old green notebook from the bookshelf. I hadn't opened it in years, but the sight of it has always inspired some subconscious good feeling. Judging from the dated entries, it's from 1999/2000 and full of so many ideas that I scarcely remember -- some of which later turned into actual projects (and can be re-incorporated into those newer projects...), but most of which are just scraps floating in the pages, waiting to be remembered and polished or expanded.

The good feeling it inspires is a combination of what I was doing at the time and the physical book itself. The journal is such a satisfying size (4"x 6") and thick enough to have some heft. It has to be one of my favorite store-bought journals ever. As for what I was doing, I was more closely involved with editing South by Southeast at that point, was still living in Richmond where I was writing and sharing a lot of haiku and other poetry and short fiction, and maybe most importantly, I was just starting to discover the fields of book arts and artists' books.

Lesson learned: go back to your old notebooks once in a while! You were younger then, and fresher! And now you're older and wiser and more able to follow through on those spasms of inspiration!

In any case, back on task. I don't remember writing this haiku but am glad to rediscover it:

hot bus exhaust --
the homeless man describes

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Extracting staring fluttering and welling

For today's haiku, let's try another poem formed by extracting lines from three different haiku, scrambling them, and creating something new and serendipitous.

(For more about the technique and the inspiration behind it, you can check out my earlier post here.)

staring hard
fluttering yellow
my welling anger

As usual, I'm surprised (and delighted) at how readily you can make sense of something created in this randomized way. And at the same time it has fresh disjunctions that I wouldn't have thought to put in if I were creating this poem from scratch.

One disappointment for me is that the resulting haiku has a gerund in each line. Using "-ing" gerunds to give your poem a sense of immediacy and action can be a sort of crutch when writing haiku. It's not a bad practice in and of itself, but it can become formulaic and grating when it happens over and over again in a manuscript, or in a batch of submissions. So I'm disappointed to see that in 3 randomly selected lines from 3 randomly selected haiku posted on my blog, they all use that same trick.

Ah well -- doing it 3 times in one haiku -- now that's how to be effective.

An older one

For some reason this haiku has been on my mind recently, although it's about ten years old... Apparently it wants to see the light of day:

whistling along
with the cardinal
an octave lower

Friday, August 5, 2011

Haiku from photographs II

So last week I wrote about how I wanted to write some haiku based on the very haiku-like photos of Daido Moriyama. While the photos seemed perfect for adaptation to haiku, I struggled with some kind of block. I came to the conclusion that it was because the setting was so foreign to me. The photos I was looking at were from distinctly Japanese settings and I've never been to Japan, so I didn't have the immediate experience to write haiku from.

This week I've been re-reading volume one of R.H. Blyth's 2-volume A History of Haiku. One point he makes helped me to understand further why I was having trouble writing from these photos. In his view haiku is a poetry of sensation:

"In haiku, the two entirely different things that are joined in sameness are poetry and sensation... The coldness of a cold day, the heat of a hot day, the smoothness of a stone, the whiteness of a seagull, the distance of the far-off mountains, the smallness of a small flower, the dampness of the rainy season, the quivering of the hairs of a caterpillar in the breeze -- these things, without any thought or emotion or beauty or desire are haiku." (p.7-8)

And there's my problem. I was treating the photos as strictly visual things, unable to sink into them because the sensations of the places pictured were inaccessible to me. With a little imagination, though, it should be possible, now that I've identified that stumbling block...

by the tracks

with the

Thursday, August 4, 2011

shimmering heat

shimmering heat

a skinny orange cat
in the crabgrass

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Mockingbird, singing his song..."

"Mockingbird is mocking me now that you're gone." Can't think of a mockingbird poem without getting the Tom Waits song stuck in my head...

How about 2 related haiku for today? Not sure which I prefer:

the oriole
can't find the notes
for it all

* * *

mockingbird trying to say it all at once

Tuesday, August 2, 2011



all night

on the

Monday, August 1, 2011



hops under


Sunday, July 31, 2011

museum floor

on the
art museum



A lyric

Instead of sharing something of my own tonight, I'm stuck on a lyric from a song by Jack Johnson ("Turn your love", on the album To the sea). It's the kind of lyric that works perfectly in a song but might be too direct if it were stated flat-out in a poem. In any case, it's such a concise way of expressing the constant tragedy of time:

"Let's not go
to sleep tonight
It's not that it goes too fast
It's that it goes
at all."

It's not that it goes too fast (although it does),
it's that it goes at all.


Friday, July 29, 2011

under the forsythia



I jotted this image down in a notebook when we started gardening in the spring. It stuck with me as an interesting, incongruous combination of elements -- brilliant yellow flowers on the forsythia bush in spring, and in the wet, brown, leafy dirt beneath it were a couple of plastic toy fish figurines. Margarite & I imagined they were left there by the neighbor kids, or maybe the young daughter of the family we bought the house from last year.

Although the image has stuck with me, every version of a haiku I've made from it so far has been blah. I intentionally haven't wanted to force any symbolism or sentiment into the image, but maybe it needs something more to make it live. Either more description to get across the visual and physical vividness that made it memorable, or an injection of some greater significance... Let's try for the former:


in the dead leaves



Thursday, July 28, 2011

new now

new pen new blue new words
new name for new gnosis
I knew names knew blues
knew words knew Nothing-ness
but now no nothing, no,
know nothing
now no nothing not new
not now
I know



[was feeling a little stale in a haiku rut these past few days, so trying something to blow out a few cobwebs...]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A floating-leaf sequence

Here's a haiku sequence that I wrote back in 2006. I called it a 'floating-leaf' sequence because the repetition of lines from verse to verse reminded me of a leaf floating back and forth on the way to the ground. When I first wrote it I formatted the lines in such a way that it looked much like a leaf falling down the page, too. But in the end I decided it impeded the sense of the poem, so I standardized it a little bit into this form...

in our bodies now

orange blossoms
     over her childhood yard
          grasshopper’s long arc

          grasshopper’s long arc
     over her childhood yard

     on the motel window
          trickles of sweat

          trickles of sweat
     on the motel window
a sickly flicker

a sickly flicker
     the tv’s radiant breath
          her naked arm

          her naked arm
     the tv’s radiant breath
goose pimples

goose pimples
     her sunburst tattoo
          rayed with wrinkles

          rayed with wrinkles
     her sunburst tattoo
still aglow

still aglow
     the iris’ purple yearning
          in our bodies now

          in our bodies now
     the iris’ purple yearning
the dead fire’s heat

(originally published in South by Southeast v.13:no.3, 2006)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Haiku from photographs

A couple of months ago I was really excited to discover the black-and-white photographs of Daido Moriyama. They seemed to evoke a haiku feeling not just in the way that much photography does -- by capturing a single moment vividly -- but also in the nature of the moments he chooses to capture.

Like many of the best haiku, his photographs focus on things and beings that seem unremarkable, that aren't always dramatic or conventionally beautiful -- and if they are, his grainy photos humble them a bit. When photographing a city scene through a window, he focuses on a housefly on the window in the foreground instead of on a panoramic urban view. One of his most famous photos is of a stray dog, a mutt looking distrustfully over its shoulder at the camera.

So with all of that said, I've been excited for a while to work on some haiku inspired by Daido Moriyama's photographs. Each time I sit down with a book of them, though, I'm blank. I ooh and ahh from photo to photo and have small insights into how a haiku inspired by one might work -- but I haven't been able to sink into one enough to write comfortably.

For now, I think it's because the world of the photographs is physically foreign to me. Most of the photos I've considered have a clearly Japanese setting, and, since I've never been to Japan, I can't create a sensory image in my head convincing enough to write from. If I'm going to pursue the idea of linking haiku to photographs, I'm either going to have to write haiku from my own experience and pair them with Moriyama's photos in a very tangential relationship (which could have some interesting results); or I might start out by working from photos of more familiar settings by other photographers.

In any case, for today how about:

staring hard --
a grainy photo
at arm's length

Monday, July 25, 2011

Winter in July

Well, the string of over-100-degree days was broken today -- I think our high was around 95 and we got a nice solid stretch of rain this evening, too. In honor of weathering the heat wave, here's a haiku from the middle of winter. Maybe it can keep us cool for a split second today:

ragged clouds --
the last snowflake
takes its time

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Here's an experiment from my very early haiku days:

train horn



Entries have been minimalist as well this weekend -- we have family visiting from out-of-town so we've been busy. More elaborate entries again soon!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

reading Beowulf

reading Beowulf --
the oak tree's gnarled,
runic roots

Friday, July 22, 2011

Playing plumber tonight...

... no time for poem explications... Here's the closest I can manage to a senryu tonight:

a dewdrop swells
on the pipe I fixed --
my welling anger

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Still rolling the image from Sunday's post over in my head, trying to perfect the poem...

How about:

rosemary's shadow
more real than mine
in the moonlight

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The wren & I

Yesterday's poem grew out of what I originally thought was a haiku moment, but the poem itself wasn't a haiku. As I said yesterday -- it turned into more of an abstract line of reasoning than I'm usually comfortable with in my haiku. It also personified the bird a bit by presuming that we were having similar moments of consciousness. The haiku/non-haiku debate is just semantics, though -- I'm pretty happy with it as a short poem.

Now that it's out of my system, though, I wanted to go back to the original inspiring moment to see if I could coax a haiku out of it. Here's the scene: I was walking past a tree (oak?), turned to look at it, made eye contact with a Carolina wren on a branch, and after a brief moment holding eyes, it flew away in a flash.

It was a rich moment, but I'm having trouble re-thinking it into a different, more haiku-like poem. The meaningful elements have already combined to inspire my neural pathways in a certain direction, so now asking them to re-shuffle the elements or come to a different conclusion feels artificial. Let's try shifting focus and involving some of the senses instead of just the brain:

dusty, hot --
the squatting wren and I
eye to eye

That might have potential. I can feel the dry, dusty air in my eyes in that 'eye to eye.' And hopefully it captures some of the bird's personality, as Carolina wrens really do have a distinctive way of spreading their feet, squatting, and cocking their heads to look at you. We'll see how it reads in the morning.

(I realize that I've said that several times on this blog already, and it's always amazing to me how radically my opinion of a haiku can change from one reading to the next. The challenge is to not just throw every single one of them out when my opinion swings to the negative... But yes -- we'll see in the morning.)

Another option is to step back and focus on the hold this moment seems to have on me still:

the wren & I
eye to eye --

still thinking about it

That takes the poem more into the realm of senryu, where the element of human behavior takes precedence over the observed, natural element. Even with that consideration, though, I'm not sure this one stands up at all -- that last line is a clunker, and it would be too unclear without the back-story I've provided here.

We'll see in the morning.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another non-haiku

Here's another that, like yesterday's, just doesn't seem like a haiku to me. Sure it focuses on a single, 'aha' kind of moment. But it takes that moment and turns it into an abstract thought. It's one of those short poems that sometimes grow out of haiku moments in place of a haiku -- like a brown-headed cowbird chick that grows up in a robin's nest.

eye to eye

      the wren's


      and mine


for a flash

Could this moment have turned into a haiku as well? I bet it could've. Maybe that's my mission for tomorrow's post...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not necessarily a haiku

This evening on the way home on the bus I was reading a wonderful book called The Zen Art Book. It's unique in its approach to artworks by Zen masters. The book has 2 authors: one an art historian -- Stephen Addiss -- and the other a Zen abbot -- John Daido Loori. They each contribute a paragraph about each artwork in the book. Addiss writes about technical and art historical details of each piece while Loori concentrates on its context in Zen practice. (If you're interested in the book, definitely check out the version called The Zen Art Box as well.)

In any case, as our bus crossed the 15/501 bridge over the Haw River I read about a scroll featuring this Zen koan:

"The bridge flows, the water does not flow."

From the bus we could see 4 swimmers splashing their way toward the bank, just above a man-made waterfall that spans the whole width of the river there.

the Haw River flows east
swimmers flowing east-northeast
our bus flies south
with the bridge

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 13: One more moon poem

summer moonlight
the rosemary's shadow
darker than mine

For a blog called "No more moon poems", this is the 3rd haiku out of 13 that features the moon. A whopping 23% of them. What was that I said in my first post about coming up against the limits of my imagination when I look at the physical world? Sometimes that limitation is not knowing the name for a certain plant or bird or bug; and sometimes it means finding inspiration in the same thing over and over again.

I'm not happy with the first line of this one, though, moon poem or not. 'summer moonlight' is too generic. What is it about the moonlight that night that was so striking? It was very bright, very white. The moon was almost full, but not quite. That might be more specific and interesting:

July moon almost full --
the rosemary's shadow
darker than mine

That first line feels awfully long and clunky, though -- 6 syllables, and they're long syllables at that, full of long vowel sounds and consonant clusters. How about:

almost a full moon --
the rosemary's shadow
darker than mine

Still another option is to take the moon itself out of the poem and imply it some other way. This might open up room to include a second image, as well. Something like:

two owls hoot --
the rosemary's moonshadow
darker than mine

This feels like it might be the way to go (I'll keep playing with the first image -- the owls were the first thing to come to mind...) I'm not totally sold on the term 'moonshadow,' either, which might be too poetic for plainspoken haiku. We'll see how it sounds in the morning, by the light of the sun...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Surf check

We're off to spend the weekend at the beach. The surf report looks surprisingly good for the middle of summer without any major storms in sight, so maybe there will even be some waves at the end of the road.

To please the surf gods, here's one from years ago when I was just getting started on the haiku path.

surf check –

dawn waves pitch

into their own shadows

(originally published in South by Southeast, v.6:no.1, 1999)

Friday, July 15, 2011

A walk in the other direction

This evening my wife and I went for a walk outside the neighborhood. We often do, and usually direct our steps toward town to stroll down the one street of craft and antique shops that are already closed before dark. We'll walk past the dark soda shoppe and our new hometown's one bar; say hello to the people on the deck with their sweating pint glasses; steal an earful of local rock-a-billy or bluegrass that seems to follow us for blocks down the otherwise quiet, tree-lined streets.

But tonight we went in the opposite direction -- out from the neighborhood and away from town. It was surprising how quickly the landscape by the road became wilder. The populated lots started to have two structures instead of one: an older, overgrown house or shack that had obviously been abandoned for another, newer structure on the property -- a trailer or low cinderblock house. Some of them were home-y. Some of them were brooding and unfriendly.

The oddest one seemed like it should have been one of the abandoned structures. It was overgrown with vines, there were gaps in the walls and apparently no doors in the doorways. The original construction seemed to be somewhere between log cabin and wood-plank siding, though it was hard to tell. There was a large stone birdbath outside, a couple of rusty washing machines, four gleaming white toilets, all protected by a dense thicket of bottle-trees. But the house wasn't abandoned. From the doorway a man waved to us with his cigarette hand, and I'm pretty sure I saw an older woman inside making something in her lap. At least one tv flashed and chattered.

I thought this was leading to a haiku, but it seems I've already spilled all the details. I didn't know what bottle-trees were for but Margarite says they're for trapping evil spirits. You can hear them howl in the wind, she says.

And so many of them, so close to town...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An older haibun

A haibun is a hybrid form that consists of prose passages written in a haiku-influenced style, with one or more haiku included as well. When it's done well, the prose not only provides context for the haiku, but also tempers the sharp concentration of the haiku. Anyone who has read many haiku in one sitting knows how quickly you can lose the focus necessary to really dig into each one. In haibun, there is more room for the writer to play with a broader dynamic range. And there is some relief for the reader from the constant tight focus required by haiku served straight-up.

The best place I know of to sample current haibun is contemporary haibun online, edited by Bruce Ross, Jim Kacian, and Ken Jones -- all three great practitioners themselves.

I haven't written many haibun yet, but here's one from a couple years ago. I have some hesitations about it, but I'll save those for another time.

January 20th, 2009 (Inauguration Day)

We don't often get snow in central North Carolina. Even less often is it this heavy. The sound of it falling in the woods outside is a steady static. The silence when it ends is palpable, felt deeply in your ears and in your temples. The physical world has remade itself, undeniable again for a while.

gray mare


a patch




Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 9

leaving his branch
bluebird draws out
two more bluebirds

Day 8: Late, late, late

It's midnight and I just got in from a late hockey game. It's hard to transition from the frenetic hockey mindset to the haiku spirit, but as I was driving home...

road lines
white moon


Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 7: Shaking it up


at both horizons

lightning beside the pines

In honor of the new book we've made together, I borrowed a technique from Stephen Addiss to write this haiku.

A couple of years ago Steve took a batch of haiku he had written, cut them up into individual lines, and scrambled the lines to create new, partially randomized haiku. They were surprising and wonderful, and became the basis for our collaborative artists' book project called stitching speechless. I created the haiku here in a similar way. I took a manuscript of my older haiku and, using dice, pulled lines from randomly selected poems to create this new one.

For me, this technique highlights two strains of art that Zen thinking has inspired in the West. One of them is Romantic and sentimental*. As Zen made its way into the Western mainstream during the 20th century, it fit in well with native philosophic traditions like the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau & the ecological movement that was emerging at mid-century. This is the vein that informs the nature-oriented haiku that are the most common Western haiku today.

The second strain of Zen-inspired art in the West is more procedural. It's about removing the artist's ego from his or her creations rather than about expressing the artist's unique, privileged understanding of the world. This strain of Zen art-making is appealing in much the same way that 20th-century avant gardes like the Dada movement and Marcel Duchamp's 'readymades' were -- challenging the idea of the artist as a genius maker of beautiful things. John Cage is the main example when I think of this procedural vein of Western Zen art-making. My haiku for today is in that second vein.

Of course I also like it aesthetically as a poem, so I guess I'm cheating and letting the ol' ego in anyway...

*I don't mean those terms in their negative senses at all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 6: a hometown haiku

Just got off the phone from a long talk with my mom, which always floods the following days with thoughts of home. So here's a recent haiku on that theme. It's directly inspired by a haiku by Issa, but I can't find his right now to share with you.

after Issa

away too long

hometown smell

potato chips

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 5

Just now I was falling asleep in my chair while I read, so it's appropriate that today's haiku came in my sleep last night. Around 3 a.m. I woke up from a dream of a very persistent black snake that I was sure was dead, but kept lunging at me with its mouth open and threatening.

The dream felt like it had other significance behind it, but it also had to be related to an encounter my wife and I had about a month ago. We had put landscape netting over a hydrangea bush in our yard so that the neighborhood deer wouldn't eat it. One evening, though, we found a large black snake tangled in the netting, unable to move. In places the netting squeezed so tight that it was breaking the skin. Once we figured out that the snake was just a rat snake and no danger to us, we spent about an hour snipping it free from the net. One of us would hold it down while the other worked the scissors between the tight net and glistening black skin. The snake itself was largely calm, especially when we placed a dish towel over its head. Eventually we got it entirely free and got out of its way as it hurried under the deck.

We were quite pleased with ourselves and felt a special bond with our new friend the snake. For a couple of days we made joking remarks about where he might be, about his family, about his exploits defending our yard from copperheads... Which of course made it all the more disturbing when a week later we once again found a snake in the deer netting. This time our timing wasn't so good. Not only was the snake already dead but it had been torn in half by some predator. Flies swarmed over its gory middle.

So surely that's where the imagery in my dream came from -- but as I said the dream itself was about something else in my subconscious. Some other source of anxiety I couldn't put my finger on. As I lay wide awake at 3 a.m., the dream, the snake encounter, and yesterday's musings on how to make haiku in English more ambiguous all churned together in my thought. I got out of bed and scrawled the following in my notebook in the dark:







Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 4: editing Day 3's haiku

As soon as I posted yesterday's haiku I was dissatisfied with it and started further editing. Here is yesterday's version:

         of silence


What bugs me about it (so to speak), is that it's a closed poem. There's no openness to the interpretation. There's a husk of a cicada's head on the ground; it will be silent for 13 years again as it goes through the cicada cycle. Done. As a poet I've done all the work and, more importantly, the poem doesn't trust you as a reader to be smart enough to draw your own conclusions.

In haiku especially, that kind of closure can be deadening. One of the hallmarks of the best haiku is that they leave some ambiguity for the reader to fill in. In fact in Japanese, the nature of the language makes it so that ambiguity is unavoidable. For example, in Japanese a noun doesn't necessarily indicate whether it is singular or plural. So in Matsuo Basho's famous haiku about a crow on a bare winter branch, it's impossible to say whether he is referring to one crow on one bare branch or multiple crows scattered on multiple branches in a tree. Moreover, Basho himself made several paintings to accompany the haiku -- and while most of them feature one crow on a branch, there is at least one version in which he painted multiple crows. Clearly the ambiguity is an intentional and valuable thing.

That ambiguity is really hard to replicate in English -- a very straightforward, pragmatic language that values clarity instead of suggestiveness. Not only is it linguistically difficult, but as writers our inclination is to give the reader as much information as we can. One of the greatest challenges of writing haiku is to recognize when you're telling too much. When to get out of the way.

I'm not 100% sure the following is a better haiku, but it's a step in the ambiguous direction. With so few syllables the ordering of each one counts -- try switching words around and see how much the meaning changes. I'm still playing with it (and considering adding a second image to resonate with this one), but this is what I've settled on for tonight:






Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 3 haiku

Just got in from giving a talk at a local art gallery about the new artist's book I'm finishing up. (By the way, to follow what I'm doing in book arts you can check out my other blog here:

The event went really well -- great turn-out, lots of people excited to encounter artists' books and hear about them. Exhausting, though. So we'll keep it short and sweet here on Day 3.

Well, maybe not so sweet:

         of silence


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 2

'No more moon poems' is part of a daily project I'm starting along with my friend Luke Payne. Luke is an uber-talented musician who was looking for a way to jack up his production and to become less self-conscious about putting his work out into the world. Inspired by another friend's book (thank you, Noah!), we agreed to help each other through a year of daily productivity. You can check out Luke's progress over at He'll be posting a new video of himself performing a different song every day. The guy is an amazing player and off to a great start with his blog-writing as well.

For my part, I'll be posting a haiku or other short bit of writing every day. Some of them will be brand-new that day, but not all of them -- I have 16 years'-worth of haiku to share. Even though I've never been the most prolific writer, they do add up over that many years.

The haiku here also won't all be polished. Perfectionism is one of the biggest obstacles to productivity, so here I'll often be adopting Anne Lamott's "shitty first draft" strategy. Sometimes I'll start with very rough ideas and go through the editing process visibly. I've been involved in haiku workshops for as many years as I've been writing them and have also helped to edit a small haiku journal for nearly as long, so hopefully the editing process can be as interesting as the finished haiku themselves. And I'm sure some of the ideas will never crystallize into anything worth keeping.

Well, enough of the blabbing. This is a haiku blog, after all. Today's is a one-liner. Haiku often hold 2 images up in delicate, resonant balance. Not this one -- this is just attempting to capture a single moment, purely:

bluebird     rockets     from the mailbox!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No more moon poems

gazing up
I swear --
no more moon poems

I wrote that poem about 13 or 14 years ago. It was a cold winter night in Richmond, Virginia; I was young and perilously unattached to anything (my brother having passed away a couple of years before and the rest of my family being 2 states away in Pennsylvania); and I was committing most of my energy to learning about the pursuits of Zen and haiku.

I've always liked how this particular haiku (or more accurately a senryu) is about the limitations of the form, the cliches we fall into when writing haiku -- but most importantly, it pokes fun at the limits of my own imagination when confronted with the physical world. Sure, poems about the moon are likely to be repetitive, cliche, trite -- and yet there the real thing is, brilliant and enthralling in the night sky. How can you not write another haiku about it?