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...