July 29, 2011

Remembering Stanley Kunitz


Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed . . ."
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
by Stanley Kunitz
via http://www.theatlantic.com

It’s the birthday of poet Stanley Kunitz, born 1905 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He published his first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, in 1930.

His 1971 volume, The Testing-Tree, marked a shift in his work, from his early, formal style to one that was looser, more personal, and written in everyday language. He explained the shift in Publishers Weekly: “I think that as a young poet I looked for what Keats called ‘a fine excess,’ but as an old poet I look for spareness and rigor and a world of compassion.”

He was named U.S. poet laureate in 2000, at the age of 95. He was still publishing and promoting poetry. The Wild Braid: a Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden (2005) is a collection of essays and conversations about his two loves, poetry and gardening, and was released on his 100th birthday. He died the following spring.

(Source: writersalmanac.publicradio.org)


Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul. The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race.

— Stanley Kunitz

July 25, 2011

100 Thousand Poets For Change

100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE is an event that will take place in many cities, at the same time and date, Saturday, September 24 from 11:30am - 11:30pm, outdoors when possible, and of course it will be televised.

Join other poets around the USA and across the planet in a demonstration/ celebration of poetry to promote serious social and political change.

If so sign up here and let's see if enough people are serious about an event like this. So far we have 170 cities representing 44 countries planning events. Join us here and please post comments and ideas.

What kind of CHANGE are we talking about?

The first order of change is for poets, writers, artists, anybody, to actually get together to create and perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously, with other communities around the world. This will change how we see our local community and the global community. We have all become incredibly alienated in recent years. We hardly know our neighbors down the street let alone our creative allies who live and share our concerns in other countries. We need to feel this kind of global solidarity. I think it will be empowering.

And of course there is the political/social change that many of us are talking about these days. There is trouble in the world. Wars, ecocide, the lack of affordable medical care, racism, the list goes on.

It appears that transformation towards a more sustainable world is a major concern and could be a global guiding principle for this event. Peace also seems to be a common cause. War is not sustainable. There is an increasing sense that we need to move forward and stop moving backwards. But I am trying not to be dogmatic. I am hoping that together we can develop our ideas of the "change/transformation" we are looking for as a group, and that each community group will decide their own specific area of focus for change for their particular event.

Do you want to organize in your area?

100 Thousand Poets for Change will organize “participants” by local region, city, or state, and find individuals in each area who would like to organize their local event.

You can send a message via their page in Facebook or e-mail walterblue@bigbridge.org

If you are an organizer for your community this means that first you will consider a location for the event and begin to contact people in your area who want to participate in the event. Participation means contacting the media, posting the event on the web, in calendars, newspapers, etc., reading poems, performing in general, supplying cupcakes and beer (it’s up to you), demonstrating, putting up an information table, inviting guest speakers, musicians, etc., organizing an art exhibit, and documenting the event (this is important, too), and cleaning up, of course.

Organizers and participants will create their own local event as an expression of who they are locally. Do they want a candlelight vigil or a circus, a march or a dance, do they want absolute silence, a group meditation on a main street; it’s up to the local organization.

However, groups should be sure to hold some part of the event, if not all of it, outdoors, in public view. (outdoors is not required). The point is to be seen and heard, not just stay behind closed walls.

It is also important that the event be documented. Photos, videos, poems, journals, paintings! Documentation is crucial. The rest of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change want to hear what you have to say about change and enjoy your creativity too! The documentation will be shared through a blog/website that I will set up, a blog/website where groups can share and announce event information, as well as post photos, videos, poetry, art, and thoughts. But an event doesn’t have to involve tons of people. It can be just you (the organizer) and your pet, on a street corner, with a sign.

Each local organization determines what it wants to focus on, something broad like, peace, sustainability, justice, equality, or more specific causes like Health Care, or Freedom of Speech, or local environmental or social concerns that need attention in your particular area right now, etc. Organizations will then come up with a mission statement/manifesto that describes who they are and what they think and care about. When the whole event has taken place all the mission statements can be collected from around the world and worked together into a grand statement of 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

FIND EVENT LOCATIONS and get more information on joining in at:

July 14, 2011

Your Poem Was Off-Topic But

Poets Online has been posting prompts since 1999. No matter what the prompt says, there are always at least as many submissions that have nothing to do with prompt as there are poems that address the prompt.

Many of the poems are off-topic are ones we would consider for publication if they addressed the current prompt. It is easy to set aside the cliched love poems, religious and political prompts and sets of a dozen poems sent in by one person.

But, at times, there will be a poem that we like that has nothing to do with the prompt. I will ask the other readers to consider again - "Does it address the prompt? Am I'm missing something?" Usually the answer is No.

But we save all the submissions in mail folders "Used" and "Rejected" and a few in that latter folder get a mail flag on them as being a poet that we may want to keep an eye out for next time.

Occasionally, I will email those poets with some encouraging rejection note. (Yes, there is a such a thing. I have received them.) Sometimes we suspect that the poet is a young poet in age or experience. Rejection is tough.

When we fell behind in our reading and updating recently (end of the semester, exams, unpoetic papers to grade and that distracting thing we call Life), we went back the rejected folder and looked for some poems that were off topic, but we liked. 

In case you missed them, here's a link to where they are posted on the site in our archive.

Back Up Your Poems!

I have had three poet friends in the past few month contact me frantically because their computers crashed. It wasn't just the lost hard drive that had them frantic - it was the "lost" poems.

None of them had full backups of their files (poems included, but also photos and other documents). I was able to retrieve all the files from one hard drive, retrieve some files from another and do nothing at all with the third.

As tech people say, it's not a question of IF your hard drive will crash, it's just a question of WHEN it will crash.

I highly recommend that you use some kind of regular backup. You can buy a backup drive or use those flashdrives - but they can crash too and you have to remember to do the backups. So, the thing to do these days is to store your work "in the cloud" - online on a computer server that will do regular backing up for you.

There are several well known services like this but I am recommending Dropbox because they offer a FREE 2 Gigabyte account (that's a lot of poems!) of basic backup protection.

You sign up, install a small program on your computer and it creates a folder on your computer to put files in. You use the folder just like any other folder - but it will be automatically backed up online. If you have other computers, you can add Dropbox there too and then those files will appear on both computers. No more emailing files back & forth or carrying them on a flashdrive. And you can access your files by signing in at Dropbox.com from any computer.

You can also share folders in your Dropbox with other Dropbox users. That would be great for collaborative writing or editing situations. If I make changes to a file, you would see them next time you open it.

Okay, I pointed you to a solution. Don't contact me when your computer crashes and you lose those poems!

July 11, 2011

Basho's Garden

I seem to be caught up lately in the world of Japanese poetry. In some of my searching I came across this woodblock print by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), entitled "Bashō's Hermitage and Camellia Hill on the Kanda Aqueduct at Sekiguchi." 

Basho is considered to be the original haiku master.

If you were to visit those rice fields on the left bank of the print today, you would be at Waseda University. ("Waseda" means "early rice field"). On the right side of the waterway is "Bashōen," or "Bashō's Garden," so named because Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) lived there for a time.

There ia pond in the garden that local legend has as the inspiration for one of Bashō's most famous haiku which is engraved on a stone next to the pond in Bashō's calligraphy.

The old pond
A frog leaps in
The sound of water.

 In Henry D. Smith's edition of One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Hiroshige, he describes the garden side of the print this way:
On the hillside to the right in this view was located Suijinsha, a shrine to the water god, protector of the Kanda Aqueduct, just as Suijin Shrine protected the Sumida. The shrine is located in the thick grove of trees seen to the far upper right, although the shrine building itself is not visible. Below, midway up the slope, is the Ryugean, a detached hermitage of a nearby Buddhist temple. The Ryugean was known for its beautiful natural setting, which looked out over the view we see here, with rice fields below a wooded rise, now the location of Waseda (“early rice-fields”) University, in the distance. The slopes surrounding the hermitage were covered with camellias, although Hiroshige here shows us only cherry blossoms. From this came the name "Camellia Hill," which survives in the name of the large banquet restaurant Chinzanso that occupies the site today.

Sometime in the late Edo period, as seen Hiroshige's title, the Ryugean came to be known as “Basho's Hermitage,” after the famous haiku poet who is said to have briefly lived in this area (but doubtfully in Ryugean itself) in the 1670s while in the service of a daimyo who had been charged with repairing the Kanda Aqueduct. In the early eighteenth century, some disciples of Basho set up a memorial mound to the poet within the precincts of Ryugean, apparently higher on the hill to the right of the view here, and some time later the Basho Hall (Bashodo containing images of the poet and his major followers was built nearby. The memorial mound and the Basho Hall survive today, although closed to the public, just outside the south corner of the Chinzanso gardens. Recently, a pleasant cherry-lined walk has been constructed along the bank we see to the right here, restoring some of the tranquillity of Hiroshige’s vision.

The Narrow Road to Oku (Illustrated Japanese Classics)    Illustrated Basho Haiku Poems (Little eBook Classics) 
The Narrow Road to Oku (Illustrated Japanese Classics)
Illustrated Basho Haiku Poems
Basho: The Complete Haiku
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (Penguin Classics)

The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido
The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido

The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige (Pictorial Archive Series)

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

July 3, 2011

Summer Tanka

We last visited the tanka form more than ten years ago when we asked readers to consider a tanka on yearning. We return to the form this month for our July prompt.

The short tanka form (from the Japanese for "short poem") consists of five lines of 5,7,5,7 and 7 syllables for a total of 31 syllables. Tanka, along with haiku, is one of the better known waka forms.

Tanka has a long history going back over 1300 years. The most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers.

It was the custom of well-mannered persons that after an evening of lovemaking one would write an immediate note about the pleasures of that time. More than just a "thank-you note", this highly stylized five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji expressing one's feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom.

These were delivered to the lover by a personal messenger who waited for a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note renga-style which the messanger would return to his master.

Since English does not have the same rhythms and syllables as Japanese (see our brief earlier lesson) tankas written in English often do not adhere to the strict form.

Although many English tanka simply use five lines, the first and third being short and the other three being longer, for our prompt we will impose the stricter form.

Since the tanka contains as its first 3 lines a haiku (5-7-5), we should note what the two sections attempt to do. The first three lines (the kami no ku or upper poem) usually present an image or thought - much like we think of a haiku.  The remaining two lines (the shimo no ku or lower poem) then shifts the focus to a related idea. For Westerners, this is often compared to a sonnet's "turn."

For our July prompt, we ask you to write a formal tanka of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables on summer and love. You may send your submissions via email - no fans, branches or blossoms required.

Submission deadline is July 31, 2011 - see the prompt and submission information at PoetsOnline.org

Examples of modern English tankas at http://www.americantanka.com/

A Long Rainy Season: Haiku and Tanka (Rock Spring Collection of Japanese Literature)
A Long Rainy Season: Haiku and Tanka

Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami (Japanese Edition)
Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami (Japanese Edition)

July 2, 2011

A Brief Haiku Lesson

Our July prompt uses the tanka poetry form which is the "grandmother" of the newer haiku form. Here is a bit of haiku information that may add to your understanding of the tanka form.

Haiku verse consists of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The tone of these poems are derived from a combination of this syllabic structure, imagery, and choice of words.

It reflects the values of Japanese culture and the strong influence of Zen Buddhism, especially in the way that haiku emphasizes a single moment. Most haiku give a very brief description of some event or object belonging to nature. In the traditional form, they contain either a direct or indirect reference to a season that turns the reader's attention to the passage of time.

Haiku came from the tanka form which itself was part of a longer renga. Renga (RAY'N-GAH) is "linked elegance" - a Japanese poetry form in which three-line stanzas of 5-7-5 are linked by a two-lines of 7-7 and were usually written by two or more persons. Poets such as Matsuo Basho developed the 3 lines as its own accepted form.

Traditional haiku also contains kigo (KEY-GO) - a seasonal word. Rather than say "spring", the mention of a cherry blossom signals the season, for example.

Japanese does not have syllables, so our Western haiku in 5-7-5 syllables is an approximation of the way on (OH'N), or sound units, are used in Japanese. Each sound in a word is an on. For example, the word "Tokyo" has three on: to- k - yo. These are similar to syllables in English.

Our syllable is an uninterrupted sound. The word "jump" contains two morae in Japanese as does "haiku". But in English language, those two words are not equal in syllables.

The Japanese mora is what we might call a short syllable and the shortest linguistic measure. A long syllable is two morae (the plural of mora).  The word "jump" contains two morae (j-ump) and the word "haiku" contains three (ha-i-ku).

The Haiku Handbook -25th Anniversary Edition: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku
Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (Essential Poets)
Illustrated Basho Haiku Poems (Little eBook Classics)

July 1, 2011

Lazy Summer Prompt

Poets Online has been on a bit of a hiatus lately (yes, there will be a new July prompt!), but not everyone in the poetry world has been lazy. Poet Diane Lockward is always active and her July newsletter she offers this prompt for you in the meantime.

The prompt poem is by Marie-Elizabeth Mali which Diane found in the 2011 collection, Steady, My Gaze.
Steady, My Gaze

Second Year of Marriage

Over breakfast and the staggering waft

of jasmine tea and pesto eggs, you say

if it were your job to create the senses,

you would have forgotten smell.

I keep my mouth shut, look

intrigued. A link to the limbic,

the olfactory: the pulse-quickening

scent-coffee, green-humid air, exhaust—

of the airport in Venezuela—or the way

the geranium in my living room sends me

straight back to my grandparents' deck,

those summer lunches. Last year,

I would have tried to convince you

of smell's virtues. Instead, I let it be.

Later, we fight over the best way to unlock

the car. No matter. Your scent, that wordless

telegram, still takes me apart, like it did

when it first arrived out of nowhere.

Diane's prompt:  What intrigues me in this poem is the poet's use of smell. We are very accustomed to visual imagery, but not so much to olfactory imagery. And yet smell is such an important sense. When I read the lines about the geranium taking the speaker right back to her grandparents' deck, I knew just what she meant, that is, how closely tied to past experience smell can be. There's a certain kind of wet morning that takes me back to Red Raider Camp with its vile man-made lake full of frogs and mud. The morning smell triggers my memory, along with a sense of revulsion and a keen ache of nostalgia. Whenever I smell lilies of the valley, I remember my mother's Muguet des Bois, my mother all dolled up to go to Canasta Club. Let's see how the sense of smell might work for you in a poem.

Write down the names of some sensuous food items, ones with fabulous aromas.

Write down some other items with strong, distinctive smells.

Let one or more of these trigger a memory. Go back to another time and place.

Is there another person in your present scene and / or in the past scene?

Let this be a love poem, though it doesn't have to be a romantic love poem.

Now see how you might pull your material into a draft that shifts back and forth between past and present. Try just freewriting at first. Give yourself 10 minutes.

Shape your material into a poem, maybe eventually using 2-line stanzas as Marie-Elizabeth has.

Temptation by Water  What Feeds Us  Eve's Red Dress

Follow Diane at her blog dianelockward.blogspot.com and her official site dianelockward.com