A life of poetry (1)

April 12, 2013

From my mid-teens, maybe even earlier, poetry became an important part of my life. In college, when I was working evenings at some part time job, I would write countless lines of short poems. At that time I seemed to have been fascinated by pronouns. The pieces I wrote were filled with them. 

she was not aware that he had turned to leave, until the door closed.

he waited for her to arrive, remembering that she had said to him she would not come, but waiting anyway.

they felt that he was quite sure when he said that she had been there, but was now gone.

she knew all along, he was the one waited for, by her and the others. 

On and on I wrote lines like these. There was no end to this, until I left college for New York City and a profession in photography. There, the poetry appeared not in written form but in the B&W pictures I shot. 

After that brief three-year life failed, I was given a chance to come to Japan as an english teacher. Being at loose ends and not in debt, I accepted the offer. After finding my footing, more or less, the poetry composing urge returned. This time, not only in writing but also in my printmaking. I wrote several Red Poems, carved and printed them, and put them in my exhibitions. 

The three Ps have remained large in my life thus far. Photography I continue to do; printmaking is my whole attraction; underlying every activity and aspect is poetry. Now, not pronouns; rather, it is haiku. On the homepage called Icebox, I have contributed many pieces along with comments on what other members write. Here are some recent works: 


Earlier pages have more. Mostly I stick to the traditional rules of haiku. The organization which stands behind this site is not so strict about this, however. Writing haiku in english gives us the excuse to not follow the 17-syllable rule or the season rule too closely.

One poetic form I am interested in is the sestina.   The American poet, Edith Shiffert, taught me this style. She was good at it, tho she wrote only a few as far as I know. I like the challenge of playing intelligently with words. You can get a lot of fine information on sestinas on Wikipedia, but, briefly, you choose 6 words, use them at the ends of a six-line stanza, use them again in a different order but once more at the ends of the lines of a second stanza; repeat this for 6 stanzas, add a 7th stanza with only two or three lines, having three/two each of those six words in each line. The poem, of course, has to make sense. 

In Edith's book, The Kyoto Years, (Kyoto Seika University Press, 1971), there are two sestinas. Here is one:


Here in every garden
at dawn a priest takes action,
sweeping the leaves and nothing
until mossed paths are empty 
to daylight and no pity
troubles his even breathing. 

While darkness comes his breathing
keeps steady as the garden
chanting not pity
nor hate but only action
inside the black and empty
midnight of their brief nothing. 

My body warmth or nothing
can clarify my breathing.
Here in the temple, empty
in the deserted garden,
we all were made by action
and each death is a pity. 

Wood doves think no pity
and meditate on nothing
in maple trees. Action
is their quiet breathing
inside this temple garden
that has never been empty.

Magnificent and empty
temple halls shelter pity.
Their incense smokes the garden,
perfumes the leafy nothing
which my psyche is breathing
and unifies its action.

Day and night are action.
The priests are never empty
of their whole lifetimes's breathing.
A moment's crystal pity
sounds from that locust. Nothing 
escapes from this sure garden. 

Inside the garden action
comes from nothing, the empty
bears pity and a breathing.