Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Ghazal for the Oak

A Ghazal for the Oak

The afternoon shadow by the oak tree,
The flight of a swallow by the oak tree.

By the old wood fence he pitches his tent
On a field that’s fallow by the oak tree.

The sound of a creek, the peace that she seeks,
At a mountain hollow by the oak tree.

Thrown from his home he is begging alone,
There’s nothing to borrow by the oak tree.

An ancient boulder doesn’t look older,
It’s the same tomorrow by the oak tree.

A brief solitude sometimes comes to you,
There’s nothing to follow by the oak tree.

My name’s Wilson, I’m basking in the sun,
There’s an end to sorrow by the oak tree.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Poetry Reading

October is my favorite month of the year.  And this year October began auspiciously with me doing a poetry reading on October 1st.  I read from Hiking the Quatrain Range; my collection of quatrains in various forms.  I read from two groupings.  The first group was based on the Chinese quatrain tradition of the seven-syllable line.  The second group I read from was Englynion based on the Welsh tradition of quatrain poetry.

It was a good audience; attentive and appreciative.  One person asked about my use of rhyme.  This was after I had read a sequence of quatrains based on the Chinese tradition where the standard rhyme scheme is A-B-C-B.  I explained that traditional Chinese poetry is rhymed syllabic verse.  I commented that most westerners are not aware of this because translations of traditional Chinese verse rarely map the formal characteristics of Chinese poetry onto their English translations.  Furthermore, until very recently, in their introductions they fail to inform readers of these formal characteristics.  It took me a long time to uncover these formal characteristics, and even more time to see their potential for English language poetry. 

There are exceptions to this general observation.  Red Pine does attempt to transmit some of the formal characteristics of traditional Chinese poetry.   Here is an example from Red Pine’s translation The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain:


Buddhist monks don’t keep their precepts
Taoist priests don’t take their pills
Count the sages who have lived
All are at the foot of hills

(Page 251)

Here Red Pine has retained the standard rhyme-scheme (pills/hills) in the English translation.  In addition, he has retained a basic line count; in this case it is 8-8-7-7.  The original consists of 5 count lines, but there is a basic similarity in the translation; when reading the translation there is a steady pulse like in the original. 

It is very difficult to translate the formal characteristics of Chinese poetry into English; I get that.  But there is a heritage of English translators who do not even try to build this formal bridge.  Because of this many westerners have the impression that traditional Chinese verse is close to modern free verse and that is a misguided impression.

Not many western poets have attempted to map the formal characteristics of traditional Chinese poetry onto the English language.  Robin Skelton is one.  I am one.  I am unaware of others, but I suspect that they exist.

For both Skelton and myself attempting to transmit a poetic form from one language to another is a rewarding challenge.  For me it feels like connecting, as best I can, with another culture.  It broadens my understanding of how different people have understood poetry and opens new possibilities for my own creative expression.

It was a rewarding evening.  And people bought lots of books; always a plus.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


This is a short note to readers of this blog regarding my slow rate of posting recently.  I have been working on a few projects which have taken priority.  One is a commentary on the book A Guide to True Peace, which is a manual on Quaker contemplation.  It was published 200 years ago but is based on material that goes back to the 1600’s.  I have been spending a lot of time doing research and tracking down the original sources for many of the passages in the Guide.  I love this kind of research; nothing makes me happier than sitting on the floor surrounded by dusty tomes (or books from reprint houses), tracking down the history of a passage and how it has changed as it gets used over the centuries. 

I am in the final editing phase and I hope to have it completed by the end of next month.

I have, at the same time, been working on a 100 Verse (Hyakuin) renga.  Like most of my renga it is a solo work.  Writing a solo 100-verse renga is time consuming.  The thing about a renga that long is you have to keep in mind topic placements and spacing and many other factors for it to come out right.  In addition, my hope was to incorporate the type of rhyme scheme I have sometimes used in shorter renga where the last syllable of the last line of verse X rhymes with the last syllable of the first line of verse X + 1.  I finally finished it on Monday; and I was able to incorporate the rhyme scheme through the whole of the renga, and, in addition, discovered some additional rhyme usages in the process.  It still needs a little tweaking, but basically I am satisfied with it.

My hope is to return to more regular posting in October.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, August 17, 2015



The hot morning air –
All the flowers are wilting
Above brown-dry grass

A butterfly is searching
For drops of dew and nectar

Thin clouds, mere specters,
Dissolving before her eyes
Into the vast sky

Seasonal time won’t comply,
(Unlike our calendar years)

Oak leaves, crisp and sere,
Tumble down without a sound
On the sloping mound

No wind, falling to the ground
As daylight hours grow shorter

It’s the last quarter
Of a life of many years
Ghosts of friends appear,

Ghosts from times that I hold dear,
Ghosts of songs that I still hear,

Ghosts that linger here,
Ghosts from dreams, from other spheres,
Ghosts calm and austere,

Ghosts from streams that disappear,
Ghosts resembling a shy deer,

Ghosts from a frontier,
Ghosts are time and time is near,
Ghosts like distant trees

Seen through a cold howling freeze,
Seen through thickly falling snow

Streetlights barely glow
As a neighbor trudges home
After work is through

There was something he should do,
Something he has forgotten

The note he placed in
His shirt pocket has fallen
Out onto the street

When he paused to stop and greet
An old friend he had not seen

For years, though it seemed
That it was just yesterday
When it was routine

They would meet day after day
Exchanging quips and wordplay

But time eats away
At all our expectations,
Time burns like a fire

And all that is required
Is that she waits patiently

Hoping she will see
In the park where they once walked
His approach, his smile

But she’s surrounded for miles
By an emptiness that’s vile

Blossoms fall like tiles
Torn from the plum trees’ branches
In a bitter wind

He offers incense for his sins
And freshly picked daffodils

The courtyard is still
Something glows in the distance
Passing the roofline,

Like a musician keeping time,
Coursing through the dream-filled air

Moonlight, bright and fair,
Waning from full, like a sigh,
Surrounded by clouds

Hovering, like a thin shroud,
Angels’ wings don’t make a sound

Monday, July 27, 2015

Into Great Silence: Richard Wright's Haiku 743

Into Great Silence

There are haiku which depict a scene in a way that open that scene to a luminosity that reverberates in the mind and heart of the reader.  Richard Wright’s haiku 743 has that effect on me:

In the still orchard
A petal falls to the grass;
A bird stops singing.

The haiku is in 5-7-5. Each line is a grammatical unit.  Lines 1 and 2 form a complete sentence.  Line 3 is also a sentence.  The two sentences are linked by the use of a semi-colon which indicates that line 3 is an additional part of lines 1 and 2.  I think you could read line 3 as saying that the petal falls to the grass as a bird stops singing; the two are happening at the same time. 

The setting is an orchard in spring.  The season word is ‘petal’ and with that single word the season is established.  The word ‘grass’ narrows the focus a little; it would seem to be mid-spring or the height of spring.  For this reason I think of apple blossoms rather than plum when in my mind’s eye I depict the scene.

The orchard is still; there is no wind.  Into the stillness there is the smallest movement; a petal falls.  At the same time a bird stops singing, deepening the stillness with silence.

The entire haiku depicts a movement into silence and stillness.  Line 1 gives us an orchard untouched by the wind.  A petal falls, then comes to rest on the grass.  The movement of the petal ends in stillness.  A bird has been singing, but then stops.  The falling petal moves into stillness, merging with the stillness of the orchard.  The bird ceases its singing, moving into silence, merging with the stillness of the orchard.

I often go for a morning walk.  I live in a rural area of Northern California.  My walk is on a rural road which isn’t very wide; if two cars meet one of them has to pull over to the let the other one pass.  For this reason, drivers go slow and there is not much traffic on the road, so I don’t have to worry about speeding cars or crossing traffic. 

I usually walk in the hour before sunrise.  I have, now and then, noticed that just as the sun sends its first rays over the horizon sometimes there is a pause, of maybe 20 seconds, in the world around me.  For example, where I live there is a lot of bird life.  In the morning they are all singing and chattering.  But just at that moment when the sun first appears, sometimes there will be a pause, the birds will fall silent for a bit.  If the sky is cloudy, or the morning is misty, this doesn’t happen.  But on a clear morning I have observed this on a number of occasions.

This haiku reminds me of that experience; when nature moves into a silence and stillness and offers us a vision of that realm.  This vision of that realm of silence and stillness beckons us, and suggests to us, that there is a realm of silence and stillness that can be found within.  This haiku can be read as an allegory for that interior experience of silence and stillness; that realm where thoughts fall and come to rest on the ground of being, where feelings and desires cease their seductive singing, and we experience the inner serenity that can be found within.  This is a haiku about return; returning to the primordial silence and stillness out of which all things emerge.

The realm of nature and the realm of the mind within are porous to each other; they resonate with each other.  I think that is one reason why some haiku can be so moving to us; because they unite these two dimensions of our experience.  It is difficult to articulate the realm of mind because it is so close to us.  Haiku offer us a way of comprehending the interior realm through depicting nature and inviting us to see how nature and mind are part of the same vastness; that there are seasons of nature and that there are seasons of the mind, that there is a stillness found in nature which is the stillness that can be found within, in our own minds and in our hearts.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Sound of a Rhyme

The Sound of a Rhyme

Warm sixth month morning
Winding pathways in the park
Cloudless sky, earth dust

Fluctuating sunlight rays
And the sound of rustling leaves

Whispers that deceive
Journos statements on T.V.
In the afternoon

Standing on a low sand dune
By the Pacific Ocean

The cliff’s corrosion
As the wind dissolves the stone
On a cloudless night

The full moon’s achingly bright
Shadows from an owl in flight

A brief dream-like sight
Above a construction site
Clouds slowly gather

“It doesn’t really matter,
You’ll do what you want to do.”

A stain of mildew
His anger steadily grew,
It almost consumed

But as the warm wind resumes
After months of chilling cold

As the spring foretold
Day by day snow fades away
From the tangled quince

“I don’t need to be convinced.
I know you have your reasons.”

The ice-cold season
Like regrets that won’t depart
From my memory

There is a discovery
Like an ancient hidden scroll

As colored leaves roll
Past the ancient monument
Surrounded by trees

The young newlyweds are pleased
With each other and with time

The sound of a rhyme
From a poem that they have shared
Hovers in the air

Sweet incense, a scent that’s rare,
Beauty that dispels despair

The old couple stops and stares
While cherry blossoms scatter

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monte Rio

Monte Rio

I lived for awhile at Monte Rio,
A tiny town on the Russian River;
A bar, a grocery store, and not much more;
Oh yeah, there was a movie theater,
A small, refurbished comfy Quonset hut
That stood near a quiet intersection.

Time and season are an intersection
Like when the quince bloom at Monte Rio
Beside a falling-down, abandoned hut,
Beside the smooth-flowing Russian River,
Where old growth forest remains a theater
Whose ever-changing scenes always promise more.

I’ve heard several times that less is more –
A deer is crossing the intersection
Which looks like an abandoned theater,
The ghosts of burned out buildings at Monte Rio,
The moonlit flow of the Russian River,
The silent presence of an empty hut.

A crow lands upon the roof of the hut,
The ‘caw’ of the crow, silence, nothing more;
There’s a glass-smooth silence from the river,
An angel crosses the intersection,
No cars on the bridge at Monte Rio,
Closed doors at the Quonset hut theater.

Raccoons dance on the beach, like a theater,
As a possum exits a nearby hut
Bats fly swiftly above Monte Rio
While a feral cat looks for a few more
Scraps at the town’s only intersection
Not far from the moon-filled Russian River.

There are seasonal moods of a river,
Watching them’s like watching a theater,
Or people crossing an intersection,
Or shadows on the wall of an old hut,
Shadows on the wall that won’t last for more
Than a few hours as the sun sets at Monte Rio.

At Monte Rio the Russian River
Flows for eons like an endless theater

Past the hut at the intersection of dream and time.