Day 27: Linda Hogan

Hogan is a  Chickasaw writer and environmentalist. In an interview with John Murray for A Journal of the Built + Natural Environmentsan online nonprofit magazine, Hogan talks about keeping her personal journal, which is where the detailed observations of her natural surroundings were first recorded.

“I used to keep a journal religiously. That was how I began every morning. I’d get up and write in my journal. It seems that when I started writing fiction and essays, the energy that normally goes into journal writing had another outlet, although I do miss it.

I also realized that I was writing about the same things every day anyway. Every morning I would remark about the beauty of that particular morning and what the birds were doing, what the trees looked like, whether it was raining. I finally realized that probably I could do more for nature in other, less private, kinds of writing.”

I especially enjoyed her poem, “The History of Red.”

Day 25: Billy Collins

I’ve discussed with many of my colleagues and teachers the difficulty in avoiding writing about writing. As writers, the thing we are probably most qualified to write about is that which we are already doing, and although writing about our own processes is at times cathartic, reflecting life and living outside of the realm of writing is equally important.

In some of the poetry of Billy Collins that I read this morning, it seems that he is able to incorporate familiarities from both the writers life and the outside world. I selected “The Death of Allegory” as today’s poem because I really enjoy the fusion of lighthearted, relatable humor and powerful metaphorical imagery.

Day 23: Alexander Pope

A central figure to the Neoclassical movement, Pope was considered a master of the rhymed couplet form, and he applied it to philosophical and satirical social criticism. What I found most fascinating about him, however, is that he was the first known full-time writer by trade, supporting himself on subscription fees for his translations of Homer and Shakespeare.

Here is Alexander Pope’s “Ode on Solitude.”


Day 21/22: Charles Bernstein & Leslie Scalapino

Bernstein and Scalapino were foundational members of what is known as language poetry, which emphasized an intentional lack of meaning in one’s work. Readers are instead supposed to observe and interpret the poem as a construction of language itself.

Charles Bernstein: “Design

Leslie Scalapino: “walking person who has sky flowing–by one who beside is as if

Day 20: Stephen Dunn

In my last meeting my mentor suggested I take a look at the poetry of Stephen Dunn and didn’t give me a reason why. The suggestion was quickly realized after reading his poem, “Why I Think I’m a Writer.” We share a kind of meandering narrative—a conversational stream of consciousness—style of writing. It’s reflective and tells a story. Dunn has written several books of poetry and is praised for his profound yet accessible poetics.

I enjoy this relatable quote in which he describes the evolution of his writing process:

“For twenty years, I’d work almost every morning. I had a kind of driven-ness back then, combined with a kind of writing-as-practice. Maybe it had to do with an early sense of mortality because my parents died so young—a sense that I didn’t have a lot of time. Now I tend to do a lot of work in the summers, usually at one of the writers’ colonies. But during the year I work haphazardly, without a fixed schedule. And my poems have to pass harder tests before I let them go or even call them poems. I spend more time worrying them into existence.”

Day 19: Mary Oliver

I came across Mary Oliver by chance today by randomly selecting her book, White Pine from the poetry section in the library.

But it wasn’t that random after all.

Full disclosure: the well-being of the earth has set up camp in the very front of my mind as of late and it appears to be under greater threat with each passing day. I found that reading Oliver’s poetry provided for me a kind of temporary therapy that left me longing for a connection to nature as deep as hers.

My favorite poem of the book I read is, “At the Lake,” which, unfortunately, is not published online, so I will include a link to her poem, “Beside the Waterfall,” which is also included in White Pine.

Haiku: Ambiguity in Japanese Culture

Haiku: Ambiguity in Japanese Culture

Write ambiguous

melodies. I will listen

and sing harmony.

When I was writing on the Simpsonian staff, my good friend and mentor wrote a daily haiku. I remember wishing I could do that. A year later, he became my classmate in my first college level poetry writing class. We exchanged poems outside of class and gave each other feedback over the course of the semester. For a while, I challenged myself to write a daily haiku as well. It seemed like a meaningful exercise, and I was excited at the thought of looking back after several months and recalling days based on the poetry I’d written to reflect them.

Haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poetic form. The entirety of the poem is contained by a total of 17 syllables, arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five, respectively. You probably know that. What you probably don’t know is that haiku is actually a segment of a Japanese form already in use. The term “haiku” is derived from the first part of “haikai” (a humorous form of renga, a linked-verse poem) and the second part of the word “hokku” (the first stanza of a renga).

The reason the haiku you may have written in school was about trees or flowers is not because your teacher was a romantic; the romantic theme is consistent with Japanese tradition. In a renga, the hokku served as exposition to the longer poem, often including details regarding setting. Haiku was not referred to as such until the 19th century, when it no longer served a purpose at the beginning of a poem but was recognized as its own form. Now, even the earlier form is referred to as haiku, giving it one of the longest histories of poetic forms.

This semester, my roommate is taking a course in Japanese culture and language, focused on gaining understanding of Japanese culture and how it relates to modern industry. We began discussing one of his assigned texts, The Japanese Mind, Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. He’d just read a chapter titled, “Aimai,” the Japanese word for ambiguity. The book cited haiku as one way in which ambiguity is embodied in Japanese culture. I borrowed the book for a weekend and was fascinated by what I found.

Aimai can be defined broadly as a situation in which there is more than one intended meaning. While the Japanese may not be conscious of its prominence in their culture, aimai is foundational to their verbal and physical communication. In fact, to express oneself ambiguously and indirectly is an expectation of Japanese culture. Some communication occurs without any verbal communication and, as a result, their words come to hold broader meaning.

The Japanese think that it is impolite to speak openly on the assumption that their partner knows nothing. They like and value aimai because they think that it is unnecessary to speak clearly as long as their partner is knowledgeable. To express oneself distinctly carries the assumption that one’s partner knows nothing, so clear expression can be considered impolite. (Morimoto quoted in The Japanese Mind, 22)

This aspect of Japanese culture is reflected in haiku. By limiting the syllables, poets are challenged to include as much detail as possible in a very small space, increasing the necessity for more versatile word choice and, ultimately, leaving much to the reader’s imagination.

I still write haiku from time to time. My girlfriend embarked on a photography project at the beginning of the year in which she illustrates one of my haiku every week using her Instax camera, thus reconnecting haiku with its introductory roots: using modern technology to create a multimedia experience of setting.

*Read The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. Edited by Roger J. Davies, Osamu Ikeno. Tuttle Publishing: Singapore, 2002. See also, Morimoto, T. Nihongo omote to ura. [pretense and truth in the Japanese language]. Tokyo: Iwatanimishinsho.



Day 18: Lewis Turco

Yesterday, I received The Book of Forms by Lewis Turco. I had the need for a handbook to keep at my side when writing formal poetry to refresh my memory on rhyme scheme, refrains, etc. When I’m researching poets, I don’t mind doing so online, but I find that when I’m creating original work, the internet can be a hostile and intimidating world, so I prefer to “go analog,” an act inspired by Austin Kleon‘s Steal Like an Artist.

The Book of Forms was published originally in 1968 and I am now the proud owner of a first edition, thanks to Powell’s books (a really cool bookstore in Portland I had the privilege of visiting on a trip I took to Oregon several years ago). As I flipped through the yellowing opening pages, I learned that in addition to his book on forms, Turco was a poet himself, with his works appearing in many revered journals around the world.

Turco received his MA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He publishes free verse and prose poetry under his own name and formal verse under the anagrammed pseudonym, Wesli Court.

His poem, “November 22, 1963” serves as the basis for a ballet, “While the Spider Slept,” performed by the Royal Swedish Ballet.