Monday, December 2, 2019

Involving the Reader

One of the aspects that made Western poetry so dreary at the turn on the twentieth century was the reliance on abstract thinking and words. Poets thought they had to write about love, truth, thoughts, and ideals in order to be a great writer. From the Japanese they learned that by using images of actual things – a grass stalk, a bird’s eye, the movement of a fly rubbing its legs together – abstract ideas could be conveyed with greater meaning and poignancy. Ezra Pound and the Imagists verbalized this idea, but more poets around the world latched onto the idea and used it. 

Long before Gertrude Stein was espousing the importance of using the exact word in poetry or any writing, the Japanese had based their writing on creating images of actual things. Instead of telling the reader what to think or feel, words describing images were used as signposts. The placement of these signs caused the reader to form certain pictures almost like memory. As the signs moved from one image to another, with one word and then another, the reader created the journey to the unspoken conclusion of the poem. This process of making the reader see or imagine parts of the poem has, on one hand, made it harder for people to learn to read haiku. Still, this miracle of involving the reader in the creation of the poem has expanded our own definition and concept of poetry. No longer is poetry what someone tells us. It is the mental and emotional journey the author gives the reader.

This technique of juxtaposing images so the reader’s mind must find a way from one image to another has greatly influenced how we perceive simile and metaphor. Metaphors were and are one of the cornerstones of poetry, and yet for years scholars told us that Japanese poets did not use them. They did. They simply made their metaphors in a different way. Instead of saying “autumn dusk settles around us like a crow landing on a bare branch,” Bashō would write:

on a bare branch
a crow settled down
autumn evening

The simplicity and economy of the words demand that the reader goes into his mind and experiences to explore the darkness of bird and night, autumn and bareness, and even how a branch could move as the dark weight of a crow presses it down. The reader is writing the rest of the verse and making it poetry.

– Jane Reichhold

Friday, November 1, 2019

Love vs Frankenstein

Love comes off badly in Frankenstein too – all the major relationships in the book are disrupted by the monster – and the monster isn’t allowed love either. We hear so much about disruptive technologies, and somehow we’re meant to think this heroic, because men (and it is men) seem to have a need to feel heroic, whether it’s killing people in wars or imposing austerity (‘difficult decisions have to be made’), or smashing into a city with something like AirBnB or Uber and feeling like a pioneer when all you are doing is ruining communities and pushing down wages. The social media platforms situate themselves as heroic. What have they done but increase hatred, misery, and anxiety? Oh, and make money. Sorry.

I worry about love in all its forms. Romantic and sexual love – trashed by web porn. Family relationships – how do you have time when you are doing three jobs to put food on the table? Friendships – again, how do we find time? And those other sorts of love, like volunteering, like charity work, like coaching a kid, like taking an old lady shopping.

The neoliberal project was bound to end in tech hell – everyone atomized online. Virtual communities replacing the interaction people need. Shopping malls replacing free public space. Extraction capitalism.

For me, it is all about love. What do we love? How do we protect what we love? And that is a big lesson of Frankenstein. In my book, the whole sexbot thing is funny and meant to be – because we need a few jokes these days, but it is also about the commodifcation of human relationships. The corporatization of everything.

I am not at all anti-tech. But we really can’t leave this stuff to socially stunted white boys and corporate greed.

The free market doesn’t make life better; it makes some people richer. With tech this could become dystopian very quickly. We need regulation – and most of all we need reflection. Victor Frankenstein, and my own Victor Stein are visionaries, but they are prepared to sacrifice all the things that make life worthwhile for most people; love and affection, community, stability, a measure of control.

 Jeanette Winterson

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Despiritualizing the Universe

The European materialist tradition of despiritualizing the universe is very similar to the mental process which goes into dehumanizing another person. And who seems most expert at dehumanizing other people? And why? Soldiers who have seen a lot of combat learn to do this to the enemy before going back into combat. Murderers do it before going out to commit murder. Nazi SS guards did it to concentration camp inmates. Cops do it. Corporation leaders do it to the workers they send into uranium mines and steel mills. Politicians do it to everyone in sight. And what the process has in common for each group doing the dehumanizing is that it makes it all right to kill and otherwise destroy other people. One of the Christian commandments says, "Thou shalt not kill," at least not humans, so the trick is to mentally convert the victims into nonhumans. Then you can proclaim violation of your own commandment as a virtue. 

In terms of the despiritualization of the universe, the mental process works so that it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet. Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are used to justify butchery in the dehumanization process. For example, a real-estate speculator may refer to "developing" a parcel of ground by opening a gravel quarry; development here means total, permanent destruction, with the earth itself removed. But European logic has gained a few tons of gravel with which more land can be "developed" through the construction of road beds. Ultimately, the whole universe is open--in the European view--to this sort of insanity. 

Most important here, perhaps, is the fact that Europeans feel no sense of loss in all this. After all, their philosophers have despiritualized reality, so there is no satisfaction (for them) to be gained in simply observing the wonder of a mountain or a lake or a people in being. No, satisfaction is measured in terms of gaining material. So the mountain becomes gravel, and the lake becomes coolant for a factory, and the people are rounded up for processing through the indoctrination mills Europeans like to call schools. 


At this point, perhaps I should be very clear about another matter, one which should already be clear as a result of what I've said. But confusion breeds easily these days, so I want to hammer home this point. When I use the term European, I'm not referring to a skin color or a particular genetic structure. What I'm referring to is a mind-set, a worldview that is a product of the development of European culture. People are not genetically encoded to hold this outlook; they are acculturated to hold it. The same is true for American Indians or for the members of any culture. 

It is possible for an American Indian to share European values, a European worldview. We have a term for these people; we call them "apples"--red on the outside (genetics) and white on the inside (their values). Other groups have similar terms: Blacks have their "oreos"; Hispanos have "Coconuts" and so on. And, as I said before, there are exceptions to the white norm: people who are white on the outside, but not white inside. I'm not sure what term should be applied to them other than "human beings." 

What I'm putting out here is not a racial proposition but a cultural proposition.

- Russell Means

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

My Life's Purpose? Or: The Momentum of Energy?

One of the most common questions I get is “Am I on my life path?”

Depending on your perspective, this question can make your life easier or more stressful.

The words life path makes us think there is a pre-determined road we're meant to follow, yet we don’t know what it is.

We have free will which we're supposed to use it to choose the right path.

This perspective is a good setup for stress and failure because it turns life into a set of critical decisions, where we need to guess right path or make the right choice over and over with limited information.

This thinking attracts a lot of people to intuition training. They feel like if they have more insight, they will be able to make better guesses and find their path.

The "life path" model is stressful.
I suggest changing your model to something more empowering.

Instead of thinking about your life as a path, try to imagine streams of energy flowing around you.

Try to feel the momentum behind life events, your genetics, your upbringing, and your past lives trying to carry you in a particular direction like a wave. Your experiences are not simply random events, because every experience was chosen by you so you can experience a particular situation in this life. Nothing is pure coincidence — your experiences are manifesting something deeper within you.

You have many "life streams."
Unlike the one right path, there are many different streams influencing you and your life. One isn’t more right than the other, but you may feel more momentum from one than another.

I call them “streams” because you're not required follow all of them. Yet, it can be difficult to completely ignore them or fight against them. It’s much more fun when you feel yourself being pulled in a particular direction to learn how to ride that wave into your future.

You don’t need to keep guessing.
With this new perspective, you no longer have to guess the right path each time. You can simply sense where this energy stream naturally wants to take you.

Your goal is to learn to stop fighting the flow and let its momentum carry you to the things you want to experience.

What you previously thought of as a set of critical decisions becomes a fun process because you’re discovering your flow as you go.

“Life purpose” has the same problems.
I also get the question “How do I find my life purpose?”

Yet, the concept of life purpose can have the same challenges as life path. You may think there is a predetermined destination that you should be heading towards. Your life purpose is achieve if you follow your life path.

You might even feel like you need to create a plan to achieve a specific goal and you should know what that goal is. This perspective can be quite stressful.

If you’re following the momentum of your life streams, however, you don't need to know your destination or plan your path. It’s something you discover over time. As you live, you notice more about yourself and your life — what your desires are, what you like, what you don’t like and so on… It becomes fun.

There’s nothing wrong with planning.
I like to say that plans are written in pencil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with planning to go somewhere or do something, but pay attention to the energy behind your life and be ready to draw up a new plan as you feel the momentum change.

In this way, you're life cam be a curious and enjoyable adventure!

- Jeffrey Allen

Thursday, August 1, 2019

“Content… is a glimpse of something, an encounter… like a flash”

“Content… is a glimpse of something, an encounter… like a flash,” de Kooning told the critic David Sylvester in 1960. Who has described the spirit of his paintings better? Truth for him was fluid, protean. Just as he refused to be pinned down ideologically by the influential theoreticians of his day like Clement Greenberg, de Kooning’s paintings refuse to be defined as either “representational” or “abstract,” flitting restlessly between these notional polarities. Considered a virtuoso both by peers and successors, he wasn’t merely an acrobat with the brush; he was also, and more profoundly, an acrobat with the semantics of painting, playing the medium’s possibilities against one another to keep them open. It’s a thrilling and beautiful act to watch, a display of his intense desire to forge paintings from his own contradictions: his roots in the European Old Masters and his acquired taste for American pop culture; his careful craft and bold innovation; his architectonic intelligence and madcap improvisation; his grace and his violence; his ebullient confidence and corrosive self-doubt.

A small work on paper (mounted on canvas) in the show, Woman (1953), succinctly performs this splicing of opposites. The iconic figure, nearly centered on the page, is a monumental Venus of Willendorf, but her breasts are the teardrop eyes of an angry Mickey Mouse. No other painter of de Kooning’s generation makes it so hard to separate high art from low comedy. More than his painterly flourishes, it’s this embrace of contradiction that has made his work a source for generations of later artists, from his immediate successors, who included also Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Jack Whitten, and Gerhard Richter, to contemporaries such as David Reed, Christopher Wool, Joyce Pensato, and Amy Sillman. All of these artists have mined de Kooning’s work for elements suited to their own purposes. That variety of interpretation is only possible because the vein itself is so rich. - Stephen Ellis

Monday, July 1, 2019

Haiku Poetry as a State of Wonder

Think Small 
 (Theme Song: My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music)

peony buds--
can an ant
  - John Stevenson

Mason feels that "think small" poems stand in stark contrast to one of the prevailing values of Western, and especially American, culture: namely, the perceived need to "Think Big" and thus provide a counter-balance to the cultural bias.

Come To Your Senses
(Theme Song: I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash)

the tickle of bristles
I cover-up
my hickey
 - Yvette Nicole Kolodji

R. H. Blyth called haiku "a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean." Thinking of it this way, haiku can help us "come to our senses" once again. 

Feel The Moment
(Theme Song: Anthem by Leonard Cohen)

winter night
the slow circling
of the bar rag
 - Bill Kenney

With advances in technology, our lives have become more busy not less so. To paraphrase Basho, haiku allows us to focus on "what's happening right here, right now."

Prepare For Surprise
(Theme Song: Surprise, Surprise by Bruce Springsteen)

sudden gust--
the book opens to a poem
I like even better
 - Carolyn Hall

This group of haiku also operates counter to the prevailing cultural tendency to feel vulnerable by surprise, an thus trying to limit, predict, control it, instead of finding delight in the unexpected..

Only Connect
(Theme Song: We Are The World or Circle of Life from the Lion King?)

migrating whales
all our footprints
wash away
 - paul m

The fifth category is perhaps a "meta-category" in that it encompasses all good haiku, which allows the reader to make a connection between the two parts of the haiku, and also between ourselves and the world. Mason ended his presentation by inviting all to experience the wonder of life through haiku, with his final statement, "Life awaits...may its wonder be with you."

from, HNA 2017 Recap: Scott Mason and The State of Wonder

Monday, June 3, 2019

breeze a synonym for ash

Five words. Five words that propel thought beyond logic to a preconscious state of awareness—a momentary glimpse of wholeness. It has lightning fast precision. I remember reading this poem in R’r 11.1 (Feb. 2011) and instantly it became one of my favorite haiku.  

I’m familiar with Southern California wildfires. One in 2007 forced us to evacuate our home because of immediate danger. Thankfully our house was spared and when we returned there was an inch of ash that needed to be swept up. Ash worked its way into everything—even under the gas cap flap on the car. Because of the wind the ash was able to penetrate the void in and around things. Breeze and ash are bound together in this give and take of definition. Some breezes can only be observed when the ash is disturbed.  

A reader doesn’t necessarily need to experience a major wildfire to appreciate this poem.  Think of an ash at the tip of an incense stick. The slightest breeze both feeds the fire that produces the ash and disseminates the ash. Air is both starting point and the end. This toggle between microcosm and macrocosm gives power to these five words. And its artistry doesn’t diminish through a hundred readings.

If we consider the poem from an aural perspective, the music of vowels and consonants, this poem is a gem. The movement from the long ‘e’ in ‘breeze’ through the staccato of ‘syn.on.ym’ to the open ‘a’ in ‘ash’ with the ‘sh’ at the very end is the trajectory of life. The initial breath in ‘breeze’ carries though the small encounters in ‘synonym’ (like the rain pinging down obstacles in Eve Luckring’s concrete haiku) to the final shush in ‘ash.’ We feel the subtle echo of this music beyond words moving outward and inward. It’s primordial and pure poetry! Thank you, Philip Rowland. 

- Cherie Hunter Day

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Spreading oneself east and west - two poems

November 3rd

Neither yielding to rain

nor yielding to wind

yielding neither to

snow nor to summer heat

with a stout body

like that

without greed

never getting angry

always smiling quiet-


eating one and a half pieces of brown rice

and bean paste and a bit of

vegetables a day

in everything

not taking oneself

into account

looking listening understanding well

and not forgetting

living in the shadow of pine trees in a field

in a small

hut thatched with miscanthus

if in the east there’s a

sick child

going and nursing


if in the west there is a tired mother

going and for her


bundles of rice

if in the south

there’s someone



and saying

you don’t have to be


if in the north

there’s a quarrel

or a lawsuit

saying it’s not worth it

stop it

in a drought

shedding tears

in a cold summer

pacing back and forth   lost


a good-for-nothing

by everyone

neither praised

nor thought a pain


like that

is what I want

to be

- Miyazawa Kenji

You are drunk and i'm intoxicated

you are drunk
and i'm intoxicated
no one is around
showing us the way home

again and again
i told you
drink less
a cup or two

i know in this city
no one is sober
one is worse than the other
one is frenzied and
the other gone mad

come on my friend
step into the tavern of ruins
taste the sweetness of life
in the company of another friend

here you'll see
at every corner
someone intoxicated
and the cup-bearer
makes her rounds

i went out of my house
a drunkard came to me
someone whose glance
uncovered a hundred
houses in paradise

rocking and rolling
he was a sail
with no anchor but
he was the envy of all those sober ones
remaining on the shore

where are you from i asked
he smiled in mockery and said
one half from the east
one half from the west
one half made of water and earth
one half made of heart and soul
one half staying at the shores and
one half nesting in a pearl

i begged
take me as your friend
i am your next of kin
he said i recognize no kin
among strangers

i left my belongings and
entered this tavern
i only have a chest
full of words
but can't utter
a single one

- Rumi

Monday, April 1, 2019

The muscle of metaphor - over the shallowness of simile

When we read memoir, or journalism, because it is “true” it is not happening to us. In reading fiction it happens to us, and keeps happening to us after we are finished with our reading, because it is not “true.” We are not precluded from its truth. The muscle of metaphor is transformative, interpersonal, complete [unifying]. The apprehension of experience via metaphor is a completion [unifying]. She “walked, then rode in a daze, still not quite free of the dog [she] had killed.” “I had felt it die, and yet I had not died.” There is a technical, writerly shaped hole in this parable.

And then there is the tripe of relateability. I’m sorry, the trope. The shallow idea, currently ruling acquisition decisions at Big Five publishing houses, that we like to read memoirs, listen to true stories, because we can “relate,” because something like that has happened to us or we are “like” this person whose true story we read. More insidiously, that fictions must repeat back to us our familiar contexts in order for us to wish to buy them. The shallowness of simile over metaphor.

Self-narratives are normalizations of selfhood, reifications of the discontinuity between one self and one other self through capital investment – the value of the self as distinct content producer.

I am not a writer because I assume that my life is so snowy, so flakey, that I will entertain others with those stories in their various forms, or that the qualities that they are imbued with need or deserve to be shared for their uniqueness.

If the writing in a book is such that it moves the heart, stimulates the intellect, and enlivens the spirit, we can conclude that it is a work of literature –

Period – and as such is entitled to make its own laws.

~ Rebecca Wolff

(from: “Our Love of True Stories Has Destroyed Our Sense of Truth”)

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Weissers and the Grand Dragon

     A cantor named Michael Weisser and his wife, Julie, had moved with their family from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska. They felt that their children probably would be exposed to less anti-Semitism there than they experienced in the big city. As it turned out, the Grand Dragon of the White Knights of Ku Klux Klan of Nebraska, Larry Trapp, lived there. When he found out that the Weissers were living in Lincoln, he turned his ongoing campaign of hate mail and phone threats against them.
     Of course the Weissers were alarmed to experience such violent prejudice and were at first quite angry. However, after some time, the cantor had a change of heart, because he felt his faith taught him to love his enemies – and he wanted to put his faith into practice. Julie agreed and they contacted the Grand Dragon by phone with friendly intentions.
     The Weisser family found out that Larry Trapp was a diabetic, confined to a wheelchair, and gradually going blind, so they called and kindly offered to help him with his grocery shopping. His first response was an angry no, but after a pause his mood changed, and he thanked them for offering. The Weissers continued in their attempts to embrace their enemy. Finally, Michael suggested that they prepare a dinner and take it to Larry Trapp’s apartment. He reluctantly accepted their offer.
     When one of the cantor’s friends heard about their plan, he admonished Michael for going too far. Nevertheless, the Weissers did go to Larry Trapp’s apartment. It was a dark and sad place, with pictures of Hitler on the wall, but the dinner went fairly well. Gradually, Larry Trapp softened and his hostility subsided. He told the Weissers how his father had taught him to hate everything that was different from his white, Christian family.
     Later, when speaking of that dinner, Larry Trapp explained that he just couldn’t resist the Weissers anymore. He had never known love like that before in his life. Larry Trapp completely let go of his hatred and was transformed. He resigned from the Klan and wrote formal letters of apology to groups representing African-Americans, Native Americans, and Jewish-Americans. When diagnosed as terminally ill, he even moved in with the Weisser family and converted to Judaism before his death. 

– Reb Anderson (original source: Kathryn Watterson)

Friday, February 1, 2019

"First days of spring – the sky" by Ryōkan

First days of spring – the sky
is bright blue, the sun huge and warm.
Everything's turning green.
Carrying my monk's bowl, I walk to the village
to beg for my daily meal.
The children spot me at the temple gate
and happily crowd around,
dragging to my arms till I stop.
I put my bowl on a white rock,
hang my bag on a branch.
First we braid grasses and play tug-of-war,
then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air:
I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.
Time is forgotten, the hours fly.
People passing by point at me and laugh:
"Why are you acting like such a fool?"
I nod my head and don't answer.
I could say something, but why?
Do you want to know what's in my heart?
From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Haiku Selection

click on the image to enlarge