Japanese Poetry

As part of my 2015 International Poetry Cantos celebration, April (which is also National Poetry Month, and so quite crowded) is also my opportunity to celebrate Japanese poetry.

I’ll be attending the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, Saturday April 25, which is sponsored by “Cupertino Toyokawa” — the Sister City relationship between Toyokawa, Japan and Cupertino, established in 1978. Come by and chat, and if you’ve got Japanese poetry to share, please please please bring it by booth 15.

I can’t begin to link here all the splendor and history that is the poetry of Japan. Ancient and strong, the tradition is powerful and delicate at the same time. Here are a couple of links, however, to get you started.

Wikipedia does a good job of getting us started.


Here are some biographies (in English) of famous historical Japanese (in America) poets:

  • Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) here and here.
iza saraba / yukimi ni korobu / tokoromade

now then, let’s go out / to enjoy the snow… until / I slip and fall! [1688]
  • Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828) here and here. Translated by Robert Hass here and here.
  • Yosa Buson (1716-1784)  translated by Matthew Rohrer here. And by Edith Shiffert here (below).

The light of a candle
               is transferred to another candle—
               spring twilight.

Read more about Japanese forms at these links:

Michael Dylan Welch (Japanese poetry aficionado and current PL of Redmond Washington) deserves his own shout out. Learn all about Japanese poetry at his website, Graceguts. This tanka is by MDW.

tanka from Graceguts

And, in case you are beginning to wonder if Japanese poetry ended with the death of Issa in the 19th century, or was only written by men, these links provides a wonderful orientation to modern Japanese poetry and poetry by Japanese women.

  • Poetry Kanto — Japan’s longest-running bilingual poetry journal. Really.


Poetry at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Tomorrow is the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, at Memorial Park. The festival is both days, Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26, but I’ll only be there on Saturday, with my poetry booth and my poet friends. Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, and David Perez, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, will both be with me (in booth 15) after about 11 am. I’ll be there the whole day.

(Read about Japanese poetry before you come, if you’re new to the subject).


Come by for a chat, for a free poem (written on the spot just for you by a real poet!), to play with my magnetic poetry or my Haikubes (highly in-authentic, but fun).


I’ll have books of haiku and senryu, both by Japanese poets and by Americans. I’ll also have anthologies and lesson books from California Poets in the Schools.

I hope to see you there!

Before I Die I Want To . . .

Have you ever thought of writing your New Years resolutions, wishes, dreams, plans, goals — as a poem? I’m going to try to get mine into rhyme. Wouldn’t that be fun. To live life in rhyme.

Before I die I want to sing
Before I die I want to walk
Before I die I want to blink
Before I die I want to wing

Here’s a list of New Year’s Poems from the Poetry Foundation. I snagged this photo from their site, too, (by Derek Keats).


If you click through to read Robert Haas’ “After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa” you will encounter this haiku.

New Year’s morning—
everything is in blossom!
   I feel about average.
I think this will be my New Year’s resolution, goal. To feel about average every day. On days when I feel good, I’ll be slightly ahead, and on days when I don’t, I won’t be too disappointed. And if you’re not worried about how you’re feeling, you can enjoy the view of everything in blossom. Everything.
Happy New Year poetry people.

Prompt #41 : Photo Prompts & Sea Turtles

For your 41st prompt, I’m going the lazy (but it works I swear it does) route. Many times I get the poem urge after seeing a great image. Like this one. This is a turtle from the Sea Turtle Conservancy‘s Facebook page. They posted it on Friday 9/12/14 as part of a caption contest. This was my caption:

Don’t look at me like that. I’ve been places. I’ve seen things. I like yellow flowers, what’s not to like? I’ve been places. Don’t judge me.

I don’t think I’m going to win. (They have some great photos.)

I did, however, write a little haiku to go with the photo, last night, after brushing my teeth and curling up in bed and remembering I hadn’t written my poem-a-day (see my Tumblr September 2014 PAD challenge for more information about that!!).

So, in addition to the photo, and the prompt (which is to pick an awesome photo from your life today — a random photo works best — and write to it), you’re getting my little poem.

old turtle among the dunes
black eyes ringed with sand
two beach sunflowers

(The Sea Turtle Conservancy credits the photo to  Ursula Dubrick.)

Poems about Healing

Poetry can help us heal. Mind and body. Today I offer the poem “Lying In Wait” by Rachel Hadas.

Lying In Wait

by Rachel Hadas

Lying in bed and waiting for the purple
bruises to fade from my arms,
I remember the grinding pebbles underfoot
when I gave in to the muscular embrace of the ocean.
Now I rest in the wash of what has been accomplished.
A shallow golden river is pouring itself over stones,
over this empty husk, scooped shell of waiting
for transformation. Also transportation:
I need a fresh itinerary now
a dismantled world is being reassembled;
new map of stars I gaze at from the cool
tank of silence where I lie back, bathe,
and wait for the purple to fade.

About the poet:

Rachel Hadas is Board of Governors Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, where she has taught for many years. Her latest collection of poems is The Golden Road (2012). A new collection, Questions in the Vestibule, is in preparation.

Click through this link to the wonderful blog “Pulse-Voices from the Heart of Medicine” to read her poem and more like it. Today’s front page features a sweet haiku.


It’s raining in California today, but there are still blossoms on many of the trees. Take a moment to pause today and notice something that might heal your pain.

(Today’s photo by Ken Taylor)


Prompt #14 : Saturdays, Flat Stanley and Rengay

Well, I’ve finally caved in to my (ridiculously busy) life and abandoned the “new poetry prompt on Thursday” problem. New prompts will still appear, but now they’ll appear on Saturdays. Here is the first prompt-on-Saturday. Today we are going to write rengay!

I’m not an experienced rengay poet. I love short forms (as you’ll recall from previous posts) but I’m not an expert. I have however used this form to teach before, as some kids find it wonderful to write together — it gives them a break for staring at the page alone. I hope today’s rengay prompt will get me writing something new as well as encourage you. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there about this form, which we can all learn from.

Here’s what Michael Dylan Welch has to say: “The rengay is a collaborative six-verse linked thematic poem written by two or three poets using alternating three-line and two-line haiku or haiku-like stanzas in a regular pattern. The pattern for two people is A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3, with the letters representing the poets, and the numbers indicating the number of lines in each given verse. For three people the pattern is A-3, B-2, C-3, A-2, B-3, C-2. Unlike renku, […] a rengay stay[s] in one season and develop[s] a single theme. Since they are brief, rengay are also more easily remembered than renku, and more likely to be published in the various haiku journals. […] Rengay was first publicly introduced at the November 1, 1992 meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in San Francisco.”

Rengay is a recently invented form, similar to renga, also a collaborative form of poetry from Japan. Rengay is also related to renku, a longer collaborative Japanese form.

Because rengay are long-ish, I won’t reproduce any here. Frongpond (the Journal of the Haiku Society of America) offers this sample.

I am planning to write a rengay today with my daughter. She’s agreed to collaborate with me. We are doing this in part to complete a visit of Flat Stanley to our house. I want to write a poem together with Stanley, but he’s mute on the idea. So, Stella will help and channel Stanley’s poetry onto the page.

(For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Flat Stanley, you can read more here and here and here.)

The resulting poem will also be posted on here and on Tumblr.

Have fun with your rengay and a friend. Please let me know how it goes.

Prompt #13: January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

Short on time while the holiday bells of family, friends and parties are still ringing, I have been writing snatches and snippets, but no real poems. Then! I stumbled upon a delightful little (and surprisingly powerful) form called the zip.

My friend Michael Dylan Welch, the current PL of Redmond, Washington, is a renowned poet, specializing in Japanese traditional forms. You can check out his work starting with his blog Graceguts. Michael shared the news earlier this week that the English poet, John Carley, passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. Michael challenged us, as a way to celebrate Carley’s life, to write a poem in the zip format he invented. Never having heard of a zip haiku, I was intrigued!

According to a 2001 article by Carley, a zip is “proposed as an analogue to the Japanese haiku, but uses a form more suited to the innate phonic and semantic qualities of English. The zip employs fifteen syllables, two weak pauses and one strong. The poem is centred on the caesura.

What could be better. Short poems for the crazy holiday season, or those crazy days in my PAD project when I am stuck at work late, exhausted, grumpy, etc. And a “real” form. So, I took up the challenge. I’ve written two in the past two days, and whether they are good or not, only time will tell. I love them. The first is a moment remembered from my daughter’s beach party and the second is a reflection on my mother’s upcoming birthday in Maine.

Write your own!!!


making faces     around the fire
beer bottles      marshmallow smoke

# 2

    January      glittering blue and white
the shape of     windows