When you send art out into the world, it’s always fascinating to see how folks respond to it.
I had a lovely experience along these lines recently when the Canadian poet Claudia Radmore wrote to tell me that she had blogged about some poems, including one of mine, published in the most recent issue of Haiku Canada Review. In her post, “Enter the Frog, or Haiku from the Haiku Canada Review,” Radmore holds up three poems from the February 2017 issue of Haiku Canada Review as good examples of very short haiku.
This poem is a quiet one and brings to mind the times when people are together trying to share thoughts, when those people might wonder about what a person’s words might mean. It’s a poem of uncertainty. Flickering thoughts could indicate doubt, or hesitation. They could be very important in any kind of relationship and are sometimes hard to pin down. These flickering thoughts, and the image of the person’s face in the flickering light…even that image is strong enough to be frightening, or calming, or loving, or simply an exchange of philosophical ideas. This little poem is packed if you take time with it.
What I find fascinating is the range of emotional possibilities Radmore sees in my poem. I wrote this haiku on a wintry Saturday evening, after a fun and lively conversation. To me, the flickering thoughts warmed my spirit and stoked the flames of my imagination. The conversation wrapped me in feelings of contentment, like an “evening fire” on a cold night, and left me with a certain emotional warmth and with a vista of new and promising possibilities.
In the moment that inspired the poem, I felt no uncertainty, doubt or hesitation, though I love that Radmore pulled those other levels of experience out of the text, and specifically out of my image of “flickering thoughts.” Even though I wrote my haiku on the inspiration of one particular emotional experience, I also hoped that the poem would resonate universally from reader to reader. But I hadn’t anticipated that it would resonate more universally across the boundaries among types of emotional experiences.
And this is one of the things that’s so great about art: When my thoughts and your thoughts find each other in a work of art, they can flicker away to new and unexpected ends. And that makes life rich and endlessly fascinating.
The son of the pioneering American haikuist George Klacsanzky, Nicholas Klacsanzky follows in his father’s footsteps with his own esteemed poetry in the Japanese short forms and through Haiku Commentary, where he uncovers the inner workings of present-day examples of what he calls “perhaps the smallest style of poetry.”
Of my ‘deployment’ haiku Klacsansky writes, “This haiku has a lot of energy to it. It has an immediacy and freshness that most haiku do not have.” His insights into the “energy” of the em dash, the “immediacy” of not naming the type of tree that so quickly drops its leaves in the poem, and the “melancholy” and “stark” effects of the vowels are fascinating to me as the poet.
But I am most struck by what Klacsanzky has to say about the last line of the poem: “The pacing of the haiku is powerful, especially with how the last line comes. Not only is the punctuation used for a significant emotional end, but also the last line (without tricks) is palpable and alarming.”
Of course, I planned none of these effects, per se. But I’m glad the poem has them, and that Klacsanzky’s extremely thoughtful commentary has laid them bare. And I’m glad the poem is, in its own way, “alarming.” The finality of the end of a single human life, much less of the legions who perish at war, should stop us cold. The tree in my poem will likely grow new leaves come spring. The souls lost in battle are gone forever.
If a poet writes a poem and no one reads it, does the poem have meaning? This question is one for the philosophers. As a poet, though, I find I reassuring that a reader with Nicholas Klacsanzky’s deep insights into poetry is so committed to sharing them respectfully and unpretentiously for everyone to experience. Klacsanzky’s Haiku Commentary helps make the world of English-language haiku one of wonder and discovery for all.
Recently, I gave a performance of a few opera arias with David Thomas, the principal clarinetist with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Orlay Alonso, piano faculty at Capital University and half of the Alonso Brothers Piano Duo. You can listen to our performances in the unedited audio files below.
The fact of this performance is, in itself, not really news. But what is potentially of enough value to be shared, is what I learned from giving this performance about dealing with performance anxiety.
The stage can be a cold and lonely place when you know you have it in you to perform well, but can’t manage to get the best of yourself out before an audience. I know this feeling well. And while I make no claim to be any sort of expert in managing performance anxiety, I do claim to be an expert in my own experience with performance anxiety. Hopefully, sharing what I’ve learned about why debilitating performance anxiety happens and how to deal with it can be of help to you and others.
I’ll cover various topics related to performance anxiety in a series of posts published over the next several weeks. In this installment, I take a hard look at the roles of fear and its demon spawn, perfectionism.
Fear: Acknowledge It. Then Request That It Kindly Go to Hell.
It’s my belief, though not mine alone, that performance anxiety has its roots in fear, and often some kind of extremely deeply rooted fear that goes way, way back to our childhoods. I’m by no stretch a psychologist, but common sense dictates that it’s important to look those fears straight in the eye and deal with them. Some seek the guidance of a licensed psychologist for this, others choose not to. But if you’re going to open the Pandora’s Box of your psyche, then be prepared for something strange and probably hairy to fly out at you. And if being “prepared” means that you enlist the use of someone’s professional chops to supplement your own moxie, then that’s what you do.
In the sense that fears are realities in our nervous systems and in our lives, all fears, especially deeply rooted ones, are legitimate. When we’re kids, we develop all kinds of fears because we have few, if any, emotional and intellectual resources to deal with the various and sundry thing about the world that we don’t understand.
Sometimes fears developed in childhood become patterns of belief, habits formed (maybe in an effort to give the rational mind some “reason” why a deep emotional wounds have happened) that we hold onto as we age and even take with us into adulthood.
Here’s a common narrative among creative types, including performers like musicians, dancers, and actors: You were a shy, quiet kid and not exactly Mr. or Miss Popularity with the kids at school. You grew up thinking that people don’t like you. And even though you’re now an adult with a spouse or significant other, with a family, with friends, with good professional relationships, there might still be this little voice that taunts to you in, as Yeats called it, the deep heart’s core: “People don’t like you. They don’t like what you do.”
Imagine trying to step out onstage and dazzle a crowd of people when you’re carrying with you the idea – the fear from long ago – that people don’t like you.
That’s just one specific example. But if I had to guess why so many well-trained musicians and other types of performers are completely derailed by performance anxiety, I might guess that they haven’t ventured down the rabbit hole of their own psyches and debunked the myth that they can’t be appreciated just as themselves, without having to earn affirmation by performing, like a trained monkey, tremendous feats of derring-do.
Perfectionism: That’s Kind of Unreasonable, Don’t You Think?
Anyone who performs in any sense – including giving musical performances, dancing, delivering speeches, litigating in court, speaking up at a staff meeting at work, etc. – knows that it takes a phenomenal level of skill to “wow” an audience.
So if you’re a musician, achieving this “wow” standard can, if left unchecked, result in the compulsion to spend insane amounts of time in the practice room. If you’re a dancer, you might train yourself to the point of physical breakdown.
This kind of drive to perfection can also result in a debilitating sense that, unless you deliver a “wow” performance every time, you’ll never be able to hack it, whatever “it” may be.
Let’s look at why you believe you must deliver only “wow” performances. Let’s say you were the kid who decided to believe early on that no one liked you, and then discovered that when you played the trombone well, or danced well, or did a great job in the school play, people actually clapped for you.
See the connection? You’re trying to overcome the myth of your own social inadequacy by way of performance success. Essentially, you’re trying to succeed your way into being loved. Only for a little while will you be able to trick yourself into thinking that you’re getting what you need. But applause for a good performance does not equal the kind of genuine appreciation and respect – love, really – that the inaccurate tiny voice within you is telling you you’re not getting and won’t get. Eventually this approach will completely break down until you deal with the limiting belief at the root of your compulsion.
Musicians, dancers, and others in ridiculously competitive creative fields frequently say (and believe) that they must deliver “wow” performances every single time because there’s always someone waiting in the wings to step into their spotlight. If the only thing you consider is the numbers game involved in any competitive field, that well may be true.
But equally true is this: You have the right to decide how and with whom you do your business. Surround yourself with collaborators who will respect what you bring to an enterprise – your skill, your artistry, and most importantly, your human dignity. People who respect your personhood won’t subtly or not so subtly guilt or threaten you into burning yourself out or working yourself to the point of physical injury or emotional harm.
Seek out supportive colleagues who have a desire to work only in the realm of positivity. Mentor each other to be the best you can be. Let the joy that comes from working in that kind of creative freedom exude through your performance and infect your audience. That’s a “wow” performance.
Many years ago I spoke with a sports psychologist who had worked with one of the U.S. Olympic ski teams. The team had convened for training, and the psychologist asked them to watch videos of several downhill ski runs skied by other elite athletes on the international circuit. He then asked the skiers to critique what they saw. Not one of the assembled skiers saw a single “perfect” run among the batch of videos, among the elite skiers who had won many major international events year after year, and whose game they were trying to best.
The moral to this story: Be reasonable with yourself. If the thrill of chasing unicorns really does do something positive for you to help make you the very best version of yourself that you can be, then persist in your drive for global musical/dancing/public speaking domination. But if trying to give the perfect performance every single time is turning you into a frustrated, neurotic mess and getting in the way of your being able to deliver solid performances that are representative of your abilities and that you enjoy giving, then please, for the love of God, stop it.
The perfect is the enemy of the good, of the very good, and certainly of the excellent.
Next week we’ll talk about asking permission, something a happy performer never, ever does.
In one sense, poems are very much like children: When you put them out into the world, you have no idea where they’ll go, what they’ll do, or whom they’ll meet.
I was surprised when, recently, I was notified by a fellow Ohio poet of the online goings-on of one of my haiku.
I knew some time ago that Paul Miller, editor of the beautiful print journal Modern Haiku, had accepted one of my haiku for publication in the journal’s autumn 2016 issue (47.3). And when that issue rolled off the presses and found its way to me, I was thrilled to read a phenomenal issue jam packed with inspiration.
I consider this a great honor. Modern Haiku is arguably the Rolls Royce of English-language haiku journals. It is competitive to get into, it is rich in high-caliber creative content – haiku, senryu, haibun, haiga, essays, and so forth, it regularly publishes the most prominent haiku poets writing in English today, and it is beautifully produced. To have one’s work published in Modern Haiku is in itself a signal event.
But the poems published on Modern Haiku’s Web Sampler comprise a sort of “editor’s choice” for each issue of the journal, a representative sample of the quality and type of poems the journal publishes and encourages writers to submit.
And something I find especially fun about the Web Sampler for Modern Haiku issue 47.3: Of the 10 poets whose haiku/senryu were selected, fully three (myself included) live and work in Ohio.
Congratulations to editor Paul Miller and to all of the poets who make each issue of Modern Haiku a joy to read and an honor to be part of.
Translations are like lovers: the faithful ones aren’t beautiful, and the beautiful ones aren’t faithful.
This expression, which I picked up in graduate school from one of the musicologists on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, pretty accurately sums up the general state of translation. When it comes to translations, we don’t live in glass houses; we live in the Tower of Babel, hearing each others’ languages, but not understanding them – even when, in a literal sense, we speak the same language. We are always, it seems, playing a game of Telephone, mired in human imperfection as we are, and so prone as we are to hearing what we want to hear. Misunderstanding is all but inevitable.
Given the generally sluttish state of translations, I consider myself extremely fortunate that the first translations of some of my poems into a language other than English were exceptionally brilliantly executed. Big thanks to editor Beate Conrad for publishing two of my haiku in English and in German translation in the most recent issue of the German journal Chrysanthemum.
Here are my haiku as published in Chrysanthemum 20 (October 2016), in the original English and in Beate Conrad’s German translations:
full moon glow Vollmondschein
blankets eggs deckt Eier zu
in the abandoned bird’s nest in dem verlassnen Nest
dropping from the cone aus dem Hörnchen tropft
the ice cream melts das Eis, zerschmilzt
into a frown in ein Stirnrunzeln
I love that German allows “full moon glow” to appear as “Vollmondschein,” speeding up into a single word the ephemeral haiku moment the poem conveys. In the second haiku, I love that German syntax allows the ice cream – “das Eis” – to drop from the verb “drops” at the end of the first line to the beginning of the second line. In English, such a construction would come across as stilted:
out of the cone drops
the ice cream …
But as good as Conrad’s translations are, her editing is at least as compelling. I have long thought that there should be an editor’s Hippocratic Oath, paraphrased something like this: I will use treatment (read: I will edit) to help the sick (read: to help the writing) according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing.
Why is it that so many editors perpetrate bloody murder on writing and get off scot-free? Why are good editors so few and far between?
But Beate Conrad suggested a brilliant edit to my ice cream haiku. My original text read:
dropping from the cone
the ice cream melts
her face into a frown
Isn’t it so much more vivid that not the face, but theice creamitself melts into a frown, as in Conrad’s edited version?
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
This one edit – so subtle and yet so great – says so much about the essence of poetry, about showing not telling, about using fewer words to say more.
Thank you, Beate Conrad, for making my words better – in English and in German. And thank you for your beautiful journal.
I am extremely grateful to editor Zvi Sesling for publishing two of my poems in the Fall 2016 issue of Boston’s Muddy River Poetry Review.
Both of my poems in this issue explore themes and situations from domestic life. The inspiration for “Our Father of the Airport” actually did unfold at Gate A18 of the Atlanta Airport, while I waited for a connecting flight on a visit with my in-laws. I really did look up from my pleasure reading to see a young father smiling down at the tiny boy on his lap, looking for all the world like the Virgin Mary in all those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. I let my imagination play with this idea of a “male Madonna and Child,” and the result is “Our Father of the Airport.”
In “Privacy, Suburban Style” I wrestle with the surreal and unnatural hush that social decorum and respect for the boundaries of others dictate must surround a tragic event. The poem holds everything at a distance, and I still lament that many preset-day communities in American society, at least, often have no universally accepted rituals and even no language and for simply offering help and love to those who suffer in deeply personal situations.
Reading a poem is one thing, hearing a poet read his or her poetry can be quite another.
We live in an exciting time, when audio recording technology, radio, and the Internet allow our voices to be in many different places at once. Although poetry as a performance art has been around since cavemen acted poems out to their families. Now, radio and podcasting allow poetry to be everywhere at the touch of a button.
As the poem’s title suggests, I took inspiration for “Baby Buggy Boogie-Woogie (Homage to Piet Mondrian)” from Mondrian’s famous 1942 painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie, which shows red, yellow, and blue squares bebopping along in a New York City street grid pattern.
I thought it could be nifty to juxtapose the jazzy urban energy of Mondrian’s painting to the realm of suburban busy-ness. The more specific image of a suburban mom pushing her baby in a buggy while taking her power walk came to mind. I wanted to capture the jazzy feel of Mondrian’s painting and so relied on my ear to create syncopations in the rhythm of the language and to make the surface sound of the language crackle with alliteration and assonance. I also coined a couple new words (“mothersome,” “babyescent”) to give the poem a whimsical feel. The result is a poem whose music lends itself well to being heard read aloud.
I hope you enjoy the poem and the podcast. Drop me a line and let me know.
Just the other day, I logged on to do a simple search for something on the Web. I ended up getting sucked in, clicking my way from link to link as through tripping along a stepping stone path that made Homer’s Odyssey seem like the travelogue of a summer road trip.
But, much as I did online the other day, I digress.
While tooling around in that virtual rabbit hole, I discovered quite by accident that two of my haiku had been published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Oxford, England-based World Haiku Review. And not only that – one of those haiku had actually won Third Place in the “Vanguard” category, and the other was published as a “Haiku of Merit” in the “Neo-Classical” category.
World Haiku Review describes Vanguard haiku as “the most radical” treatments of the haiku genre. Here’s my haiku in that category. I don’t stick to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count, and there’s an uncomfortable tension between nature and human nature that complicates how the relationship between humans and the natural world is portrayed in traditional haiku.
World Haiku Review uses the term “Neo-Classical” to designate what they describe as “the most traditional” haiku they publish. Scroll down a bit to see my Neo-Classical “Haiku of Merit.”
It is telling, the events we watch for each year in order to keep ourselves from falling off the calendar.
For some, Halloween means it’s autumn, Christmas means winter’s here, and the start of baseball season means summer has arrived.
When I started growing garlic, I discovered a whole new way of keeping track of the cycles of the seasons, a whole new way of telling time. I call it Garlic Time, and each year it tells me something about itself – and about me.
We started growing garlic several years ago when a friend showed us the garlic harvest from her own garden. Before that point, we had never considered growing garlic. But we immediately went for the idea of adding garlic to our garden and being able each year to make quite possibly the freshest, loveliest marinara sauce on the planet.
Around that time, and quite by coincidence (though really, I don’t believe in coincidences), an acquaintance offered me a bulb of heirloom garlic from her garden to plant for the following year’s crop. I took her up on it. My life has never been the same.
It was late summer when I picked up that first bulb of heirloom garlic. Garlic likes to grow during the winter, when the earth is cold and mounded with snow but wrapped by the generous glow of the sun. Our friend had told us to plant the garlic cloves around late October. And it was a challenge not to rip through the garlic bulb’s pearly white wrapping paper and pluck off a couple of cloves for sauce and bruschetta with that year’s tomato harvest, for pesto with that year’s basil. We placed the garlic bulb in a spot on our kitchen counter reserved specially for it. And waited.
There, in that spot, the garlic was Zen in action, or, rather, non-action. Each day the garlic rested on the counter, and I picked it up, felt the rounded contours of the outer cloves with my fingertips, watched the light beam through the sheer, creamy paper. I’d hold the garlic bulb in my palm, envisioning the chilly October day when I could tear through the paper like a kid at Christmas, separate the cloves, and nestle each one, pointy end up, in its own little burrow of cool earth. Then I’d put the garlic clove back in its spot on the counter and bide my time.
Eventually Halloween rolled around, and the next day I went out, garlic and digger in hand, to our garden plot. My work was methodical: dig a hole, plant a clove, cover the clove with earth. I marked the locations the planted cloves by placing a mid-size stone right in front of each covered hole.
Then I went back inside. And waited.
We waited through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. We waited through the dead of winter. We waited through Ash Wednesday and the umbrous gravity of Lent as the garlic’s green slips ascended from their hollows. Then Easter came, along with the flowering of daffodils, and the garlic slips stood ever taller. The hostas curled up from the earth and tulip season came and went, and we waited. Memorial Day, the last day of school, the Fourth of July – still, we waited.
Then one mid-July day, the green garlic slips fell over onto their sides, just as my friend had told us they would.
Finally, it was time.
I dug a dozen new garlic bulbs out of the earth and took them inside, giddy with the bounty. I washed the bulbs, lay them on a cooling rack to dry, and imagined next year’s harvest with enough garlic to hang in pendulous braids all around the kitchen.
Then I did the math and realized that, for my dream to come true, we would need to plant – not eat – every delicious clove of the garlic I had just harvested. And, ideally, then some.
In other words, we would need to wait some more.
Garlic Time is about waiting. It is about knowing when the time is right, and only then doing what needs to be done. Garlic is individualistic; it lives on its own schedule. It doesn’t grow with the tomatoes and zucchini and other stuff of summer gardens. It waits until the earth goes to sleep, then wraps up, hermit-like, in its cool, dark cave. When the earth is warming and the summer plants are just getting started, the garlic is coming of age, in its own time.
I’ve come to love living on Garlic Time. The middle of the summer is marked not by the Fourth of July, but by the slanting of the garlic slips and the harvesting of the crop. Fall arrives not when the leaves change colors, but when we plant the garlic cloves for next year’s crop. Winter’s here when we find ourselves looking out the window for green slips poking through the snow. And spring has come when we finally see them.
All of this works on its own schedule, different from the rest of the world, and will not be rushed. This, too, is the wisdom of Garlic Time.
In my work as midday host and broadcast producer for WOSU Public Media’s Classical 101 radio station, I have had interviewed countless world-class classical musicians at pivotal moments in their careers.
Recently, I spoke with members of the Cypress String Quartet, just a few days before the group performed its farewell concert at San Francisco’s War Memorial, disbanding after two decades on the international stage.
The Cypress Quartet’s story is quite interesting. Many top-drawer musicians form quartets with an eye toward someday performing the monumental cycle of Beethoven’s quartets. But the Cypress formed specifically to work on Beethoven’s quartets, and did just that from Day One, developing a reputation – a brand, if you will – as a “Beethoven” quartet of their 20-year career.
This legacy lives on in the Cypress Quartet’s acclaimed recordings of the complete Beethoven string quartets, and elsewhere in the ensemble’s discography.