It’s always exciting to get in on the ground of floor of a new enterprise. Today, one of my poems did just that.
I am thrilled and humbled that one of my poems was published today in the inaugural issue of the international poetry journal The Cherita.
The Malayan poet ai li created the poetic form of the cherita in 1997. The word “cherita” means “story” in Malay. ai li’s three-line cherita form encourages the telling of tales in deft, imagistic language that guides the reader through narratives that gain momentum with each stanza.
This month, the cherita form turns 20, and to celebrate, it gets its own journal, co-edited by ai li and American poet Larry Kimmel. The inaugural issue showcases each cherita on its own page, and illustrates each poem with a vivid photograph related to the poem’s story. The final product is a feast of written and visual images.
ai li and Larry Kimmel have selected a number of my cheritas for publication in the next several issues of their journal. I am honored, and I’m eager to read more moving and inspiring stories in the issues to come.
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.
Many thanks to editor Miriam C. Jacobs for publishing my poem “One-eyed” in the July 2016 issue of Eyedrum Periodically, the literary journal of Atlanta’s Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery. This issue of Eyedrum Periodically is on the theme “Broken,” a true goldmine for poets, who don’t miss a beat when it comes to the wrongness of the world.
“One-eyed” explores both the desperate reality and the exquisite beauty of our human brokenness. The poem was inspired by our dog, Jack, a one-eyed rescue pug who was starved to skin and bones during his first year of life, before we adopted him. We’re not certain what happened during that first year, but Jack might have been born in a puppy mill and, because of his noticeably defective left eye at birth (and since removed), shunted aside for the “reject” pile.
Whatever the reasons, Jack early on grew to fear strangers. But he is a pug and, by nature, a love muffin, and fell in love with us not long after we adopted him. He is extraordinarily protective. I am convinced that he would fight to the death were he to perceive any threat to us.
I am convinced of this because Jack has taken it upon himself to look out our front window now and then each day on what we call “neighborhood watch.” At most, he sees our neighbors across the street going into and out of their homes, working – or in the case of the kids, playing – in their yards, and just generally, as poet James Agee put it, “standing up into their sphere of possession.” And, as I wrote in “One-eyed,” Jack “barks and barks and barks” at our neighbors being neighbors because he’s afraid.
And because he’s broken.
But lest I leave you on a down note, I must also say that, as broken as Jack’s little soul might remain, there is no creature more joyous, more beautiful, more fully himself than One-Eyed Jack. Daily he teaches me that it is possible to live and love through one’s brokenness, that, in fact, one’s brokenness is where we are who we really are, under the wrappers we try to hide behind. Jack’s brokenness reminds me of the world’s need for love.
In that sense, we are all one-eyed. We are all beautifully broken.