Saturday, December 31, 2016


Just a quick post today to celebrate abundance. It is easy here in my rural county to find scenic beauty; I hope beauty is a constant presence in your life, as well—if not scenic, then perhaps poetic, or artistic, or the play of light and shadows on the buildings, or the singing of birds, or some soul-satisfying abundant thing that gives you a reason to care.

Here's to abundance, awareness, and authenticity.


field so full of light
hardly room
for a second crow

Friday, December 30, 2016


 I was going to try to eulogize 2016, a year which (like many others in human history) doesn't deserve a eulogy. Plus, Edgar's lines from King Lear keep going through my mind: "And worse I may be yet. The worst is not / So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'"

But the practice of haiku and its related forms, and poetry in general, has conditioned me to try to find the beauty of the moment, even while knowing that beauty will not last. Or perhaps it was my propensity to try to find the beauty of the moment that conditioned me to become a poet. Whichev. Here I am, a poet doing poety things, such as creating haiga to acknowledge the passing of one calendar year into the next, looking for a beautiful image with which to adorn the acknowledgement.

No, I don't want to waste this moment by bidding good riddance to the past. Let's live in the here-and-now, which is not the opposite of memory and imagination, but which is informed by memory and imagination. Let us inform. That's a wonderful word, inform: it speaks to knowledge and awareness but also to tangible things, images, things with form, things that remind us of the need to explore reality even as we try to alter that reality. Each of us can find a way to inform. It speaks to critical thinking, as well as to creating. It speaks to the many ways of making meaning out of chaos.

If 2016 taught us anything, it taught us that. We must make meaning out of chaos. We must begin with this moment.



old year, only this—
in the setting sun

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Ever hear of a poet named Julia Randall? She isn't well-known, not one of the Big Names of 20th century American poetry. Why not? Because only a few can be Big Names. But a long time ago, in some anthology or other, I happened to find her poem "To William Wordsworth from Virginia," and eventually I bought her collection The Path to Fairview: New and Selected Poems, and now I sit rediscovering the quiet depths of her work, amazed that such words could be put in such order on any ordinary page.

It is that kind of day, one that invites rediscovery and contemplation. A little stay-indoors weather, a little poetry. Do people contemplate any more? Did they ever?

The snow has changed to rain here (northwestern New Jersey, in case anyone who doesn't know me has stumbled across this blog). I am contemplating a glass of wine.

This was going to be a blog entry about the merits of writing poetry, how a poet always has the tools of her/his trade within reach: a pencil stub from beneath the car seat, a scrap of paper (Emily Dickinson showed us the way!). Unlike, say, a sculptor, whose process from inspiration to fully-realized three-dimensional creation...I can't even contemplate.

Have you looked up Julia Randall yet? Why not?


snow as if
no one ever
the empty house

Monday, December 26, 2016

Snow Globes: A Fable

Snow Globes: A Fable

The decorations were not quite as elaborate as in years past. Decorating felt more like a chore this year, a duty to be carried out with (at best) three-quarters of one's heart. Favorite ornaments, yes. The snow globe or two only.

And so, let our hearts be the snow globes this year. Look at your own, and you will see: peer deep within, deeper, deeper still. Who is that little figure there amidst the swirl of glistening flakes that will not settle? Dickens knew that too many hearts harbor likenesses of Ignorance and Want. Does yours? Hannah Arendt tried to warn us that evil finds a very comfortable home in banality—certainly that isn't what you see within. For too many of us, it is simply Fear, the old nemesis, the paralyzer of all that is good, enabler of Despondency, close relative of Hate.

If one is fortunate, one sees a Questioner. Did I allow Ignorance and Want to have the upper hand? Did I court that very evil I profess to abhor? Has Fear become my alter ego? And then, How can I not simply turn towards what seems like Light, but create Light of my own, share it with others?

Who is it who resides there in your heart of hearts? Who are you looking at right now in your mind's eye as you read this? Whom do you seek?



(This blog post is dedicated to Linda and Ted; may next year be worthy of snow globes.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wandering in the Metacognitive Landscape

Hmmm...Noe's idea of art as a "communicative landscape in which we are wanderers" (see my previous blog post)...I keep returning to the idea of a metacognitive landscape—if one can't communicate with oneself, there's little hope of drawing others into the conversation. Art as metacognitive landscape, a landscape that then succeeds in drawing others in.

I think of Jackson Pollock, driven by the battle of his creative spirit and inner demons to do the drip paintings. Talk about a metacognitive landscape, pre-verbal and visceral and yet offering a place where conversations can begin.

Or the work of a very different visual artist, Dora Carrington—her portrait of Lytton Strachey, a metacognitive landscape of love and regard, of everything that made her life worth living, there on that canvas, her way of saying See? after she herself was able to realize her own vision.

This is why art is essential. It is the visual (or aural, in the case of music) offering of the metacognitive landscape, one particular person's metacognitive landscape made communal, open to anyone who feels able to participate in what can then go on to be communication.

I think of Henry Thoreau at Walden Pond, learning how to be alone before he could learn how to be again part of a community.

Every work of art begins, first, as a landscape for that community of one.


overwintering bluebirds the company we keep

An Invitation to Wander

Earlier this year I read the book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, written by Alva Noe, who is a philosopher—so he is approaching art, psychology, and neuroscience as a practitioner of none of these fields. However, unlike most philosophers, he can actually write, so when he does have an interesting insight into the relationship between art and human nature, he expresses it well.

Noe writes that "pictures organize our lives by shaping a communicative landscape in which we are wanderers." I love that landscape/wanderer metaphor. Although he singles out "pictures," his idea can be applied to any art: music, dance, poetry...all of these shape that "communicative landscape in which we are wanderers." I would argue that they are the "communicative landscape," and that it's the artist/musician/poet who does the shaping (and who is no less a wanderer). But I quibble.

Haiku and tanka are the ultimate "communicative landscapes" in which one can wander. As a way of exploring reality/realities, reshaping perception, offering new cognitive experiences, short-form poetry hits all the marks. I am so glad I have this practice in my life, this almost daily way of creating for myself a place in which to wander.


more than this
reedsilver lakelight
not until
we relearn
how to see

Friday, December 23, 2016

Summer in December

Two this morning, as I stare out the window into the darkness of this old year, thinking of that long ago time called summer and wishing to bring some of that into the present moment. Through the magic of haiku, built not on memory but on present thoughts, I created these little summer-in-December haiga.


without permission thinking
of a different rain

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Poet Standard Time 3

This morning's failed collage taught me a lot about what my brain can and cannot handle. The failed collage—or what it turned into—will not be posted here, but it is safely glued into the trusty notebook, a place not of failure but of process. A place where no lesson is lost (though it may take me a while to see that it was, in fact, a lesson).

"Not what you started out to be." Poets say that often, to the poem that ends up on the page. It's a different process than, say, making something out of stained glass. Which was what my failed collage was supposed to emulate, so let's just be thankful there was no real glass involved.

And I haven't even had my all-grades-are-in mimosa yet.




Poet Standard Time, take 2

Thinking of the picture, or more specifically, what isn't in the picture.

Thinking of the poem, and what is left unsaid within (without?) the poem.

Thinking of time, which we only do when the present does not include that which we wish it did include.

Thinking of color and light. Thinking of shadows.

Thinking of creating something, and how one has to...not forget what one knows in order to make something new, but remember that there is more than that which one thinks one knows, and from that well of more will come the creation.

Remembering what one didn't know one knew.

Somehow, that all goes into the mix of this haiga, as I try to relearn how to live in this world, which includes the need to understand what one does not want to understand.


winter solstice
reminding ourselves
to celebrate
or at least

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Poet Standard Time

At last, some time to allow the images of the past months to catch up with me, to see them again in words. Poet Standard Time. Days of what looks suspiciously like doing nothing. Time to read. No meetings.

a meaningful life
our shadows
better at this


Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Bias of One's Own

The blind-spot bias: That's when one sees (and points out) everyone else's biases but one's own (which is often the exact same bias one sees in others). Can one have such metacognitive superpowers to recognize this in oneself?

I begin to teach critical thinking skills by simply introducing my students to the vocabulary of critical thinking: cognition, metacognition, intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual courage, fallacies, skepticism, wishful thinking, and more. I do this, hoping that, if they can't quite immediately apply these concepts to themselves, then at least they will have those terms in mind as a sort of invitation to epiphany.

But I worry that I am simply reinforcing their own blind-spot biases. It sometimes seems this way as I listen to their (loud) conversations with one another before class, as happened this past November around election day. Very little awareness of the intellectual stunting of existing beliefs, or the power of wishful thinking as an alternative to measured deliberation, or prejudice-revealing stereotyping, seemed to accompany those conversations, which weren't really conversations.

Then I tell myself to remember that critical thinking takes practice. It takes a while to connect those abstract terms to one's actions and words.

Can critical thinking be taught? Do I even practice it myself?


even the know-it-all
knows your name
blue heron

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Art and Con Art...

This morning I was reading a movie review in the Guardian, the newspaper I’m using to ease myself back into reading about what’s going on in the world, sans polls, sans specious columnists who think the job of journalists is to argue about the future rather than report on the forces shaping the present.

So I’m reading “Neruda review - unconventional drama constructs rather than retells Chilean poet's life,” by Benjamin Lee, and I get to this sentence: “film-makers have been making more ‘constructed biopics’, taking elements, ideas and themes then mashing them together to make something less familiar.” 

Uh oh, the little voice in my head starts to nag. 

I realize this isn’t unusual in movies, many of which are “based on” or “inspired by” real events, but in light of the current emphasis on “fake news” and other oxymoronic assaults on language and truth and all that is good, it now worries me even more.

In this same edition of the Guardian, there’s an opinion piece by Jonathan Freedland titled “Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies.”

I know, there is a difference between art and lies, a difference between creative license and, say, padding one’s resume. And I know there’s a difference between “fact” and “truth,” which is why good fiction resonates and uplifts while a bad biography leaves one sorry trees died for the paper on which to print the book.


What’s to stop, say, a narcissist with the temperament of a spoiled five year old from deciding that, rather than making speeches about substantive policy issues, he’ll free-associate to match the mood of his audience, basking in the cheers for certain words and phrases that get people riled up, smearing on adverbs rather than looking in-depth at any one topic, bragging about stuff he never did and hiding much of what he actually had a hand in, making up his own “constructed biopic” as he goes along and riding it into the Oval Office.

That’s not a movie. That’s “real” life. It is as much a mirror of the state of our society as is any art. 

It’s a difference of intent, I tell myself. Art is intended to be a construct.

So all one needs to do is prove intent when separating the truth of art versus the lies of a con artist.

As I said in my previous post: We should live so long.


even the crow
even the storm
coming on


It took me far longer than it should have to find the spiral notebook I've had since I was in high school, in which I'd write out my favorite poems (thus beginning a life-long desire to edit anthologies). Instead of being on the bottom shelf of my poetry bookcase, it was right here behind where I sit as I write. But those were unsettling moments, not knowing where this treasured possession was.

I was looking for it to find the poem to which this haiku alludes. Allusion is a common characteristic of traditional haiku and tanka. I have a book of the tanka of Princess Shikishi, translated into English by Hiroaki Sato, and each page has an abundance of footnotes explaining Shikisi's allusions to the work of other poets. Haiku and tanka were a form of conversation, of give-and-take, of dialogue between poets.

I have never (consciously) set out to do this in my haiku or tanka, until this morning. I no longer have the book, which was titled Translations from the Chinese, but I have remembered for more than thirty years (thanks to copying the poem into in this notebook) the lines from "Five 'Tzu-yeh' Songs":

For a moment when you held me fast in your outstretched arms
I thought the river stood still and did not flow.

At the Paulinskill today, which was frozen over, I thought of these lines. I thought of them again in relation to politics and the sorry-spiral state of the country and the world these days, days of good-bye, days of people and things here one moment, gone the next. Truth and sanity...farewell. Is this merely a polar vortex of our discontent; will respect for truth return? To answer this, we should live so long.



Friday, December 16, 2016

All Morning Watching

Five minutes of birdwatching along the Paulinskill River was all I could do today, thanks to the polar vortex and my being dressed for school rather than for anything outdoorsy. But there were birds, including this crow who was glad to stay still in the fading sunlight as the overcast moved in. Winter colors, but still so much to see. If one only knew how to dress.

What one can see in five minutes, however, can fill a notebook.



Sunday, December 11, 2016

What We Call Forth

What we call forth, that is what we find. There's a name for this: the frequency illusion, also called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Discuss something obscure, and suddenly you see references to that obscure thing everywhere. It's related to heightened awareness, conscious choice, readiness. My snarky inner voice says, it's called seeing.

Shut up, snarky inner voice.

Building on that relationship, it's why kindness leads to kindness; ugliness to ugliness; shout to scream. It's why I have been looking within so much these past several weeks (although I am prone to looking within, and always have been, at least since 7th grade). If this world hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain (thank you, Matthew Arnold), certainly that must be me calling those things forth, even in some small way. How can I turn that tide?

One haiga at a time? But there are so many skies...


a mention
of bird
and look —
in every sky
a bird

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Language of Haiku

Perhaps because there's so little of it in each haiku, diction and syntax is front-and-center; any alliteration and assonance and repetition and hyperbaton better meet high standards of craft and necessity. ("Necessity" in poetry means how crucial is the word or phrase or figure of speech to meaning.)

Playing with words and letters this morning, I stumbled on the word "both," and my haiga evolved from there. I decided to keep it mostly about sound imagery, with the wonderful oxymoron "breath." The "b" sounds followed, one after the other.


sleeping late
breath beside breath
both dream

Friday, December 9, 2016

Blue Friday, part 3






I stood in the sun for a few moments today near the edge of the big lake in Kittatinny Valley State Park, near a sycamore that isn't very tall and not at all straight, and scanned the tree line for a bald eagle that was somewhere else.

In haiku, it's not that symbols don't exist, it's that the less obvious a symbol is, the better the haiku. Although there are still about a dozen or fifty things that can mar the haiku. But the symbol thing is one reason why going back and forth from haiku to "western" poetic forms is so fraught with peril. But haiga...does haiga offer a refuge from some of the traditional "rules" of haiku? The visual image is going to offer a whole new level of symbolic resonance, and it can't (by virtue of being visual) be hidden. Sometimes a plum tree in full bloom is just a plum tree in full bloom...NOT. It's spring, rebirth, hope, possibility, promise, the circle of life...

So in a haiga that includes fragments of text from a book on writing, promoting "clarity and readability" amidst the daggers of color, can a metaphor of syntax, "although it has some limitations," be excused?

One more winter, sycamore. Show us the way.

Blues, part 2

Looking within for new styles of collage, I tried a freer, shreddier look, symbolizing (I fancy) raindrops on a pane of glass. I think I achieved a nice balance of mauves and blues and pale watercolory blues. No text elements in the collage itself; I'll try that next, as I experiment a little with this style.



Writing Through the Blues

Without actively looking for this specific topic, several things I read this past week connected an appreciation for art with critical thinking skills. This is a topic I'd like to explore, but one's energy ebbs, what with research papers, final exams, holiday-related errands, and the general sense of despair over the world at large and the folks who seemed determined to destroy it. Critical thinking itself is under attack. One hardly knows where to begin.

So, in the wee hours of the morning, one makes a collage. A useless thing made of useless stuff, a disarranging rearranged into an arrangement, a temporary focus on the page that calls forth a new energy. Some neurons seem to be working; some synapses seem to be bridged with the makings of an idea.

It may all be for naught. These are tough times for truth and beauty. But then again, when was it not?



Sunday, December 4, 2016


An early "unglued" draft collage this morning as I think of cider and art and loss and abundance and  the stories people tell and how once in a while, someone reveals something so close to the core (sorry) that one can taste memory and reality being remade.

Sometimes one needs to shift to epic mode. Thus, a tanka instead of haiku.

Robert Frost, that ol' trickster, wrote the most trickster-ish of poems, "Design," which isn't about design at all, but about the foreground of coincidence against the background of an indifferent universe. (And there's my modern poetry course in one sentence.) Yesterday's confluence of cider and art and loss and abundance and stories would have Frost chuckling into his shoo-fly pie.

I'm being a little opaque here, because this is my husband's poem to write really. I was just listening. I don't even like cider, except in the form of donuts. But I gleaned this tanka from the experience, and perhaps a haiku or two, and the opportunity to say, George, go write the poem.


memory's arc—
the pears from
his grandfather's farm
the blight, the burning
of the trees

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Memory and Art

In the book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, Alva Noe writes, "It isn't in what we see, exactly, but in what we can't see, or in what the piece affords as a possibility for discovery." The ambiguity of the "it" at the beginning of that sentence is but one of the problematic things about this book, but I like the idea of that statement, especially if one substitutes "meaning" for "it." Meaning "isn't in what we see, exactly, but in what we can't see..."

So if a memory is altered each time we recall it to the surface of our consciousness, imagine what we do to a memory when we incorporate it into a work of art. Far from "capturing" it on the page or canvas or stage or screen, that constantly-morphing memory now becomes a communal thing, a shared shape-shifter.

Is it any wonder we wonder about the nature of reality?

Which brings me to my favorite quote about reality, by a woman to whom reality was a treasure that was too often, terrifyingly lost: Virginia Woolf. She wrote, in A Room of One's Own,

What is meant by 'reality'? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable--now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech--and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates. Now the writer, as I think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of this reality.

I love that passage especially from that book, and most especially that line, "But whatever [reality] touches, it fixes and makes permanent." A paradox, considering that a memory is never fixed, always changing. Thus, what to make of reality?

Art--that's what to make of reality. The part we can't see, to go back to that quote from Alva Noe. If we combine the Woolf and the Noe ideas, we get reality as explored by the artist who presents what can't be seen to be seen.


almost every one
a bird flies through

Memory Again

Earlier this year (February, and the only reason I know that is because I wrote it in my notebook, knowing this would find its way into a discussion of haiku), on an episode of the show Nova, a neuroscientist named Julia Shaw said, "The question isn't, 'Do we have false memories?' The question is, 'How false are our memories?'"

I mean, really. Oh brain, the tricks you play!

The very act of remembering makes a memory vulnerable to change. A new memory each time. Never the same memory twice.

That sound you hear is poets everywhere falling onto the floor, so overcome with ideas they don't know what to do but writhe for a while.

All of which makes the discussion of memory as an inspiration for haiku ever more immediate, since a memory isn't so much a memory as it is memory-plus-present-plus-all-the-stuff-your-brain-was-doing-while-you-were-thinking-of-other-stuff.

I wish I could follow Dr. Shaw around for a week and write haiku based on the stuff she says.



white pines

Friday, December 2, 2016

Dragonflies in December, part 2

As if to illustrate my thoughts on memory and the so-called present moment, I look across the room to the sewing box that belonged to my grandmother.

The So-Called Now. Book title?


Pearl's sewing box
the things
I never learned


Pearl's sewing box
the things
I'll never learn


Pearl's sewing box
the things
I never learn

Dragonflies in December

When is a moment not a moment? When is one not "in the moment"? Are not memories authentic moments? If a daydream isn't "in the moment," then poets everywhere are in trouble.

This aspect of haiku has always bothered me, the idea that the only "authentic" haiku is one that describes the immediate moment. My immediate moment, right now as I type these words, on this chilly December morning at almost 4:30, with the steam radiator making its funny little hisses and whines, the curtain swaying in the rising heat, all of this...and I am (as almost always) thinking of dragonflies, the places I've seen them, the places I'll go looking for them five months from now, assuming we have spring mornings a lot warmer than we did this past spring...

Present = past + future. Or if not exactly equals, then whatever the symbol might be for "is informed by." (You got a symbol for that, mathematicians? If not, perhaps we poets need to supply one.) I have written of poetry as time travel; time to start realizing that aspect as organic to haiku as well.

The present moment is informed by the past and by the future. All subjects for haiku. A December morning, searching for next May's dragonflies.


sorry, December
sitting here thinking
of dragonflies

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December the First

Maybe it's just because it's three thirty in the morning, that the word "December" resonates in my mind's ear like a distant bell tolling...

December deserves our sympathy. Strip away the holiday-related frenzy, the final exams and frenzy of grading, the resolutions to live a better life broken before they are made, and December here in the northeast/northern mid-Atlantic has a quiet beauty all its own. I hope to use haiku this month to discover and appreciate some of that beauty, if I can steal a few moments from the frenzies. I hope to turn sympathy for the last month of the year into empathy for the subtle yet strong survival of all that is good, all that is worthy, which I'm sure must still be out there in the world, close at hand, close to heart.


from native stone
such a humble abode
such a heart

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


I spend a good part of each week helping students fix sentence fragments in their essays, and another good part of each week creating my own sentence fragments disguised as haiku. I have always loved the "know the rules so you can intentionally break them" aspect of the craft of writing. This includes breaking all the laws of physics, which might be a little out of the scope of this blog entry, but I promise I'll return to it in the near past.

Those of you who know my work know that "shards" of things often make an appearance. A haiku is a shard of image, a shard of moment, a thing whole unto itself that is also a piece broken from a larger whole. This is part of the allure of haiku, how it so blatantly allows the reader to "fill in" all the space around it.

It also describes haiga, which offers in visual form the image broken from its context, becoming self-contained yet evocative of something more, something at once known and unknown.

On this last fragment of the month, a fragment of image, a fragment of moment, in which may or may not be contained all of something, to begin us on the journey of today...



Monday, November 28, 2016

A Word from Our Sponsor (Poetry!)

A few days ago, I read some sad news from a small press. Sales were almost non-existent, and the press had decided to stop reading new submissions, at least until the spring of 2017.

Poetry (and all art) is the LAST thing we should let slip from our lives, especially in this disturbing world wherein lies and hate and an overall lack of critical and creative thinking are gaining ground.

Please support poetry presses. Please buy books. Please buy art from local artists. These are the only things that last. And while we last, poetry and art give meaning to our lives. Please shop on Main Street or Spring Street or Broad Street or wherever the small, locally-owned shops are located in your town.

I have brazenly included my own books to illustrate this plea, but I'd be just as happy if you buy the books of other poets and writers (there is some wonderful fiction and memoir and biography out there, too).

Give the gift of poetry and art. Buy some for yourself while you're at it. Splurge on poetry. We need poetry. Poetry needs us.


For people in the vicinity of Sussex County, New Jersey, two local bookstores go out of their way to support local authors. Please visit Black Dog Books on Spring Street in Newton and Broad Street Books in the very center of Branchville for books by local authors and other wonderful gifts.

Feel free to post a comment below about other great bookshops and local artists and craftspeople. Support a neighbor and a community as you do your holiday shopping this season.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Outdoors Again

My innovation today was photographing this collage before I glued it. I like the three-dimensional quality of the scraps just resting on the paper.

A walk yesterday and today along one of my favorite railtrails provided the inspiration I needed to see colors anew. Thanks to this morning's flock of bluebirds, I even remember there are colors other than brown.

poor posture
in this wind-swept place


Friday, November 25, 2016

More Broken Shells

Geez, what is with the earth tones? Even as a kid, I loved all the names for the shades of brown pencils in my father's Prismacolor collection: terra cotta, sienna, burnt ochre, light and dark umber. This time of year, the browns come into their own, as if to say, Appreciate me while there's time, before the world goes white.

You might not think of brown when you think of seashells, but as you can see from the moonsnail pieces in the haiga to the left, there's umber, and copper, and a grayish mauve that saturates into terra cotta in the topmost whorl. You can't stop staring at those three gorgeous broken shells, can you. You aren't even reading this. I could write "the" six times, and you won't even notice: the, the, the, the, the, the.

You want them, those shells, don't you? Heck, I want them,  and they're right here on my desk in front of me.




I desire colored pencils in all the shades of brown I saw in the woods this morning: oak-tannin, wheat-field, November phragmities, cattail, coffee-bark, hopping wren... know that's going to be a poem some time soon...





Broken Shells

Yesterday's three posts about collage and the brain are with me still, as I think about the difference between collage--disparate elements working together to form a whole--and chaos. In this time of chaos, I have turned to collage to try to make or find sense. It's a great strategy, if one concentrates on six or seven square inches of notebook page and doesn't look up.

The seashore is an example of a "natural collage," a random (laws of geology, hydrology, physics, meteorology notwithstanding) collection of stone, sand, shell, patterns of water, wind. Broken shells defy the adjective "broken," being almost as beautiful as they were when whole, sometimes more lovely for revealing the inner whorled column.

Can we defy the adjective "broken"? I think this is what artists do in every work of art: either celebrate the broken or take the first steps toward mending the break, forming the broken thing into something new.

From broken to new. It's what we are working towards in these difficult weeks, holding on even to broken things, because broken is still better than surreal. Collage is better than chaos. Even a few square inches here and there.


broken shells
complaint echoes complaint
throughout the night

Thursday, November 24, 2016

From Brain...part trois

And so it continues, the creative energy of the morning of the first day of a long weekend.


every brain
a collage of


From Brain...part deux

And then I thought (this is continued from my previous entry, so it really isn't as non seq as it looks), of course, the brain itself is a collage, one to which we keep adding fragments of impressions of images and tearing away some fragments and superimposing all. the. time. or so neuroscientists tell us, creating a new memory each time we recall something we call a "memory" even though it's never the same memory twice.

(Can you image what these posts would be like if I drank coffee?)

The brain itself is a collage. Of course, then, we are drawn to collage as a means of expressing all the simultaneous, important, beautiful, worrisome, haunting, haunted bits of information we want to impart.

I wonder if we process stuff better when it is presented in this aggregate. Certainly we make connections when we have stuff to connect. Can you look at the above collage with an awareness of how your eyes are moving up, down, around, across; how you are reading some words and forming others to tell yourself what it is you are seeing? I sort of do that in slow-motion as I am creating the collage. Then I let it take me in new directions as I write the text that will "complete" (wrong word for a collage) it.

Then I start thinking of the next one...

pieces of
the memory of
speaking of
a feeling of
not enough of

From Brain to Bird

As I was making this collage, I thought about why our brains love collage. From cave paintings and petroglyphs  around the world that are collage-like, to quilts, to the way collage techniques are used in advertising, to montages and other moving-collage techniques in video...there are endless examples of this paradox of chance and design that goes into collage.

And of course, a poem is a kind of collage, and haiku and tanka incorporate the power of the seemingly random juxtaposition of disparate elements in order to make or present or suggest meaning(s).

The order of disorder. Guided serendipity. Beauty from a mess. Fun.


a measure of sky
that isn't sky
from brain to bird

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Look Up

This is an unsatisfying haiku--it's a grammatical sentence, for one thing, and I've had haiku rejected by editors for such an infraction. But I was playing around with the image, and I'll consider this a first draft to return to when I have more time. Take some time to look up at the'll be amazed at how easy it is to see oneself.

Long weekend coming...If the cranberry mimosas don't slow me down, there will be haiga!


when we see the sky
we seldom recognize

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Magpie Indiscretions

I was just reading about gendai haiku, which always makes me long to write gendai haiku. This means, depending on whose translation/explanation one trusts, haiku that is modern, post-modern, surreal, avant-garde...rule breaking, to be sure, but not in a way that is disrespectful of the original "rules" of haiku (not that there were any such "rules" to begin with, but the myths surrounding haiku are hard to shake). And so, the above "magpie indiscretions," found haiku, collage, erasure...a rough draft to send us on our way...

(...and wouldn't "magpie indiscretions" be a great book title? Hmmm...)


magpie indiscretions
Sunday in the ark
contrary problems

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Paradox of Place, part deux

I love the word "center." My writing place is my center, the unchanging (well, sometimes I vacuum) center of a too-susceptible-to-changing world. My notebook is the center of my center.

I think one of the reasons I love visiting historic homes--especially the homes of writers and artists--is because I like to glimpse the outward evidence of that creative center. Edith Wharton's library at The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. Emily Dickinson's room in her Amherst house. Thomas Cole's studio in Catskill, New York. These are places that inspire me. I love the light, the gardens, the trees, the stuff of everyday life around the center of extraordinary creation.

To find and re-find, fine and re-fine, one's center is a daily practice.




Paradox of Place

A room of one's own, as Virginia Woolf called it. That place in which to do that thing--writing, painting, thinking--that is the means by which one can process and explore and describe the world.

That place in which one can, in some small way, begin to traverse the rift between the world that is and the world that could be.

That place to escape and, in escaping, fully engage.

The place where, in all comfort and solace, the lack of comfort and solace is contemplated and formed into something meaningful.

I long for this place, even when I'm here.


small talk
having been broken twice
into shards of shards

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Conversation

A lecture on the history of modern art yesterday by my brilliant colleague Michael Hughes now has me wanting to revisit every museum I've been to, to see anew all the paintings that might indeed have something to say to me but for which I previously did not have the words with which to hold up my end of the dialogue. "Art isn't just for the eyes; art is for the mind," Michael says.

"Now it's time for your contribution to this dialogue," I wish I could add as a little tag at the end of my poems. It's your turn, reader, to make this collection of words a conversation.

Even in silence, lots needs to be said.
Especially in silence, lots needs to be said.




Friday, November 18, 2016

Somewhere Else

I began today with normal (see previous blog entry) and now I'm at somewhere else. Just thinking about where ideas come from; "somewhere else" seems as good an answer as any. The small collages I do in my notebooks are a way to invite ideas that originate "somewhere else" to put in an appearance. This technique seems to work almost every time. Which is pretty amazing, now that I think about it. Hope I haven't jinxed it.

I really do need to get that haiku collage workshop organized, don't I?





A heron in November, a chance to talk to an elusive student about her writing...two moments that I am tempted to call "normal" in what surely feel like abnormal times. A poem about that "normal" moment that proves noteworthy. A poem about the "ordinary" being extraordinary. The quotidian, the everyday. A guy walks into a bar and everyone shouts, "Norm!" There's a poem there.


lopsided syntax
recalling the heron
at dusk


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reflections, Shadows

Those of you who know my photographs know I love reflections and shadows. Sometimes I think I love the reflections of things and the shadows cast by things more than the things themselves. I do this in my poetry as well, portray not the thing but the reflection of the thing, the shadow of the thing, the absence of the thing. That may get to the essence of art in any medium.

What is it about a reflection or shadow that so intrigues us? Both are the result of light; without light, there would be no reflection, no shadow. The absence of the thing is the thing after all. This, too, may get to the essence of art in any medium.


between galleries
her shadow
a masterpiece


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Does It Mean?

as if by her own dreams
the traveler at rest


This past week, as I've looked back over some of my work, I see new meanings...and new is not always better, especially when warped by the filter of despair, discouragement, and disillusion that has permeated recent days.

Were we being "framed"--set up, betrayed, tricked--by our own dreams? That was the furthest thing from my mind when I made this little notebook sketch in the lobby of the Paramount Hotel near Times Square this past summer. But now that I look back, George and I were in the city to see The Crucible, so perhaps the idea of being "framed" was lingering there in the space between the subconscious and the intentional. All I perceived at the moment was the lovely not-quite-profile of this stranger sitting in the lobby, with the oversized piece of generic hotel art behind her, the art more lovely for her face in front of it.

A colleague of mine--a computer science instructor who also loves poetry--just appeared at my office door to ask me about a stanza of one of my poems. "What does it mean?" he wanted to know. I cannot usually quote my own work from memory (that's why I write it down!) but I knew exactly the lines to which he was referring, and I also could tell him the precise inspiration for those lines, and how I used a painting technique as a metaphor for how to live one's life.

Our conversation probably didn't last longer than 45 seconds, but we covered the power of metaphor, the relationship between poetry and painting, the mind of Vermeer, how artists know when a piece is "finished," and why a line or two of a poem can stay with us. And, of course, what it all means. Maybe.

Monday, November 14, 2016


This haiga collage/found poem is from a couple years back.
As I look at it and read it, I contemplate the power of the phrase, something that is the basis of short-form poetry such as haiku.
Choice is the memory of all.
Ah, well. Go forth and try to create something good and lasting despite Monday.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Notebook

Or should I say, my notebook. Yes, that is what I should say. A combination of stream-of-consciousness, found poems, doodles, tear-outs, all arranged or dis-arranged into a general collage-ishness on the page...a satisfying morning's work, and a haiku or two to be culled at a later date, when I look back at what looks like a mess but was really a beginning, two beginnings, three...


staring at something
that was never there


no faces here just the sun and shadow
a use for these forgotten words


p.s. And at last, eureka yes, voila, merde, yay: a use for the old edition of the MLA Handbook. O blessed rage for order!


the closing
appears to quote
the begin-