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