Posts filed under “Poetry”

THE GNARLED TREE.

A tree decays,
dropping random branches,
shaking its fist.

(4-6-4, but don’t say anything to Mr. Stalin in third-period English class.)

ONE OF THOSE MODERNIST POEMS.

A correspondent offering prescription medications at very reasonable prices has left us a very good demonstration of a modern short poem. This is a little longer than the average haiku; perhaps we could call it a free-verse epigram.

Heya i’m for the primary time here. I found this board
and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out much.

I am hoping to offer one thing back and aid others
such as you aided me.

This is the sort of thing Alexander Pope would be writing if he were alive today.

SNEAKY MODERN HAIKU.

Your eighth-grade English teacher.

Intellectual fashions are often enforced with a Stalinist zeal; and, just as in the days of Stalin, they are usually enforced by the very people least qualified to understand any intellectual pursuit. And just as in the days of Stalin, the intellectuals can make use of those low qualifications to their own advantage.

For example, it is a fact that many teachers in public schools will assign haiku as an exercise in some class (perhaps auto mechanics), and then rigidly enforce the new orthodoxy that English haiku must be formless, insisting that it cannot be written in the traditional 5-7-5 formula, or grades will suffer, detention will be assigned, and parents will be notified that little Albertus is a very bad boy.

Now, for most of the class, this simply makes the assignment easier. You don’t have to put any effort into counting syllables, which is a kind of math, and math is work. But what of the two or three natural poets in the class? A poet craves the challenge of form; form is what makes the poetic imagination soar. You might as well tell a bird that he can fly without those ridiculous wing contraptions as tell a poet she can sing without form.

Now, Dr. Boli loves to be of service to his young readers who are groaning under the oppression of the educational-industrial complex, so here is where we bring in the suggestion Dr. Boli made a few days ago: we invent our own form. For example, you decide, arbitrarily, that you will make a modern haiku in a 5-3-1 pattern. You have the challenge of a form, but you need never tell your teacher that you actually set a form for yourself. (In fact, you would not dare tell her, because you have heard that the reeducation camps in Siberia are very cold.) So you turn in your poem and win appropriate praise:

Form in poetry?
What a crock!
Pthhhhht.

After all, you read that essay that explained why Japanese haiku usually expresses shorter thoughts than English 5-7-5 haiku. You are simply trying to get into the Japanese spirit of things with shorter lines. You could probably get away with several more poems in the same meter before your teacher started to notice something was up:

Dead bird in the street
makes me feel
sad.

Scent of gasoline
gets in my
nose.

Dandelion seed:
here now, then
gone.

But you would be even safer if you added more forms. For example, you could reverse the form you just made up and make a 1-3-5 haiku:

Bark!
The trash cans
bang and wake my dog.

Sun
pours in and
makes me want to dust.

Or you could make a 4-4-4 haiku:

I sometimes think
I can say more
in fewer words.

Come up with two or three forms, mix them up, and your chance of being sent to the principal’s office for egregious formalism is practically nil.

ADVICE FOR HAIKU WRITERS.

Examine yourself:
Are there untapped emotions
burbling deep inside?

Have you felt something
churning down in your heart,
or in your stomach?

Have you been somewhere
that gave you a brief flash of
intense emotion?

Then sit down right now:
write seventeen syllables
on the DMV.

HAIKU.

If, when you hear “haiku,” your instinctive response is “Gesundheit,” then this is not your month, because February is National Haiku Writing Month, according to the National Association of People Who Take It Upon Themselves to Declare Months for Things (NAPWTIUTDMT). But if you are a poet who admires the terse concentration of the haiku form, then this is your opportunity to write twenty-nine gems of evaporated description. The goal is to write one haiku for each day of the month.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “A haiku a day? Oh, gosh, I don’t know whether I could keep that up.” And thereby you have already demonstrated that you have the innate talent to churn out haiku by the cartload:

A haiku a day?
Oh, gosh, I don’t know whether
I could keep that up.

See? You’re a poet, even though you weren’t aware of the fact at all. Or, as we must train ourselves to write such sentiments in order not to lose a single jewel that might drop from our pens:

See? You’re a poet,
even though you weren’t aware
of the fact at all.

Haiku is easer than it looks.

For that reason, Dr. Boli will hear no excuses for lazy evasions of the traditional 5-7-5 formula for haiku. (Here is an essay that attempts to explain why, because Japanese haiku actually has stricter rules than simply counting syllables, it means that English haiku should not have any rules at all; and the thing you will notice, dear readers, is how angry the idea of form in poetry makes the essayist.) It is true that modern creative-writing teachers encourage their pupils to ignore the number of syllables in a line and simply express their deepest, most heartfelt feelings in some small number of words divided arbitrarily into three lines. It is also true that most of those pupils fall into open manholes on the way home from school. And why? Because they have been taught a lack of attention to details as though it were a virtue. You, however, will not be seduced by the promise of easy poetry without effort. In your haiku, you will put in the work of counting to five or seven, and perhaps actually revising your lines, because you do not wish to find yourself in a storm sewer. Or, if you like better, you will come up with an alternative haiku form of your own devising, and then keep to that form, not persuading yourself that just any brief slovenly explosion of words constitutes a haiku.

So take up your pen and start writing. Then lay it down fifteen seconds later and admire the poem you have produced. This is not going to be a lot of work, and Dr. Boli will be writing haiku along with you all month to encourage you. Meanwhile, Dr. Boli will gladly print any hate mail from free-verse haikuists in this space.

THE DRAGON-SLAYERS.

How bright the morning was, how clear the air,
How green the leaves, how sweetly sang the birds,
How soft the breeze as through the flowers fair
It hummed (because it didn’t know the words),
How blue the sky, how perfect was the day
In early spring, it is (no doubt) superfluous to say.

It was the time of year when doughty knights
Begin their doughty deeds of doughtiness;
They leave for foreign parts to see the sights
(But more to kill the natives, I confess)—
At least most do, but some among the rest
Stay nearer home to earn their fame upon some parlous quest.

And so four knights set out upon their way
To find the horrid monster that was said
To dwell within the forest, so that they
Could kill the thing and, bringing back its head,
Earn for each one of them immortal fame.
Perhaps each one could hire a bard to celebrate his name.

Sir Gervold was the first (by alphabet),
A bold and merry youth whose heart was true.
’Twas said that this young knight had never met
An enemy whom he could not subdue.
Now that I think of it, if I recall,
I’m pretty sure he’d never met an enemy at all.

Sir Leo next, who had a lion’s heart,
And who in boldness would to no one yield—
The more so for that, by heraldric art,
The lion’s heart was graven on his shield.
To bear it on his shield he thought was best:
A lion’s heart would probably not fit inside his chest.

Sir Quintus next, confusing though it seems,
Came third—a man of famously good cheer:
A face to haunt a courtly lady’s dreams,
And breath to haunt her nightmares for a year.
And I can give the reason if you ask:
His famously good cheer was carried with him in a flask.

And bringing up the rear, Sir Sinderic,
Whose lady did his heart to courage stir:
Whenever there was danger, he was quick
To seize the chance to run away from her.
Away from her, toward the fight he ran:
Thus love, as we are told, can make a knight a better man.

Four knights, therefore, upon a forest trail
Walked out, all ignorant of fear or dread.
Each vowed to heaven that he would not fail
To be the one to seize the monster’s head—
Though each, in private, thought it might be best
To leave the actual killing of the beast up to the rest.

They walked along until the leafy green
Began to yield to charred and smoking black,
And naught but desolation could be seen
To left, to right, and down the forest track.
“I think,” Sir Quintus said with wavering cheer,
“I think that maybe something might perhaps have happened here.”

“Perhaps,” Sir Gervold said, “there’s been a fire.”
“Perhaps there has,” Sir Sinderic concurred.
“I’ve heard,” Sir Leo said, “that in its ire
The beast breathes flame,” and trembled with each word.
“Well,” said Sir Quintus, gulping, “I should think
This might demand some courage,” and he took another drink.

The trail wound down between the blackened trees
Until it ended at a cave or den
Round which the knights (now rather ill at ease)
Saw carcasses and bones of beasts and men.
Sir Leo, showing signs of some distress,
Suggested, “Do you think we might be at the wrong address?”

But lo! The monster stirs! A rumbling roar
Comes rolling from the cave, and then the stink
Of sulfur; and at that the doughty four
Less doughty feel; their hearts begin to shrink,
Their teeth to chatter, and their knees to quake.
Then comes a bellow loud enough to make the mountains shake.

And then—O horrible to tell!—the beast
Appears, a dreadful dragon belching flame.
Its head alone was sixteen feet at least;
Its claws like sabers, and its teeth the same;
Its eyes at least a foot across, no less:
It turned them on the knights and growled one single word out: “Yes?”

The doughty knights did not retreat—oh no!
To keep each other’s spirits up, they tried
To push each other to the fore. And so
Sir Gervold, wobbly-kneed and open-eyed,
And not as firm a pusher as the rest,
Before the dragon stood, and to the beast these words addressed:

“We are, good sir, a band of doughty knights,
Who, um, that is, you know, are on a quest:
For, having heard that there’s a beast who blights
This forest, well, we swore we wouldn’t rest
Till we had slain the monster. So, you see,
We thought we’d ask—um, do you know where such a beast might be?”

The dragon’s eyes took in the knights, and saw
That they were something rather like canned meat;
It thought, “The cans would linger in my craw;
They’d be more trouble than they’re worth to eat.”
It lifted up its talon, not to slay,
But just to point, and told the knights, “I think it went that way.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” the knights all said, or words
To that effect, and quickly left the thing.
And soon the trees were green again, and birds
Once more above the knights began to sing.
How glad the knights were to be on their way
It is, I’m pretty confident, superfluous to say.