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4-21-09 Mann Library reading
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Mann Library reading 4-21-09 Frank Robinson & Tom Clausen
( the following is an expanded version that includes some of what Tom presented )

I will start by reading some haiku and being that these often have a seasonal reference I’ll begin with winter and move through the seasons and then read some haiku that are seasonless but hopefully in haiku spirit.


Btw:  despite reading and trying to write haiku for a long time I must admit that it is still difficult to know exactly what is a haiku!  To those editors and very engaged readers and writers of haiku this subject of what is and is not a haiku is much discussed and debated… Personally I prefer to leave that debate and issue for others… I enjoy just writing little poems and if some fit others idea of what is a haiku, great and if not that is fine too… I will assume/hope some of what I am about to read fit close to a haiku quality … I simply enjoy the fun of being a daily reporter of natural nuances and the underreported phenomena we all witness in our day to day lives. Haiku happen anywhere, anytime and the only equipment necessary for a haiku practice is a small pocket notebook and a pen and pencil… and of course your open and aware mind and senses taking a bit of time to jot notes as they move you to note them.


So here goes with a few of my winter haiku:


Winter sky-

An empty nest

Left behind




Cold wind-

A stranger looks at me

Like a friend





Snow flurrying…

The deer, one by one, look back

Before they vanish





Bitter cold morning-

Some of the sunrise compressed

With the trash






Out to get the paper…

Just enough snow

For footprints






The spread of stars

Wind moves the snow

From where it fell






Soft spoken-

On her windowsill

More snow






Picture window

In all that white

A cardinal






Near zero-

Just rabbits

And crows






Up late…

In the square of office light

Snow falling







My daughter asks where

We are going…






Heavy wet snow…

The cars creep by

In clumps






In love


Into the snowstorm







In the cold rain

Their snow fort













The river

Full of ice

Broken free






Spring rain-

The cat in the window

Washes its face






A child standing guard

Over a last little bit

Of snow






Spring sun

Good enough

Right where I am







A duck waddles away

From the pond






Dried into the shape

Of an ampersand

The earthworm






Spring wind-

the kid in the neighborhood

Has a new whistle






Wasting not

A moment

Spring peepers







In the yard again

Moving stones






Spring morning-

So many birds

Telling it






Heavy rain-

Lilac blooms smush

Against the window







Removing the neighbors

From view






The place emptied

A cool breeze

Blows through






Brilliant spring

The ambulance passes







Here I am again








Spring in the air

So many false starts

In my heart






Exam week

She lies face up

In the rain






Spring sun-

Making a list

Of what makes me happy













Day break-

The spider centered

In its web






My arm snagged-

A good look at

The wild rose






Taking me back…

Water laps gently

At the shore






High clouds

One horse leans its head

Against another






The day lilies

Some have crossed

The road






Left and right

He follows the way

Of his kicked stone






A little tree-

Not enough shade

To sit in






Letting her

Walk all over me








Ants disappearing

Into cracked earth






Late day sun-

Deep on the forest floor

A seedling






Train receding

Its wake in the grasses

Still waving






Walking alone-

A submerged log

Comes to light






Empty classroom

Windows open

To summer







My eyes closed

To the day






Still summer night

Shining a flashlight

Around the garden








The space between clouds

For one






Cold front-

The forgotten dulcimer







Hunting four leaf clovers

Students discuss

Their childhoods






Sidewalk sale-

Wind twists a lifetime

Guarantee tag






Rundown docks-

Minnows schooling

Around the trawler






Offset from its stain

A rusted washer

On the boats deck






Extended goodbye-

Their paved driveway

Buckled by roots






One tree

One bird, one song

The dusk






Class in the forest

They all look up

To the trees













Empty parking lot

Some wind collects and swirls

Leaves into a shape






Autumn moonlight

     Folded in

        The clothes on the floor






Cold autumn wind

In all the cracks

Eyes of barn cats






Fall colors

In the lake-

One thought after another






Deep overcast

Chickory blue

Out of concrete rubble






Abandoned farmhouse

Twilight darkest

In the empty windows







Lying in the leaves

The sun shares the shape

Of her corduroys






Potluck luncheon-

A yellow jacket cleans

Its antennae






Our turn

To stand here

Falls overlook






On the way home

     More geese

          On the way home






As we talk…

Wind blowing leaves

    Out of the trees






Autumn nightfall

Dropping my son off

For something else






Day break-

From the bread truck’s roof

Frost swirls













Mountain top

    Giving back

        Each breath







    For the lost cat…







In the waiting room

   Checking the plant

        For reality






After our visit

In quiet, the things

I forgot to say






Long wait alone

In the parking lot

A dog in the next car






Passing through

The battlefield

Now a rest area







The only car ahead

Turns off






The way

The light bulb rests

In the rest of the trash






All the voices

Songs, waiting

In the broken radio








A few floors down

In another building

Someone else looks out






Standing here

At this window, remembering mother

Standing here






Last ray of sun

In the feeder

A sparrow






The cats eyes

So wide…

For a gnat!











…. Senryu are a humorous cousin to haiku… usually written in the same brief three line format, these are little poems touching on the foibles of humanity… often they are ironic, witty, joke- like commentary on the human condition, poking fun or making biting remark on what a predicament it is to be human…and if you recognize yourself or others in any of these then they have achieved their intention!


The easiest and best person for me to make fun of is… yes, you guessed it:  ME















Where I sit

On my usual bench

Remains of a nut






In the car singing

Until I’m passed

And seen…






Lingering in bed

The ceiling

Has no answers







My mistakes

No matter how many

Coats of paint






Sneaking M & M’s…

The crunching

In my ears






Wanting my old life

When I wanted

My present life






Just as we’re


He yawns






After the party








On the bench

A young couple carries on

As if I’m not there






As the music goes

Into overdrive

I check the speedometer






My cat comes up close

Then shies away

Alcohol on my breath






Older and older

The strangers saying hello

To me






Down the trail

The horsefly follows

My bald spot






Arriving at work, soaked

Just as the rain

Lets up







So many years

To remember…

I sit up straight






What a great smile

And greeting to someone

Just behind me







 in my lap    the new kitten

                    I didn’t want






Just oatmeal

The waitress says:







Before sleep

Laughing to myself

At myself






In the middle

Of my life

An ulcer






Hospital form

Asks for religious preference

I put “haiku”







New Year’s…

Recycling last year’s







In the shower

An economy-size bar of soap

Lands on my toe






Lunch alone

Without a book

  I read my mind






My wife tells me

I’m going to make it-

Common cold







My wife asks

If she should feel sorry for me:

“I’ve got it covered”






Walking the tracks

My thoughts

Go nowhere







     To the zendo

                    To sit still






The sudoku

I’m stuck on

Light and easy






Trying to figure

How to spend it…

A little free time






Most of the rain

Not falling

On me







in the dark

I let my imagination go






Looking busy

As my wife

Pulls in






From computer

To computer

My life







Just in case-

Weighing myself again

After the shower






Almost out of money

   At my parents








Behind the officer

Writing out a ticket

I write this







After the artery scan

A Danish







Reading into it

As much as I can

My life






The universe

Of my thoughts















Instead of an air conditioner

        I return

        With popsicles






My children

Don’t want to stop

Historical marker






She wanders away…

Her snail disembarks

The matchbox truck







At my daughter to stop







Thunder and lightning…

My wife gets up

To lock the door






Before the auction-

My wife trying to catch

A chicken






Last day of school-

She tells me there was nothing

More to learn






In the garden

Right by St. Francis

The woodchuck hole






To start the day

Her slipper sounds

Too fast






On the wall

Jesus on the cross

Above her side of the bed






In her sleep

She steals back

Her hand






My wife catches me

Picking from our trash







Mixed blessing

My best critic

At home






Our child

Who will not go to sleep-

Sheep on her pajamas






My wife admits

She is not perfect,

But is glad I am







Now that I’m over

My bad mood,

She’s in one






To the goldfish

  She speaks

    More softly








My wife has named our computer







She turns down

My favorite music…

Plays recorder for me






Relatives set to visit

So  many cobwebs

To remove






First night away-

We discuss

Our pets













On hold…

Branches in the window

Wave wildly






Pawn shop

Guitars and guns

Lined up






Side by side

His and her







Up in the dark

The toilet








The repairman tells me

Any fool can do it






     In the kiddie pool

A couple of ducks

    Go at it







Ninety years

Each of her cocker spaniels

Named “Honey”







Seeing more

Of her






Muffler shop

A man managing

His cough






Busy bar

Another case of

Mistaken identity






Having brushed off

Several small ants

An extra large one…






Mixed in

With the instructions

Her perfume






Urologist’s office-

A framed photograph

Of the falls







First Christmas card

Of the year:

L.L. Bean






How liveable

Our house

Once we move out






Breeding pairs

At the zoo

With strollers







We go to one end

Then the other







Going the same way…

Exchanging looks with the driver

Of the hearse






Quiet part…

Out loud a little one asks

“when will it end?”






Behind the wheel-

Yet another of his







Blowing her nose

Just like me

The pharmacist






Defensive drivers

Each waving

The other through






By the ocean

Again filled

With emptiness






Another full moon

My checkbook

Still unbalanced






Outside the prison wall

A woodchuck stands

For a view






A couple

Holding hands

Testing the ice






Cold season

Who gave who what

At the office






Waiting to see

The odometers big change…

Missed it!






Farm country back road :

Just like them I lift one finger

From the steering wheel






Gourmet pizza place

 Dominos delivers

 next door









Tanka… sometimes called a 5 line spill by Sanford Goldstein, the tanka is a 5 line poem with a 1200 year history in Japan. As my favorite tanka poet, Takuboku states:  Poetry must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man’s writers emotional life.

Takuboku  had a very difficult life due to poor health and died at the young age of 26. He wrote tanka as a tool  of cathartic expression to help him cope with poverty, illness and unhappiness in matters of love and relationships with others.  His tanka are exceptionally spare, confessional and many might find his writing sad and depressing. When I discovered his collection of tanka, Poems to Eat, I was instantly captivated and found his honesty transcendently uplifting no matter how dark his subject. The honesty of Takuboku to confront his problems and transform the worst of his experiences into 5 little lines really captivated me and gave me inspiration and hope that maybe some of my attempts might give a reader a sense of knowing and sharing in a truthfulness of circumstance.


Much like some of the films of Ingmar Bergman I felt Takuboku offered his readers a chance to see his unique troubles in a universal light. We all have troubles and go through difficult times. The confession of one offers a sense of solace and liberation just to know that others are sharing the same problems that we experience. My own attempts with tanka have often taken on the themes of love, loneliness, loss, change in fortunes and perspective, aging, the cycles and seasons in ones life and the fleetingness of experience.

Many writers of these brief poetic forms will collect those that fit a similar theme and sequence them to essentially create a longer poem… where the individual brief poems work to enhance each other. I have made sequences of tanka on love, aging, landscapes, urban life and remembering childhood for example.


Today I’ll read from a variety of the themes I’ve enjoyed writing about including those I just  mentioned… Here is a sampling of my tanka:





During the time
 I watch
The hawk just circles…
There is always more
Than meets the eye
the farther away it gets
the more magical it becomes,
                                    times at night
in the back seat,
my parents taking us someplace....








it was a hot day
when I dropped a penny
in the soft tar...
                                    a year now
I've paid visits to it

a storm coming up

and as I take the laundry

off the line

it occurs to me

this is a moment to savor








those two birds flying

so close together

swiftly across the twilight sky―

a certain happy sad witness

I provide for them . . .









Cold rain

In another town

The streets empty-

From one house

A gift of woodsmoke









standing here just watching

the spring sun sparkle

on the water...

what is it they say

about living life to the fullest








early summer breeze

plays the sun

across the forest ferns-

everything so nice

I hardly know what to do







The river must make

So many curves

To pass through the lowlands

               The way nature always

                Says something to us







Pushed by the wind

At the far end of the sky

A few clouds…

I can see that what I want

Keeps changing too







Without fanfare at dusk

I drag the dead branch

To the brush pile-

Another day risen

And fallen from my life









Could be I’m tired

Or lost, but to close my eyes

And nod off

While the world goes on

Gives me a certain peace










Full of rain

The river races along

Past everything here-

I can’t shake this sense

I’m living on borrowed time








My youth spent

Gathering strength and solace

Of friends near and far-

These short years later

Losing them one by one







Wanting my old life

When I wanted

My present life

Stirring the soup she made

As a cold rain falls outside











We work briskly

Into the momentum of the day

A long list of what to do,

Once all there was

Was to fall in love








Wind outside the mall

And as I wait

With my eyes closed

A killdeer calls

From another life










As I sit here

Taking in the river view

I see my feelings for this life

Quite like the trees

Leaning slightly downstream







In a reverie

At the long traffic light

It occurs to me

Why would I want

To do more, faster







How ironic

Coming to love

This life and world

And at the same time

Letting it all go…







While planting bulbs

My wife unearths

A childhood cap gun of mine

I hold it

Trying to grasp back then







What attracted me most

To the poem

Had not so much to do

With the poem

But that she liked it…








That’s it,

What I do and tell

The inquisitive stranger

Who asks








I smile broadly

At one, then another

And another…

This fascination with faces

Smiling back










About to be worked on

I wait in the dentist chair

A little dance of thoughts

And nothingness

To go with the muzak







All these years

In one house, one job

One town and in me-

Too many changes to fathom

As I sweep away autumn leaves







The wind in the trees

Reminds me

That what once was

So important

Just passes by







Each day a cycle

Home to work, work to home

A quiet faith in things,

As real as unreal this way

Of being here all these seasons








The smooth flow of water

Over stones…

How few of my thoughts

Are new







At the old parking lot

The sparrows bathe

In a big puddle

Sometimes I’m so happy

Just to be here as witness







Blowing across

The plowed field

A sheet of newspaper

With who knows what

Kind of news








Asked to arrange

The flowers in a vase

I put them in any which way-

So glad there are some things

Which can’t go wrong








I ask him about his day

What he did,

If he got enough sleep

And in response

A soulful look and purring








high clouds...

one horse leans in

against another-

before our children

my wife and I were like that








so many things

to have opinions on

yet as I drive along

I don't arrive

at any of them









every few bounces

the robin pauses on the lawn

to look and listen

as if that were all

there was to do









the tentative start-up

of talk...

                to a new friend?

begins the old doubt

of just who I am, again








in my daughter's room

which used to be my room

her shelf

full of model horses

all looking at me








with thunder very close

our little dog

gets in under my legs,

if only I could feel

so safe with myself








before the new puppy

my wife got ten chickens,

before them two parakeets, two cats,

our two children and long ago

just me...








my wife needs a room

of her own,

a place to close the door,

a place I never saw

in the sunnier days before









I've never been homeless

but think of it

seeing that shed

with a broken window

dawn light streaming in








for all that

which I will not get to

do in this life

the fountain carries on

in the rain








ten years later...

both married with one child

we all pass on a path

and smile politely

without a word








showing my daughter

my childhood 'fish' jackknife

she promptly says:

"i'll put that in your grave

when you die"








beneath the open

library window

she wakes slightly to stretch,

and beautifully

change position








creating a space

in himself

that can't be filled

        - his lengthy ritual

          seaside walks








in line

at the post office

I watch her

pen point search

for the last thing to say








in the wind

I rake and gather


with thoughts of people

I've known before








Another ball game

And she wonders why

I’m so taken by the win and lose

As if our lives were

Nothing like that








On the trail to the top

My family hikes best

During the time

They combine

To make light of me








A few leaves left

On the tree

And here I am at loss

With or without

The love I so desperately sought








Wondering if this is what

My parents felt,

In their own time

Seeing a better past slip

Ever further behind








How many people

Can you connect to

And lose in a life,

Without feeling

Quite lost









I believe is what

I’ve come to, sitting here

Watching wave after wave

Land itself










My beer gone flat

But out of duty

I finish it-

Living all these

Middle-aged days








Revealed so long

This grain of wood

On our floor-

    The distance yet

     We have to go








Once again  I review

The big mistakes in my life

And try to let them go…

How long it is from autumn

Till next spring








Just when I was feeling

There is always

Too much to do,

Cassiopeia so sharp

In the autumn night sky

























 What is Tanka?

Tanka may be defined in several ways, but this often lyrical, chiefly five-line poem, derived from the Japanese tanka and its predecessor, waka, continues to attract poets around the world. The following are three definitions or comments about tanka that may prove useful to members of the Tanka Society of America as we continue our study and appreciation of this poetry.


By Pat Shelley, from Footsteps in the Fog, Foster City, California: Press Here, 1994:

"Tanka in English is a small lyrical poem that belongs to everyone. Still written in thirty-one or fewer syllables in five rhythmic lines, as it was over 1,200 years ago, it can embrace all of human experience in its brief space with emotions of love, pity, suffering, loneliness, or death, expressed in the simplest language. It may sometimes seem fragmentary or lacking in unity because it is more intuitive than analytical, using imagery rather than abstractions . . . . One of the more challenging (and charming) of its elements is the subtle turn at the center of the poem, something unexpected perhaps, usually occurring after the second or third line as two seemingly unrelated events, images, or ideas are brought together, something less than narrative, an elliptical space that adds pleasure to our listening. Tanka is about our everyday lives in the smallest happenings, a little song of celebration."

Draft definition form the Haiku Society of America definitions committee led by William J. Higginson (published in the HSA Newsletter in early 1994):

"TANKA. The typical lyric poem of Japanese literature, composed of five unrhymed metrical units of 5,7,5,7,7 'sound symbols'; tanka in English have generally been in five lines with a total of thirty-one or fewer syllables, often observing a short, long, short, long, long pattern. Tanka usually need no titles, though in Japanese a 'topic' (dai) is often indicated where a title would normally stand in Western poetry. In Japan, the tanka is well over twelve hundred years old (haiku is about three hundred years old), and has gone through many periods of change in style and content. But it has always been a poem of feelings, often involving metaphor and other figurative language (not generally used in haiku). While tanka praising nature have been written, and seem to resemble "long haiku," most tanka deal with human relationships or the author's situation. In the words of Sanford Goldstein, "behind the scene is the autobiographical moment of the poet' ('Tanka Off the Back Burner,' Frogpond, XV:2 Fall-Winter 1992). The best tanka harmonizes the writer's emotional life with the elements of the outer world used to portray it."







Some of the appealing aspects of haiku and other brief forms of poetry:


*An effective haiku never says TOO much… if you have a tendency for redundancy

Or run on writing then the haiku is a good antidote for that problem! Haiku guarantees no excess and helps the writer be concise and precise.


*Haiku is highly portable… can be worked on in your mind while walking, driving, waiting for an appointment and is a form of mental exercise trying to get the few chosen words into an order that is most effective. Trying to express something meaningful in as few words possible is a good challenge.


*Haiku as a practice enhances awareness and appreciation for the simple and subtle poetic cues that are constantly around us, there for our witness. Haiku in a sense keeps fresh the eternal childlike wonder and wide-eyed fascination with our life and world.


  • As Henry D. Thoreau remarked:  “All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most.”


  • The practice of haiku is free, no need for equipment or anything more than your observing and recording those moments, juxtapositions in nature that create a little extra-sensory pause and intuitive recognition of something worth noting & sharing what you see. It is a helpful centering tool in the perpetual practice of being here now.


*Haiku make a nice gift that is inexpensive and passes along the spirit of humility and

paying attention to the natural cues all around us, anywhere, anytime.



By Gerald St. Maur, from his 1999 Haiku Canada Newsletter article entitled "From Haiku to Tanka: Reversing Poetical History" (also published in the TSA Newsletter, II:1, Spring 2001)

"In going beyond the experience of the moment, the tanka takes us from delight to fulfillment, from insight to comprehension, and psycho-organism to love; in general, from the spontaneous to the measured. To achieve this requires a fundamental shift in emphasis: from glimpse to gaze, from first sight to exploration, and from juxtaposition to interplay, in short, from awareness to perspective . . . .It is thus evident that to compose a tanka is to articulate reflectively . . . . It is a shift which, in general, takes us from the simple to the complex. More pointedly, it moves us from the poetry of the noun to the poetry of the verb; in weaving terms, from the thread to the tapestry; in botanical terms, from seed to plant; in chemical terms, from element to compound; in painting terms, from sketch to picture; and in musical terms, from chord to melody."
































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