Archive for the ‘Haiku’ Category

Hummingbird always has such a variety of short poems. Yes there are the occasional haiku and haiku-esque works, but there are also concrete poems, strange semi-opaque works, and just downright fun offerings.

Billie Swift starts the issue with “Crush.” “I’m splayed thumb-sized, a dark pink bud… Or // I’m the gray of loose gravel…” The images draw the mind to dream.

Sheryl Slocum writes in “The Wit,” “Her voice, a pair of pliers, / twists words sharp.” Short and pungent, a quick hit for the emotions.

Maybe my favorite offerings in the issue are Giuseppe Ungaretti’s poems in Italian. “Soldati,” translated (and printed upside down on the opposite page as the Italian work) as “Soldiers, and “Dormire,” translated as “Bedtime,” in a muddle so that one has to cross-map the poems to their translations. The translator of these poems is Robin Magowan. Wonderful, unexpected work.

Lenore McComas Coberly gives us a snapshot of a family member in “Midmorning.” “my mother would pour / a cup of left-over coffee, / add some soda crackers…” Just a nice meditative moment for the character and the reader both.

Finally, John Baalke gives us something approaching a tanka. “A lone swallowtail / flits above brown-tinged sedges,” it starts. Again, like indulging in a cup of high-quality tea, leaving all cares behind for a moment.

A marvelous issue.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Missouri Review – Spring 2019

Rattle 64 – Summer 2019

The New Yorker – May 20 2019


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Star*Line is sort of a phantasmagoria of a magazine. So many poems are packed into this issue, of so many types, the reader is bound to find something to like.

We begin with Mary Soon Lee’s “New Year’s Resolutions.” “1. For novices // Huddle in the Antarctic Dark / with Emperor penguins / for sixty-four days.” A poem of crazy, fun ideas. “2. For journeymen… Circumnavigate the Moon by hot-air balloon.” It’s the little shocks of recognition for literary and cultural references that makes this truly work.

There are many haiku and haiku-style poems, tucked in here and there, several by Christina Sng. These generally rely on twists, or thought-puzzles. “pets / on the International Space Station…” starts one. The third line of the poem provides the ‘ah, of course,’ ending.

Any speculative market is going to rely heavily on making the reader think. “On a Dead Spaceship,” by Robin Helweg-Larsen certainly furthers this aim. “…drifting round a star / The trapped inhabitants are born and die.” An allegory of earth? That this is not clear makes the poem more interesting, and shines a deeper light on our own lives, aspirations, and boundaries, with references to artists, the rich, and plebs.

There are poems from the point-of-view of monsters, or their lovers. “Not Tonight,” is an amusing example by Kathleen A. Lawrence. “Oh, darling, you tease / in wispy tears of gauze.” Quick and delightful.

Finally, let me mention “Giants in the Earth,” an irreverent, earthy poem by Deborah L. Davitt. “Pish, there’ve always been giants around! / It’s just that we tune them out, / pretend that we can’t see them.” In the logic of this poem, there are good reasons we all pretend not to notice. Fun, and even a bit shocking.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019


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I haven’t blogged a Hummingbird Mag before, I don’t believe. The magazine publishes short poetry, much of it quite elegant. The first poem in the issue is “The Lion,” by Megan Snyder-Camp. On first glance, this looks like a fun little poem. But with more consideration, darkness moves beneath it. “Since kindergarten / my son’s class has practiced // for when a lion / enters the building.” Wow.

Ellen Welcker has a series of poems scattered through the magazine, all named “The Sheep.” “O euphemistic failure… a sphincter relaxing.” Each poem presents another piece of the whole. E.g. “A gaze may seek to rest…” and “All her layers of construction.” So the series keeps pulling the reader back in: Oh, there’s more here. Oh, there’s even more. How do these poems relate to each other? How is this sheep getting described, bit by bit? An interesting way of challenging us.

Furthermore, John Burgess does a similar thing, with each of his poems describing a guest bedroom he slept in. But he ups the ante by including drawings of each room he is describing. “Dead birch rotted,” is one image described. Then “It’s quiet (No one else / in the basement…” With that, we realize he’s giving impressions he’s had in each room. His varying experiences. So despite such similar constructions, we are left with very different takeaways from the efforts of the two poets.

I very much enjoyed Jeri McCormick’s untitled poem. “heading home from a winter visit in the mountains…” This poem contains maybe the most words of any in the magazine, though it is still short; a startling moment in life, maybe not life-changing, but maybe that’s the point, that life was not changed, and that can be a very good thing indeed.

I also liked Joanna White’s “She Paints,” entered sideways over two pages. Though not a particularly wide poem, nor particularly long, arranging it this way makes us think of the painter being described. “very nice, /     the grown ups say…” Subtlety in the understatement, here.

And while there are true haiku in this magazine, one poem that struck me with its pair of juxtaposed pure images was “Some Heat” by Joan Halpin. Probably the poem that most jumps off the page in the whole collection.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My new ebook of love poems, “Against The Night,” is up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere, if you like that sort of thing. ;->

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Leaping Into Haiku

Boy I feel all the joy of poetry reading all these magazines, I tell ya.  Before I started this blog, I was sure that only a small slice of American poetry was linear, spoke to people in a language a comon reader could understand.  Now, while I think there’s a big tent of poetry out there, a lot of styles and approaches, yet there’s a tremendous amount of straight-no-chaser poetry being written today.  Good stuff, often great stuff.  We’re in a  golden age, folks.

Anyhoo, Paul Miller has an interesting article in the current issue of Frogpond, “America’s Haiku Frontier,” comparing and contrasting contemporary Japanese haiku with the U.S. (North American?) variety.  One thrust of his essay, if I get it right, is that the magazines on this side of the water do not embrace fantasy (he also mentions direct metaphors, abstract language, and direct telling as no-nos for U.S. haiku), fantastic creatures, and the phantasmagoric (folks changing themselves) .

Well, as the author of the following two reasonably non-standard haiku, published in Modern Haiku and Frogpond, respectively, I’m thinking I have a different view.

the war

on the tv

in the background


Tuesday Tuesday Tuesday

Tuesday she died Tuesday

Tuesday Tuesday Tuesday

But I thought I would run through the mag itself and see how many poems directly contravene his thesis.  Right off, I found the end of a haibun, “apparitions,” by Al Fogel:

old negatives

held to the light…

smiling ghosts

and another haibun’s end, “Proof,” by Judy Stoddard:

Taken, cleaned, twisted,

Colored, wound, woven, donned —

I’m getting warmer

The former of which has a fantastic element, the latter of which piles abstractions one atop the other in a heap.

Or let’s go with an actual haiku, by Klaus-Dieter Wirth, in both English and German, which starts with the one line word: “imaginary”

and ends with “tracks in cypher”

(Want the middle line?  Buy the mag!  I have a standard of not producing anyone’s complete work, though I grant you it gets a bit problematic to discuss haiku with that stricture, and used the excuse of the first two pieces here being parts of haibun to stretch the matter a bit).  Which is enough to show there is some fantastic AND abstract woven in there.

And how do you call this a straightforward image:

“the old ache seeps downhill…”

by Mark Harris.  Which, P.S. and by the way, I love as a haiku (it finishes in a most satisfactory way, too).

Anyway, I don’t want to overstate, Miller is right on the nose for 95% of the haiku in these magazines, but there are those happy little edges where the rebels can have their fun.  Now how it will turn out as new editors take over, as we see happening now, I don’t know.  Surely many of our markets have been less adventurous than these two.  But it’ll be fun to find out, I’m guessing.

Happiness in haiku,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Hummingbird – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18



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Haiku Beauty

I was thinking on how a few different styles of haiku show up in the big magazines over and over.  One typical riff is just a simple image of a natural scene, but rendered in a surprising, original way; calling our attention to something small we might not have paid attention to, giving it a greater weight.  Kind of a ‘huh’ moment.  The specific language often plays a strong part in selling such a haiku.  For instance, in the autumn 2011 Modern Haiku, Ann Schwader has such a work: “a flicker’s opinion fills the air.”  the word opinion, assigned to a bird, gives this haiku interest.  Often, the second, apposite image in such a poem is a simple background image, very often using some of the standard phrases that have batted around haiku for hundreds of years.  Autumn wind is a biggie (not the one she uses in this case, however.  Look it up yourself!) but there are hundreds of such scene-setting  phrases.

One can be surprised, however, thinking a haiku to be straightforward in this manner, only to get a subtle twist, a second phrase that, while it seems stock, goes the extra mile.  Adelaide Shaw starts the issue off with this sort of twist haiku, starting with the phrase:  “black Angus // milling around in their pen…”  An image we’ve seen countless times, outside the city.  But then with the second image, in her case, a subtle threat emerges; a danger related to cattle that adds an uncertainty, a complexity, a bit of troublesome fun.  No, I’m not giving you the line, that would be to give the whole haiku , and I would prefer you look it up in the magazine yourself.

Anthropomorphizing animals is a regular trick; usually with senryu.  Barry George has a good one here: “the cat takes it under advisement.”  Being of course exactly how cats treat so many of our exhortations and pleadings.

Phrases with multiple meanings — puns — lend quite a bit of zazz: “the old queen // still playing it straight” in a poem by Audrey Olberg.  Lots of pleasure to be found in such work. 

But when multiple meanings move off in multiple directions, we may experience the true power of a great haiku, as in Clare McCotter’s:  “a face // I thought // was hers” where the two images can add a profundity, add harmonics to each other, give us that shiver which makes reading haiku worth all the effort.

Peace in poetry,


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Looked over the September issue of The Heron’s Nest today.  The winner of the Editor’s Prize was Sanjukta Asopa, with an incredible poem, “shanty town”.  I’ll trust you to follow this link to the site to read it, rather than reprinting it here:


Such a sad image, and so powerful.  I have not encountered Sanjukta’s work before; I’ll have to start keeping an eye out for it. 

I also loved Robert Witmer’s “nuclear disaster” on the same page, and deeper in the mag, Andre Surridge’s “nightfall” — such a clear image –, Yu Chang’s “do we all”, Motoko Amatsuji’s “so lightly” (a surprising little image), “deep night” by Bruce Ross and one other I’ll mention, “winter blues” by Don Baird.  I feel guilty, though, because there are so many other worthy, powerful haiku in these pages.

Also, I have discovered with haiku it is very much worthwhile for me to go back to a magazine and reread the same poems days or even months later.  The poems I passed over without comprehension at first, often will leap out with a deeper meaning and delight.  Maybe it will happen that way for you as well.

Peace in poetry,




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The Joints Are Jumping

Maybe because the magazine Frogpond doesn’t take all that many haiku for any given issue, though being the house organ of the Haiku Society of America, the haiku they do print tend to be distilled into a higher proof.  Or maybe it’s just that George Swede is an excellent editor.  Either way, I enjoy this magazine a lot.   The latest issue is 34:2, 2011.

The haiku that moved me the most was “still shining” by Sylvia Forges-Ryan, a former editor of Frogpond, in memory of Tom Noyes.  Very sweet.  One with a mouthful of chewy sounds was “northern flicker encrypting a birch” by Scott Mason.  Note the use of metaphor, the hard sounds underlining the rat-a-tat of the flicker, with echoes of Morse Code.  Another rule broken (haiku aren’t supposed to have metaphors, but only simple descriptions; a rule the old masters broke often enough) — so many poems seem to work better when the author knows enough to successfully break a rule.    And two of our best haiku writers, one right after the other: “sunbreak   the ornament in wasp wings” by Cherie Hunter Day.  I’d have never thought to put it that way.  Good to have my mind stretched.  And “whiteetholdingrudges” an absolute master work by John Stevenson, again one I’d have never come up with — so many different brains work in so many different ways.  Randy Brooks has a very good essay in this mag — Frogpond and Modern Haiku both have a rich tradition of essays on the craft.  Finally, Adelaide Shaw’s haibun on hair-braiding is definitely worth spending time with.  I admire excellent haibun so much at least in part because I don’t have any sort of handle on how to write them.  Isn’t that the way of the world, admiring most that which we cannot do well?

A summer of peace upon you,



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From Little Acorn

One of the little pleasures of life is receiving a new magazine in the mail, knowing it’s chock-full of poems and that some of them are going to be very good indeed.  I get this more consistently with haiku mags than any other, and today I’ll talk a little about the most recent Acorn magazine, the Spring 2011 issue.

Carolyn Hall often has excellent work by the current masters of the field, and this issue is no exception — Robert Epstein, Adelaide B. Shaw and George Swede turn in good work this time, and it’s a problem when I have only a few words and so many poems that could be mentioned!  

John Elsberg has a delightfully unsettling haiku here: bared teeth // of the roadkill // my winter shadow.  I like it more as I study it.  Lots of extra energy to discover. 

And Harriot West, who has written so many good works: “trying to forget… //the ridge line sharpened // by fresh snow

Let me say here that haiku pose a special problem in reviewing: unlike mainstream poems, where a couple lines can give enough of a flavor of the work to discuss what is going on, with haiku, to recite three lines is generally to recite the whole work.  And how a haiku delivers what it does is almost never captured by anything less than the whole work — haiku capture a single moment.  Every word is important.  So I have given the works in their entirety here, with apologies to all who might take exception. 

One last, delightful haiku: roadside violet // all the places //I’ve yet to go

by Aubrie Cox, the up-and-coming haiku writer — using the adjective noun first line, then a more general concluding/contrasting thought, a standard approach in haiku, but the elliptical relationship between the two here seem especially crisp and resonant to me.

Definitely a magazine worth picking up — much more to it than just what I’ve included here.

Thank you all for such good work.


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Hit By A Stun Pun

The most important thing in a poem to me, aside from the emotional kick, is that sense of a deeper meaning — that deeper connections are being made.  As a writer, I tried to figure out how that happens, and at length discovered the trick is in puns.  Words with more than one meaning, if you will.  This is easily evident in haiku.

spring peepers //the whole town // knows

A haiku by George Dorsty in the Summer, 2011 issue of Modern Haiku.  The two meanings of peepers gives this poem its kick.  Or how about:

he stokes the fire   before coming to bed

This haiku by Seren Fargo in the same magazine goes even farther, with extra meanings playing about the words ‘stokes,’ and ‘fire,’ giving an ironic bite to a seemingly simple one line poem.  This unfolding of depths from inside a simple surface is one of the joys of haiku — doable in longer poetry, most notably these days by Kay Ryan, but much more difficult to pull off — at least judging by how often it does not happen in longer poems, and how often it does in haiku.  But I’m biased.  Haiku do not rely only on these simple double meanings, there can be resonances unrelated to puns, of course:

between the minnows   minnow-sized spaces

Melissa Allen, in the same issue, gives a wonderful observation, a delightful little pop of recognition.  And there’s the essence of sudden surprise, with a touch of rueful self-awareness:

chasing cloud shadows I fail

by Matthew Cariello, again in the Modern Haiku.

This is surely a golden age of English language haiku.  Seems like all the magazines have such startling revelations in every issue.  I feel lucky to be able to enjoy the age as it is happening.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Oct 30 17

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

Atlanta Review’s Latest

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