Saturday, 31 March 2012

Tanka and Haiku by Bryan Cook with Coaching from Grant D. Savage

old china
boxed in the closet
of grandma’s parlour
not to be touched or sold

grand piano
fills the living room
where small fingers learned
music on its ivory

a cardinal
in the maple flowers
to stake his claim
warmed by the sun

ice floes
on the flooding river
hooded man
pollutes the view
with graffiti

high tea
with croquet on the lawn
fortunes sunk
to the bottom
of fine porcelain

(grant’s version)

croquet on the lawn
forget-me-nots and high tea
in fine porcelain
telling fortunes from the leaves
loves and lives not meant to be
(my cluttered version!)


a cardinal sings
in the maple flowers
staking claim
(by me)

croquet and high tea
in the fine trimmed lawn
( by Grant Savage)

Context for Tanka and Haiku by Bryan Cook with Coaching from Grant D. Savage
I have corresponded a lot with Grant who graciously gave me lots of pointers and reviewed and improved my haiku and tanka… some cases re-writing them!
I distilled from our correspondence the following guidelines for writing Tanka:

Tanka guidelines
• short, long, short, long, long
• pivot on third line ( first three and last three to make independent sense around the pivot
• slim and light…avoid being ponderous, pompous and trying to be too clever
• nature reference ( not an absolute necessity, but often expected)
• seasonal reference ( often implied) or an embedded passage of time (recommended)
• just a couple of ideas or topics….not overburdened with detail
• a human sentiment or condition anywhere in the tanka though usually in the last two lines
I wrote the graffiti tanka after seeing a vandal spray paint the "No Anchor" sign beside the Ottawa river

March Haiku


old keys
on the ash
snow melts

slush paths
criss-cross yellow grass
a cardinal sings

March wind
blows cold and hot
coyotes whelping

spring geese
honking in the clouds

melt water
breaks the beaver dam
in cottage country

geese return
river fog rises
with the sun

frozen hills
in a high-rise view
a spider weaves

new web
no moths at the porch light
late frost

For Pearl

in the tulips

gentle breeze
perfumed by lilacs
bubble soap

Bryan D.Cook March 2012, Ottawa

Context for March Haiku
The "frozen hills" and "new web" haiku were composed through a window view from a dentist's chair! The "For Pearl" haiku where written for Pearl Pirie's birthday; the same Pearl who organises the Tree Seed Workshops where I learn so much about the craft of poetry.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Urban Forest in March

Grey wood frames, roofless,
creaking in the wind;
papered with old moss velour and
curtained with tattered vines;
mould rises with the damp;
foundations are carpentered by ants
and termite powdered;
a heart rot hollow.

Pipes, split by winter’s freeze,
drip and flood in stagnant, tea-stained pools;
the standing dead
lean on wooden crutches
amid the broken saprophytic plates
and rotting bowls of burl;
old keys hang with nothing to unlock
amid foreclosed nests and drays.

The faded carpet musts beneath its litter of
Red Bull, RockStar, Coke….Lite of course…
take- out plastic trays and sodden napkins,
coffee cups with rolled-up rims
and shopping carts abandoned in the mud;
recycle urge the beer store bags……where laws permit ,
a scavenger collects the empties
as this neighbourhood awaits renewal.

Bryan Douglas Cook March, 2012, Ottawa

Context for Urban Forest in March
I walk my dog Tess in an urban forest behind a supermarket parking lot and in the vicinity of a large high school. I used a voice recorder for the first time to remember the images and metaphors that came to mind over three weeks of daily walks in March. The scavenger collecting the empties is actually me.....I have made a lot of money doing it and cleaning the environment in the process!I wondered whether an extended metaphor would work, but it seems that it be the judge.

Read at Tree Reading Series, 27 March 2012

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Gui Lin (Li Jiang River)

By Hon(g)Shun c.1990

Living in the verdant lotus-mountains,
Not yearning the flowers blooming in the Sha-Yang county field.
Along the winding river are cottages and stone alleys,
With sweet morning mist and emerald leaves in the glow of sunrise.

(translated by Dr. Jinwen Chen research scientist CanmetENERGY,NRCan,GOC)

Living in the Green-Lotus Valley
Envious of flower blossoms in Sand-Shine County,
Stone-path, tiny house overlooking a winding creek,
Mountain mists and fragrant leaves loftier than morning dews.

(translated by Tony Tung, Small Hydro Consultant, Ottawa)

Context for Gui Lin (Li Jiang River)
This poem about mountain & river scenery of Guilin (Li-Jiang River) was
written by chief chef Hon(g) Shun in the Tian-Hu Hotel (Guilin in Hangzhou Province, China) to wish me a pleasant trip. Mr.Shun had served our trade delegation many sumptuous banquets for which I thanked him with a gold maple leaf pin.

I asked two colleagues to translate this very cursive script, with the results above....both beautiful poems in their own right.

I wonder if this is a traditional Chinese verse form like Haiku is in Japan. The most significant point is the the first translation implies that Mr Shun misses his lowland ancestral home while the second is explicit about it.

The Lijiang River

The Lijiang River is a river in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China.
The Li River’s reputation as the most beautiful in all China rests on a stretch totalling less than a quarter of its length; the 60-odd miles (100 kilometres) starting in Guilin and heading south. Here dramatic karst outcrops, dense vegetation and the clear, winding river itself create magical vistas which loom large in the Chinese imagination, having inspired art and verse for centuries.
Outside of the main cities, the painters and poets who so prized the river would find life going on here much as they remember it…. water buffalo tilling terraced rice paddies, fishers angling off bamboo rafts often using tethered cormorants, vendors in market towns selling the bounty of this fertile region.
The river is a year-round delight, just as stunning under blazing blue skies or wrapped in winter mists. From Guilin to Yangshuo there’s never a dull stretch, but most agree that the scenic high point comes about two-thirds the way along, at the area between the towns of Yangdi and Xingping.

Li River is the soul of Guilin scenery. It is the river of poems and paintings. There is a popular Chinese saying that the mountains and waters of Guilin are the best under heaven. Hanyu vividly described the enchanting beauty of the Lijiang River in his poem: The River looks like a blue silk ribbon, and the mountains resemble emerald hairpins."
The Li River is famous for its beauty of four unique: verdant mountains, fragrant waters, mysterious grottoes, and exquisite rocks. Along the river, there are deep pools, dangerous shoals, murmuring springs, and roaring waterfalls. Going downstream in a tourist boat, one can enjoy spectacular views of crowded towering peaks along the riverbanks, waterfalls suspending over forests of rocks, and their crashing sprays upon jutting rocks. The region covers 83-km karst area with clear, exotic, ingenious and changing characteristics.

Li Jiang (Li River cruise view) by Karuna62

Peoples of the River Li by

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Self Doubt on Post Modernism

I went to a poet’s reading, the best we have they said,
Sat in the auditorium eager to be fed;
The lady right behind my ear kept laughing at the lines
I could not laugh, or cry or feel; I felt quite left behind.
I shut my eyes, self mesmerised, to sense the ebb and flow,
But all I heard was a Babel stream, not even a faint echo.
Fruitlessly I quested for meter, metaphor or simile,
Perhaps it’s metaphysical and far too deep for me;
A pair of words repeated, monotonic, lacking rhyme,
No crescendo, diminuendo or sense of keeping time.
The words they just concussed my head, deafening my brain,
I felt I lacked the intellect to grasp the main refrain,
Anxiety overwhelmed me, was this the poet’s aim?
I know that trees and rocks can speak, I listen every day,
And I understand the beauty of a poem as a play;
But surely actors interact within some form of scene
And words provide a symphony to match the mood and theme?
Perhaps I am philistine, can’t open up my heart
To understand such rambling without a sense of art.
Perhaps I should now break my vow, drink whisky, smoke a toke,
Perhaps then in some befuddled way I might figure out the joke.
I joined in all the clapping though I felt like such a fraud
Denying all my instincts, I was driven to applaud.
I went back to suburbia, climbed into the marital bed,
She said that I upset her with the poems in my head.
It was then I finally realised that I had no right to rage,
I too am locked forever in my pentametric cage.

Bryan D. Cook Ottawa, March 2012

Context for "Self Doubt on Post Modernism"

This poem was stimulated at Ottawa's Versefest 2012, which was the second such international festival of verse and a great success.....even to me!

Philistine (I have amalgamated the following from various references in Wikipedia)

The British poet Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888) was, out of financial necessity an inspector of schools, and also a leading cultural critique of the Victorian age. Between 1867 and 1869 he wrote Culture and Anarchy, in which the term "Philistines “is famously used to characterise the Victorian middle class …. those “dogged, unenlightened opponents of the children of the light”! The Bible paints the Philistines as the main enemy of the Israelites prior to the rise of Assyria in the 8th century BC, with a state of almost perpetual war between the two peoples. In another context Arnold wrote, “the people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich... are just the very people whom we call the Philistines.” From his example, “Philistine” passed into the enlightened liberal's armament of cultural scorn. Hence it’s modern cultural meaning as a derogatory term to describe a particular attitude or set of values, often materialistic, perceived as despising or undervaluing art, beauty, spirituality, or intellectualism. In fact, well before Arnold popularised it in the English vocabulary, it had already been in common use in by German students to describe the long-suffering townspeople of university towns.

Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

Caricature from Punch, 1881: "Admit that Homer sometimes nods, That poets do write trash, Our Bard has written "Balder Dead," And also Balder-dash"