May/June 2004
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Disciplinal Poetry of the Issue



Lachesis-This Issue's Disciplinal Poetry - by Kay Lindgren
The Tanka- presented and authored by Maria C. Faverio
Minutes, a la Carte - Kathleen Cesaro
December is a Time to Ponder Life - Kathleen Cesaro
The Lightning Bug - Kay Lindgren
Synaesthete - Kay Lindgren

Apple Blossoms– Mark Norman
Dos (Lachesis) - Jorge González

This Issues Disciplinal Poetry - Lachesis

By Kay Lindgren

The precise origin of the lachesis is unknown. It is likely to be a relatively recent invention by a poet of the New Formalist movement. It is popular among members of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (USA). Its invention has been credited to one Robert "Amigo" DeWitt, who lives in Louisiana. Amigo has published over a thousand poems and has won more than a hundred awards. A World War II veteran, Amigo taught English and coached football in the Duval County, Florida, school system before retiring during the 1980's.

The lachesis consists of eighteen iambic pentameter lines in alternating tercets and couplets. The rhyme scheme is :


Since English is not rich in rhymes, the lachesis presents a profound challenge.

I share the first and second prize winners of the Lachesis Award in the National Federation of State Poetry Society's 1994 contest. These poems were published in Encore, the NFSPS anthology of prize poems.

A Memory of Wings - Gail Teachworth

My dream is yellow-green, like lemon tea,
a pleasant form of floating, fancy-free
above a field of flowers, like a bee.

I find myself content to flit around
a little over two feet off the ground.

Perspective from this point is rather strange,
it takes some time adjusting to the change.
Amused, but quite unable to arrange

my thoughts in any order making sense,
the fantasy of flight is so intense.

I'm going with the flow, as some might say,
adrift through flower-power's hideaway
where anything is possible today.

If morning finds me grounded to the Earth,
I'll know I have enjoyed, for all its worth,

the dream of wings, the hovering, this flight.
Though fragile dream-wings only last one night,
remembering continues in the light.

Metric Manifesto - Robert Shelford

We rhyming poets are a lonely bunch,
Creating verse with even metric punch,
Smug academics think we're out to lunch.

Most simple people also think we're jerks
With sad anachronistic mental quirks.

Who cares, in days of video and fax,
If sugar cane and ascertain will match
Or anapestic beats should get the axe.

Much easier to trash tradition's rules
And other writing skills once taught in schools.

Smart free-verse scribes scorn proper punctuation,
Mix random words defying conjugation,
Enjoy obscurity and obfuscation.

Despite their jibes, we strange ones try to write
Sweet metric songs to treasure and delight.

Most free verse seems forgettable, for sure.
I'd rather draft, as masters have before,
A line like "Quoth the Raven, Nevermore!"

I am fortunate to know Amigo, Gail and Robert, all three of whom generously offer me free help with my writing.


Minutes, a la Carte - Kathleen Cesaro

If time were given predatory traits,
The favored wall is surely what it rates!
Beneath its jagged teeth there'd be no dates.

A Roman-numbered frisbee's quite a thrill!
Whoever thought a sundial could get ill?

If time were like the ocean or the sea,
It'd swallow up the likes of you and me,
And spit us out to spite eternity.

A metronome deserves a knuckle rap...
Impertinence, in each impatient tap!

If time went on vacation for a week,
A lake could find itself within a creek.
The reaper'd have to turn the other cheek.

A clock's fair game to practice field-goal kicks,
And uprights usually terminate the ticks!

If time professes just to be your friend,
He'll borrow wasted minutes he can spend.
That scoundrel is the one without the end.


December is a Time to Ponder Life - Kathleen Cesaro

December is a time to ponder life,
For women who have come to be "the wife,"
whose days consist of mollifying strife.

What happened to the freckled girl, so free,
with flying curls and piercing shrieks of glee?

The men she's loved have given her a goal:
To extirpate her will, deny her soul.
Her pleasure must be found in their control.

What happened to the temperament so bold,
The sassing back and stares so icy cold?

Her father's love, withheld 'til she complied...
Her husband, trusted mate, until he lied...
Her son, adored, but always occupied...

The bending willow weeps, but doesn't break;
A heart continues beating, with an ache.

The expectation's gone of Christmas cheer,
Of family who gather year to year.
The distance now between them draws a tear.


The Lightning Bug - Kay Lindgren

Although the belt that hugs Orion's girth
might spurn my sparkle spawned so close to Earth,
my fire rivals peridots of worth.

I am the spark born of two dueling blades
of grass as sunset's mandarin silk fades.

I hover over cricket's tambourine
and morse out dots and dashes yellow-green -
not go or caution - signals in between...

While stellar sketches in the cosmos drift
too slow for mortals' eyes to see shapes shift,

my peers and I ignite imaginations
by lining up in marching band formations,
then winging out to form new constellations.

All warm with wanderlust, I am a star
whose orbit scorns the confines of a jar.

My flight is brief; too soon my light is spent.
Don't bottle me: I would not be content
to blaze alone in a glass firmament.

Note: "The Lightning Bug" won a first prize in the 1999 Florida
State Poets Association international contest.


Synaesthete - Kay Lindgren

When names are lavender and kelly green,
when tone of voice and color wheel convene
so that the whiner's yellow voice is seen

as well as heard, my senses come to me
like sound and light shows. I get in for free.

I'd buy a ticket to the exit door
when trumpet tosses me an apple core,
when saxophone spills merlot on the floor.

Sometimes, the hues of music fade in haste.
My tongue will linger on a letter's taste

when R is orange, C is lemon-lime.
Ripe honeybells fall from the wall clock's chime
when lilac lull and serenade scent rhyme.

Skin tightens like a drumhead when the flute
of Jethro Tull warps in the key of jute.

My senses are like twins conjoined: My ear
and eye inseparable. I would pay dear
if I could only see the sights I hear.


Apple Blossoms – Mark Norman

Apple blossoms waft the breeze.
Rising sap in the dogwood trees
beyond Old Man Winter’s lengthy freeze.

Children’s peals from a holler over,
schools out, skipping home amongst the clover.

Mother smiling beside the clothesline sheets
working together the chores complete.
Dad’s home, seated for dinner we all meet

Prayer before, laughter after, supper’s respite,
plate leavens, sweet treats for the dogs tonight.

Dusk is nodding its heavy head.
Hide and go seek behind the shed,
lying in the grass admiring heaven’s spread

Sun sets in a burst of color
warm welcome, for a full moon silver dollar.

Fireflies dancing tauntingly ahead
just out of reach, the children are led
to the hearth to be kissed and tucked to bed


Dos (Lachesis) - Jorge González

Puede el agua nadar en tus manos,
abrazar tus hombros como hermanos,
seducirte con mares lejanos.

Puede el aire batir alas, fuego,
en el eterno vuelo que es juego.

Hay flautas que dulces se levantan,
andan por quedos oídos, cantan,
y la voz de un ser maligno espantan.

No hay dos verbos y luce la luna
en la cueva do mora tu cuna.

Es verdad que el tiempo así calcina:
amigos, las verdades, la inquina.
Pero tu verso el odio fulmina.

No hay sombras en lo hondo de la duda,
trémula ausencia que a nos acuda.

Pero hay dos vientos en la corriente,
sólo un inocuo desliz pendiente,
a la espera de un alma durmiente.


The Tanka presented and authored by Maria C. Faverio

The tanka (originally called waka, “Japanese song”) has been the most popular form of Japanese poetry for more than 1,200 years. 90% of the 4,500 poems in Japan’s oldest anthology (Man’yo-shu, Anthology of 10,000 Leaves, ca. 759) are in this form, as well as 991 in the second oldest anthology, the Kokinshu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Times, ca. 905), which was considered the sacred book of court poets. The tanka received imperial patronage and produced generation after generation of court poets. It is also believed that at that time one’s desirability as a lover was often determined by the quality of one’s tanka. Tanka were written on all occasions and were concise and evocative, like haiku (the tanka is older than the haiku though, as the haiku was actually born from the first three lines of the tanka). They were essential for the good reputation of a person and were often accompanied by a gentle symbol like a branch or a flower.

Tanka are still very important: each year, on New Year's Day, the Emperor of Japan and his family join the commoners and write tanka with them on certain topics. In a magnificent ceremony, a selection of these tanka are then chanted before the Royal Court and preserved as national treasures. In Japan, the tanka is also a vital part of the Noh theater plays, where it is used in the form of prayers or 'talking with the gods'.

In 1871 what later became the Imperial Poetry Bureau was established under the Ministry of the Imperial Household, a school of rigid formalists obsessed with tradition and lacking any form of creativity. This formalism didn’t change until the impact of Westernization about 15 years later.

Dissatisfied with the way the tanka was deteriorating, poets sought other poetic forms beyond the traditional 31 syllables in the form 5-7-5-7-71 (which are usually in only one or two lines in Japanese2), and the tanka was attacked in several essays. This in its turn caused a new reaction, and younger poets tried to rescue the tanka through innovation.

1 In English tanka, this rule is flexible (the same as with haiku) because of the different structure of the English language. It has sometimes been adapted to just short-long-short-long-long, and sometimes even to five lines of arbitrary length. 2 The Japanese speak of “phrases” for lines and of onji for syllables: because of the familiarity of the natural syntax of the phrases and more specifically of the tones used in the Japanese pronunciation, Japanese tanka can be written in only one or two lines.


In The Reform of Tanka (1887), Yoshiyuki Hagino suggested to modernize its diction and to give greater freedom to its style.
In February 1893 Naobumi Ochiai founded the Asaka-sha (Brotherhood of Asaka), a society of tanka-reformists, whose most remarkable rebel was Tekkan Yosano, who overtly attacked the technical triviality and effete formalism of the Old School and advocated a “manly” poetry that gave vent to personal feelings and passions in a simple, plain language.
In November 1899 Tekkan founded the Tokyo Shinshi-sha (The New Poetry Brotherhood of Tokyo) and launched the magazine Myojo (called Myojo after the star Venus: Tekkan chose this name to emphasize that he wanted to bring the light of the morning star to the darkened world of the tanka). Akiko Yosano (one of its members) became one of the most significant reformers of the tanka and later also married Tekkan. Akiko’s most famous book is Midaregami (Tangled Hair) with 399 tanka, 115 published for the first time. Midaregami owes its name to a tanka Tekkan had dedicated to Akiko: “To you I present / this name / suited to autumn, / Lady of the restless mind, / of the tangled hair”. The implications behind Akiko’s use of “tangled hair” are those of a complex and intense pattern of beauty, sexuality, and insanity.
Akiko glorified the female body, the emancipation of women, sympathized with the downtrodden, attacked priests and moralists. Her tanka pictured women at lonely inns, at home, in the fields, in temples and cities, and involved the most different human types. She transformed the tanka into a personal and dramatic vehicle for a great variety of psychologically difficult situations involving pity, hate, suffering, love, death, and madness. This gradually led to the reestablishment of the tanka, particularly with Takuboku, who wrote: “Poetry must not be what is usually called poetry. It must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man's emotional life. Accordingly, it must be fragmentary; it must not have organization.” Takuboku’s tanka refer to ordinary life, daily occurrences, like in the following two tanka:

I work, work
And still
No joy in my life.
I stare
At my hands.

Dying of thirst
But too weary
To reach over
And pick up
An apple

Akiko also sang her own body, something which was (and is) very unusual, as self-glorification has always been considered un-Japanese. She also used the tanka as a sort of diary.

Fragrant the lilies
In this room of love,
Hair unbound,
I fear
The pink of night’s passing.

In my bath –
Submerged like some graceful lily
At the bottom of a spring,
How beautiful
This body of twenty summers.

Asking nothing,
Two women and a man
Parted with a nod
On the sixth of the month.

Many of the most significant contemporary tanka poets are women, some of which I would like to briefly introduce here.
Fumi Saito’s tanka explore the philosophical dualities of reality and art of the 1960s, the contrast between God’s universe and the world of the poet, and transform traditional seasonal images into surrealistic impressions.
On my frozen nerve
There is a place
Where a red canary
To perch.

She died of breast cancer in 2002 (at 93) and could still write a tanka about her illness:

Having lost the mound
of one breast, my chest is like
a field. - O, skylarks,
come and visit, with the hare,
and the worms, and the insects.

Meiko Matsudaira conveys a voluptuous nostalgia in a fine, decorative language.

The days of my twenties
Come back to me
With a glint
of Heat-haze weariness!
Scratches on enamel.

Motoko Michiura combines the thoughts of Marxism and the student movement with traditional seasonal images, like tear gas and the smell of lemon in the following tanka:

Rising from my breast
Hidden to protect me
From tear gas:
The smell of lemon.

Yuko Kawano emphasizes family life, the life of a wife and a mother:

Giving birth or being born –
Either the ultimate sorrow.
Just the same,
I turn the light out
At night.

Machi Tawara and Amari Hayashi write colloquial tanka.
Machi makes use of overt abstractions and interweaves them with philosophical reflections:

Fireworks, fireworks
Watching them together –
One sees only the flash,
The other,
The darkness.

Amari’s tanka are full of beautiful graphic images:

You could pluck the cosmos
If you slept with a hundred men:
A girl laughs
In the fields.

Finally, Ei Akitsu’s tanka show a fresh, peculiar humour combined with down-to-earth images:

Ah, women
Walking with ovaries
Hanging inside –
The wind blows, the bamboo groves
Cry from within.

These are obviously only a few examples. The tanka will certainly continue to be popular in Japan, and it is becoming more and more popular outside Japan, like the haiku. Both the haiku and the tanka deserve their popularity – for their freshness, originality and delightful insight.


Mostow, Joshua S. Pictures of the Heart 1996 University of Hawai’i Press Honolulu
Akiko Yosano Tangled Hair 1987 Charles E. Tuttle Company Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo,Japan