I love to read and write poetry. My mother was an English teacher and I was introduced to literature at an early age. She loved reading and literature–especially Shakespeare–and it rubbed off on me.
Now, my mother taught mostly Classical and Romantic Era poetry. The usual suspects, such as Chaucer, Milton, Blake, Wordworth, Bronte, Lord Byron, Tennyson, Coleridge, Browning, Keats, Wilde, Burns, Donne, and Yeats. So, my early exposure to poetry was always the heavily structured poetry, with rhyme schemes, meter, and the rest. I started out writing these forms of poems. However, another high school English teacher introduced me to the world of modern and experimental verse. Works by E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Octavio Paz, and others were eye-opening. I learned language games. She was also the first to teach me Japanese forms, such as haiku and tanka, etc. Those were all gamechangers for me and I really fell in love with poetry.
Here is my favorite definition of poetry, learned from my mother.
“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment.”
–William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798)
“The spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquility” has stayed with me for life.
I love the power of poetry. It is succinct. You can play with language and experiment in amazing ways that prose simply does not allow. It enriches your vocabulary and sharpens your grammar skills. Plus, it distills emotion. You can feel a poem–individual lines or words vibrating–in ways you cannot prose.
I won my first poetry contest in high school. I was still mainly writing only structured verse then, trying my hand at fantasy epics or sappy love sonnets. Then I kind of dillied around with my poetry at college–even creating alien language poetry for some of the alien races in my SF universe– but doing nothing serious with it. A side note on the alien poetry: I created a Klingon Language Poetry Journal at the time (for members of the KLI) whose title translates as “Mind Fire.” This was the term I created in Klingon for poetry. This journal was the seed that became Mindfire, my international poetry and literary arts journal and later publishing company that ran for about twenty years.
But, it wasn’t until after college, when my wife and I moved to Baltimore, MD, that I began seriously writing poetry–and a lot of it. I wrote over a thousand poems in those years and tried to publish (unsuccessfully) several volumes through university presses. However, I published widely in journals all over the world and got to see my works translated into foreign languages for the first time Poetry opened many doors and led me to many other endeavors. I have met a ton of great writers and editors over the years, and poetry was often the catalyst. Some of my fondest memories are from poetry writing groups over the years, as we did challenges on forms, collaborations, or experiments.
Below are a few examples of my poetry just for the fun of it.
“Revolutionary” is a poem that has been used by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) since 2002.
“People Crossing an Arched Bridge” was published in EnterText.
“Dracula Themepark” was published in dual language in Lumi Virtuale and later in Twilight Times.
“Cinnamon Tea” is a poem I wrote in tribute of the late poet Sumirasko.
I have done hundreds upon hundreds of “short pops”–works that can be haiku, haiku-esque, or merely experimental poems, usually for projects centered around individual events, tragedies, deaths, or the like. Something that spurs me to write a few words. Sadly, I have lost or not recorded most of these short poems. They are kind of like speaking…the words just evaporate after the moment and are gone. But I occasionally run across them on sites or in publications.
Here is a haiku-ish piece from a 2005 WWII Memorial on Hiroshima:
black scabby burned hives of hatred
.Or this 2003 piece on the Vietnam War:
digging wet tunnel graves
jungle night patrol
This is a poem I wrote for a Holocaust memorial in 2000:
“The Day My Wife Took Her Last Shower”
Watching her move–
tanned, seasoned skin
as gaunt as a belt, pulled tight
against my groin, my heart
bloodless in the afternoon sun–
my face glowed like a lampshade:
soft, warm, two stars for eyes
pricked just so in this canopy
of heaven on earth
-bound need, barb-wired soul
wrenching against the bonds
of yesterday’s acceptance of the yoke
I watched her walk
float, invisible cherubic wings
drawing her near
the entrance of the showers
where they would clean her life,
thoroughly erasing her presence
I was losing all the dirt in my life
God, how the empty air screamed that day.
This is a poem I wrote in 2005 as a memorial to the young Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman. She was murdered by the Taliban simply because she was a female who dared write poetry and question male authority. It was published in various places, including MindFire and the Hypertexts.
A captured, wild, dark-haired bird,
she restrained the hawk inside
because she liked to kiss
the calloused knuckles of history
falling like rain
upon the rapture
of her upturned face.
Ever the hunter, she chose
her perch, waited, and stared
beyond the immediate
loss, pain, indifference, hatred,
rising like a titan before her
the silhouette of patriarchy
always eclipsed the sun
but never blocked out the full view
of the deepening, cloudless azure sky
or the magnitude of the ever-embracing horizon
which welcomes her return to flight
in the glory of freedom.
Nadia Anjuman was born in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1980. She graduated from Mehboobe-e Herawi high school and was in her third year at Herat University studying Literature and Humane Science at the time of her death. In 2005 Anjuman published her first book of poetry, Gul-e-dodi (“Dark Red Flower”), and it quickly became popular in Afghanistan and neighboring Iran. That November she was killed.
She often wrote of birds and flight. In one of her poems, she wrote: “I am caged in this corner / full of melancholy and sorrow… my wings are closed and I cannot fly… I am an Afghan woman and I must wail.” In another, “The cry of my heart sparkles like a star / And the bird of my flight touches the sky / My madness can be found in his book. In another poem, “What should I do with a trapped wing, / Which does not let me fly?…I have been silent too long, / But I never forget the melody, / Since every moment I whisper / The songs from my heart, / Reminding myself of / The day I will break this cage, / Fly from this solitude / And sing like a melancholic.” This is why I called her Hawkgirl.