#Poetryfriday: Haibun “Hip-Stir”

A haibun is a poetic form that  originated during 17th Century in Japan as a combination of two poems: a prose poem and haiku. The form was popularized by poet Matsuo Basho. In the haibun, the prose paper of the poem and haiku typically communicate with each other, though poets employ different strategies for this communication.

The prose part of the poem  usually describes a scene or moment in an objective manner. Meanwhile, the haiku portion follows the typical rules for haiku.

Here is my attempt at a haibun poem:


The hip bone is a large flat bone, constricted in the center and expanded above and below. The two hip bones are part of the pelvic girdle that attach the axial skeleton to the lower limbs.

imageOsteoarthritis can occur in the hips. The warning  signs of osteoarthritis are:

  • Stiffness in a joint after getting out of bed or sitting for a long time
  • Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints
  • A crunching feeling or the sound of bone rubbing on bone.


Arthritis in hips

Has been fixed with a “stand-in”

Such  a hip-stir!


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#Shakespeare400: The “Wow” Factor

Reading Shakespeare can give us the “wows“!
What are wows?

According to Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool’s School of English, the linguistic tricks that Shakespeare uses in his poetry,  “excite us, rather than confuse us.”

In an article posted on The Big Think: This is Your Brain on Shakespeare, by Daniel Honan, Davis explains that the brain is more active when listening to word play. Davis cites several switches in parts of speech, a kind of word play, that Shakespeare employs in his plays:

An adjective is made into a verb: ‘thick my blood’ (The Winter’s Tale)

A pronoun is made into a noun: ‘the cruellest she alive’ (Twelfth Night)

A noun is made into a verb: ‘He childed as I fathered’ (King Lear)

Using brain imaging equipment, Davis and others conducted experiments that revealed brain activity when people listened to these the ways Shakespeare used language.

The researchers noted that, “A normal brain reaction is called an N400, which occurs 400 milliseconds after the brain experiences a thought or perception.” Listening to Shakespeare in contrast caused a peak in brain activity, “or a P600 response occuring  600 milliseconds after the brain experiences a quite different type of thought or perception.”

Davis describes the P600 response as the “Wow Effect,” in which the brain is excited, and is put in “a state of hesitating consciousness.”

Of course, that kind of “hesitating consciousness” may look a little different in high school where any form of consciousness is a goal.

#Shakespeare400-Bardy, It’s Cold Out There

Of the 38 plays Shakespeare wrote, three titles are directly associated with seasons or weather.There may be meteorological origins for these titles by taking a  quick look at the record of serious weather events in the late 1500s and early 1600s.

The year after a “wet & unseasonable summer – extensive flooding of fields etc., with loss / spoiling of crops across England (1594)”, came the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But it is in the record of harsh winters, from 1607 through 1609, that one could find the origins for some of the language and themes in The Winter’s Tale in 1609 and The Tempest in 1610.winter-snow-nature-animated-gif-8

According to the website Meteorology at West Moors that notes significant weather in England during the centuries:

1596: “…period of frequent severe gales in Scotland set in and lasted until 16th August: many ships lost on the east coast.”

1607-08: “The ‘Great Winter‘: apparently, trees died due to the severity (and length) of the frost; ships were stranded by ice several miles out into the North Sea … In December, a “deep” frost until mid-month, then a thaw until just before Christmas, then from ~21st December, intense freeze for much of the time until at least mid-January. Ice formed on the Thames in London….The frost lasted overall for some two months…The Firth of Forth is noted as being ‘frozen’ during January 1608 & the River Exe (south of Exeter) also experienced major ice formation by the latter-third of January – at this latter location, damage was caused to a local weir.”

At the very least, the people who attended Shakespeare’s plays certainly remembered the intensity of the storms and the impact that extreme weather had on their daily lives. They did not need an explanation to understand language of weather to interpret the themes in any of Shakespeare’s works.

The same could be said of the sonnets, (1609). Audiences would understand the message in lines 3 and 4 from  Sonnet 97

“What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!”
…just as they would understand today’s lyrics, “Baby, it’s bad out there…oh, but it’s cold outside!”


Washington, Our Poet-in-Chief

George Washington is known for his military and political achievements, but the  Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut offers evidence of his prowess as a poet.

Washington’s poetry is included in an exhibit titled Sound & Sense: Poetic Musings in American Art (November 14, 2015 – April 17, 2016):

“The exhibition presents a diverse landscape of masterpieces from the museum’s collection that incorporate poetic inscriptions in their composition or have direct relationships to America’s rich poetic traditions….”

On one wall, the portraits of Martha (left) and George Washington (right) are placed so they appear to be gazing at each other. Moreover, at first glance, the poem appears to be a a expression of George’s love for Martha. However, the note above Washington’s verse explains the sentiment was taken from a personal letter 1749-50, nine years before he married Martha. IMG_0028


The verse placed on the wall reads:

From your sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays you have, more powerful than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array

The text next to the portraits -painted by James Sharples (1798)- explains that at the time the letter was written, Washington was a “lovesick teenager” who “penned a passionate sentimental verse to an unknown maiden” before he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.

Historians suggest that young Washington had crushed on several young women, and the the evidence that he had dabbled in romantic poetry in addition to the genres of letter-writing and speeches, speaks to his early comfort with expressing himself with the written word.


On this extended weekend (2/13-2/15/16) , one that combines Valentine’s Day with President’s Day, we have yet one more reason to celebrate George Washington, our first President, and our first Poet-in-Chief.

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“There’s a Certain Slant of Light” in EST

There’s a certain Slant of light, / Winter Afternoons 

That opening line of Emily Dickinson’s  poem is what I think of while the daylight increases from the Winter Solstice (December 21) to the present. I don’t think about the remaining part of the first verse in the poem:

That oppresses, like the Heft/ Of Cathedral Tunes— 

There is nothing oppressive about the increase of light during the winter over the past 52 days. The afternoon daylight has increased almost an hour, from the low point of 4:25 PM to today’s sunset at 5:19PM EST.



The evening commute is easier in the daylight/twilight, and arriving home while the sky still retains patches of blue makes one feel like the day is not quite over, that there is still potential.

Paradoxically, that is not how the poem ends:

When it comes, the Landscape listens—
Shadows—hold their breath—
When it goes, ‘t is like the Distance
On the look of Death—

Emily can be a little depressing sometimes.


Rilke’s Comfort and Guidance for 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke is my favorite example of a poet who bends the limits of language to capture the spiritual experience.

The poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” from Book of Hours, I 59 begins with God speaking to “each of us” and walking as a companion “silently out of the night.”

Rilke’s words of God are “dimly” heard, but the most memorable statements his character speaks are given in six sentences placed in three verses:



“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

This image of a very corporal Divinity -speaking, walking, and then asking to hold hands-is an intimate portrayal. There is comfortable intimacy in having someone hold your hand in crossing the street (for protection), during a game (for fun), in a darkened theatre (for romance).  Holding hands is an especially comforting action when confronting either “beauty and terror.”

At this start of the  2016 New Year, a year which will have moments of great seriousness, Rilke states we are not alone. Despite the limits of language, I find I am comforted by Rilke’s expression  of spiritual guidance in this “country called Life.”

Poetry Friday: T.S.Eliot “Genuine Poetry Communicates”

September 26 marks the poet T.S. Eliot’s birthday. One of my favorite quotes by Eliot is not from a poem, but rather from his explanation that “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

When I taught in the classroom, I would use this quote to explain why the same poem could be shared and enjoyed by different levels of readers. I would use this quote to spark discussion when students were convinced that there was a “correct” answer in making a response to a poem. That meant, I would use his quote when I would teach his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I would use a recording of Eliot reading the poem; they would follow along on the page. Eight and half minutes later, they would look up, perplexed.

“What does this poem mean? “they would ask.
“What did you understand? “I would counter. There would be a long pause, and I would say, “Don’t worry, poetry communicates before it is understood.”

The one section of this great modern poem that my students did feel comfortable understanding was the third stanza that describes the setting for J. Alfred Prufrock’s evening walk:

“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.”

That stanza is a wonderful description of the soft October nights to come. My students enjoyed the figurative language in these lines as opposed to trying to decipher the literary allusions to Michelangelo, Hamlet, scuttling crabs and mermaids.  “Why would anyone dare to eat a peach?” they would wonder.

“But, did you like the poem?” I would finally ask.
“Maybe,” they would respond, “but we don’t understand it all.”
“That’s okay, you don’t need to. He is communicating to you. 

Here, you can listen to Eliot read this poem. Yes, it’s a little lengthy (8:32 min), but be patient… he’s communicating before being understood.

Happy Birthday, T.S. Eliot! Continue reading