Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Idea of Belted Cattle

Someone, at some distant time, decided that breeding to maintain this white belt was a good idea. The breed had other useful qualities: thriftiness and more trouble-free births among them. It's had a lot of popularity in several European countries, and in America, and has had various ups and downs in population. Accounts of the history of the breed vary, but it has existed for hundreds of years. I had wondered about this breed, and was delighted to catch a glimpse from the highway. 

Today was a meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. It was great to see some friends again and play a terrific high-speed haiku writing game using word prompts. From the book table I acquired a book of tanka (originally Japanese five-line poems from which haiku developed) by our late haiku friend (and also science-fiction author) Paul O. Williams.

So tonight's poems are his tanka from the book, These Audacious Maples, XLIBRIS, 2007. The lines of tanka can be syllable-counted 5-7-5-7-7 or fewer syllables. That is the form Paul uses, these syllables or fewer in a five-line form. It's useful to think about writing many small poems in this way. There is enough room to develop an idea, and not enough to exhaust your reader. Like Belted, or Dutch Belted Cattle, there are variant kinds, longer, shorter and in many languages.

sleeping on a ridge
among mountain laurel
in the morning
the whole river valley
a line of solid white mist

swallows gather
as the last asters bloom blue
thick dust on their leaves . . .
then the swallows are not there
the moon, too, slowly waning

High on the hill
your yellow shirt blazes up
like a golden stone,
like a small woods fire 
in the tinder of my heart.

a morning walk--
on the garden wall
a woman reading
the paper--her slippers scuffed
the smooth skin of her instep

there is no right thing to say
but you must
say something anyhow--
spiderwebs gleam in the sun

Time to cut my nails--
again I remember
they grow at the speed
the Pacific Plate slides north--
quietly today.

Paul O. Williams

Notice how he makes a choice about capitalization or punctuation--not always the same choices, but geared toward the machinery of the poem. 

When someone you care for has gone, and you encounter a scrap-spark of them in something they wrote, it is precious, a reminder of them, of your joy in them, and of the loss. But you can be glad you knew them, and dwell in that pleasure again briefly. 

Good night.

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