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My beloved didn’t answer my prayer
I tried all my usual tricks
I dried my tears at his feet
I covered my head in my shame and walked away


Finally understood what it is to lose, to a pretty face
An uncaring smile and those ravishing eyes
Snuffed out my soft ambers’ austere plea
My beloved didn’t look back



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      Poetry Prompt  2 – Haiku
      Let's Write a Basho-style Haiku!
      It's arguable that Haiku is now the most popular set form of verse in the English language. Today more Haiku are written around the world than Sonnets and all the other forms put together.
      Haiku, or Hokku, arose out of Tanka and a variation on that form. The natural way in which the five lines of Tanka can be broken into strophes of three and two lines, in either combination, was known as Renga, or linked verses. These witty poems, which often took the form of question and answer, were light and popular entertainment.
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      So, Basho's form was a serious attempt to redact out the subjective view of the poet, and in this regard he was influenced by Zen thought that the "I" is an illusion. Within a very limited form he tried to capture the corporal impressions of an event, and trusted that the reader would insert his or her own emotions into what they were shown. By corporal I mean the bodily senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. His most famous Haiku is this:
      Which translates literally as:
      There is a particular anthology of one hundred English language versions of those eight simple Japanese words, and all of them are different, and all of them are in proper Haiku form.
      The Haiku is based on a three-lined structure, and has the following syllables: 5,7,5. Like all Japanese poetry and traditional lyrics, a seasonal word is essential. In the frog poem, the frog is a symbol of summer. Another summer poem that illustrates his totally subjective style is this one from Oku no Hosomichi:
      The Prompt: write two Haiku. One inspired by a sight you witnessed outdoors, in a secluded patch of nature (either in your yard, a city park, or the great untamed wilderness). And a second one inspired by an urban sight (something that catches your eye on the street), or that happens indoors. You must be true to the form and include a seasonal word within both poems, but remember, words like 'surfboard' and 'bug spray' speak of summer just as much as 'frog' and 'cicada' do. Think outside the box and just use a sight that speaks to the season in the part of the world you are right now. 
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      Poetry Prompt 11 – Haiku #2
      Let's Write an Issa-style Haiku!
      We have studied Tanka, and Basho-style Haiku, so now we can move on to the other great master of Japanese Haiku, Issa Kobayashi.[1]
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      Or, here's another wintry one:
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      Now for some background: born in 1763, and trained firmly in the Basho tradition of poetry, he wrote more than 20,000 Haiku but only a few hundred Tanka.[2] When he was 52 years old, he decided to start writing a poetic journal, whereby he would chronicle a year of his life. He called it Oraga haru, or My Springtime.[3] His wife had borne him a daughter recently, and their child turned two years old as he began this project. He dedicated his newfound joy in living to the fact that she brought hope and a fresh outlook to his existence. It proved tragic, because as he was writing this work, his daughter contracted smallpox and died.
      Issa recorded it all – his happiness, his despair, his grief, and finally, his determination that a higher purpose exists. Oraga haru became a landmark when he published, and it's arguably one of the greatest poetic works you'll be able to find. Do check it out in Hamill's translation.
      So, intimacy reigns in Issa's Haiku. He does not shy away from being a poet telling his side of things, as long as he keeps it simple, and adheres to the basic requirements of the Haiku as a form. Those are, the inclusion of a seasonal word – like 'snow,' and 'chill' in the examples above – and a structure of three lines arranged in syllables of 5-7-5.
      The question is, how does he do his magic? Answer: I do not know. It's just one of those things that works or fails to work, so I can simply give you more examples to see how he balanced the objective with the subjective.
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      brings and takes so much.
      The Prompt: write one or more Haiku based on an animal observation. This can be an inspirational moment, like a snail climbing a mountain, or a peaceful moment, like a dog napping on the grass. Just anything you see from the animal kingdom that makes you pause and reflect. Keep a seasonal word, and maintain three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.  
        [1] In Japan, he's simply known as Issa, which is highly unusual. For in Europe, many important people, like Michelangelo and Galileo, are remembered by their first names; in Japan that's almost unheard of. I would speculate it's the intimacy of his poetry that makes people feel close to him; close enough to simply think of him as "Issa."     
      [2] See: The Spring of My Life by Sam Hamill, Boston 1997. 
      [3] Oftentimes the simplest things are the most difficult to translate. Case in point, the word oraga is a masculine form of 'my,' but it carries a certain, forced crudeness to it. It's a spoken work, the kind you're likely to hear in informal settings, like a bar, and its inclusion in the title of a collection of poems must have shocked early readers. I almost toy with the idea that the accurate rendering in English for this book is My Damn Spring.  
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      Poetry Prompt 6 – Elegy
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      We have studied how verse form relates to certain patterns, like line length, using end-of-line rhymes for emphasis and memorability, and stanza patterns like the Tanka, Haiku, and Couplet.
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      Of those fair arms which bound him to her breast,
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      For our purposes of studying how to write one, I will stick with examples from arguably one the greatest same-sex love poems ever written (and one sadly few bother to read today); Tenneyson's In Memoriam contains the lines:
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      For underfoot the herb was dry;
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      Was love's dumb cry defying change
      To test his worth; and strangely spoke.
      So word by word, and line by line,
      The dead man touched from the past,
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      His living soul was flashed on mine,
      And mine in his was wound and whirled[3]
      About empyreal heights of thought,
      And came on that which is, and caught
      The deep pulsations of the world.
      So, sucked from out the distant gloom
      A breeze began to tremble o'er
      The large leaves of the sycamore,
      And fluctuate all the still perfume.  
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      So many worlds, so much to do,
      So little done, such things to be,
      How know I what had need of thee,
      For thou wert strong as thou wert true?
      The fame is quenched that I foresaw,
      The head hath missed an earthly wreath:
      I curse not nature, no, nor death;
      For nothing is that errs from law.
      We pass; the path that each man trod
      Is dim, or will be dim, with weeds:
      What frame is left for human deeds
      In endless age? It rests with God.
      O hollow wraith of drying fame,
      Fade wholly, while the soul exults,
      And self-infolds the large results
      Of force that would have forged a name.
      So here, I hope you noticed right away, Tennyson used the exact form and line pattern, but achieved something markedly different from 95. His anxiety almost beats with a heartbeat as we read his words, and 'nature' becomes thought of human nature and of how natural it is for two people to love one another.
      The prompt: write your own set of four-lined Elegy stanzas. The theme is 'Remember,' and I encourage all of you to submit your work to Irri for the spring anthology. Keep the rhyme pattern a-b-b-a, use as many stanzas as you like, but maintain a consistent 8-syllable line. Play with it; your poem does not have to be about death or loss, just remembrance.       
        [1] The two young shepherds who were household names in ancient and Renaissance times were Corydon and Alexis. They were as well known a couple as Romeo and Juliet is to us and the story of how their pure love and passionate devotion to one another was tested by the glitz and fakeness of hypocrisy was written about time and time again. Marlowe's famous lines of "Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove" is Corydon speaking to Alexis. (See Chapter 3 of Bruce R. Smith's 1991 literary survey of same-sex love in Shakespeare's England)       
      [2] Laund = a grassy meadow
      [3] The 'his' of this line and the line above are the originals. Tennyson's son later systematically went through the poem and edited parts he felt were too 'gay.' Thus in this line he craftily added a 't' to make a nonsensical 'this': "And mine in this was wound". Unfortunately this was one of his favorite ways to deface the manuscript. Sometimes, as in the case of "His living soul was flashed on mine," he was forced to cross out his father's words and simply write something obscuring above it; here he altered it to read: "The living soul was flashed on mine," which again makes no sense to a reader. (See In Memoriam, edited by Robert H. Ross, 1973 New York)
      Walt Whitman's editor for the Leaves of Grass insisted he add qualifiers like "him and her," and "he and she" in his erotic poetry where he only wrote "him" and "he." Later on his dutiful students defaced his manuscripts after the master's death to reflect the edited print versions of the poem. (See Love Stories, by Jonathan Ned Katz, 2001 Chicago)
      Emily Dickinson likewise had her manuscripts rather brutally altered by her editor and niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. As Keith Stern writes: "Though we know little about Dickinson's sexual life, we can be certain about the passions of her sexual orientation. In 1852 she wrote a love letter to her friend Susan Gilbert that read in part, 'Susie, forgive me darling, for every word I say – my heart is full of you, none other than you in my thoughts.' Her love for Gilbert inspired many of her poems. In addition to altering Dickinson's rhymes and punctuation, early editors replaced Gilbert's name in many of the love poems that were written to her. Scissors and erasers were taken both to poems and correspondence, turning 'her' to 'him,' and erasing the 's' in front of 'she.'" (ps. 139-140, Queers in History, 2009 Dallas)
      It is a shame that LGBTQ youth are still systematically kept from knowing the extent of Gay arts and letters that exists all around them. Editing Gay people out of their own history should end.
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