photo: Judy Ferrara
Photo Credit: Tracy Raphaelson




April 2006

"Poems are best delivered fast, sharp, smart and tellingly. They can help you realize something you could not understand before; they can illuminate the spirit with long forgotten beauties and uglies"
Gregory Corso, from Poetspeak: In their work, about their work. Paul B. Janeczko, editor.


National Poetry Month in the United States

Dear Reader:

This journal is dedicated to people who are inexperienced with poetry or feel intimidated when they hear the word. Last month's journal ended with the fact that April is National Poetry Month, as well as a question: Is it possible that there is hope for poetry in America? An answer came from my webmaster, Patsy McCowan, whose story of quiet love for poetry had a powerful effect on me. It explains poetry's raison d'être, its reason for being.

Patsy began by sharing her memory of a haiku written by Ryo-kan: "The thief left it behind/the moon at my window." She went on to say that she liked it better as: "Moon at the window/the thief left behind." She continued, "When I'm walking in the quiet solitude of the deep woods, I think of a million haikus and will someday take a tablet and pen and write them down."

Patsy's experience with haiku explains everything anyone needs to know about what poetry has to offer. First, she walks in the woods and connects to nature by using the centuries-old form of haiku. Never mind the three line, 5-7-5 syllable count that we found easy to analyze in school. For Patsy, haiku is a way to express her feelings about the trees, the light, the air, the rain, or the crunch of leaves under her feet. Haiku is the cup to fill with her thoughts, and as Gregory Corso said in the opening quotation, haiku can condense experience and "illuminate the spirit."

Second, Patsy is doing with language what all poets do: playing with syntax. Consider the word order of her remembered haiku by Ryo-kan. He seems to be saying that a thief may be able to take many valuable things, but has to leave something more precious behind, the moon outside his window. Patsy's revision is a turn of phrase using the same words, but she has transformed it into a witty and delightful narrative. I imagine the thief standing inside the house he is robbing, realizing he has been abandoned by his cohorts. The moonlight allows me to see the shock on his face.

The final part of Patsy's message tells what it means to live a busy life in which poetry has a place, but how she wishes it could take up more space. She wrote: "Whenever I recall [a haiku], it gives me a great sense of peace. When I say that I think of them, I mean ones that I would write, and other times some that I've read." That's the writer's dilemma. We walk around composing, gathering, bumping into doors. While poems are often products of draft-after-draft struggles, they usually begin in a notebook taken on a walk in the woods, or on a napkin used to surreptitiously record a snatch of conversation in a restaurant. Full notebooks and stuffed pockets give proof that at least our powers of observation are in play. That's what poets do: we notice everything and collect what we can. And these snippets COULD end up woven into poems. Or, just as importantly, they are there to be read six months later to help us recapture a moment that was significant enough to jot down.

Patsy also reads haiku. She has an acquired taste for the form, which means she reads them because she wants to, not because she is required to do so. If you are someone in search of poetry, there are some things you can do to find it.

Go to your newspaper's entertainment/spoken word section and see if there are any poetry readings scheduled in April. Bookstores and colleges frequently sponsor them, and they are usually free and open to the public.

Join the Academy of American Poets ( You can sign up for a Poem-a-Day in April, which will give you "an excellent sampling of the new voices and driving forces of the poetry world" (

Take one hour, go to your public library, find the poetry section, pull several books and journals randomly from the shelves, and read. Find one poem that you REALLY like. Copy it into your notebook. Enjoy the feel of writing the words and luxuriating in the white space around them. Once you've accomplished this, you will have begun to acquire a taste for poetry. Remember, taste is an individual thing. Go at it with your heart AND brain.

Make the default page on your browser You can connect to the Internet with a poem before you move on to a zillion other less important things.

Thank you to Patsy McCowan, who provided me with the perfect vignette to say my piece in honor of National Poetry Month. How will you commemorate it? Write to me at

In May's journal, I will be choosing a few paintings from my Gallery Chapters section and write about what inspired me to make them. If you are curious about a particular artwork and want me to include it in the blog, contact me!