a place for more in-depth biographical notes; told in the poet’s own words.
Poetry is embedded in me. My mom used to read me Edgar Allan Poe every night before bed when I was a kid, and the hypnotic melodies of pieces like ‘Annabelle Lee’ and ‘The Raven’ would color my dreams. Growing up in a turbulent environment, poetry was the only thing that brought me solace. It helped me better understand the chaotic world around me. I would fill notebooks with scribbles pulled from my pain to try to make sense of my emotions. To me, poetry is all about realization and insight. When I was a kid I hardly ever showed up to school, and dropped out when I was seventeen (but later graduated from an online school) but in a strange way I think that helped me grow as a poet because I learned about poetry from reading it on my own, without having a teacher force it on me then tell me my interpretation of the poem was “wrong”.
I read Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ when I was probably fifteen or sixteen, and it blew me away. I started reading as much Kerouac as I could. His poetry spoke to me in ways that no other writer had before. It was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon his haiku. And that’s when it happened. Those little poems hit me like shots of hard liquor, and I wanted more. Longer forms started to seem like “fruity cocktails” compared to this… this was real poetry. This was stripping the art to the bone and leaving it raw and exposed for what it was. Reading some of the other great American haiku poets like Nick Virgillio only influenced me more.
I feel my “haiku journey” is unique, because the first haiku I read were originally written in English, and I feel my own work is heavily influenced by that. I don’t think I would be writing short forms if I had been exposed only to the traditional Japanese hokku. I’m a city kid, and I pull my inspiration from what’s natural to me. My ginko walks aren’t through the forest, they’re through the concrete jungle. I thrive on gaining life experiences, because everything I write has to be based at least somewhat in truth. I need to feel something deeply before I can turn it into art. I don’t really have a traditional writing process, I just walk around the city of Detroit looking for poems under skyscrapers or in back-alleys. I never force anything, because as stupid as this sounds, I feel like the poems are searching for me too.
I feel that these following poems from my book “No Regrets” are good examples of the way I write.
the homeless child
wishes for stars
my father’s blood mixing
a child drawing circles
in her breath
safe inside a box
the christmas bulbs
from our shattered family
I’ve recently started to get into photography. I came into a little bit of money in late 2015, and spent it all on a camera. The idea of spending so much money on one thing made me sick, but once I purchased it and started shooting I knew I made the right choice. I started taking pictures because I see poetry all around me, and some of it just can’t be put into words. Photography and haiku have so much in common. You have to approach both arts with the same meditative mindset, acting on intuition and remembering to “show, not tell”. I love when I’m able to combine the two arts into one, making haiga.
Haiga is the most rewarding form of art in my opinion, not only because it combines both my passions of photography and poetry, but because it’s the most challenging to me. You can’t just paste a haiku onto a pretty picture and call it done, you really need to live in the moment of when the photo was created and pull from that.
I have been a word weaver for five decades. The exercise of writing has helped me navigate not only through turbulent periods in my emotional world, but also through countless moments of grace in the natural world. Most of my works are inspired by personal experiences, and the remainder are rooted in my imagination.
The discovery of the welcoming short form poetry community on Twitter in 2013 has narrowed my writing focus, yet has expanded my publishing opportunities much further than I thought possible. I now mainly write Japanese short forms in English (tanka, haiku, senryu, and tanshi—the phrase for short poetry, which I believe was coined by Yosano Tekkan, a Japanese poet in the 19th century), and my haiga and tanka/tanshi art is created to complement the words either directly or indirectly.
I have been making photographs since I was a teenager. I began by shooting wide-angle landscapes and seascapes, progressing to the use of a zoom lens for wildlife portraits, and finally to employing a macro lens to illustrate nature’s minutiae. I have an affinity for the small and often overlooked things in nature, such as dewdrops, lichen on stones, frost, fallen feathers, torn leaves, and also for the effects of rust on items that have been broken and abandoned.
The four parts of this resident artist series (Glass, Watercolour, White Spaces, and Altered Reality) are only a small sampling from many different galleries of my SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) photographs and enhanced images.
The Japanese concepts of komorebi (light filtering through trees), kintsukuroi (more beautiful for having been broken), wabi (subdued and austere beauty), sabi (rustic patina), and mono no aware (the pathos of things) influence my writing and photography.
My daily practice of writing and creating art feels like coming home to a place of peace after a long and difficult journey. I think the day of the small poem has come. Life can be overwhelming in this technological age, and so it makes perfect sense that in order for our words to engage busy readers, poems must become both tiny in format, and large in scope. Many of us loved poetry and learned to recite it as children, and perhaps if we reflect upon that past joy, we might be moved to fill our future with the music of these little songs.
I appreciate this opportunity to share my creative passions with you, and offer my thanks for taking the time to read. I am excited to announce that my book of triptychs, Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, is forthcoming this summer from Kei Books. You are invited to view further examples of my images and words at the following sites:
I’ve been playing with words since I was a toddler. I remember sitting on our front stoop in Southwestern Pennsylvania with a handwritten letter from Uncle Bill to my mother. I thought if I stared at it long enough I would be able to read.
Blank end pages of books fascinated me–in those days books were printed on glossy paper with sometimes eight blank sheets. I would gaze at those pages, run my fingers over the smooth silk and dream. At an early age I started collecting blank books, journals, just because they were pretty. I had no idea what I was going to do with them.
My friend Patti and I used to love the little tablets with various pastel shades on which we would design clothes for our cutout dolls. She repeatedly told me that my drawings were ugly, that I didn’t know how to draw, that I mixed plaids with polka dots… a no no. A few years ago she told me that all those years ago, I was way ahead of my time – all those “hideous” dresses I drew, they all turned up in Vogue.
Many of you are familiar with my poem PURPLE and how Mrs. Lohr knocked down my drawing of a purple tipi.
In first grade
Mrs. Lohr said
my purple teepee
wasn’t realistic enough
that purple was no color
for a tent,
that purple was a color
for people who died,
that my drawing
wasn’t good enough to hang
with the others.
I walked back to my seat
counting the swish swish swishes
of my baggy corduroy trousers.
With a black crayon
nightfall came to my purple tent
in the middle of an afternoon.
In second grade
Mr. Barta said draw anything,
he didn’t care what.
I left my paper blank
and when he came around
to my desk
my heart beat like a tom tom.
He touched my head
with his big hand
and in a soft voice said
(First published in East West Journal, 1982)
For 27 years I accepted the program that I wasn’t creative – that
everyone else was, but not me. Until one day the above poem wrote itself and after all these years, it circulates around the world like a chain letter and has been published in many texts, newsletters and anthologies including the first edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul (anonymously)! Dr. Bernie Siegel uses it in his art therapy workshops and included Purple in his book Love, Magic & Mudpies. I receive many emails and letters from people around the world telling me about their own Purple experience.
My best friend is my iPad – it is the best gift I’ve ever been given. Because I’m sensitive to toxic art materials and their odors, my digital tablet is the answer to a prayer where it allows me to try new techniques. When I make a mistake, I just click the “undo” button on an app. I use dozens of apps, am a member of various on-line digital art groups where people share their work every day. I have paid tutors to teach me some of their tricks and I’ve paid for on-line webinars where artists reveal their techniques. But no matter how many people one studies with or how many hours one puts in to this art form, each experience feels like Alice going down the rabbit hole – it can be scary yet exhilarating at the same time. All in all, through trial and error, I’m basically self taught. Sometimes I add words to my art and sometimes a piece of art just speaks for itself. Every day I try something new, even if it’s just to doodle on a complicated app like Procreate.
People ask me on Facebook all the time, what apps do I use? I keep giving the same answer–I am an app jumper. Find your own apps, don’t hop on anyone else’s journey. Invest in a good digital art magazine like Somerset Studio Digital Art. See what interests you, read up on how artists work, try out an app. Try out two apps. Don’t forget, it’s all about playing. Chagall said, “I am a child who is getting on in years.” He also said, “I paint in the medium that likes me.” The iPad has taken a liking to me and thousands of other artists – it is a canvas I carry with me wherever I go and though every time I look in the mirror and see my grandmother staring back, I also see the child within smiling and thanking me for honoring her. Life is short – art never ends.