Now is when we need to cry, to laugh. So I encourage all of you on Facebook or Twitter to share your work so people will know they’re not alone. This is not a time to focus on contests and publications (go with the publishers who consider social media posts ‘unpublished’).
Yes, these are interesting times we’re living in. We’re all ordered to stay at home and that’s no fun. But for those of us with creative outlets, it can save us from boredom, fear and worse yet, panic. On the bright side, we can use our apartments or houses as our makeshift zendos or monasteries. Here we’re forced to look within, to face what we denied when we were playing beat the clock.
Just to share, I am using karma yoga as a way to cope with the extra responsibilities than have been thrown in my lap. These responsibilities wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t handle them. Karma yoga is about offering one’s dharma (duty) to the Divine as a gift. It works quite well and I encourage you to Google the term to learn more if that strikes your fancy.
Meanwhile, social media is a life saver even though it’s not always fun and games there, either. People have to vent and sometimes they go overboard. But I try to stick to basics–how to get through a day, focus on my writing/art. Oh yes, and keeping my house sparkling.
Happy to report that two of my long haibun will appear in the next on-line Chrysanthemum (a lovely journal published in Germany). For those of you who write haibun, you might want to check it out as a resource. Another bit of happy news is that my book of haibun, Scratches on the Moon (available on Kindle/Amazon) made the Touchstone Book Awards 2019 short list.
A Peony, A Volcano anthology update: This tanka project includes topics relating to the world we’re living in with all its issues and problems we didn’t see coming like the Australia fires. Just as I turned over the text to the publisher, Red Moon Press, Covid19 started to hit. No way we could publish an anthology that would already be outdated the moment it came off the press, so an SOS was sent out to tanka poets asking them to submit poems related to the Corona Virus. The poems trickle in as we start to get a handle on the world before us (sometimes I envy those astronauts in space stations). Fasten your seat belts — we are all going to get an even greater education which will make many of us more exemplary human beings. Chances are A Peony, A Volcano will be used as a text for students of poetry for years to come.
When I write (or when I create art) I really want to tell a story. I also like when others share stories with me, whether in person or through the written word. The best stories, to me, are the ones that come from vulnerability. When someone shares their secrets, no matter how unpleasant they may be, I feel connected to the human spirit.
What makes me sad is the social exclusion in which many of us find ourselves. I live in suburbia surrounded by people mostly with children. I know that my neighbors have stories that I will never hear. When they talk about their kids’ lacrosse or how they’re doing in school, that to me is not sharing stories. Most of the time it’s just bragging. When a neighbor throws a party and the entire block shows up, I know I’m not going to hear any real stories. I’ll never really get to know who those people are because their masks are held on by Crazy Glue. I will eat a hotdog, excuse myself early and feel empty. It’s exhausting spending time with people who suppress their true natures. Chances are they pass along their own suppression to their offspring helping to create an even more distant society. Stories locked inside the human heart are carried to the grave.
Even worse is when someone does open up, only to try to convert me to their religion. I remember in 2007 ,when my husband and I were walking around Kyoto, unable to speak the language and feeling lonely. We obviously looked lost. A woman approached , she said to practice her English. For 30 seconds the conversation was pleasant until she handed us a religious brochure warning of the end of the world.
Do I ask for a lot? Is wishing for a genuine exchange with another human asking for the moon? Is that why I rely so much on Facebook, to be reminded that there are real people out there, eager to share their stories, even though I may never shake their hand or offer them a glass of water? Friending people on social media has its downside–Big Data is waiting to sell us something. Our privacy is compromised. But some of us will do anything to hear about what’s going on in someone else’s life–how they’re coping with the loss of a parent, a child who died, an encounter they had at the grocery store.
Alexis Rotella is a storyteller whose most recent books includes Scratches on the Moon and Unsealing Our Secrets (an anthology of MeToo stories) which won a Touchstone Book Award in 2008. Amazon/Kindle
I was more than pleased to read Marilyn Hazelton’s “review” of my latest book Dancing the Tarantella which is a meaty read of tanka as well as cherita. Quite a contrast from the review in the last Ribbons tanka journal whose editor just focused in on the poems that were critical. Sometimes reviews say more about the critics than they do about the books.
Here are a few examples of my work that Marilyn mentioned in her “appreciation.”
Seashell / in my pocket / I carry the whisper / of the Pacific home / to my old mother
In a candy dish / caramels are crying / one by one / I eat their soft voices / so they’ll be quiet
Apple blossoms / through lace curtains / of my bedroom window / I watch a headless rooster / dance the tarantella
Dancing the Tarantella is available on Amazon/Kindle along with other books including Scratches on the Moon which was published in 2019. And don’t forget UnSealing Our Secrets (#MeToo Stories) which was awarded a 2018 Touchstone Book Award from Touchstone Press.
Frogpond arrived yesterday and I was pleased with review of my first book of haibun, Scratches on the Moon. Randy Brooks writes:
In this collection of 47 haibun, Rotella provides an interesting mix of narrative perspectives, characters and voice with the evocative ending leap of a haiku or punch of a senryu. The title comes from the haibun Shocking the Neighbors where “There are no secrets in this no-horse town where Mom will be waiting at the gate with a ping pong paddle.” The haibun concludes with this angsty haiku:
The wind / leaves scratches / on the moon.
Several of the haibun draw on memories from the past, but rarely do they end with sentimental nostalgia for the “good old days.” More often they reveal a darker side of people, struggling with challenges. For example, her haibun, “Dark Figure” is a brief character sketch of “James Vanderhoof” who is “built like a hulk” and “chases the girls and hugs us until we can hardly breathe.” After this bully meets his match in the form of a “stacked” new girl, the subsequent haiku is:
Blackberries / the unseen bruises / of childhood
As a masterful writer, we can never tell whether these are fictional or creative nonfiction, but the emotions conveyed are real enough for us to feel and know them as genuine.
As Mercury goes retrograde, it’s common to reminisce, to go back into our memories and relive moments. On this rather dreary late October day, I picked up Robert Purcell Moyer’s BITE OF AN APPLE published by Rosenberry Books. Each haiku, each calligraphic illustration is a marvel.
I then picked up the three books of my own that Rosenberry published some years ago, each on handmade paper, beautifully crafted. I’m so proud of them and Rosenberry for their dedication to out-of-this-world beautiful bookmaking techniques.
Here are links to my three books:
I enjoyed the slower pace of life in Winston Salem. My husband gave a great talk on copyright law that I know shed light on topics that every writer/editor needs to know. I, along with Alan Pizzarelli and Mike Rehling (ed. Failed Haiku), read the senryu of others as well as our own poems. Having started three journals, I read old haiku and senryu from The Persimmon Tree, Brussels Sprout, and the first issue of Prune Juice (present editor Brent Goodman). It’s always a joy to read senryu, to hear the chuckles, gasps and sighs.
My presentation on the Moon and Astrology blew a few minds when poets entertained the idea that the moon is a filter that colors our everyday life.
To support tanka, I read five-line poems and a few cherita on the eve of Tanka Sunday from my new book Dancing the Tarantella which was more than well received. I was too zonked to stay for the entire meeting.
The first day at the Kaleidoscope reading, I shared haibun from my new book Scratches on the Moon. I believe, along with Dancing the Tarantella, are my best books to date. They are available on Amazon/Kindle.
It was great to see old friends and to meet new people. Robert Purcell Moyer, who headed up the event, was always there for everyone. He’s a wonderful human being who happens to be a terrific dancer. The jazz ensemble and hearing my old friend Lenard Moore recite poems and perform was a real treat.
Aside from the conference, I was informed that after 45 years of writing haiku and other Japanese art forms, I was included as the 23rd honorary curator in the American Haiku Archives (2019). It’s a great honor to be with people such as Gary Snyder, Makoto Ueda, John Stevenson, Pat Donegan and others. Michael Welch was supposed to make the announcement at the Haiku North America conference but unfortunately it slipped his mind.
On the tanka front, I agreed to edit the Tanka Society of America Anthology. And, surprise, Jim Kacian of The Haiku Foundation, asked me to edit a new tanka anthology. I am in the process of putting together a team of editors I would really like to make tanka more accessible to haiku writers, to get away from the strictly solipsistic approach.
For those of you in the DC area, I will be reading at Spiral Staircase, 49 West in Annapolis at 4 pm September 15. Please attend and feel free to share your poems at open mic.