Feb 12

Love Haiku: Japanese Poems of Yearning, Passion, and Remembrance by Patricia Donegan

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , February 12th, 2010

by Alison

by Alison

Consider this review a Valentine for Patricia Donegan. Because boy, am I in love with her books.

So enamored was I with  Haiku Mind that when I found out her new book Love Haiku: Japanese Poems of Yearning, Passion and Remembrance would be out in January, I ordered it months ahead. The book is co-translated with Yoshie Ishibashi and some of the haiku in this book have been published in English for the first time.

In Love Haiku, Patricia Donegan has gathered a compilation of romantic haiku by diverse Japanese poets. On one page is a haiku by Basho and on the next a contemporary haiku about a sex change. And this is the magic of this anthology. Love has so many faces, it’s a creature with so many forms that it is astonishing to see Patricia Donegan truly capture its complexities in one small book of poetry.

Also noteworthy is the male / female component of this book. It is a book about love, after all, and I appreciate that the male and female perspective share equal space.

As the title suggests, the book is divided into three distinct components of love: longing, passion and remembrance.

First there is longing, and I enjoyed this one by Yoshiko Yoshino :

nights of rain –

lonely, I fall asleep

holding my breasts

And then there is passion which is nothing if not complex, as in this haiku by Kanajo Hasegawa:

the one I curse

is the one I love –

red cotton roses

While this haiku of remembrance, by Seisha Yumaguchi, made me smile with its image of ephemeral beauty:

in the waves

no trace, where I swam

with a woman

Love Haiku is an exquisite book that pulled me into it’s theme so deeply that I could not stop reading these love poems aloud to my husband. And it is rare indeed to find a book of poems where each one seems to take your breath away. But this is exactly how I feel about this collection.

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Apr 03

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 8 of 8

Posted: under Reviews, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , April 3rd, 2009

by Alison

by Alison

Chapter 91: Home and Family

beautiful lines
of green run through
the summer dishes

– Tatsuko Hoshino

I remember in art school a dear friend of mine once scolded me for doing too much cooking. She said I would never amount to being an artist if I spent my time making fresh tortillas, homemade pies and Pasta Putanesca, food that we had shared together one long hot summer over much conversation and laughter. Male philosophers such as Nietzsche and Foucault, on the other hand, were supposedly proper inspiration for a young artist.

Young art students aren’t the only ones to look down on the domestic as inspiration. The beautiful haiku above was categorized as a “kitchen-ku” by the poet’s male peers. I actually love the term but the intentions are not so innocent – it was meant to belittle the subject matter of female poets as less important.

I think I have always been a kitchen artist. As a young art student I spent my time painting chicken breasts on plates and intricate doilies. Now I write haiku about home and family: my daughter, my husband, my cats, my tea time and even the dreaded housework. I love writing this kitchen-ku. It carries the pulse of my life.

And yet… the feminist in me feels I am not telling the whole story without showing some understanding of my art school friend’s fears. Women are mocked both in and out of the kitchen. If we embrace the domestic we are ghettoized into a role that society feels comfortable with and yet belittles still. If we break out of the kitchen we are often castigated as Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama were during this past election.

So it’s no wonder that women today should have a love/hate relationship with the kitchen. Perhaps in the name of modernity and progress we can take an egalitarian approach.

by the wonderful kitchen artist Mary Cassatt

Afternoon Tea Party by the wonderful "kitchen artist" Mary Cassatt

Male or female, working at home or working outside it, the home and our activities in it are important.

The home is where we can relax and be ourselves. It is a place where we can demonstrate love and also where we are often tested to just get along. It is where we nurture ourselves and each other in the simplest of ways: cooking, cleaning, eating, talking and listening.  And it is 2009 so men should not despair. Men can be great kitchen ku-ers, too!

I wish my art school friend had looked at our laughter, cooking, eating, growing herbs and doing dishes as inspiring to her life and her art as anything else. And I wish that society validated these experiences more. But my friend and I are older now and more confident in ourselves as women. Perhaps we no longer need society’s validation. And if we happen to have the chance again to spend a summer together preparing and sharing home cooked meals and wine – I imagine we would both be inspired.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Home and Family haiku and kitchen-ku concept excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.

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Mar 31

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 7 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , March 31st, 2009

by Kelly

by Kelly

Once upon a time, I took a writing class. Well, actually, I’ve taken many a writing class, but there’s this one particular one that I’m thinking of right now.

One of the women in the class showed up for a writing workshop with copies of an essay she’d written that contained a hot-and-heavy lovemaking scene.

She used all sorts of blush-inducing words like “throbbing tunnel” and “thrusting organ”.

Yikes! How in the world was our group supposed to discuss this essay out loud, stay on track, and not hurt the writer’s feelings?

And the worst part was that she — the writer — hadn’t meant to be pornographic.

She really had just wanted to write about an intimate moment, and you could tell she had tried really hard to keep it clean. That’s why she said “tunnel” instead of — well, you know — and “organ” instead of — well, again, you know.

I will never forget that instructor’s advice. He said the best love scenes were the love scenes that left something to the imagination … that the harder a writer tried to accurately describe all the ins-and-outs of sex, the dirtier it would end up sounding. The trick was to tell just enough and then …

And then let the reader’s imagination take over.

And that’s exactly what I thought of when I read Chapter 100 in the book Haiku Mind. The chapter is about love and passion. The haiku that kicks it off was written by Masajo Suzuki and goes like this:

shall we die together,

my lover whispers —

evening fireflies

Oh. La. La.

At the moment this happened, surely this couple must have been snuggling. They must have been looking up at the stars, quiet and close and kissing and touching, wrapped in a blanket together, her breathing in the air he breathed out. They must have been in love — a consuming, fiery love. I mean, after all, they contemplated dying together.

See what I mean about the reader’s imagination?

All the writer has to do is suggest the outline of a love scene and the reader will quickly jump into the act.

And since this is the case, it strikes me then, that haiku is the perfect medium for writing a love scene.

You can’t go on too long. You can’t describe “throbbing tunnels” and “thrusting organs” because, well, you simply don’t have the space. (I’m sure I’ve just invited someone to prove me wrong.)


But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. According to Patricia Donegan, the writer of the book Haiku Mind, the author of this haiku was 88 years-old when she wrote it.

Now that’s something to strive for — passion at any age.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Love and Passion haiku excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.

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Mar 28

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 6 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , , March 28th, 2009

by Kelly

by Kelly

This post combines two things seemingly at odds with each other: Fran Drescher and haiku.

Here’s the deal — I’ve been struggling to write this post. It was just supposed to be a quick-and-easy, short little review of a single chapter from Patrica Donegan’s book, Haiku Mind. Instead, it turned into a ball and chain.

I knew which chapter I wanted to write about, too. Chapter 75. It discusses creativity and imagination, two traits I respect, admire and hold dear as a writer.

The irony, though, is that I couldn’t find the creativity, the imagination, or the motivation to actually sit down and write anything on the topic.

To prove my point, I’ll tell you that it’s Saturday right now. It’s 2 pm. Yet publishing this entry was on my list of things to do for Monday afternoon. I’ve managed to push this off for five whole days.

But now I’m back on track, or at least I’m catching up, and I have Fran Drescher to thank.

She came through Minneapolis the other night, on a speaking circuit, and I went to hear her talk. One of things she talked about the process of developing “The Nanny”.

Apparently, just before the show performed its pilot episode, the producers got a call from an advertiser who was willing to buy a bunch of ad slots if the writers would change the nanny character (Fran) from being a Jewish girl to an Italian girl.

Fran refused, but not on the politics. She refused out of creative integrity. She could have played an Italian girl, she said. She could have pulled it off, but …

But not for the long-term. Fran Drescher as an Italian nanny wouldn’t have been as authentic, and in order for the show to have any chance at going the distance, it needed to ring true.

She said: I had to listen to the voice inside me because the voice inside me is the closest to my creator.

As soon as she said these words, I immediately connected them to chapter 75 in the book Haiku Mind, the chapter that is all about creativity and imagination.

The haiku that starts this chapter was written by Diane di Prima. It reads:

the inner tide —

what moon does it follow?

I wait for a poem.

The inner tide. The inner voice. They are flip sides of the same coin. The inner tide brings a wash of ideas; the inner voice communicates them. And each is as mysterious as our creator.

We wait for these messages from the beyond — for these ideas, these sparks, these words of guidance — knowing that they will come, but often left wondering exactly when they will show up.

If only we could put a lease and collar on our inner tide so that we could call it up at exact moments whenever we needed a little bit of extra juice.

Instead, we must learn that inspiration strikes in its own time. Our creativity doesn’t always peak when we want it to. And sometimes, words of wisdom are frustratingly silent.

But they come. They all come. In due time. They always do. The trick is, we have to keep ourselves open for their arrival.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Inspiration haiku excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.

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Mar 27

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 5 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , March 27th, 2009

by Alison

by Alison

Chapter 62: Wonder

a stick goes over the falls at sunset

– Cor Van Den Heuvel

An ordinary event. A stick goes over a waterfall and it is wonderful. And of course this makes me think of Kelly.

Kelly and I have had some unusual experiences, together for sure. But sometimes the ordinary is just as grand. And it was on one of our first outings together in a tiny little suburb outside of Buenos Aires, that I saw Kelly become entranced with a doorknob. And trace the outline of a doorbell. And the stately knocker as well. All giggles and wiggles, Kelly was fascinated by the intricate design and elegant presence of these door ornaments. I think she stood there for ten minutes, smiling and marveling over this doorknob in a small town that I can otherwise not remember.

Damn, I wish I had a picture of that doorknob.

But let me get to my point. It was just a doorknob and yet Kelly noticed it. And when she pointed it out, I had to admit – It was gorgeous! And we stopped to contemplate the wonder of some anonymous craftsman putting all that work and artistic integrity into a doorknob. Humanity seemed quite amazing at this moment.

Now let’s contrast this experience with my first two minutes visiting the Grand Canyon years earlier. I got off the bus and walked to the railed edge, looked out into the vast canyon and felt…. disappointment.

This is not THE doorknob but a wondrous doorknob, nonetheless.
This is not THE doorknob but a wondrous doorknob, nonetheless.

Disappointed that it would be hard to imagine anything more amazing, and yet…. I couldn’t connect with it anymore than a postcard. I was expecting, I think, to feel an epiphany. Was it expectations that interrupted the wonder?

Well, it took me a while to get past my expectations. It wasn’t until I left the vista and started a 5 hour trek down into the canyon that I really started to feel entirely blessed to be there. And truly see the WONDER.

And this is why I feel blessed to have Kelly as my friend. Spend a day with Kelly and you will witness a person who sees and feels wonder beyond what I have experienced with any other person I have ever met. It’s a beautiful quality to be around and completely infectious. And it is a reminder for me to open myself to the wonder that is out there – in a canyon, in a stick floating in water and even in a doorknob.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Wonder haiku excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.

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Mar 20

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 4 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , March 20th, 2009

by Alison

by Alison

Chapter 40 – Cutting Through

the stone of a white peach
with the edge of the knife

–  Takako Hashimoto

Patricia Donegan invites us to be daring. To get rid of our attachment to every thought and deliberation and instead take action. Action that is swift and bold. Courageous and precise. Like the sword work of a Samurai or the bravery of Joan of Arc. Or the quick action of cutting through the stone of a peach to obtain the perfect seed.

This is a tall order and something that is difficult for most of us. A bold action without clarity and precision can lead to chaos. Precision without courage can lead to inaction. Precision and courage without clarity can lead to the wrong action. What to do? How to gain the insight and courage to “cut through?”

I’ve cut through on occasion, as have most of us. My decision to move to Argentina during my mid-twenties was an act of cutting through. Before my move I had spent several years bogged down in post-college angst. Worried about a chronic health problem, a difficult relationship and what in the world to do with my life, my mind was on hyper-speed. I seemed to be consuming myself and getting nowhere. Then a friend suggested I try yoga and I started to change. Yoga allowed me to slow down, get reacquainted with silence and gradually I began to gain clarity – and courage. Suddenly, the question of whether to accept a job in a foreign country was clear. Yes! And this decision forever changed my life for the better.

Basho advocated this approach to writing haiku, the process of which should be like “biting a pear or cutting into a watermelon.”  Easy and direct. Forceful and strong. It is the obtainment of this clarity, skill and courage that is the lifelong journey of haiku. And I will think about this when ten years after my South American adventure and quietly settled in the suburbs, I try to summon my inner Samurai.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Cutting Through haiku and Basho quote excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c)
2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.

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Mar 17

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 3 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , March 17th, 2009

by Kelly

by Kelly

Chapter 41 of the book, Haiku Mind, discusses the idea of vulnerability.

The topic didn’t immediately pull me in. I’ll admit that I read the opening haiku and the entire first page in a zone. I was experiencing an afternoon lull and even though I was reading, I was  thinking ahead to what I might eat for dinner. Not even the act of turning the page was enough to snap me out of my numbed state.

But then I hit these words: “skin-ship”. I woke up, grabbed my highlighter and colored seven lines.

Skin-ship, according to author Patricia Donegan, is a term used to describe a very close relationship between two people, a relationship that is so close that the two people have bathed together.

While bathing, she says, we are naked, warm, soft and quiet. We have gone back to a “primordial state” and feel “at home.” This is a kind of relationship we have with only a very few.

I am going to make a confession here: Alison and I have a skin-ship.

Yes, yes. It’s true. We have bathed together, although the experience wasn’t as supple or as sexy as some might imagine.

Our bathing-together experience was the complete opposite of everything Donegan describes. It was awkward, outrageous, foreign, uncomfortable and borderline abusive. Wait. It wasn’t borderline. It was abusive.

It occurred at the Russian-Turkish Bath House in New York City. We were whipped with bunches of hot, soapy leaves and then thrown into an icy pool. Afterwards, I had scabs on my nipples.

The whole thing had been Alison’s idea. I agreed, very willingly I might add, to tag along. If I was going to get naked and beaten with leaves, Alison seemed like the perfect companion. And she was. I can’t imagine having lived that experience with anyone but her.

That’s because Alison and I had a skin-ship long before we entered those bath house doors.

Our skin-ship, though, wasn’t born from joint bathing. It was born from travel.

While the act of bathing is a practice in vulnerability, so too is travel. Especially foreign travel, and especially solo foreign travel — and even more so if you are a woman.

And that’s how Alison and I met.

It’s commonly said that the strongest relationships are built on trust.

But trust needs vulnerability in order to exist. The two are kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. It’s hard to say which comes first.

What I do know is this: When I met Alison, I was extremely vulnerable. So was she. We were both far from home, and we were both in need of a friend, and it is because of this, because of how our relationship began, that we have a skin-ship.

In fact, if I stop to consider my inner circle, the people I trust most, turn to most often, with whom I allow myself to be most vulnerable, the people with whom I would say I have a skin-ship, I find that travel is the root of several of these relationships.

While Donegan argues joint bathing is a cause of skin-ship, I’m going to venture out on my own and say that, at least for me in my life, travel has been the greatest catalyst in forging skin-ships.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

“Skin-ship” idea excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.

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Mar 13

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 2 of 8

Posted: under Reviews, Uncategorized.
Tags: , March 13th, 2009

by Alison

by Alison

Chapter 24 – Silence: Stillness

saying nothing:
the guest, the host
the white chrysanthemum

–  Ryota Oshima

A Japanese tea ceremony is silent, I learn from Patricia Donegan in “Haiku Mind”.  Different from my own tea parties which are filled with chattiness and gossip, a Japanese tea ceremony is about “silent communication.”  Silence?  Imagine that.

I think about silence in my life.  I enjoy silence, I crave quietude, but somehow it has gotten harder and harder for me to embrace.  Between Facebook, email, two different phone lines, my favorite t.v. shows, Twitter and the Blogosphere, I often notice that my mind is searching for a quick fix of activity.

Even outside of technology, silence can elude me.  Americans are chatty and I love the banter of casual conversation when I talk with my friends, neighbors and the woman at the checkout counter at my favorite produce market.  When we talk there is barely a pause.

So I have been thinking…amidst all this activity, both virtual and live, where do I allow time for stillness?

Patricia Donegan is attune to this dilemma.  She aptly states “we are becoming creatures who can barely stand the sound of silence, of nothing happening.”

So how to embrace silence?  For me, writing haiku has become a practice of silence.  The silence that I had as a young artist who never owned a television until the age of 29.  The silence of sitting quietly with my evening cup of tea or of looking skyward to notice the ever-changing branches and leaves.  I love that silence cannot be ordered off of Ebay.  I love that silence does not rely on happiness and is not hindered by sadness or anger or any emotion.  Silence is simply there if we allow it to be.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Silence: Stillness haiku excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c)
2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.

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Mar 10

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan: 1 of 8

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , March 10th, 2009

by Kelly

by Kelly

What is a haiku mind?

Is it the preserved brain of a long-dead haiku master? Matsuo Basho’s cerebral mush in a jar?


A haiku mind is not a bottled up, ancient organ. It is, instead, a living, breathing one that is grounded in its surroundings.

Haiku mind is a state of being, a state of heightened awareness. It is the act of stopping and seeing, acknowledging and appreciating.

For example, you might experience haiku mind when you pause to admire the intricate knotting in a piece of lace.

Or when, while sipping on your cup of morning Joe, you glance out the window, notice a bug on the pane of glass outside and lean in to get a better look at its underworkings.

Or when, while taking your dog on a walk, you notice a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, and you try to keep it in your sight for as long as possible.

Haiku mind can happen anywhere, at any time, but the key is to notice when it happens and to allow it to proceed.

All of this is described in Patricia Donegan’s book, Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart.

In it, Donegan urges her readers to pause, notice and reflect, to foster what she calls “haiku mind.” In doing so, she says, we will become more grateful and gracious.

Each chapter, all 108, open with a haiku. Donegan then uses these haiku to teach small life lessons. One haiku offers guidance in coping with loneliness. Another reminds us to seek the dignity in all forms of life. At the end of each chapter is a paragraph of biographical information about the haiku poet.

This isn’t the sort of book you sit down and read all at once. It’s best digested in small parts, and it’s certainly spiritual in nature.

After reading just a few chapters it was acutely apparent to me that there was much I didn’t know about the art of haiku. And I did appreciate the meditative quality of each chapter. I found myself reading one, staring off into space, reading another then zoning out again.

Chapter 13, for example, teaches “interpendence.” The opening haiku, by Buson Yosa, which does not fit the 5-7-5 count because it has been translated from Japanese, is:

a heavy cart

rumbles by —

peonies tremble

Interdependence. Cause and effect. Every action sparks a new action. I know that. I knew that. But reading this haiku made me pause and rethink my own movements, made me appreciate the positive energy that my own action can generate.

To test my mindfulness, I put a hand on my small dog’s back. He always curls up next to me whenever I sit down to read. My touch, my action, caused him to nuzzle a little bit closer, to tighten what had already been just a small gap between us.

Yes, I thought to myself, I can choose to act in a way that will bring about more love.

Find Haiku Mind on Amazon:
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart

Interdependece haiku excerpted from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, (c)
2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.

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