It’s not spring, yet in winter, I long for the promise of spring.  I
force a few bulbs to grow indoors.  They give me hope.

If you are a poet, you are likely familiar with the couplet…two lines that make a stanza, usually with an end rhyme.  And, couplets can be strung together ad infinitum. Can’t you picture strings of couplets linked together dangling off the edge of the world?!

“We call a couplet closed when the sense and syntax come to a conclusion or strong pause at the end of the second line…giving a feeling of self-containment…We call a couplet open when the sense carries forward past the second line into the next line or lines…”
from Edward Hirsch book:
How to Read a Poem

Here’s a couplet expressing my own sentiments about the image at the top of this page:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays

a message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

This is my example of an open couplet.  It is obvious that at the end of the first stanza, there is more to be said.  At the end of the second stanza, there is a sense of closure.  That said, I could go on and add more if I felt so inspired.

Writing Prompt:
Let this image of a hyacinth bulb bursting through the soil be the inspiration for a couple of your own couplets…or more than a couple.

Share a few of your couplets under comments if you dare.

Tanka Poetry & Takuboku

Let’s talk Tanka Poetry for a moment.

“A tanka poem is a Japanese poem which can also be known as a waka or uta. A tanka poem is similar to a haiku but has two additional lines.” from Forward Poetry
There is a syllable count per line with 31 syllables in total.

The Japanese poet, Takuboku Ishiwkawa (1886-1912) re-popularized Tanka Poetry:

they said dance
I danced all right–
until I fell
dead drunk
on that lousy wine

got five blocks
that’s all–
tried walking
like someone
with something to do

just felt like
a train ride–
when I got off
there was
no place to go

If you feel inclined, read this linked article on the life of Takuboku Ishikawa.  It is a translation, informative and well-written.  One thing that I surmised is that across cultures and over time, there are those who effectively document the political climate through their poetry.

These brief poems, tanka,  are able to capture both the climate of the times and the sentiment of the poet.

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer

“Celebrated tanka poet rode the tumult of his times as he transformed from provincial romantic to national firebrand.”

“He is a model for today’s self-sequestered youth, with his ardent commitment to life and word, his constant seeking of something better for himself, his family, to whom he was devoted in his own way, and his care for people who found themselves living in the lower economic and social strata in his country.”

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer | The Japan Times


Pablo Neruda–“The Word”

Pablo Neruda was a renowned and prolific Chilean poet and diplomat.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  The fictionalized 1995 film, The Postman (Il Postino), takes place in Italy during Neruda’s time in exile.

Neruda loved his native language, Spanish (Chilean).  He wrote in this native tongue; there have been beautiful translations of his work.

The following bit of prose, translated into English, transmits this love and the preciousness of words to him. This is only a partial excerpt from Neruda’s homage to “The Word”.  I’m sorry that I cannot give credit to the translator as it wasn’t available.

The Word
by Pablo Neruda

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…the unexpected ones…the ones I wait for greedily or stalk, until suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem…I catch them in mid flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them.  I set myself in front of the dish.  They have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, oil, like fruit, like algae, like aggates, like olives…and then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word…”

Writing Prompt:
A brief meditation.  Get quiet, shut your eyes, take a few deep breaths.  Continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  Experience the release of what you think you know with each out breath.  Experience your openness to something new with each in breath.  Ask for entry into the land of the WORD.  In your imagination, construct that land.  Visit it for a few minutes as you continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  When  you feel ready, open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and let your words flow onto the page–write your own homage to the word.


To the God of Sunlight…

©by Christine O’Brien

Yearning is to not be satisfied with
the only thing we possess here and now
forgetting that this moment is a gift
and to its giving presence I could bow.
Instead, I fight the newness of this day.
I resist, protest, complain about it all.
To every ray of sun and blossom, nay!
I fence myself behind a solemn wall.
Why do I choose such a captive to be?
What script is written and why do I act
a dismal part which isn’t really me?
As if this dull perspective is a fact.
The god of yearning, I cannot appease.
To the god of sunlight, I bend my knees.


Sometimes, I write a poem in the morning.  When I am in that space of waking up–feeling an ache, a concern or a grumpiness–writing a poem (like this one) can help me to both validate the feeling and then “shake it off”.

What does writing a poem do for you?  Or writing in your journal, how is it serving you?  Have you experienced the transformative power of writing (or reading) poetry for yourself?  Have you written a poem yet today?

One Poem a Day

A poet once recommended that an aspiring poet write one bad poem a day (Does anyone remember who said this?).  I add…refrain from judging whether your poem is good or not because a poem typically begins with a rough draft.  Personal expression through poetry, especially in the initial stages of getting it down on paper, doesn’t benefit from judging.  I think that the poet was actually saying, WRITE DAILY!

According to Wikipedia, “Olav Håkonson Hauge was a Norwegian poet. He was born in Ulvik and lived his whole life there, working as a gardener in his own orchard.”  Following is one of his poems:

One Poem A Day
by Olav Håkonson Hauge

I’ll write one poem a day,
every day.
That should be easy enough.
Browning did it for a while, though
he rhymed and beat time
with his bushy eyebrows.
So, one poem a day.
Something strikes you,
something occurs,
something catches your attention.
–I get up.  It’s lighter.
Have good intentions.
And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree,
stealing buds.

Here’s another one by Olav Håkonson Hauge:

The cat is sitting
out front
when you come.
Talk a bit with the cat.
He is the most sensitive one here.

Note:  Poetry can be this seemingly basic.


Isn’t writing, whether poetry or prose, about observation–of our feelings, nature, encounters, our environment, caught phrases, daily life experiences, our own introspection? Again, inspiration is everywhere when we are awake to it.


Writing daily is a habit.  Do you have this habit?  If so, yay!
If not, try writing a poem a day for 21-days–it can be any length.  That’s the challenge!  Be accountable and share your journey with someone.

Grounded Poetry with Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is “an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer,” to name some of his credentials.  I’ve been infatuated with his poetry for a long time.

Feet on the earth, grounded, present, receptive are a few of the words that I would use to describe Wendell Berry.  I see him as a practical visionary.  His poetry reflects his values.  I’ve included a couple of very short clips of Wendell Berry reading.  If you want more (and I hope that you do), there are plenty of youtube videos of him…one is a lengthy interview with Bill Moyers.

How to be a poet by Wendell Berry


and this one…


As I’ve said before, there is something about a poet’s voice reading his or her own words.  With Berry’s poetry, though these clips are short, I enter the trance-like state that his poetry evokes (especially when I listen to these poems a few times).

Wendell Berry is one of those people who lives his values.  He has a message and he is compelled to offer his discoveries to the world.  And he does.


We’ve discussed writing about where your passion lies.  Are you doing it?  For that is where you are going to find the most energy.  Your words become more than words…they become winged messengers.  Have you noticed this for yourself?  Even when you’re speaking to someone about your subject–the one for which you have deep care and concern–something in your tone of voice heightens and strives to engage your listener.

For your journal, remembering what you are passionate about and writing it down, again, refreshes your perspective about your subject.  Have you had any new insights lately about where you’d like to go in writing about your passion?  Or any thoughts on how you’d like to creatively bring this to the attention of others?

Getting a Glimpse and Giving a Glimpse

I have not personally witnessed the blues players in a bar in Harlem circa 1958.  I won’t have this direct experience.

That is why I’m grateful to the late poet, writer and social activist, Langston Hughes, who documents some of this in his jazz poetry.

His words, as I let them wash over me, take me to another time, place, era and give me a vicarious experience.  How fortunate we are to have a youtube clip of Hughes reciting his poem, The Weary Blues, to musical accompaniment.


Listening to and watching Langston Hughes recite his poem more than once, I am transported!

I recall the one time that I read a poem to musical accompaniment–an upright double bass player and a drummer.  We didn’t rehearse together ahead of time.  Along with other poets, I was invited to read a poem or two on a little stage in a long hall.  Reading publicly was relatively new to me.  Feeling both excitement and fear, I tentatively walked to the elevated stage and stood beside the bass player.  The grounding tones of the bass, the heartbeat of the drum and my words created a melange of sounds.  Once finished, flushed with the energies of the moment, I leapt from the stage, heart pounding and listened as other brave poets read their words to music.

There is something about reading your poetry to music.  Have you tried it?  Do you have a friend who plays a musical instrument?  Do you play an instrument yourself?  Dear poet, if you can, do find a way to give yourself this experience.  Musical accompaniment creates a whole other dimension to poetic expression. Afterall, poetry is rhythmic.

Langston Hughes’ poem captured a segment of society and a particular era.  What is something distinct to your life that you’d like to write about? to preserve for posterity? to offer as a glimpse into your experience for a future generation? Through prose, poetry…or another art form. Write it, then recite it to someone…perhaps with music.

NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to a lecture by Langston Hughes talking about his life and hear him reading some of his poetry, you can google this recording.  I found it to be fascinating.

Langston Hughes Speaking at UCLA, 2/16/1967