Etheridge Knight: 9 “Senryu”

ZP_January 27th 2014 B

Etheridge Knight (Corinth, Mississippi, USA, 1931-1991)



Eastern guard tower

glints in sunset; convicts rest

like lizards on rocks.



The piano man

is stingy, at 3 a.m.

his songs drop like plum.



Morning sun slants cell.

Drunks stagger like cripple flies

On jailhouse floor.



To write a blues song

is to regiment riots

and pluck gems from graves.



A bare pecan tree

slips a pencil shadow down

a moonlit snow slope.



The falling snow flakes

Cannot blunt the hard aches nor

Match the steel stillness.



Under moon shadows

A tall boy flashes knife and

Slices star bright ice.



In the August grass

Struck by the last rays of sun

The cracked teacup screams.



Making jazz swing in

Seventeen syllables AIN’T

No square poet’s job.

ZP_January 27th 2014 A

These short poems, written by Etheridge Knight when he was in prison for robbery (1960-1968), are a kind of hybrid between haiku and senryusenryu having the same structure as haiku but being concerned directly with human beings, whether the tone be serious, ironic or humorous. In poem #9 the word AIN’T is “boldfaced” on purpose – a reference to its importance in Black-American vernacular.

For more haiku composed in English click this link:

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Alexander Best: Once Haikus: “Deshielo en Enero” / Eleven Haiku: “Mid-Winter Thaw”

ZP_January 11th 2014 A

Alexander Best

 Once Haikus: “Deshielo en Enero”  /  Eleven Haiku:  “Mid-Winter Thaw”


– 22

Pues + 7 grados

Días bipolares


– 22

Then suddenly it’s + 7

Winter mood swing


¡Odio el enero cuándo me da un ambiente de abril!


7 degrees celsius?

Winter, don’t die.

Snow is my state of mind.


Diamantes de sal

Hielo – Lluvia

Banqueta Torontoniense


Rough-diamond rock-salt

Sheets of ice – with rivulets

Toronto sidewalk




Mente d’enero

¿Me quiero a mí mismo?


Half way through Winter

Dead Christmas trees and dog poop

Spring stink in the air


Ay, Invierno se va

¿Dónde están mis tormentas de nieve?


January thaw

Winter beauty turns ugly

Snowstorms, where are you?


Luna – ¿Sonrisa,

Rodaja de sandía?

¡No llega Verano!


Moon – half frozen smile –

Or slice of watermelon?

Don’t want Summer now!


Nubes moviendos

Sol – un disco pálido

Días peores


Sun – a pale grey disc

Clouds beetle across the sky

These days are the worst


El Enojo camina

Soy de hielo

Calle ciega


January days

Rarely I answer my cell

Why am I angry?


Pájaro “Sitta”

Dándalo vuelta

Soy feliz de nuevo


Nasal-voiced “Nuthatch”

Comical upside-down bird

Briefly I’m happy


Fumo mi puro

Ojos de un mapache

Noche d’enero


Smoking my cigar

Raccoon eyes gazing at me

January night


Hielo + Calor

Sentimientos complejos

El Amor crece


Mid-Winter warm spell

Complexity of feelings

Love grows by degrees



ZP_January 11th 2014 B.

[ Dice el canadiense: “No comas la nieve amarilla.” :-<> ]

Nota del poeta/editor:

Escribí estos veintidós haikus en los dos idiomas “hombro a hombro” – cada par está emparentado pero no hay traducciones;  hice once poemas originales en español y once poemas originales en inglés. Intenté seguir (casi) las normas rudimentarias del haiku japonés:

Diecisiete sílabas en tres líneas divididas en 5-7-5

Usar una palabra de estación o una referencia estacional

Siempre escribir en tiempo presente de “aquí” y “ahora”

Un elemento sorprendente en la tercera línea

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Poet’s/editor’s note:

I wrote these twenty-two Haiku “side by side” in Spanish and in English.  They are not translations from one another though each “pair” is closely related in theme.  I have tried to follow (mostly) the basic rules from Japanese Haiku:

17 syllables in 3 lines, divided 5-7-5

Use a Season word or a seasonal reference

Always write in the present tense – the Here and Now

A surprise element in line 3

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“Just enough snow to make you look carefully at familiar streets”: the Haiku of Richard Wright

ZP_El Círculo de Amigos…bajo la nieve

ZP_El Círculo de Amigos…bajo la nieve


Just enough snow

To make you look carefully

At familiar streets.


On winter mornings

The candle shows faint markings

Of the teeth of rats.


In the falling snow

A laughing boy holds out his palms

Until they are white.


The snowball I threw

Was caught in a net of flakes

And wafted away.


Snow Poems 2


A freezing morning:

I left a bit of my skin

On the broomstick handle.


The Christmas season:

A whore is painting her lips

Larger than they are.


Snow Poems 3


Standing patiently

The horse grants the snowflakes

A home on his back.


In the falling snow

the thick wool of the sheep

gives off a faint vapour.


Entering my town

In a fall of heavy snow

I feel a stranger.


In this rented room

One more winter stands outside

My dirty windowpane.


Snow Poems 5

Snow Poems 6

Snow Poems 4


The call of a bird

sends a solid cake of snow

sliding off the roof.


I slept so long and sound,

but I did not know why until

I saw the snow outside.


The smell of sunny snow

is swelling the icy air –

the world grows bigger.


The cold is so sharp

that the shadow of the house

bites into the snow.


What do they tell you

each night, O winter moon,

before they roll you out?


Burning out its time

And timing its own burning,

One lovely candle.

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Richard Nathaniel Wright (born Roxie, Mississippi,1908, died Paris, 1960) was a rigorous Black-American short-story writer, novelist, essayist, and lecturer. He joined the Communist Party USA in 1933 and was Harlem editor for the newspaper “Daily Worker”.  Intensely racial themes were pervasive in his work and famous books such as Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) were sometimes criticized for their portrayal of violence – yet, as the 1960s’ voices of Black Power would phrase it – a generation later – he was just “telling it like it is.”


Wright discovered Haiku around 1958 and began to write obsessively in this Japanese form using what was becoming the standard “shape” in English:  5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, in three separate lines, and with the final line adding an element of surprise – delicate or otherwise.  One of Haiku’s objectives is, to paraphrase Matsuo Bashō, a 17th-century Japanese poet:  In a haiku poem, if you reveal 70 to 80 percent of the subject – that’s good – but if you show only 50 to 60 percent, then the reader or listener will never tire of that particular poem.

What do you think – does Wright succeed?


The 4 Seasons are themes in Haiku;  here we have presented a palmful of Wright’s Winter haiku. Wright was frequently bedridden during the last year of his life and his daughter Julia has said that her father’s haiku were “self-developed antidotes against illness, and that breaking down words into syllables matched the shortness of his breath.”  She also added:  her father was striving “to spin these poems of light out of the gathering darkness.”

We are grateful to poet Ty Hadman for these quotations from Wright’s daughter, Julia.

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The above haiku were selected from the volume  Richard Wright:  Haiku, This Other World, published posthumously, in 1998, after a collection of several thousand Haiku composed by Wright was ‘ found ‘ in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.

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