Archive for October, 2010


October 30, 2010 21 comments

S. Bernhardt; WikiC

here are couple of pieces from my notebook:


Hymn to the Goddess

(from the Song of Songs, KJV)

Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?


JD Tarot; WikiC




There are threescore queens,

and fourscore daughters,

and virgins without number. ψ

She is the only one of her Mother—

she is the choice one of her that bare her.

She is the undefiled one. ψ

The Daughters saw her and blessed her:

yea, the Queen and the Daughters,

and they praised her.




The watchmen that went about the walls found me;

they smote me; they wounded me—

the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.


from One:


I am the first word

and every word

I am the answer to every question

I am the desire of your tongue,

the hunger in your belly—

I am milk in the child’s mouth.


© The Rag Tree 2010

A Knockout Poem in 3 Rounds

October 28, 2010 2 comments

Jack Dempsey in the Ring; Src: WikiC & LOC

Round 1: BashiBazooks! Start with

1. Excitement–lots of it.

2. The opening lines or stanza.

3. An outline & visual strategy–“My poem will contain 3 stories from mythology.”; “My poem will have a formal look.”

4. A voice–take your pick: triumphant, mocking, elegiac, funny.

5. A store of good lines at the back of your head you’ve been wanting to use. Such lines are in fact mini-poems, the product of an experience that has left an emotional mark on you: for instance, watching the snow fall at night, spending time at the zoo, or (less romantically) having to wait in line at McDonald’s.

Round 2: Landing the Left Hook

1. Use stanzas.

2. Avoid the words “I” and “me.”

3. Adopt a punctuation strategy–in general, the more punctuation (and capitalization), the more formal the poem’s tone will be.

4. Break the line either where the meter indicates or when the spirit moves you.

5. Keep writing through the “stuck” moments.

Round 3: The K.O.

1. Ladies: Don’t write about the miserable SOB who just dumped you.

2. Gents: Don’t complain–that is, write about how tough your life is, obsess about some unobtainable woman, or get too political. Remember that poetry offers positive or healing energy, even as it tackles its subject.

3. Everyone: Don’t write from an agenda or to prove a point.

4. Instead: Be willing to take a risk and explore new territory. See if you can write your first draft in under an hour.

5. You’re not done until you’ve read your first draft carefully and revised as often as necessary. If you’re new to the process (or haven’t done this before), get the opinion of a poet you respect.


October 28, 2010 1 comment

Art: Yun Shouping; Src: WikiCmns


The Book of Tea

VI. Flowers


In the trembling grey of a spring dawn, when the birds were whispering in mysterious cadence among the trees, have you not felt that they were talking to their mates about the flowers?

Surely with mankind the appreciation of flowers must have been coeval with the poetry of love. Where better than in a flower, sweet in its unconsciousness, fragrant because of its silence, can we image the unfolding of a virgin soul?

The primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude necessities of nature.

He entered the realm of art when he perceived the subtle use of the useless.


 Kakuzo Okakura (1906)

(text source:

Shaw Script

October 27, 2010 2 comments

GBS, 1914; Src: WikiCommons, Life

At his death in 1950, George Bernard Shaw left a provision in his will funding a competition to create a fully phonetic alphabet of not less than 40 letters for the English language. The competition was subsequently held, and Ronald Kingsley Read submitted the winning proposal. Read was subsequently appointed the sole designer of the alphabet. The chart below shows Read’s alphabet, which is called Shavian or Shaw Script:

Tall and deep letters:    
2. /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ /ɡ/ /f/ /v/ /θ/ /ð/  
3 peep bib tot dead kick gag fee vow thigh they  
/s/ /z/ /ʃ/ /ʒ/ /tʃ/ /dʒ/ /j/ /w/ /ŋ/ /h/  
so zoo sure measure church judge yea woe hung ha-ha  

Short letters:

/l/ /r/ /m/ /n/ /ɪ/ /iː/ /ɛ/ /eɪ/ /æ/ /aɪ/  
loll roar mime nun if eat egg age ash ice  
/ə/ /ʌ/ /ɒ/ /oʊ/ /ʊ/ /uː/ /aʊ/ /ɔɪ/ /ɑː/ /ɔː/  
ado up on oak wool ooze out oil ah awe  


/ɑr/ /ɔr/, /ɔər/ /ɛər/ /ɜr/ /ər/ /ɪər/ /i.ə/ /juː/  
are or air err array ear Ian yew  

(1= Shaw Ltr; 2= Pronunciation; 3= Ltr name. Table Source: Wikipedia article)

Shaw was a long-time supporter of spelling and alphabet reform, and Read’s alphabet incorporates many of Shaw’s concerns: letters are arranged by class, similarly shaped letters are grouped together, and the most common vowels sounds are each represented by a single letter. As if that weren’t enough, it was decided that the most common words in English would be represented by a single letter; for instance, the word “the” is represented by the shaw letter “they” and the word “and” is represented by the shaw letter “nun.”

Of course, the alphabet is totally unrelated to the Roman alphabet, so we have to start over again when learning it; but more on that later….     RT

The Book of Tea

October 27, 2010 8 comments


The Book of Tea

I. The Cup of Humanity

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage.

In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism—Teaism.

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order.

It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.



Kakuzo Okakura (1906)

(text source:

(photo: source, WikiCommons; author, Robert Donovan)

A Writer’s Revolution

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment
“Wi” in Hangul letters

 When you say you want a revolution, what you mean is, you want an alphabet revolution.

Seriously, if we look at every major cultural transformation, behind it lies a revision or replacement of the writing systems already in use. The great cultures that originated writing (Sumer, China, and the Mayan states) all have undergone at least one such transformation.

The problem was that the original writing systems developed over the course of centuries through trial and error. While this process often made the mature system stunning to look at and full of nuance and poetry, it also meant that these systems consisted of thousands of characters, some of which represented ideas (ideograms), some of which represented phonemes (sounds), and some of which represented both. Learning to read and write any of these character systems was the achievement of a lifetime.

Which made all ancient cultures ripe for revolution. How do you change a culture? You change the way it writes.

The most drastic example of this process occurred in the Middle East, not once, but twice. The first transition occurred at a very specific moment: 612 BC, the year that Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, was sacked. The ancient cuneiform system, which at that time had been in use for 2,000 years, lost its principal patrons, the Assyrians, and the use of alphabets, already centuries old, accelerated. The compilation of the Hebrew Bible took leaps forward when the J and E texts were combined. And in the far away beard of Anatolia, Homer was writing and Sappho composing the first lyric poetry of genius–both in the Greek alphabet.

(And need I add that the size of the literate population, starting at a tiny fraction with the old system, probably doubled or tripled? Alphabets offer the possibility of an elementary command of writing, something that character systems don’t.)

All of which lead to the eventual adoption of the Greek alphabet and language as the international koine, or language of commercial exchange. The Aramaic and Hebrew languages (and scripts) went into decline, since they were used by a small percentage of the region’s population.

But not forever. The indigenous alphabets of the Middle East went underground, eventually reemerging as the Arabic alphabet with the advent of Islam–a religion made possible in no small part by the sublime music of the Q’uran when recited. This was the second alphabet revolution in the cradle of civilization.

In China, things were even more abrupt, focusing on the rise of the First Emperor & the unification of China’s old feudal states in about 200 BC. The First Emperor swept away the old states and the variants of the Chinese characters that they used. He banned the use of all variants except the one that had been used in Chin–the state he had ruled before unification. The so-called small characters are still in use in Taiwan, and they are the basis for the simplified characters adopted in mainland China after the communist revolution.

And that isn’t all, folks: we still have to consider what reforms were made in Japan and Korea in more recent times…..  RT  

Translations of Babel

October 21, 2010 6 comments
Translation & Answering Questions
I have been a translator since I first went overseas at the age of 9 (though I didn’t  think of it that way at the time). While overseas, I was exposed to Caribbean creoles, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. In college, I studied Greek. After a long hiatus in my 20s, I got interested in Chinese poetry, and have made some versions of the better known poems from China’s classic period, the T’ang dynasty.
Then, as fate would have it, I got interested in the Bible, not as the result of a budding religious enthusiasm, but from the vantage point of history and language. Immediately, I discovered that the Tower of Babel was one of my favorite stories–its force, concision, and imagination have seldom been equaled. But in the years since I first discovered the story, some issues have gradually emerged. The most important of these has to do with history. Clearly, the story refers to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Babylon and Sumer. Yet one of the most pertinent facts of those cultures was missing:  they used the cuneiform script, which was pressed (and sometimes stamped) into wet clay tablets (& also at times onto undried brick). The bricks of the tower were a clear reference not just to ancient language, but also to ancient writing.

Bedford Master, Illum. Manuscr., Src: WikiCommons

Being a notorious rewriter of anything that came across my editorial desk, I had to try my hand at a version, notwithstanding the many excellent & painstaking translations of the text currently available. In particular, I recommend the version in Harold Bloom & David Rosenberg’s The Book of J (which also includes a discussion of Babel in its introduction).
So, throwing caution to the winds, I offer first the King Jame’s version and then my own editor’s ear interpretation. (I do not know any Hebrew, so this is strictly based on the various versions I consulted.)
1. KJV

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speach. 2 And it came to passe as they iourneyed from the East, that they found a plaine in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3 And they sayd one to another; Goe to, let vs make bricke, and burne them thorowly. And they had bricke for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said; Goe to, let vs build vs a city and a tower, whose top may reach vnto heauen, and let vs make vs a name, lest we be scattered abroad vpon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came downe to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said; Behold, the people is one, and they haue all one language: and this they begin to doe: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they haue imagined to doe. 7 Goe to, let vs go downe, and there confound their language, that they may not vnderstand one anothers speech. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence, vpon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the Citie. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad vpon the face of all the earth.

2. The Rag Tree

 1. When men were of one mind and spoke with a single tongue, they climbed down from the East and lived on the flats of Sumer.

 2. “We have no stone or lime,” they said, “to build our walls. But now we learn that we can take mud, cut and mark it with signs, burn it hard as stone. And pitch that oozes up at our feet, mires our steps, will join the brick together.

3. “Let us build a wall of words, the stories of a city, and in its midst a tower of brick, a mountain of steps that leads to Heaven. That way our name will not be scattered in the wind.”

 4. But Yahweh heard their voice, came down to see the city and tower that men were making.

5. He said, “Have you seen? These people are one, and they have one tongue and one purpose. And with this language and these signs, their great men will throw down every barrier and achieve whatever they want.

6. “Let us make new signs,” he said, “that multiply their tongues, so that they cannot understand each other. We will raise up a new people, one which follows no single word and builds no tower.”

7. So Yahweh and his host scattered the words of men and sent their people wandering over the earth; and the tower and walls were tumbled to the ground.

8. In this way, the city came to be called Babel, because it was there that Yahweh confounded the words of men and scattered them over the world.


Version Rag Tree copyright 2010 The Ragtree

Wang Wei #18

October 20, 2010 2 comments

Tea House, Nanjing, WikiCmns, photo: Gisling

Valley, Magnolias

Wang Wei



flowers lace

the mountains—

hibiscus petals, cradled


where waters stream

and lap

a soundless house



the blossoms


in clouds



version The Rag Tree © 2010

Number 18 in WW’s River Sequence


Poetry Challenge #1

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

from a forest far, far away....Src: WikiCmns


Challenge No. 1: Poems tell a story, briefly

It’s an ancient adage that any poet worth his or her salt has memorized a huge number of stories. Often the stories fit together into an elaborate cycle, and lyric poets know that behind every (comprehensible) poem lies one or more stories, usually close to a culture’s heart.

So here is your assignment, if you chose to accept it:

1) Write a poem of 15 lines, divided into three stanzas (however you wish), telling the story of Snow White.

2) Bonus points: write the poem in an hour or less. Poets must often perform extemporaire.

3) I’m naturally curious to see the beautiful poems you produce, so feel free to paste your finished work into the comments section of this post. I will return the favor (in the not too distant future–I promise!) in a post of my own.

4) Finally, I’ll post the best (in my judgment) of the poems separately and put it on my poems page.

Ladies & gentlemen, start your engines….   RT

Family Reunion

October 18, 2010 4 comments

Old Bay Line Terminal, Baltimore; src: WikiCmns

We’ve known for some time that my mother’s father was an actor who died in 1941 in California. Even that limited information came after years of research on mom’s part, going to the Library of Congress and writing off for birth and death certificates.

In the last year, however, much has been added to our knowledge of his life, mostly thanks to the wonders of the internet and such marvelous resources as online news archives. Last Tuesday, we downloaded  an interview with him published by the Baltimore Sun in 1913.

Wow! My mother, in her 80s, and myself, 50, were finally able to hear him talk in his own voice…at just shy of 23, he had already lived a full and adventurous life. I am especially grateful that mom was able to hear me read the interview; afterwards, she said she was beginning to have a sense of him as a person. That is great, since she is adopted and never met him. (More information on Mom’s search for her family is available on her blog, Mood Indigo.)

The energy was so incredible I had to write a poem. Here it is:

Angels’ Silence



so this is death—

a driving 70s beat on

the speakers and the names

sliding by—james taylor, paul

simon (for 7 bucks!), abba,



the guy with greased blond

hair at the checkout

is wearing a pressed shirt

& a “Win With Wilkie”




then there’s the matter of

your grandfather:

you met him a couple of

days ago or was

it 1913, at the interview with

The Sun’s theatre critic?

You’re playing hooky!” he declares,

proceeding to elaborate on his theme:

Be a sticking plaster; persevere

in your chosen occupation!”


and he should know, thin as a rail,

dressed in rags, a boy’s goosedown

on his cheeks—

Betake yourself to a good school

of elocution and dramatic art—then go after

what you want until you get it.”



but his attention has shifted, to your mother, a

girl with a barette in her silver-blonde hair; &

he is taller now, wearing a gentleman’s jacket &

white tie—I can’t make out what they’re

telling each other, but presently,

she turns to me and says

“Do you believe in God?”



I could see that father and daughter liked each other

both raconteurs, deeply restless, their voices

beautiful & I realized that they weren’t singing

because I couldn’t; my skill coming from

some other spring, a place of bog and kelp and unknowing

a sip of life’s water. So, I would be making the return trip,

leaving them

to get acquainted.


copyright, 2010 The Rag Tree