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Little Book about Big Things:

short poems with a long reach

by Neal Whitman, Poetry Prof

Now and then, in this 1st of the month “Poetry Prof” feature, I reaffirm my belief that poetry is a family: I profess that all who write it or read it are related. This month I want to tell you about a distant cousin, John Carley. He and I have never met, and, as far as I know, he has no idea who I am. But, this past month, another one of my “poet-cousins,” Lorin Ford, let me know about a book John put together with members of his poetry family: the Little Book of Yotsumonos published by Darlington Richards Press (yes, “the” in the title is lower case).

You might be wondering, “What the heck is a yotsumono?” In this book, we learn that yotsumono is a Japanese word meaning “four topics.” In this collection, John proposes to write linked verses comprising a (1) beginning, (2) continuation, (3) change, and (4) conclusion. Each poem in this collection is a collaboration of two poets. As conceived by John Carley, one poet kicks off a yotsumono with (1) a 3-line haiku. The second poet responds with (2) a 2-liner that complements it. Then the first poet (3) links to the 2nd verse with a 3-liner, but in a way that breaks away from the 1st verse. Finally, the second poet writes (4) a 2-liner that links to the 3rd verse, but not specifically to 2nd verse, while, at the same time provides a resolution to the whole poem. A bit hard to imagine in theory, yes? So, here is an example from this book which John partnered with six “cousins” – it is my favorite in this collection, one John Carley wrote with Lorin Ford.

Picture Window

my hybrid primrose
struggles in the sleet –
picture window

the busker’s melody
Made in Ireland

pikes and pennants
waving bravely
march on down the years

each gnarl a face
in this blackthorn cane

I found that this short poem had a long reach. As I paused between each verse, I had the experience that was promised last month on the Yatsuhashi, the Zig-Zag Bridge, in the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose, California. It is said that when you cross a zig-zag bridge, bad spirits cannot zig-zag and thus fall in the water. I think you might find your own zig-zag bridge in the Little Book of Yotsumonos.

I began this month’s essay with my profession that poetry is a family. I love that John Carley, called on his poet-relatives in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, as well as his home country, the UK, and that his publisher is based in Ireland and South Africa! []

Next month I will write about another short form of poetry, zip haiku, invented by John Carley.


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