I was fortunate to have one of my commentaries in the latest issue of A Hundred Gourds.   It is below.


Alexis Rotella’s ‘canoe through water lilies’
by Jim Sullivan

canoe through water lilies
his eyes measuring
her waist

On the surface we have a man and a woman in a canoe. The strongest paddler, often the man, is in the back of the canoe. They are navigating through water lilies on a lake. The man in the back is also thinking about (measuring) the woman’s waist. Men do this; it is what happens every day. If the above reflected the sum total of this haiku, it would be a rather one-dimensional poem.

The words of the haiku also tell another story. Go back to the water lilies. These are strong plants growing in a lake with a delicate flower in the center. The canoe needs to navigate through the water lilies without damaging them. This is not a headlong, all-out, row as hard as you can. It is measured movement through the gaps with respect for the plants and flowers. The paddler is measuring the distance between water lilies, the width of the canoe, and his companion. He might be measuring her as a future partner, as a spouse, as a potential mother of his children, or as a wife of many years who has (as he has) added a few inches.

Whose point of view is this? Is it the woman worrying that the man in the back of the canoe is “measuring” her as well or is it the man taking a measure of the water lilies and his companion in front? I believe it could be either way. In its best interpretation, the paddler in the back is measuring the woman in front, taking note to tread carefully through her space, and treating her with respect. Do not crush the flower in the water lily!

What I do know is that if one re-wrote the haiku as a prose sentence and began a novel with that sentence, it could lead to many different stories.

-Rotella, Alexis K. On a White Bud . Westfield, NJ: Merging Media, 1983.


shadow’s head

Since I have lost my voice in the last few months, I thought I would reconnect with a short piece I found in Roadrunner 12.2.   Mike Wallace praises a haiku written by George Swede.  Here is Swede’s haiku and then Wallace’s commentary.   They are both very good.


shadow’s head

on the other side of the chasm

a bank statement


“This poem captures the postmodern recognition that contemporary landscapes include not just physical materials but also conceptual ones like money, and that the conceptual ones often have more control of people than physical materials do.  Also, the image of the bank statement, and the metaphorical implications of the chasm which suggests a crossing from one condition to another (though neither can be seen clearly), capture both the real yet also abstract current crisis of the United States, and much of the world: the recent series of global financial collapses.  The opening line, whose use  of shadow seems at first relatively conventional, has come by the end to take on a more sinister depth, as it’s not a head in shadow (as say on a dollar bill) but the head of a shadow, of a danger, whose complete form we don’t yet see.  The poem understands that abstraction and image can no longer be considered clear opposites, and it defines, simply and memorably, a problem which has destroyed people’s lives and from which the world may take a long time to recover.”


In its new issue A Hundred Gourds 1:4, September 2012, published my haibun called Keeper.    I hope you like it.     

Jim Sullivan – US



I volunteer to help the beehive keeper tend the hives for a Saturday afternoon. We meet in the maintenance shack and put on the heavy canvas one-piece suits. The experienced guy tells me there is no need to worry, no bee could sting through the material. I zip up and then he places the special hat on my head – something like an old British campaign hat with mesh coming down over my face and all around my head. A zipper neatly connects the head gear to the one-piece suit. He tells me about the critical space where the head gear zipper ends and meets the canvas, right at the neck. This needs to be very tight. You do not want a bee to find it and burrow through and get inside the mesh. Gloves are the last piece of equipment.

We march out to the hives with me checking the critical space with my heavily gloved hands. The keeper brings two smokers, cans with a spout, a small bellow apparatus, and room to start a fire and produce smoke. We fill the cans with dry pine needles and get the fire going. We smoke the hive to put the bees to sleep or at least slow them down. I am hitting the bellow vigorously and thinking about the critical space. He lifts off the top of the hive and more bees drift out, they are slowed by the smoke. He calls for more smoke, he lifts out one of the frames that contains the honeycombs. Bees are hanging on. He scrapes the bees off with his glove and breaks the honeycombs off the frame and into a big bucket. I smoke the entire area, he removes more honey. I check the critical space and pump the smoke out.

toboggan ride
padding the kids
in gloves and scarves

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day —
      thawing a wild salmon
      from the supermarket

                              Yu Chang    The Heron’s Nest, Vol XIV, Number 2, June 2012

The easy flow of images in this haiku speaks volumes.   Valentine’s Day connotes love and romantic dinners and that special time of new love.  Frozen salmon speaks of home and watching the budget but still making an effort to celebrate a day.   I can see myself spinning the same story, we’ll make a special marinade for the salmon, buy fresh basil for the salad.  All the while knowing it is not the new downtown restaurant that we both read about last month.   But this is wild salmon, not ordinary frozen supermarket salmon.   A precise, meaningful and, yes, pedestrian effort is being made this Valentine’s Day.  

There is the clash of time in this haiku.   Thawing salmon is part of ordinary time, Valentine’s Day is special holiday time.   People do not always make a seamless transition between the two times.  

I sense still another reading of this haiku.  Suppose the wild salmon stands for the other person — strong willed, untamed, a big reach and a fitting mate that needs to be enticed and melted into a more permanent arrangement.   A special dinner on Valentine’s Day with its overhang of romance is the perfect time for this.  

I obviously like this haiku.   Since it received “editors’ choice” in The Heron’s Nest, others must have thought highly of it too.  And for me the case is open on how to read this.

a spot of blood

a spot of blood
on the unfinished quilt –
harvest moon

          Terri L French   Sketchbook, Vol.  4, Issue 5, September/October 2009

We have a tranquil scene of someone quilting and the item is not finished yet.   So what causes the spot of blood?   What is the story that this haiku is telling us?   And that question gets “guidance” from the last image – harvest moon.  

My understanding of the term harvest moon is that the moon rises quicker after sunset, the gap between the sun setting and the moon rising is minimal.   And in the Fall the days are around the first full moon closest to the equinox.   Consequently, in an agricultural society a farmer could continue his harvesting past sunset and be productive with the moonlight.  

Terri French’s haiku has a quilter working by moonlight and probably rushing to get the quilt done before winter.    The quilter cuts herself in the partial light.   There is a need to complete the quilt before full winter sets in.   Blood intrudes on this pastoral scene.   The rush to complete the fall work, the partial light, maybe even the panic about the coming cold weather – all contribute to mistakes and errors and injuries both big and small.   This is a fine haiku with a little twist on the Norman Rockwell moment.


I was fortunate to have Contemporary Haibun Online  July 1, 2012, vol 8, no 2  publish one of my haibun.   It is below and named Canterbury.   Of late I have been thinking about the original Canterbury Tales and their relationship (all right, this is a stretch) to haiku and short Japanese forms.   Think about it.  


Jim Sullivan



My kids have signed me up for the event, a walk/run for some charity or other. The fog hugs the ground at the start line and the dew on the grass soaks through my running shoes. I am walking, not running any more. Standing far from the front line there is nervous chatter

I talk to a programmer doing odd bits of code for consulting companies – a living but not a life. Sure I know what she means. She has a way of abruptly shifting herself in and out of conversations, like a bell tolling at odd hours. She has no care for puddles or mud on the trail – just the twitch into and out of the conversation.

A carpenter holds my attention with his talk of rabbet joints and dovetail joints. He is tall and has the required flannel shirt over jeans. He walks fast and with a purpose. I envy that.

A walker approaches on my right, a kindly man with an open smile. We meet and talk; he is a cook and maker of tinctures. I don’t know that word and he explains about homemade mountain medicine and how he steeps herbs and barks and plants in vodka. The right moon helps the brew. Good for what ails you – a kindly druid in running shoes and sporting a mullet.

Is it okay to walk alone in a big event like this? Do I always need to be engaged with someone and act like the salesman of the year?

Two teens pass me with a very brisk walk. They are not looking or aware of others or the landscape. I look down to see if either wears flip-flops, but no. The boy is talking animatedly about writing. He loves plays with all their raw emotions and dialogue, and someday he will write clear and strong and sail words around the moon. The girl with the long stride looks like she is not sure.

We finally arrive at the cathedral parking lot. My kids congratulate me and lead me to the water station. May is a fine month for walkers.

granite church
the turbulence of passing bodies

first day back

first day back the steady hand of bean soup

Bill Cooper           Multiverses, vol.1, no. 1, June 2012

I am a sucker for the bean soup line.   I have a fascination for the perfect navy bean soup which I believe stands for the perfect lunch, the right group of people, friends and family, all that is right in the world.  I obviously approach this haiku with a full bowl of good feelings.  

To make meaning of this haiku I need to look at the image of “first day back.”   That sounds like first day back to work after a vacation or after an illness or after some other traumatizing event.   That image is strengthened by the reference to “the steady hand.”   Some aspect of life was unsteady, disrupted, a jar.   And it is bean soup (with its connotation of home and family and wholesome nutrition) that stems the shaky hand and makes the world right.    I like it.