below the crow
first hole in the leaves

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I changed my blog to

I recently changed my blog from this WordPress site to Blogger: The reason I did this was search engine optimization (SEO). For more details, see my latest column on the Haiku Society of America website.


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Larry Eats A Pancake – Larry David – Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

Larry Eats A Pancake – Larry David – Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

For some reason, this little show makes me feel better about aging…

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Stupid blogging platforms!

I am driving myself nuts trying to pick a blogging platform. I hate the look of Blogger templates. They’re ugly compared to other blogging forums. But I also hate that WordPress puts ads on my blog. I have no choice about that. Then again Blogger blos come up faster in Google searches.

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“It Could Be the First Day…” (Richie Havens interview)

NOTE: Havens was one of my first musician interviews — and one of the best! Because I was green I didn’t know “phoners” (business slang for phone interviews) were typically supposed to be between 20 and 40 minutes. Havens and I talked the afternoon away. At the end of it, he asked me to come to the show and meet him. When I did, he said our conversation stood out as being one of the best interviews he has ever had! Thanks Richie!!  

As he watched over a sea of people while on stage at the Woodstock festival in 1969, Richie Havens got a sense of which way the wind was going to blow as the days moved forward.

He started singing the word “Freedom” over and over again realizing at this moment that his generation found its voice. Partly because of his talents as a singer and partly because of his ability to read the moment, Havens became a bellwether symbol for the festival. And over the years the festival became a cultural buoy for the baby-boomer generation.

“I was looking out over the people as I was strumming and this thought came to me. This was the freedom that my entire generation had been looking for,” said Havens.

All these years later and Havens is still a crowd pleaser at festivals who always tries to pay attention to his audiences and give them what they want.

Havens thinks of his performances as spiritual events where a bond is forged between himself and audience members. He never follows a set list. It is one of the ways Havens tries to keep things exciting.

He only plans the first song he is going to play in advance, and he says — of course — the last song is always “Freedom.” Everything in between is a chance for Havens to interact with his fans. The approach has worked over the years. Havens said he has never had trouble finding an audience, and he has never tired of what he does.

“It’s still like the first day to me,” said Havens.

In fact, Havens still fondly remembers the children’s songs he sang while growing up in Brooklyn in the 40s.

“Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy,” Havens sang on the phone to me. “My mother said when I was 1-year-old there were three songs that I used to sing all of the time. That was one of them. The other one was ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.’ Between those ones was ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.’

Havens joked that these songs foreshadowed his music career which has been full of accessible folksongs, artistic integrity, and there certainly were many protest songs in his bag over the years.

As a kid Havens sang hymns in churches and doo-wop on the streets. But it wasn’t until he ventured into Greenwich Village in the late 50s that he found himself.

Havens said the boys that he played stickball with on the street used to poke fun at him by calling him a beatnik. He realizes that they meant it in a pejorative sense but the name was a blessing in disguise when he realized that there were other beatniks in Manhattan.  Havens headed for the city and found artists of all kinds. There were painters, poets and musicians. Havens tried all of it. Jack Kerouac encouraged him to write poetry. But it was songwriter Fred Neil who got Havens to play guitar.

“I spent a lot of time in the coffee houses listening to all of these great singer-songwriters. They were singing songs that changed my life,” said Havens.

Every weekend Havens would go into the city and take in as much as possible. He said he was always singing along in the audience and then one event changed the course of his life.

“One day Freddy Neil came up to me and said ‘Hey Richie you have been singing along with me for a year now. Here’s a guitar. You take it home and home and learn the damn songs.’ So I did,” said Havens.

Havens couldn’t wait any longer to be part of a crowd that included Tom Paxton, Fred Neil and Peter, Paul and Mary. So he took the guitar home and figured out a way that he could learn to play it fast. By tuning the guitar a certain way he was able to play it almost immediately.

In a few days he learned some of the songs that he had been watching Neil perform. By the weekend he was up on stage and these soon-to-be-legendary artists were his peers.

However, Havens didn’t lose his humility just because he was on stage. The budding musician realized he had a lot to learn. Up to this point Havens said he typically wrote a song every day. But now he changed his tack.

“I am stopping right now,” Havens said. “I realized when I went over to Greenwich Village and heard these other songs… I wished I could write songs like this. I quit writing and stayed away from it until something came through me.”

That has been Havens’ method ever since. Listeners will find many cover songs on his albums, from Fleetwood Mac to Pink Floyd. He picks songs that mean a lot to him in hopes that they will have a similar effect on others.

“Whatever song I sing you can bet it is a song that has changed me personally,” said Havens.

When he is moved to create original material the results often sound personal and universal at the same time, as in his song “Prayer:” “…To all those who understand/Let not your words be heavy/There is he who understands/It is not easy/It is not easy to be a mother and a father.”

Havens said performing songs is his contribution to the world.

“I feel I am sharing what others have shared with me,” said Havens.

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Celebrating life–even at death’s door!

Whether it’s for gems to share with readers or to light the way in my personal quests, I am always searching for nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes I strike it big and they are revelations that seem like they should be accompanied by a shaft of light.

When I found a book of haiku written by monks and poets on their deathbeds called “Japanese Death Poems,” (edited by Yoel Hoffman), I snatched it up. I was hopeful. If any book had the potential to part the clouds, this one would be a good bet—a font of knowledge collected over lifetimes, the last ideas committed to print of people whose lives were dedicated to decoding life’s truths.

Apparently, it’s a centuries-old Japanese custom to compose a poem before you go. I couldn’t wait to read the messages they left behind. Goku Kyonen died on Oct. 8, 1272. He was 56. Here is his death poem:

The truth embodied in the Buddhas
Of the future, present, past;
The teaching we received from the
Fathers of our faith
Can be found at the tip of my stick.

When Goku felt his death was near, he ordered all his disciples to gather around him. He sat at the pulpit, raised his stick, gave the floor a single tap with it, and said the poem above. I love the flair, the drama. Seems like a stylish way to go.

I also appreciate that he took on such a big topic. Where many resign themselves to more manageable concepts, Goku Kyonen had none of it. He tackled time, religion and truth. But what did he come up with?

The tip of his stick. He leaves us looking at it with baited breath. Was the stick resting on the floor? Pointing to the pillow on his deathbed? Resting in an empty shoe? Or was it pointed out the window to blowing trees? There is no way to know. These specifics are left out.

This definitive statement—passed down the line to the rest of mankind—is focused on a detail. It just doesn’t matter which detail.

My interpretation: Concern yourselves with noble pursuits because what you focus on becomes the point of your life. But in the end, the need for an ultimate conclusion is just a crutch.

According to, when he finished, he raised the stick again, tapped the floor once more, and cried, “See! See!” Then, sitting upright, he died.

Very dramatic; very cool. I tried another, this one by Kozan Ichikyo, who died at 77 on Feb.12, 1360.

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

When a work of art is hard to understand, biographical details often help and they offer a way into this poem as well. A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. On the morning of his last day, he wrote this poem, laid his brush down and died sitting upright.

With this in mind, the poem offers more than a simple, cyclical interpretation. Don’t let my death be a reason for self-indulgence, the poet advises. Going deeper, why should the natural way of the world — the world that we are part of — make us cry? How egotistical is it to think that we are different, that we stand apart?

Why would we even want to be different than the very process that gave us life? Forgetting this, we worry as we watch the circle of life spinning around us, we try to cling to the things we love. But we didn’t enter the world holding on to anything and we won’t need our shoes when we go.

Even with this knowledge, however, I know I’ll continue to cling to the things I love. I may have come into the world without the things I’ve found along the way, but wouldn’t I be a fool to travel barefoot in the meantime?

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if haiku were a photo…

By Gene

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