Thursday, August 9, 2012


Please note that I am adding all new blog posts at this site

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Janus: Transitions (continued)

Wild Women of the Woods (and the culverts)
One of the great joys of my life is hiking every week with the WWW (the Wild Women of the Woods). Whether climbing Dog Mountain in the springtime or winter walks around Portland, we always enjoy each other's company while getting exercise to boot. The WWW's is what the women's encounter group was in the 1970's—emotional support, networking, and having a good time.

On May 11, I was invited to be the featured reader at the Milwaukee Poetry Series held at the beautiful Pond House in Milwaukie, Oregon. It was a rainy spring evening and outside ducks were swimming on the pond bordered by iris. The hour-long reading was a retrospective of my work, spanning haiku from my first book Grinding my ink to selected readings of tanka, haibun, and lyrical poetry from subsequent collections. Music from Shostakovich's Quartet No. 8 played in the background as I read my accompanying poem "Purge."The evening ended with "Death is a Butterfly," which the organizers had graciously printed on a broadside for people to take home. This poem was inspired by the Takacs Quartet's rendition of "Soft Sleep Shall Contain You" by Daniel Kellogg. The final two poems were composed in my role as Poet Laureate of Friends of Chamber Music (

Pond House Poetry Reading

Bend Haiku Weekend (June 3-5, 2011) was a gala event held in the historic Liberty Theater and coordinated with the First Friday Art Walk. The Haiku Society of America invited me to give a talk on "Haiku Inspired by Ikebana." Since it was early June, I decided to use iris for my floral demonstration, along with some peonies that I bought at the local Trader Joe's. For greenery, I followed the rule of ikebana ("use whatever materials are available") and snipped some branches off the dense foliage outside the Phoenix Hotel. The event, organized by an'ya and her husband Peter, was a huge success. Five thousand people toured through the Liberty Theater that weekend. One unusual feature was the Haiku Wall papered with over eight hundred haiku from poets all over the world. It was a great surprise to hear that I had won the haiku contest sponsored by the 5 Fusion Restaurant, one of the event sponsors, just down the street from the Liberty Theater. My prize: a bottle of Haiku wine!

Ikebana arrangement with spring flowers

Happy prize winner of a bottle of Haiku wine

Spring is spectacular in the Northwest. A time to begin digging in the garden and planting. Bushes and flowers all burst into bloom, one after another. We had some special visitors this year as well: a rabbit I named Camille and a doe and her two fawns.

Cindy Williams Gutierrez, Kendra Carpenter, Maggie

Figures of Speech organizers Steve and Constance Hall invited Cindy Gutierrez and I to read at their monthly poetry gathering at In Other Words Bookstore on June 21. Joining us was a delightful cellist, Kendra Carpenter, who accompanied Cindy and me and greatly enhanced our readings. Kendra is the owner of Swaha Studios and performs sound healing, combining techniques drawn from traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism. Steve produced an elegant broadside of Cindy's poem "If You Must Die" and my poem "Transition" with his own Portland bridge drawing on the cover. It was a very moving and entertaining evening—and we were all wearing red, white, and blue!

(to be continued....)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Janus: Transitions

In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He appears as a two-faced god, one head looking back the other forward. His month, January, signifies transitions—gates, doorways, endings, and time. During the final week of every year, I like to take time to look back at the events and all the new friendships I've made. Here are some of the high points.

We ushered in 2011 at Camp Sherman, celebrating with friends at their cabin on the Metolius River. We enjoyed sitting around the fire reading and playing games, hiking in the snow, eating home-made meals and, especially, playing with their puppy Cooper.

John, Maggie, Cooper

On January 7, I was invited to speak at the Tomodachi-kai, a group devoted to nurturing friendship and cross-cultural understanding between Japanese and American women and their families. In the beautiful setting of the Nichiren Buddhist Temple, we wrote our first haiku of the year and then enjoyed special New Year's dishes.  http//

Maggie with members of Tomodachi-kai

In March, I joined our Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, Penelope Scambly Schott, and Carlos Reyes teaching a full day of poetry workshops sponsored by the Manzanita Writers. This Poetry Fest drew writers from all over the state and we all had a creative and convivial day. On March 26, I joined several poets at the Multnomah Library in downtown Portland where I read my short story "Father's Overcoat" published in VoiceCatcher 5. VoiceCatcher is a non-profit collective that nurtures women authors and artists in the Portland/Vancouver area. The women who volunteer their expertise, time, and energy to publish this journal are extraordinary! 

Readers for VoiceCatcher 5

Maggie Chula and Ce Rosenow
On May 6, I drove with my friend Penelope Scambly Schott to the Poets Concord held at the Hallmark Inn on the Oregon coast in Newport. We both gave workshops. Hers was "Writing Crazy: Poetry Beyond the Predictable World" and I gave a workshop with Ce Rosenow (President of the Haiku Society of America) entitled "Haibun: The Harmony of Poetry & Prose." Many participants were new to the haibun form and eagerly embraced the challenge of combining prose and haiku.

The Lane Literary Guild sponsors the active and venerable Windfall Reading Series held at the Eugene Public Library. On May 17, they invited me to read with Kenneth Helphand in an event titled "Beauty: The Ultimate Strength." Professor Helphand teaches architecture at the University of Oregon. His book "Defiant Gardens" documents a selection of gardens built by prisoners of war, especially those in World War II ghettos under the Nazis. For my portion of the program, I read poems from my new book "What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps," accompanied by a slide show of corresponding quilts by Cathy Erickson. One of the poems, "Afterimage," is written in the voice of a Japanese American man who builds a sand and stone garden at the Minidoka camp in Idaho to beautify his surroundings in the barren desert. Visit "Featured Book" on my website to read more.  

Windfall Reading: "Beauty: The Ultimate Strength"

(To be continued......)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Opening Ceremony

State House, Salem Oregon
On June 14 (Flag Day), I was invited by Representative Tomei of Milwaukie Oregon to read a poem at the Opening Ceremony for the Oregon State House of Representatives. I was delighted and a bit daunted by this request, but the clerk gave me very detailed instructions.

1. You have a two-minute time limit.

2. The two minutes is solely for your reading; it's not an opportunity to address the Members other than a simple 'thank you' or 'thank you for having me today.'

3. Your poem must meet the guidelines criteria and it is not for purposes of lobbying the Members for any political stance or issue.

4. The convening time is fluid, but I suggest you arrive at 10:00 a.m.

I arrived early and was shown to my reserved parking place. Climbing the steps to the multi-doored entryway made me feel like an insignificant citizen entering the cavernous Chamber of the Law. Everyone, however, welcomed me an an honored guest. Here's the poem I read from my newest book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.


They loaded us onto trucks bound for the camps
            took our homes, our possessions, our land
just because we were Japanese – Japanese Americans.

Two suitcases were all we were allowed for clothes
photos, keepsakes ­­– twenty years of our lives in America.
Your grandfather was taken right off his fishing boat.
I was cooking the evening meal when they came.
Your mother sat at the kitchen table studying for a test.

That night I cut strips of cloth from garments
I had to leave behind. And from them I sewed this quilt.
Each stitch, a remembrance ­­­– each square, rectangle a tribute
to nature’s bounty in the desolation of Heart Mountain.

I stitched in the comfort of kasuri,
the smell of wood smoke on rain-black nights,
of days when rain fell soft and even as my child’s breath.
I stitched in triangles of flowers from my wedding kimono.
And as I quilted, I whispered their names:  kiku, hagi, kiky├┤
chrysanthemum, bush clover, Chinese bell flower.

How cheerful those curtains of plumeria, hibiscus that hung
in our bedroom, their perfume a dream of Hawaii. I sewed in
beauty and vertical rays of yellow, the sun that shone through
the barbed wire and the curtainless windows of our barracks.

The orange poppies were last, fashioned from your mother’s
hair ribbons. I planted them as an afterthought –
question marks blooming with hope.

In Seattle with Elvis

Elvis (aka Carlos Colon) with one of his admirers
One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Haiku North America conference in Seattle from August 3-7. The Organizing Committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry along with a long list of volunteers put on a memorable weekend. Haiku North America provides not only an opportunity to talk about haiku and related forms, but to reunite with old friends and learn about their new projects through readings, presentations, and panel discussions. Previous conferences have been held in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Chicago. Portland, Ottawa, Port Townsend, and Winston-Salem. I've attended nearly all of them.

This year's theme was "Fifty Years of Haiku." To commemorate this gathering, I chaired a panel entitled "Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades," inviting three haiku luminaries and longtime friends to be panelists: Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Penny Harter.

Michael Welch (Introducer), Maggie Chula, Garry Gay, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball
Our stories of following the haiku path were both hilarious and poignant. We began our discussion on a light note by reading our first haiku, thus demonstrating how far we've come! Over thirty years, our haiku have been influenced by place, life changes, losses, and aging. One of my stories relating to place was about returning to the U.S. after twelve years in Japan and feeling that I would no longer be able to write haiku. My reaction during a calamity proved me wrong.

sitting outside
watching my house burn—
mosquito bites my leg

There I was, watching my house burn and writing a haiku—not a great haiku, or even a decent senryu—but it reassured me that I would continue writing haiku.

Some of the high points of Haiku North America for me were Wanda Cook's "Some Like It Hot: Erotic Haiku" workshop; a haibun reading by Cor van den Heuvel; the Memorial Reading for haiku poets who have passed away; and "Between a Word and a Brush Stroke," a haiga talk by Lidia Rozmus. Lidia is a talented artist and poet and her haiga have been exhibited all over the world.

Maggie and Lidia Rozmus in front of her exhibition

The grand finale of the conference was an expected appearance of Elvis during the banquet held at a  restaurant on top of the Space Needle. What an appropriate place for Elvis—on top of the world. That old hound dog, Carlos Colon, had us howling with laughter as he gyrated to the beat of his Elvis senryu. His fans lined up for photos afterwards. Here are a few by Elvis:

not myself tonight
my belt missing
a rhinestone

home in Tupelo
feeding the birds
my golden voice

Labor Day
a spot of barbecue sauce
on my white jumpsuit

you feel them even 
if Ed Sullivan won't let you— 
swivel of hips

not as long
but the girls still like it
army haircut

bachelorette party
an Elvis cut-out draped
with lingerie

Saturday, May 21, 2011

She Who Watches

Photograph by Marilyn Laufenberg
She Who Watches is both a petroglyph (carved into the rock) and pictograph (art drawn or painted onto rock). Tsagaglalal, as she is called by native Americans, is larger than I imagined—about 16 inches across. 

     She Who Watches can only be visited on a guided tour to the Columbia Hills State Park located on the Washington side of the Columbia River. All along the trail, you can pick out petroglyphs depicting deer, mountain sheep, owls, salmon, and a mysterious creature with long flowing tentacles. It's like a treasure hunt with Tsagaglalal as the grand finale. 
    I spent a day here with my women's hiking group. Amidst the chatter and photography, I felt a stillness and power from these rocks. I've experienced this before in Mesa Verde and other national parks in the Southwest—a tightening of my chest and pulsing throat. As we sat and gazed back at She Who Watches, our tour guide told us the legend. 

A woman had a house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of all who lived in the region. That was a long time before Coyote came up the river and changed things and people were not yet real people.  After a time Coyote in his travels came to this place and asked the inhabitants if they were living well or ill. They sent him to their chief who lived up on the rocks, where she could look down on the village and know what was going on. 

Coyote climbed up to the house on the rocks and asked "What kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women?"

"I am teaching them to live well and build good houses," she said.

"Soon the world will change," said Coyote, "and women will no longer be chiefs." Then he changed her into a rock with the command, "You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here."

All the people know that Tsagaglalae sees all things, for whenever they are looking at her those large eyes are watching them.

    There are several legends, of course, including one that interprets her large staring eyes as a representation of death and disease brought by white settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, sitting there quietly after everyone has left, it is not death that I see in her eyes. It is spiritual energy emanating from rock.

New York Odyssey

Chrysler Building ©  Margaret Chula

John and I often visit New York in February. Winter is a good time to be in Manhattan: few tourists, discounted hotels, and the museums feature exquisite exhibitions at a time of the year when people enjoying spending time indoors. Manhattan is a cornucopia of delights—from the variety of architecture styles to international cuisines, to the finest museums and art galleries, music of every genre, theater, and a colorful babble of languages in the streets. Like tourists, we constantly gaze upward at the skyscrapers and the shapes they form against the sky, juxtaposed to other buildings, and viewed from many angles.

We have our routines: going to our favorite places like the Metropolitan Museum and taking in jazz at the Village Vanguard. And don't forget the earring store at Blue Ice in the Village. On this visit we spent more than six hours at the Met, even meeting our friend Arnold Steinhardt there for lunch at the Petrie Court Cafe overlooking Central Park. The Japanese wing is our favorite, particularly the Isamu Noguchi water basin. We always stop to relax, gazing at the water spilling over the rim. It reminds me of my tanka book title Always Filling, Always Full. This fountain is always filling.

Maggie in front of E.V. Day painting

We also enjoy discovering new things each time we visit—like strolling around Chelsea dropping into galleries. There are some amazing artists, both new and celebrated, exhibiting their recent work. One of my favorites was E.V. Day and her show at the Carolina Nitsch Gallery. Entitled "Seducers", walls were covered with gigantic flowers which were indeed seductive, drawing the viewer into the center like an insect. E.V. spent three months in residence at Claude Monet's estate in Giverney where she collected blooms, pressed them in a microwave, scanned them digitally, and printed them on paper eighteen times their original size. My favorite was the gorgeous pink peony. I could almost smell its fragrance!

Shinichi Maruyams's show "Gardens" was a very modern take on Japanese gardens. "The Zen garden is the expression of boundless cosmic beauty in a physical environment, created through intense human concentration, labor, and repeated action," Maruyama says in his artist's statement. For us, these were more cosmic and surreal than Zen, but they were powerful as art pieces. The colors were spectacular and the images reminded us of Miro. 

Shinichi Maruyama