Monday, March 31, 2014

Brave New World…at Breakfast

During the summer of 1974, I took my first job away from home. I was one of those college students who sold books door-to-door with the Southwestern Publishing Company. My roommates and I found a room to rent and we set out to make our way in the world. It was a great time to get a taste of the work-a-day world and to test our mettle. That summer I discovered for the first time the small private restaurants that were open for breakfast and lunch. My buddies and I found a couple of nice places to start our day with a hearty breakfast. These were homey spots. They were often Mom & Pop operations equipped to get breakfast orders out quickly to people who were on their way to work. Often, when they got to know your breakfast preferences, they would begin preparing it when they saw you getting out of you car so the wait time was almost non-existent.

 A Loss of Community?

There was something else about those breakfast spots. They were places where friends met before starting the day. They provided a sense of community where you could keep tabs on how folks were doing and what the latest happenings in town were. “Fast food” breakfast was virtually unknown. I can remember when McDonald's first ventured into the breakfast market with the “Egg McMuffin.” It seemed a little weird, but we began to get accustomed to the idea of a “hamburger joint” selling breakfast food.

All of these thoughts came back to me this morning when I saw on television a news piece about the “breakfast wars” as Taco Bell attempts to take some of that breakfast revenue from McDonald’s which, according to the news report, has the lion’s share of the breakfast business. All of this highlights where we have come and how we go about life in the city. We are people who are serving the corporation, are informed by the corporation, and are fed by the corporation.

Finding Hope at the Drive-thru Window

That same corporate mentality fuels our fantasy of democratic ideals as big money influences “grass roots organizations” to support candidates and legislation which favor the big-moneyed corporations. Since those days in the mid 1970s when I was first venturing into the work world, we have slowly been handing our lives over to the corporation even as we warned ourselves of the evils of totalitarian government. That is how our “brave new world” level of distopia has come upon us. It was not evil dictators, it was not the communists, it was not some fearful atheistic socialist government. It was the promise of a dollar that caused us to slowly and willingly hand our lives over to someone else’s control. The result is a poverty of will, a poverty of ideas, a poverty of community spirit, and a deep indebtedness to the corporation.

To quote, Pink Floyd, all in all we're just another brick in the wall -- a brick in the wall of a system that controls our choices and actions. Not by way of totalitarian government, but by way of a pervasive media that keeps happy faces on the air to assure us that we are free. We buy our breakfast alone and on the go as we head off to office cubicles and other similar shackles to work for “the man.” All the while television jingles reassure us that we are buying hope and value at the drive-through. 


Monday Music: Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder, as envisioned by William Blake

Jacob's Ladder: it is an image of mythic and archetypal dimension. The Negro spiritual by that name is one of beauty and simplicity, and it is a song that makes that archetypal depth readily accessible. The tune is easily sung and the lyrics can be quickly learned. With its origins among an enslaved people and its imagery rooted in an the Old Testament account of a man on the run, it speaks from a deep authenticity. William Blake's artistry sought to capture the cosmic nature of an ancient dream while the song affirms humanity's participation in a common hope, perhaps even cosmic in nature, that dares to look beyond the mundane earthly fabric of ordinary existence. For me, the memorable power of this song is experienced when it is sung by an audience -- a congregation, if you will -- a group of people gathered together. The act of singing, joining in the harmony, placing oneself within the imagery of hope makes the song one that can expand the soul and cause people to take heart for tomorrow.

I have fond memories of singing this spiritual in church congregations where hearts and voices made for a palpable sense of belonging. Pete Seeger, perhaps more than any other performer, understood the significance of group singing. He managed to form a choir out of his audience whenever he performed. Seeger had the ability to draw his audience in to the experience of song and his version of "Jacob's Ladder" is the most universally accessible that I have heard.

Every round, a generation

I've included two videos of Seeger leading the audience in Jacob's Ladder, both are live recordings. The first features a 1980 audio recording from a concert at Harvard's Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA. It offers the listener that sense of purpose, hope, and camaraderie that everyone needs to experience from time to time. You can hear that voice, still vibrant and strong at the youthful age of 61. The second video is from a live concert  at Wolftrap in 1993. Pete gets the audience singing along, as was his custom. He also adds another version of the song that he learned "from the women in Milwaukee ...'We are dancing Sarah's circle... Every round a generation'..." At that time he was 74, still learning, still holding his own. (You'll also see Arlo Guthrie and Pete's son-in-law, Tao Rodriguez performing on stage)

*   *   *


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Plum Flower

sunlight casts shadows
of ancient plum flower script
soft upon the ground

                             ~ CK

Photo: Plum Tree Spring
Credit: ForestWander
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reflections on a Short Life

Reflections on a Short Life (For Percy)

Some say our days are short
     and full of toil and woe,
Others take pleasure
     in the briefest journey.

One may find life to be
      a meaningless and never-ending tale
While another is enlivened
      by the joy of the story.

Everyone is given a lifetime
     to completely fill the days,
And a heart to meet
      each fateful hour.

Some hearts fill shortened days
      with vibrant hope and expectation
While others while away endless time
      with dark despair.

Neither brevity nor length
     puts value on our days.
But the heart that fills those days (whether short or long)
    will set them for good or ill.

Happy is the one whose days, though short,
Are generated by a heart of gratitude and peace.

                                                       ~ CK

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~


"There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other. To those who have never lived through its turnings and walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible. Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given."                                                                                                                                                               ~ Suzanne Clothier


Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Music: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

The music of J. S. Bach is an amazing combination of melody, mathematics, harmony and soul-speak.  Here is the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, performed on original instruments by the Early Music ensemble Voices of Music.

From the notes on the YouTube site:

In March of 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach carefully inked six of his best concertos into a book for the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig. The original title, "Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments" is now known as the "Brandenburg" Concertos in English or "Brandenburgische Konzerte" in German.

These six concertos represent the summa of chamber music in the high baroque period, and the third concerto (BWV 1048) is noted for its rich texture of three violins, three violas and three cellos, with a continuo part for the harpsichord and violone.

Picture: Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussmann, 1746
             Public Domain
             Courtesy of Wikimedia commons


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Daffodils

 daffodils in bloom
 fifty previous springtimes
 quickly come to mind

                              ~ CK

Photo: Spring day in the park of Bagatelle, Paris, France
Credit: Myrabella
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Recipes My Daughter Likes: Luxurious Potato Broccoli Soup

Today I tried a recipe my daughter sent. It is a delightfully hearty vegetable soup. I am calling it "luxurious" because of its creamy texture. It is also vegan since it uses coconut creamer rather than milk to achieve the light and creamy base. It was definitely a delicious hit, and an excellent healthy food choice. I would add that though the recipe states it is one serving, I got about four servings out of it (but then again, my concept of a serving may differ from yours).

A note about the ingredients: quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a grain from the Andes. If you haven't tried it, it is a nutritious dish that is a good substitute for rice. Just rinse it before cooking because it has a natural protective coating that is bitter. Coconut creamer is a great dairy substitute. I have found it at Whole Foods as well as The Fresh market.

Potato Broccoli Soup (1 serving, scale for more people)

  • 1 potato
  • 1 handful of baby carrots
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1vegetable bouillon 
  • 1/8 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup coconut creamer
  • salt and season to taste


Put bouillon, seasonings and quinoa in pot with two cups water and bring to boil. Chop potato, carrots and other veggies to a small dice and add everything into boiling water. Cover and simmer for 25 min. Remove cover add creamer and cook down to desired consistency. 


Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Music: The King's Singers - Danny Boy

For St. Patrick's Day. Danny Boy is associated with traditional Irish songs popular among the Irish diaspora. It is set to the tune, Londonderry Air. The melody originated in County Londonderry which is now part of Northern Ireland. Other songs have been set to this tune (which some wags like to humorously refer to as "London Derriere"), but "Danny Boy" is the one most associated with it. The King's Singers give a beautiful a cappella rendition here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So Grand a Caravan: An Invitation to Poetry

Photo by PhotoJoy Photography

Standing Upon the Plain at Dawn

Standing upon the plain at dawn
Something deep inside calls out.
So grand a caravan has come this far!
The soul looks with gratitude upon the tombs
Of those who carried every song, every story,
Every portent of light.

A moment in the silent calm of a new day
Brings the soul around
To seek what mighty source called these souls out
Who now rest in the peace of knowing
That the caravan continues.

My soul joyfully embarks upon the journey
My hands willingly take up the task
My heart gladly celebrates a magnificent company of travelers.

                                                     ~ Charles Kinnaird

*   *   *   *

Note about today's post: The poem above is in response to an "Invitation to Poetry" by the Abby of the Arts. The photo along with the theme is posted on their blog at This invitation is open to all, so feel free to visit their site to see what others have shared and to share your own poem.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Haiku: The Arrival


                 cool morning breeze
              warm sunlight above the crest
              robins dance

                                          ~ CK

PhotoMorning sun, Cwm Cywarch Low morning sun highlighting features in this field in Cwm Cywarch.
Credit: Philip Halling
This image was taken from the Geograph project collection
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Friday, March 14, 2014

Notes from a Haiku Workshop

Last April, I became a student of haiku when decided haiku would be a good way to encourage more people to write poetry. I posted a blog about how to write haiku and was astonished at the interest shown, judging by the number of hits that blog post received. As a result, I decided to begin a new feature on my blog called “Saturday Haiku,” in which I write and post a new haiku each week. My first Saturday Haiku was in May of 2013. Though I have been posting haiku for ten months now, I am still a student of the art – which is why I was excited when I heard about a haiku workshop coming to my hometown.

The haiku workshop was held in Birmingham, Alabama last Saturday and was led by Terri French, who is Regional Coordinator for the Southeast Region of The Haiku Society of America. The workshop was hosted by the Birmingham Public Library as part of the city's Sakura Festival and lasted from 10:00 a.m. until noon. In that short time I learned how much I do not know about haiku. Indeed, much of the information that I shared last year from other sources on that original blog post about writing haiku was very basic and did not include later developments in the writing of English-language haiku.

The first surprise for me was that the “5 – 7 – 5” method for allotting syllables in the three lined poem is no longer considered the standard. In the Japanese language, on is the sound unit comparable to the English syllable.  However, in the English language, a seventeen syllable span is much longer than seventeen on  in the Japanese language. One source states that thinking in terms of 3 – 5 – 3 is more comparable to what the Japanese language does in 5 – 7 – 5. The Haiku Society of America considers that 12 syllables in English would be comparable to 17 in Japanese.

A Brief History

Ms. French gave a brief historical review of haiku, beginning with its origins in Japan. Matsu Basho, who lived from 1644 to 1694, is considered the father of haiku. Yosa Buson (1716 – 1784) was a painter as well as poet, and would sometimes combine a painted image with a haiku. From Buson’s influence came the “haiga” which is a combination of picture and haiku in which the image compliments (rather than illustrates) the poem. Kabayshi Issa (1763 – 1828) is considered to be the most beloved of haiku poets. Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703 – 1775) was a female haiku poet of some renown.  As the haiku continued to develop in Japan, Musaoka Shiki (1867 – 1902) elevated haiku to a literary status.

Haiku influenced several English language poets in the Imagist Movement before World War II. Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Amy Lowell are some of the writers associated with that movement whose poetry  was short and haiku-like.  In the post WWII period, Harold G. Henderson came to be considered the “godfather” of American haiku. He translated Japanese haiku for English-speaking audiences.

R.H. Blyth, who lived from 1898 to 1964, brought the Zen movement into the writing of haiku. Blyth influenced the Beat Poets and the Beat Poets in turn influenced American haiku. Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder are examples of Beat poets who made use of haiku in their writing.

Terri French enlightened the workshop attendees with information about influential modern haiku poets. She made special mention of women pioneers in contemporary haiku including Jane Reichold, Alexis Rotella, and Anita Virgil. She told us about Nick Virgilio, a modern poet who greatly influenced contemporary haiku and who was a member of the Haiku Society of America. I did a little more research on line and found that, according to an article in Wikipedia, Virgilio “experimented with the haiku form, trying several innovations that were adopted by many other American haiku poets, including dropping the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count in favor of shorter forms. He included rhyme in his haiku along with the gritty reality of urban America.” The article further notes that Virgilio’s published collection of haiku “has been called one of the most influential single-author books in English-language haiku.”

What is Haiku?

The official definition of haiku used by the Haiku Society of America is, “A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”  

In the workshop, Ms. French elaborated on some aspects of haiku: 
  • Japanese haiku makes use of kigo, the “season word” which identifies the season to which the poem relates
  • There is the use of juxtaposition
  • There is the use of kireji, the “cutting” word which in Japanese serves as a verbal punctuation
  • There is the “aha moment,” or the epiphany of new realization 
In closing, she gave a few haiku “guidelines” (Ms. French does not like the term “rules” when it comes to haiku): 
  • 17 or fewer syllables
  • Three lines
  • No rhyme
  • No end punctuation
  • There is no capitalization except for proper nouns
  • Haiku are not titled
  • No use of overt metaphor, simile, or personification
  • Use concrete nouns rather than lots of adjectives to convey seasonal imagery
  • Make use of comparison

The Take Away

In two short hours I learned much more about haiku than I ever knew before. In addition, we also had time for hands on practice in writing haiku. As a student of the art of haiku, I hope to carry some of my new knowledge into my own writing as I continue my weekly practice of haiku on the Saturday Haiku feature of this blog site. Rather than being forever wed to the 5 – 7 – 5 format, I will pay more attention to the spirit of haiku, trying to say more in fewer syllables. 

The primary corrections I will make in future haiku writing will be to eliminate punctuation, capitalization and overt use of metaphor. In one of my early haiku, I said that the thin crescent moon with its arc of light was “like a door ajar.” Ideally, I would have carried that imagery without the overt metaphor. I love metaphor and simile, but I will need to learn to restrict its use to poetic forms other than haiku. It may be that haiku will help me make better use of the concept of metaphor and simile without resorting to overt “like” or “as” phrases even in my other poetry.

I hope that interested readers will continue to follow my Saturday Haiku offerings, but more than that, I hope that more of you will take an interest in actually writing haiku. The purpose of my initial post in writing haiku last year was to encourage people who probably do not consider themselves to be “poets” to find in the haiku an accessible avenue for poetic expression.  As you may note, I have been writing haiku for almost a year with only a little bit of knowledge about the art. Even so, having the discipline of a very simple weekly practice has helped me to pay more attention to my surrounding world. I probably try for that Zen approach” that Blyth introduced to American haiku, though it should be noted that haiku does not have to be about anything Zen. Having listened to an experienced teacher in Terri French, I am even more interested in pursuing the art.

For further reference: 

Picture: A portrait of the poet Basho, with his most famous poem "An old pond - a frog jumps in -" (c.1820) by Kinkoku, Yokoi (1761-1832)
Public Domain
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Music: Man of Constant Sorrow

This is Bob Dylan's first television appearance in 1963. "Man of Constant Sorrow" came to public prominence in recent years with the Coen brothers' film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou," which featured period folk music from the 1930s. The version used by Coen brothers' was recorded by Dr. Ralph Stanley.

Dylan gives an authentic rendition here, showing his early interest in traditional folk music. The song was published in 1913 and first recorded in 1928 by Emry Arthur. The Stanley Brothers popularized the song with their 1951 recording on Columbia Records.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent: It’s about Paying attention

For some, the Lenten season is about sacrifice, some focus upon the liturgical aspect of penance, others call to mind the scriptural reality check from Ash Wednesday to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There is a place for all of the above, but for me, the healthiest way to come through Lent is by paying attention.

Distracted by the Process of Living

It is easy to be so busy with life that we avoid paying attention. One of things that Alcoholics Anonymous does with its Twelve-Step program is to show people who have been caught up in addiction how to pay attention. Buddhist spiritual practice can be seen as a valuable method for getting off the treadmill of life long enough to pay attention. The easiest thing to do is to not pay attention to ourselves, our loved ones, and our lives as a whole. Distraction seems to be the preferred method for getting through life, though anyone who has been forced to stop and pay attention will tell you about the valuable lessons learned. Sometimes it takes being blind-sided by illness or tragedy. Sometimes it is addiction that brings a person to the very bottom before they see the necessity of paying attention to his or her life.

“I don’t really have time for that right now,” is a common reaction, and one that I must confess to falling back upon quite easily. After all, we have commitments, obligations and deadlines. In addition, there is always something we would rather do than being still and alone with ourselves. Because distraction is so often our default setting, the arrival of Lent is an excellent time to bring ourselves back to some degree of self-examination, to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory,” as one of the Twelve Steps of AA suggests.

Taking Time to Be Still

Several years ago, the rector of the church I was attending gave some very helpful advice about what to give up for Lent. “You might try something as simple as giving up cream in your coffee. That way, you are reminded each morning to spend some time in spiritual reflection.” I thought it was a good idea. At the time, I took my coffee with cream and sugar, so I decided that I would make black coffee without sugar my Lenten discipline. As my rector had suggested, it was a very effective means to provide a daily reminder that this is a season to be spent in reflection. With that first sip of coffee in the morning I was reminded to turn my mind toward God. When I took that coffee break at work, I could not help being more conscious and circumspect. Throughout that Lenten season, I was not saddled with the notion of sacrifice, nor was I pounded with the idea of being “a miserable sinner.” My Lenten discipline did help me to pay attention in a meaningful way. (And on Sunday, when there is no fasting is to be done since every Sunday is liturgically Easter, that warm cup of coffee with cream and sugar delightfully said “He is risen indeed!")

I have tried that same Lenten discipline on occasion since that time and it has always served as a healthy reminder to take stock of my life. This year, I have decided to make black coffee my practice once again.  Those who are observing Lent have, of course, already begun their practice. Whatever you are “giving up,” be sure to let it remind you to pay attention. This is not about an endurance test, is a time of renewal and reflection.  Lenten practice does not have to be harsh to be beneficial. If you are not observing Lent, it is never too late to take some time away from your routine to pay attention. If all you do is sit quietly for fifteen or twenty minutes in the morning, that is a good start. Learning to sit and count your breaths in order to still the mind is a helpful form of meditation that anyone can begin right away. At any rate, you will be glad you stopped to pay attention to life now, while you have a moment to reflect.


Photo: "kaffe" by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Blossoms

Blossoms greet the world
     with promise for tomorrow
     and joy for today.

                           ~ CK

Picture: "Apricot Trees in Blossom" (oil on canvas)
              by Vincent van Gogh


Friday, March 7, 2014

Suddenly the Dawn


Suddenly the Dawn

I must have set my sights upon
Enduring the winter nights,
Forgetting the natural turning
Of my orbiting home.

Did the earth cross some stellar threshold,
Or was that turning at work
Even in my darkness?
However it was that her course was plotted,
A new day arose
When suddenly the dawn
Cast her soft light in the early hours
Where darkness had heretofore been the expectation.

A turning of the season
Brings expectation of light.

                                                                   ~ CK


Photo: Sunrise (Public Domain)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Prayer from U2 (Yahweh)

On this Ash Wednesday, here is a heartfelt prayer from U2 that I thought would be appropriate.


Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist no
Take this mouth
So quick to critisize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean
His love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Music: Walk with You

A warm collaboration of the remaining half of The Beatles. The song is from Ringo's album, Y Not (2010). Though this is the only track that Paul joins him on, the entire CD is enjoyable and uplifting. Other memorable tracks include "Peace Dream," and "The Other Side of Liverpool."


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Last Light

  Last light of the day
       brings fresh sight upon the world.
       New hope at day’s end.

                                          ~ CK

Picture: “The Lovers;” oil painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

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