Monday, October 29, 2007

The Ever Expanding Obsession

As readers of this blog know by now, as do all my friends and relatives, there is nothing I like better than sailing wooden boats on the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, I even like it better than poetry, but don't ask me to choose between them! They can be accomplished simultaneously, one lived through the other.

Over the period of October 17 - 22 I once again crewed aboard the Martha Lewis, this time for a trip down the bay to the Crisfield Watermen's Festival. Crisfield is about as far south as you can go on the water and still be in Maryland. I also learned many new an interesting things, including how each and every one of us has a built in map of the Chesapeake Bay. To use it, raise your arm up straight, but put a slight crook in your elbow. The fingers tips are the head of the Bay with Havre de Grace. The elbow is an Annapolis. The armpit is Crisfield. Extending the anatomical metaphor, Norfolk is your rear end. Or to put it this way: If you were going to give the Chesapeake Bay an enema, Norfolk is where you would insert the nozzle. I'll spare you the rest of the watermen's humor I encountered.

Everywhere we go, we meet watermen who tell us about the time they served with Martha or some other skipjack. I have noticed a common thread. Speaking as they do in the common language, intent only on talking about things that matter to them, watermen are developing a peculiar figure of speech. More than once I have heard an older waterman describe himself as working on the Bay "back when winters were cold." Global warming may be a subject of debate to people who lived in climate controlled boxes in cities, but for the people who live and work the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, it is a manifest fact.

When I tell young people that a hundred years ago the Upper Bay used to freeze over and that ice cut from it was Maryland's second largest export, they are astonished. Their grandparents then chime in to tell about how when they were young and the Bay would freeze over, they would walk across the ice from one side to the other. More astonishment. When I ask them when that was, they say the 1950s. Indeed, as late as the 1950s, skipjacks were sometimes caught in the ice and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Wooden boats are no defense against the slow grinding crush of winter.

But while Crisfield was interesting for many reasons, that which most attracted my attention (aside from a few brief but exciting moments when my glove was pinned against the samson post and the skipjack was swinging out of control at Tilghmans Island), was the three log sailing canoe, Ruby. She belongs to Randy George who lives on Galen's Creek, or as it used to be known and still is known to oldtimers, Red Cap Creek. He kindly invited us to go out on it with him, and three of us accepted.

the magic trick
of dawn:
a slim white sailboat
from the mist

Arriving at night, the creek and sailboat were invisible. But as dawn rose, the slim white lines of the sailboat emerged from the mist. What a beautiful sight to behold! About thirty feet long, including her Roman-nosed bowsprit, and about six feet wide, she sported a single mast with a skipjack rig. She was built in 1895 and is an example of the working type of log sailing canoe. She had been used for oystering.

The log sailing canoe was evolved by the colonists from the Native American dugout canoe. In the case of the Ruby, three logs were affixed side by side and hollowed out with axe and adze to make the hull. Then her sides and coamings affixed and the whole lot rigged as it pleases. The result is an extremely shallow, narrow, and quick sailboat, so much so that they survive today in the sport of log canoe racing, which is unique to the Chesapeake Bay. The modern log canoe with its trapezoidal sails and hiking boards is a strange and unmistakeable sight. There aren't many of them left, and even fewer that are still rigged as workboats. The oldest canoes in the racing fleet are over a hundred years old.

The Ruby then was a sweet little boat and when I saw it I think I must have felt much as Mole felt when he first saw the Water Rat's little boat, and for much the same reason. As Kenneth Graham said in The Wind in the Willows , "There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

my hand on the tiller
like Water Rat and Mole
with no particular place to go
and no particular desire
to get there any time soon

Randy very kindly let us each have a turned at the tiller, so we sailed down Red Cap Creek to the Big Annemessex River. The marshes were all brown and sere, quite, and with few insects about. The waters were placid and a light breeze blew. The curves of the waters wended through the stands of tall marsh grass, and the higher ground ('high' is a relative term) with its trees and houses fell away. The sky overhead was the purest blue, fading into silver at the horizons.

How my heart went out to it! A skipjack is and always will be beyond my means, but wouldn't it be possible to some day perhaps have myself a log sailing canoe? It's not so very large, and the skills -- knocking out the rotten wood and replacing the Bondo and other makeshift repairs with something more solid -- requires no great skill. Mast hoops made of rope and a sail that I could probably stitch myself . . . why not?

Ah. The real difficulty is not with the boat but the shore. Where to keep it? It won't fit in the living room. Where to store it where it could live safely while I puttered with it for as long as it took my meager funds to slowly patch it back together and return it to the water? I'd live in a shack if it had a bit of creek for a boat. I have, at times in my life, been gifted with chocolate, plane tickets, medication, and old clothes, but never with a waterfront home.

Alas. Such is not be. I've got a job working at Walmart, running my legs off so that people who make as little as I do can have their DVDs and gaming consoles. How they spend, spend, spend on HDTV, the latest pop album, and gadgets for their gadgets. It feels a little strange to be selling people things I have no use for, and if they had any sense, they wouldn't have any use for them either. Once upon a time, little boys messed about in old wooden rowboats and explored the riverbanks and marshes. Nowadays their parents keep them away from those dangerous places and give them better entertainment, like 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'Hitman.'


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sounds from the Unknown

I have been working on a comprehensive article about the history of tanka publishing in English, which has caused me to revisit Sounds from the Unknown edited by Tomoe Tana and Lucille Nixon.

Nixon describes the elements that make up good tanka as:

"The most important requisite for a good poem is that it come from the heart, that the expression must be real and sincere. The image, in other words, the sensory intake, must be clear, but there must be enough space around it so that the reader may delight himself with it by using his own associations."

All the following are the English translations of the Japanese originals. Both are included in the book.

From the high cliff the boat
I see in the middle of the Hudson River
Looks so very small
As it pulls along its own trail
Through the pure blue water.

~Masa Nishi

As my son opened a bundle
Of his luggage
When he returned,
The room was filled
With the odor of soldiering.

~Keigetsu Fukunaga

At the mountain villa
Where my friend's mother
Has just died,
The magnolia fragrances embraced us,
And words were few, very few.

~Junko Iizuka

At Hallowe'en
The baby goblin
Looking so happy,
Whispered from under the mask,
"This is me."

~Totaro Matsui

The sun shone so brightly
Into the Gilroy mountain stream
That the bodies of the fish
Became transparencies
Of yellow intestines.

~Takako Iino

Today at Pearl Harbor,
From the shore line,
At highest tide,
A gossamer mist,
With the deepest stillness.

~Hagino Matsuoka

Going steadily to study English,
Even through the rain at night,
I thus attain,
Late in life,
American citizenship.

~Kiyoko Nieda

The first person's name
My baby spoke again and again
Was that of Donna—
The little colored girl
Who lives across the street.

~Tomoe Tana

Oh, how very cold!
And how bright the frost this morning
On the silent fields,
As the sharp voice of the pheasant
Passes through.

~Tomo Hasaka

I am possessed
By this metropolitan phantom,
And have become as familiar
With New York in twenty years
As with a well beloved elderly wife.

~Kisaburo Konoshima

I, too, add my rock
To the mound of stones
Piled up
By all those who
Have climbed to the top of this peak.

~Shizuko Murakami

How silently
That tower of forty-two towers
Reflects the dawn,
In the harbor
At Seattle!

~Yosei Nomura

Quite early in the day,
Going to their city jobs,
People sit in buses,
And, oh, the beauty of each face
Reflecting early morning sun.

~Fumiko Kiyotoki

On the wide desert,
Before the silent wind,
My body sank
Into nothingness.

~Fumiko Ogawa

At Redondo Beach
Where Mexican people dwell,
Ugly oil wells rise,
But on washdays,
Oh, the flaming reds
That flutter in the breeze!

~Masanori Toyofuku

Sounds from the Unknown was published in January of 1964 as a trade paperback. Copies of it are readily found at low cost through the various online used booksellers.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007



Autumn 2007

TANKAFALL | October 1st - December 31st 2007

For our fourth open-submission exhibition since our launch in January we're delighted to present Tankafall, dedicated entirely to tanka. 3LIGHTS is pleased to welcome back writers such as Bob Lucky, Fran Masat and Matthew Paul for this Autumnal exhibition, as well as a host of newcomers to the gallery, many of whom have been making their mark in the pages of modern tanka magazines and journals across the globe.

Tankafall is now open at

If you have submitted poems for inclusion in Tankafall and haven't made it into the final line-up, why not submit again to be considered for our next open-submission exhibition. Details can be found below.

Closing Date: December 10th 2007

From January 2008, it's lights out at 3LIGHTS! Our first open-submission exhibition of 2008, Nocturne, will be a celebration of the dark hours that fall between dusk and dawn. If you've ever stayed up into the night, sipping black coffee, collecting the haiku, senryu and tanka as they fall onto the lamp-lit page, then you may have the poems we're looking for.

Submit up to ten haiku/senryu/tanka to with a brief biography by December 10th 2007.

See our submissions page for more details at

M. KEI : AUTUMN WATER | October 1st - December 31st 2007

3LIGHTS has been lucky enough to present a selection of M. Kei's tanka previously, but now we're thrilled to present an exhibition of over twenty of his poems.

M. Kei's work is filled to the brim with a drama that can only be found at sea and along its salty coastlines. Whether aboard the Skipjack Martha Lewis or on the shores of his beloved Chesapeake Bay, M. Kei continues to deliver consistently stirring tanka, and his voice on the modern tanka scene is becoming evermore distinct and influential. We’re lucky to have him and it’s a great pleasure for 3LIGHTS to present a hand-picked selection of his tanka, along with a revealing interview with the man himself.

Autumn Water runs until the end of the year. It's now open at


Since our last exhibition opened in the Summer, we've moved home. Find 3LIGHTS at and enjoy a more visual and jam-packed online gallery of haiku, senryu and tanka.


Finally, a thank you.

3LIGHTS has been open since January 1st 2007 and, since then, has welcomed a vast amount of high-quality submissions of haiku, senryu and tanka from across the globe. We have endeavoured to exhibit successful work in a range of online exhibitions in the hope that your reading experience is enhanced.

We're grateful for every submission and look forward to reading more. Next year we will present another twelve months of themed exhibitions and solo shows from new and established writers. We hope you can join us.

Thank you all.

Liam Wilkinson, October 2007

Editor: Liam Wilkinson

If you do not wish to receive future editions of this newsletter, please let us know. Reply to this email with the subject: UNSUBSCRIBE. We apologise for any inconvenience.


3LIGHTS Gallery is an online gallery of haiku and related, short form poetry, submitted by
new and established writers. It is edited and curated by Liam Wilkinson & Diane Sturch.
3LIGHTS is based in the North of England.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

7 Wonders of the Chesapeake Bay

I love the Chesapeake Bay and I believe it is best seen from the water. I have seen sites of spectacular beauty along its shores, especially from the deck of the Skipjack Martha Lewis. Several sites impress me with their beauty and so it has occurred to me to develop a list of the 'Seven Wonders of the Chesapeake Bay." Much to my surprise, apparently no one has done such a thing.

My list is barely begun, but I offer the following candidates:

1) The view from Turkey Point. This is an absolutely breathtaking panorama which allows a person to see more than thirty miles to Poole Island. From water level, the island is only a barely visible dark smudge, but from atop the 100 foot bluffs, the island is a broad expanses. Add to this the Turkey Point Lighthouse, built 1833, and the hawks and other migratory birds that use Turkey Point as a launching point to cross the bay, and you've got my number one pick.

2) Sharp's Island Light. The famous Leaning Lighthouse of the Chesapeake. It was nudged over by heavy ice in 1970. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is more famous, but why? Sharp's Light was built in 1882 on what was then Sharp's Island. This is one of several islands of the Chesapeake that has completely eroded away, becoming a set of shoals that require the light for warning. There are very few places in the world where a historic structure is still standing when the land under is has disappeared. Sharp's Light is our very own Atlantis.

3) The Calvert Cliffs. They line the Western Shore for more than thirty miles, a stretch with no harbor, making them a peril to mariners when storms blow out of the east. More than one ship has been sunk here. In addition, the cliffs have yielded more than 600 species of fossils. Because they are constantly eroding, they are constantly revealing new fossils. Crocodile teeth, anyone? Prehistoric crocs from the Miocene period lived here when the Cliffs were at the bottom of a shallow sea. The Cliffs are also the highest shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay.

4) The Skipjack Fleet. Listed on the National Register in 1985 and listed in 2002 as one of the eleven most endangered historic places in America by the National Historic Trust, these beautiful hard working vessels and the people who keep them afloat are truly a wonder. Official boat of Maryland, the number that are still dredging could be counted on one hand by a man who has lost a few fingers.

These four seem to me shoo-ins for Wonders of the Chesapeake Bay. I am undecided about the rest of the Wonders. I prefer natural wonders, but there is Sharp Island Light and the skipjacks... If we are to include man made wonders, then the C&D Canal, dug by hand with dirt hauled in baskets by mules is a prime candidate, and so is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Yet I admit to having a bias against the Bay Bridge. Maybe it's simply too new for my historical taste.

As for other candidates... Tangier Sound offers possibilities. And I admit to a great fondness for the little town of Wingate. It's a tiny place composed of two churches and seventeen crabboats where people are in bed by 9 at nine because they get up at 3 in the morning to go to work crabbing or in picking crabs in the crabhouses, and the docks are missing most of their boards. But the view of skipjacks heading out in the morning mists is something never to be forgotten.