Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Where Would You Like to See Yourself in Five Years?

I remember one of the questions my supervisor asked me during the review session in the company I had my day job: "Where would you like to see yourself in five years?" I don't remember what my answer was as a worker whose job failed to define me--a playwright at the time. As a writer, though, I do have an answer to that question, and I have had the answer since I graduated from WMU. Five years is a reasonable length of time to reach a goal, and it's not too far a distance to see things around us unless an emergency happens that completely upset our plan. It did happen to me in 2010.

That said, I am glad to be able to return to be a story teller again. I can tell a story in a tanka sequence and a haibun; however, it's a different kind of story telling. I have enjoyed writing them and will continue to write them. Meanwhile, I will be working on my long writing projects. Where would I like to see myself in five years? I got the answer.

What about you?

Happy 2014!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Winning Haibun

I've been sick for more than a week and am still quite sick. So I'm going to post here my haibun that won a second place of Jerry Kilbride Memorial 2012 English-Language Haibun Contest. This haibun has just been published by Haibun Today Volume 7, Number 4, December, 2013, which comes out today.

Leaves Falling to Their Roots

A sunny autumn day. Wes and I are driving through territory new to me.

“Remember where I want to be buried?” I ask.

“Have your ashes scattered into the Pacific from a promontory on the Oregon coast,” he answers. I told him that during our trip there.

I smile sadly. “Yes. So, a bit of me might flow back to the coast of Vietnam.”

Hours later, we arrive. He holds her urn as we walk towards the designated spot.

his grandmother rests
at home

| contents page | next haibun |

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Published Poems

These days, we can read almost everything on the Internet for free. However, if the printed magazines and books that don't go digital, we are out of reach of them unless we purchase a copy.

For those of you who don't have a copy of the in-print journals that have published my tanka, here I'd like to share them with you.

The following tanka are about war in general, the Vietnam War in particular:

Memorial Day
the bagpipes' lyricism
on the screen
I recall the Tet Offensive
in Saigon and Cholon

(bottle rockets, no. 29)

For those of you who experienced the war in either Vietnam or America will remember the Tet Offensive that escalated the war. This tanka of mine is not only about the Vietnam War but about other wars as well.

maple leaves
spray red on the ground
I stand
on the blood-soaked earth
contemplating peace

(red lights, June 2013)

"War and peace" seems to like to pair up with each other. When the war ends, comes peace. Right? Wrong. For us South Vietnamese, peace did NOT come until . . . You fill in the blank.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Humor in Poetry

We run in some sort of problems, frustration, and indignation. Humor is the best way to drive them off in order to keep our emotional balance. There's humor in all kinds of writing, even in poetry. In Japanese short form poetry, such poems are called Kyoka, another version of tanka.

Among all my published tanka, two of them, just off the top of my head, have humor in them.

Here is one published in Fire Pearls 2:

I become a beauty
when my sister says,
"your mouth is as big as
Sophia Loren's"

In this poem, I poke fun at both myself and my sister who unwittingly mocks her own sex by embracing the idea that degrades women. In traditional Chinese culture, there's a saying, "A man who has a big mouth (its physical size and thus has nothing to do with the American idiom) will have a feast everywhere he goes. A woman who has a big mouth will eat too much to impoverish her husband." How unfair is this saying! My old-fashioned sister fails to see the sexism in it. Oh, well. She's entitled to what she thinks and what she believes in.

Here's another one published in Atlas Poetica's special feature of "All Hallow's Evening : Supernatural Tanka" :

Halloween Party . . .
wrapped in a green sheet, a foam crown
with a paper torch
I strut like Lady Liberty
who comes from Saigon

This poem is about my partaking of a company's Halloween Party. I had a lot of fun, playing Lady Liberty.

It adds another level of meaning to a poem, be it tanka or free verse, if we inject humor into our poems; the same is true to the other kinds of writing.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Own Favorite Poems II

Again, I am posting some favorite Japanese short-form poems of my own. I have had quite a few poems published in a variety of journals, both online and in print. I'd like to reprint them here to share with you in case you don't read those journals or you read only a couple of them.

The following link is from Haibun Today. My haibun is about a former Viet Cong who had fled the unified Vietnam wrote a memoir about his life during the war and its aftermath. I believe my haibun will be of interest to those who are curious about what happened in Vietnam once the Bamboo Curtain was drawn. I hope this piece of my writing will make the reader think not only of war and peace but also of life itself.

Haibun Today

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Own Favorite Poems

I believe we writers have favorite pieces of our own writings, be they poems, essays, short stories, plays, novels, and so on. I myself have quite a few of my own published poems that are my favorites. Here are some that I'd like to share with you.

dreams come and go
and hard
to hold them tight
like flowers in a mirror

(Chrysanthemum 12, 2012)

a nondrinker
I don't know the joy
of Li Bai who drowned
his worries in wine . . .
I sip my second coffee

(A Hundred Gourds 2:2 March 2013)

gravel path
I kick at the pebbles
so small
yet, quietly carrying
our weight

(GUSTS No. 17)

Tet flower market
revives in Saigon
whose old charm
melts the Hanoi sun . . .
Dharma Wheel

(Atlas Poetica Number 12, Summer 2012)(It's part of a sequence)

my pen
dips into shadows
of the boat people . . .
endless I search for words
to paint their ordeal

(Lynx 27:3 October, 2012)

one drop of mercy
from Kuan Yin . . .
rain after the drought

(Haiku News, Vol. 1 No. 8)

a reflection
across multiple rivers
my heritage

(Notes from the Gean 3:2 September, 2011)

The seven tanka and haiku posted here reveal quite a bit of me as I touch on a variety of subject matters.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


I believe that I touched on this topic before. Now I want to say some more about it since I came across an advice by a well-established writer in a writing magazine. Here is the quote:

"I thinking what you actually learn is the art of self-editing. It's that ability to look at a line dispassionately and not feel attached to it just because you've written it. It's also a matter of confidence." by Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The two points that he brought up in this piece of advice are pretty good. First, I like "the art of self-editing." And, from my own experience, I did learn from self-editing. This is exactly what I mean "the writer's Aha Moment" that I posted in my earlier blogs. Self-editing is the hands-on learning process for me in haiku, tanka, and haibun writing, in plays and in fiction as well.

When Mr. Adams said, ". . . It's also a matter of confidence. . . ." I said to myself, "Yes!" My novel that is in the cooling period has gone through numerous times of self-editing. As it is now, I have cut more than 3,000 words by my self-editing. I did the cutting with confidence. During the first few times of self-editing, though, I was not that sure I should make the cut. Later on, I was confident that those words and even scenes I had cut were unneeded; in other words, they simply dragged on. What has given me the confidence? To do it. And, the more I do it, the more I find the self-editing process enjoyable and educational.

I know it's hard to chop off a piece from our writing, especially a scene. To make our writing better, I'd like to refer back to Mr. Adams's advice: ". . . It's that ability to look at a line dispassionately . . ."

I believe I have developed that ability. It takes time. And it takes work.


Friday, May 31, 2013

A Second Opinion

In my first playwriting class, my professor told us "the rule of three." It is about mentioning the character's name three times so that the audience may catch it. Ever since, I have applied such rule to my submissions and other writers' opinions. What does this mean? I will NOT listen to only one person's opinion as the sole comments and will NOT take the first rejection from an editor as the final decision. We like to seek a second opinion on medical issues. Why not do the same thing to our writings? In my opinion, even the writer or editor is an expert in the field, he/she could judge our work according to his/her own taste and/or preference. So far, I have been doing quite well sticking to the "rule of three." It also means that I will give my writing a second look if three people say the same thing or reject my piece of writing.

So, you may ask, "You believe in the rule of three and a second opinion?" Yes. However, it is definitely NOT my "rule" written in stone. Sometimes, a second opinion may not help and may cause more confusion and the fourth person may say something different from the other three. Therefore, the best thing is to trust ourselves: we know what we want to say.

In conclusion: A second opinion will serve as an opener that opens our minds and eyes wider.

Here is my tanka. Its Chinese translation will appear later.

both my sister and I
love Cantonese Opera-
in our youthful dreams
she saw a loving husband
I searched for a castle

Have I found the castle? Yes. In America. My adopted country.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Writer's AHA Moment II

Last time I wrote about my writer's AHA moment. I simplified the process quite a bit. In truth, it takes more steps to revise my haiku and tanka. In addition to dissecting the poems into two parts, I look at more things, such as the word choice, the rhythm, the sentence structure, the word order, the connection of the two parts. Because I take these steps, I continue to enjoy the AHA moment. Not long ago, I got five tanka rejected. I dissected them one at a time and examined each poem for all the things I mentioned above and revised them accordingly. Aha, they got accepted by the other journals. The joy of discovery!

Here is a tanka of mine published in red lights, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2013 with my own Chinese translation:

new citizenship . . .
a day of joy and sadness
wrapping myself
in the outfit of a cowgirl
do I look authentic?

新公民身份 . . .

Here is the link of Jane Reichhold's haiku book in English and Chinese American Haiku in Four Seasons, 1993 by Yilin Press, Nanjing, China.

American Haiku in Four Seasons

Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Writer's AHA Moment

When we write, we like to talk about the reader's AHA moment. What about a writer's AHA moment? Here it is my writer's AHA moment. For writers, rejection is one side of the coin. No one will feel happy about it, but what can I do? Since writing plays, I have developed a "survivor's mechanism." Sending the manuscript out to other places right away? Well, yes and no. For my plays, yes. However, I don't do that for my haiku, haibun, and tanka unless I am sure they are really good. What do I do? First, I dissect the poems. For haiku, I first separate the fragment and the phrase and look at each part, checking the juxtaposition. Doing so, it comes my AHA moment--I see why the poem doesn't work. The same goes to tanka. Since a tanka has the upper verse and the lower verse, I separate them into two parts. "Aha," I say to myself. "I see why it got rejected." The process of dissecting is not joyful; the discovery is. Such is my writer's AHA moment.

Here is a tanka of mine published in Lynx XXXVII: 2 June, 2012, with my own Chinese translation.

autumn approaching
yellow leaves begin to fall--
back home
what fruits are in season now?
it's been so long since I left


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Writing for a Prompt

There are two kinds of writers: those who can write for a prompt; those who have a hard time to do so. I belong to the latter. I write when an idea, an emotion, an event, an observation, or a piece of news hits me. Back in 2011, when I participated in the National Haiku Writing Month activity on Facebook, every day, I posted a haiku unprompted. I seldom followed the prompt given by an established haiku poet. However, I did write for themes for a couple of times, such as "the unspeakable body", a special feature of Atlas Poetica, a tanka journal. I did that because the themes had a very broad base and also I could take my time to ponder and better yet I could write up to ten poems. Happily, one of my tanka was accepted for publication for this special feature. Imagine how many parts and organs a body has that I can writer about! I think I can write for prompts only when I can take time to write and feel strongly about. That's right, when I feel strongly about something, I can write for a prompt for that thing.

Here is my first published haiku in English and in its Chinese translation done by myself. It appeared in Notes from the Gean 3:1 June, 2011. At the time Lorin Ford was the haiku editor of the journal. The publication gave me huge encouragement.

my childhood dreams--
steam from the wok


Here is my haibun entitled "Another Era" in Haibun Today, Volume 7, Number 1, March 2013:

Haibun Today

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Writing from the Soul

Last time I wrote about writing from the heart. Afterwards, I ran into a short article in a writing magazine about writing from the soul and found it interesting. We writers all write from something, don't we? From our experiences, from research, from observation, from imagination, from inspiration, from what we know, from what we feel strongly about, from the heart, and from the soul. The list goes on. No matter from what we write, we need to write with emotion. Emotion is what draws the reader into your writing. Emotion is what resonates with the reader who may or may not share your experience. That said, I would like to claify what I mean emotion. It is certainly not sentimentality. Writing with emotion rids our writing from objective reporting like a camera. Certain degree of objectivity is fine but not for the whole piece. I have learned it the hard way.

With more and more publications of my haiku, haibun, and tanka, I will update my blog at least twice a month to showcase my current status of a haiku poet, tanka poet, and haibun poet. Since I got my first haiku published in June, 2011, I have had more than a hundred (100) of haiku, haibun, and tanka appeared in twenty-two (22) international online and print journals and three anthologies, one is forthcoming. I am grateful to all the editors for having selected my work for their journals. Some of them are willing to work with me to polish my poems for publication. I am blessed.

Beginning this month, I will post one published haiku or tanka of mine with Chinese translation done by myself. This is one of my ways to say "Thank You" to my mother.

Mother's Day
my haiku tribute
to the one
who changed
the color of my sky

(A Hundred Gourds 1:3, June, 2012)


(traditional Chinese)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing from the Heart

We writers want to see our work published either in online or print journals. Before we get there, we need to write good poems, stories, essays. And, the joy of publication does not end in being read by people but in how it will take us: One thing leads to another. It happens to me with my poems. Four of my tanka have been selected for publication in Robert Epstein's new anthology Now This: Contemporary Poems of Beinnings, Renewals, and Firsts which will come out soon. How did I get the invitation from the editor? He liked one of my tanka published in Bottle Rockets #28 and contacted me. One thing leads to another.

Another bit of good news excites me further. I am one of the two winners of the 2012 Jerry Kilbride Memorial English-Language Haibun Contest. Yvonne Cabalona the Contest Coordinator is generous with her kind words. In the notificaion she wrote: " . . . In our very mobile society, there is always that longing for home, isn't there? That emotion resonates with all of us. . . ." My haibun that has won the second place touches on a universal theme that people of different cultures and backgrounds can relate to.

We don't have to strive to write to win. If we write from the heart, the writing itself will resonate with the reader. Our writing will shine.