Today is Guru Purnima–Thanks To All You Teachers

Guru Purnima is an Indian festival dedicated to spiritual and academic teachers. This festival is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, to pay their respects to their teachers and express their gratitude. The festival is celebrated on the full moon day (Purnima) in the month of Ashadh (June–July) of the Shaka Samvat, which is the Indian national calendar and the Hindu calendar.


The celebration is marked by ritualistic respect to the guru, Guru Puja. The Guru Principle is said to be a thousand times more active on the day of Gurupurnima than on any other day. The word guru is derived from two words, gu and ru. The Sanskrit root gu means darkness or ignorance, and ru denotes the remover of that darkness. Therefore, a guru is one who removes the darkness of our ignorance. Gurus are believed by many to be the most necessary part of life. On this day, disciples offer puja(worship) or pay respect to their guru (spiritual guide). In addition to having religious importance, this festival has great importance for Indian academics and scholars. Indian academics celebrate this day by thanking their teachers as well as remembering past teachers and scholars.

Thanks to Angelee Deodhar for this.

Sex: Get It While You Can

The Joy of (Just the Right Amount of) Sex
• by Gretchen Reynolds
• June 25, 2015
Researchers long ago established a link between having sex and feeling pleased with yourself and the world. In a representative recent study of 1,000 women, for example, the participants ranked sex as No.1 among the activities that made them the happiest. Data from 16,000 American adults on incomes, sexual activity and happiness led economists to conclude in a much-­discussed 2004 study that increasing the frequency of intercourse from once a month to once a week increased happiness to the same extent as having an additional $50,000 in the bank.
But while these and similar studies, which relied on surveys, revealed an association between sex and happiness, they did not show that more sex actually causes greater happiness. Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex. To establish causation, scientists needed to get couples to have sex more often and then see if that made them happier.

It turns out that it doesn’t. To state the obvious, people get irritated if they have to have more sex than they want. I don’t write much about sex on this blog, and am wondering why, because I like writing about sex. A kind of internet prudishness? Or peer pressure? Because right now, in my cohort, sex is out.
I did not expect this to happen. Was it divorce, children, illness, or menopause that caused my circle of friends and acquaintances to stop talking positively about sex?
The statement, “I’ve just had great sex” used to be high status. Now, it is greeted with disbelief or even disinterest.
Have we just succumbed to the idea that older women aren’t sexy in and of themselves? Has self-loathing caught up with life force? Do we really believe that our ability to be objectified as desirable is the end all and be all? By sex I don’t even means the act(s) so much as the identity. I recently read a good book on feminist sex ed that didn’t go beyond the child bearing years, to my extreme disappointment. Do sexual questions get answered once and for all? Do folks no longer come out, go back in, fall into love and lust, and wonder what this means—existentially—about being a human being?
Or are people just bored in their relationships, or bored with themselves?
I hope not.
Sex, at least in my experience, is most often free, pleasurable, low carb, and can be done lying down. Ditto for reading a library book, but I stand by my point.

The Haiku of Philip Whalen

I’ve been reading and enjoying the new biography of Philip Whalen by David Schneider, CROWDED BY BEAUTY. In some strange synergy, a friend on Facebook posted a poem I wrote about Phil when I was in my late twenties.

South Ridge Zendo

Walking to Philip’s downhill in the rain
A bird embryo on the sidewalk
Zazen organizes events around itself
Like opening or closing a green umbrella.

Tears begin when I sit with incense
Like the smell of you late last night
Hair full of smoke and earth
As you pull my pants off in bed.

Bowing together now
An unopened rosebud on the altar.
Outside in raindrops we can’t stop laughing:
Did you see Philip pull that thread out of his robe?

Mindless, happy going home I am singing
All Buddhas, ten directions, three times
I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues and
Buddy Can You Spare a Dime.

Climbing uphill, an almost full moon
Hits me like a moan in the belly
And I turn to look and see
White bell flowers heavy on the stem.

Have also been thinking how my relationship to haiku derives much more from the Beats than from the early Haiku Society days. It doesn’t draw as much from the Japanese tradition, is more Americanized. And while many contemporary haiku writers focus just on that form, my work is basically free verse with loose formal elements. So re-printing below n article on Phil and haiku, which first appeared in MODERN HAIKU.

The Haiku of Philip Whalen

Miriam Sagan

Philip Whalen, one of the original Beat poets, was published by numerous small presses and also in some major collections during his life. The work was scattered, however, until editor Michael Rothenberg brought it all together in the 932-page volume The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). Embedded throughout the collection, which is arranged chronologically (Whalen was a strict dater of his work), are numerous tiny poems in the haiku tradition. For example,

Awake a moment
Mind dreams again
Red roses black-edged petals

Whalen was one of the poets at the 1955 Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, a seminal event in American poetry, where Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” for the first time. Whalen went on to a lifelong social—if not aesthetic—association with the Beats, but his place in poetry is more closely allied with writers of the San Francisco Renaissance and with mentors such as Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. “A fat bespectacled quiet booboo,” was how Jack Kerouac described Whalen, whom he immortalized as the character Warren Coughlin in his 1958 novel The Dharma Bums as well as in later novels as Ben Fagan, “a hundred and eighty pounds of poet meat.” That was Philip Whalen when Kerouac met him, fresh out of a stint in the army where he served but did see action in World War II. He had recently graduated from Reed College in Portland, Ore., where his roommates were Gary Snyder and Lew Welch, both to become major poets. Born in Portland and raised in The Dalles, Ore., Whalen lived for a few years in Japan but spent most of his life in San Francisco. The landscape of the Pacific rim was one of his influences, along with philosophy and the Zen Buddhism he eventually settled on as a practice. Whalen was the only Beat writer to be ordained as a Buddhist priest, and in his later years he ran a temple in the Castro District.

As a poet Whalen was not a self-conscious practitioner of haiku. Indeed, Kerouac was more devoted to his understanding of the form, and consciously practiced it. Allen Ginsberg is credited with developing his “American sentence,” a sort of one-line haiku in English. For Whalen some of the impulse to short poetry was similarly epigrammatic, or aphoristic, in the tradition of Western wisdom literature. His work is also often humorous or quirky in the senryu tradition. Whalen did note, however, perhaps with some surprise, that his most anthologized poem, written in 1964, was one he thought of as a haiku:

Early Spring

The dog writes on the window
with his nose

This poem is indeed emblematic of Whalen’s work in the form. To begin with, he titled his haiku. Yet in many cases his titles might serve as conventional first lines in a haiku. If the title “Early Spring” is considered as the first line of the poem, we have a very fine haiku—the dog impatient to get out into warm weather, the window maybe a little steamy, the humor of a poet seeing “writing” in an unusual spot.

In anther example the “title” of the haiku is also its date:


Sadly unroll sleepingbag:
The missing lid for teapot!

Here again, in senryu fashion, there is a moment of humorous surprise—tidying up the sleeping bag resulted in losing the teapot lid. Now that it is found, the world is complete again, with necessities taken care of—a place to sleep and tea to drink. The tension between sleeping and waking is also seen in

Awake a moment
Mind dreams again
Red roses black-edged petals

After all, tea keeps a person awake and that wakefulness has meaning in a Zen context. In “Awake a moment” worlds blur between dream and consensus reality. The reader can’t tell any more than the poet can where these red black-edged petals are located.

A sense of the malleability of the self is also found in

Where Was I ?

New desk, old chair
I look at them, hopelessly
Where’s the man who writes

Without the title, this poem approaches the classic haiku form. It is almost a Zen koan, asking which is the real self, the one writing or the one who seems to be blocked? Others of Whalen’s haiku-esque poems were written as gifts, in the Asian tradition. A 1960 “Haiku for Gary Snyder” has the same use of presence and absence, or negative space and inhabited space, as “Where Was I??”:

Here’s a dragonfly
Where it was,
that place no longer exists.

In contrast, “Haiku for Mike” is more of a senryu, although it also poses a question— humorously —about existence:

Bouquet of HUGE
nasturtium leaves
“HOW can I support myself?”

One of Whalen’s later poems gives a self-conscious nod to the senryu tradition. Section 4 of “Epigrams & Imitations” reads:

False Senryu

A cough
waits for the bus.

It’s false of course because senryu wouldn’t usually use this kind of trope che, where a part of the body stands for the whole person—but it has its own humorous charm.

Perhaps most in the haiku spirit, with a bit of humor in the word “pestering,” is

Ginkakuji Michi

Morning haunted by black dragonfly
landlady pestering the garden moss

Here the image is a complex one. The dragonfly, that image of speed, rotates through the garden. By contrast, the gardener is focused on the immobile moss. To the poet’s mind, however, these activities are haunting, pestering. It is as if there is a longing for stillness in the center of the work.

Whalen’s poems are certainly unconventional in terms of American haiku, and purists might not consider them haiku at all. Throughout his poetic career, Whalen took an experimental approach to form, and haiku is no exception. He did not experiment simply for the sake of novelty, however. He was trying to track his mind, its twists and turns, in meditative fashion.

Ordained as a Zen monk in the Sôtô lineage, Whalen spent his last years as abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco. He wrote little or nothing at this point, partially stymied by ill health but also absorbed in practicing Buddhism. His haiku, then, are an extension of his poetic practice of observation and mindfulness. Whalen’s short poems—indeed all his poetry—are about the instantaneous and the ephemeral. In this, he participates in his own way in the classic tradition of haiku.

• • •

2008 Modern Haiku •

Graffiti by Miriam Sagan

by Miriam Sagan on Jul 27, 2015

She falls from the ledge, a rocky outcropping in an otherwise featureless tundra, breaks her thigh bone in two places. No one comes. The sun rises twice. Dehydrated, delirious, she senses a yellow panther circling her, smells its yaw, feels only resignation. But it is the wind above her dying breath that sustains her, a great swan, wingspan touching both horizons, inner and outer, at the same moment.

Then the band, the people, come back for her, worried, frantic. The old woman sets the bone, but of course she’ll walk with a limp for the rest of her life. But she is changed. Everyone has seen the paw prints of the panther. No one has seen as much as a feather from the wing of the swan.

Axle Contemporary Mobile Gallery

Axle Contemporary Mobile Gallery

Opening in the Railyard
Shade structure by the Farmers Market
Friday, July 31 5-7pm
Exhibition continues through August 23
find the mobile gallery daily location online at

In the world of visual art these days, processes and materials run wild. No longer is a work of art most likely to be an oil painting or a bronze sculpture. Artists use any material and every process imaginable. In Needles & Seams, four artists engage with some of our most ancient processes, sewing, felting, and knitting. These series of textile works reach out to an elemental and primal place inside of us where we have related to fabric and cloth as a source of clothing and shelter for millennia.


Poem Written during Chopin Etudes

Etudes by Miriam Sagan

frozen waterfall=silence

cumulus moon
white keys’ notes
fall like snow

reflected in the opened
piano lid
a city of windows
and caged canaries

just tell
me what I want
to know
or leave me alone


This was written during a Chopin concert at The Lensic. I scribbled in the dark. To read the whole poem, background, and some great links, go to a very interesting blog on music:

Yachats, Oregon Haiga



fern & moss
direct my thoughts
towards green


and where’s the sea?
sound of the shell
in my ear

tsunami warning
and a plan we half enjoy
worrying about


of raindrops
on giant leaves


ancient tree trunk—
who planted this
elf house?



Sitka spruce—
I can’t add to what
you tell me


Incognito: A snapshot of looking for my father

When he was home, my father often said he was “incognito.” I thought this was an actual place, called Cognito. Perhaps it was, as it meant he was in his study with the door closed. If he emerged briefly, he refused to answer if spoken to. He was not to be disturbed, and never was.
     From this remove, I have the urge to diagnose. Sensitivity? Hypoglycemia? Asperger’s? Whatever it was, my father believed that his preferences and reactions were right, the morally correct course. A hatred of small talk was not just his quirk, or a personal preference. It was an elevated position, one that any superior person would automatically take. I, who even now enjoy a chat about the weather, fruit trees, real estate, gossip, and clothes, had to rally my childish resources to discuss the ancient Greeks.

To read the whole piece, click here: