My Poems Were Rejected For Being Sentimental by Miriam Sagan

And that surprised me, although I’m always interested in editorial feedback. Obviously a difference of aesthetic between me and this publication for short poems. However, it got me thinking.
I think of sentimentality as superficial positive emotion instead of authentic feeling. The dead person we grieve was a saint. Mothers are perfect. You, my darling, bring to mind only hearts and kisses.
But I’m not against passion, admiration, desire, mad love. In fact, I like those things.

Here is one of the rejected poems:

is no longer a planet
but you’re still
in my bed
no one knows
how to understand

Perhaps it is a bit sentimental? At least, it has sentiment. I’d hope that Pluto and the words gravitational wobble would keep it off a Hallmark card. I also think “in my bed” if not cynical certainly isn’t gushy. So, we have a bit of science, a bit of the mystery of love…yes indeed, I did write this poem. In any case, it’s mine.

Haiku Sign in the Snow

My front yard has never looked better…

The full haiku is

At the new moon
bit by bit
everything hushes

It is by Chiyo-no, translated by me and Isabel Winson-Sagan. On recycled metal signs–you need to walk two blocks of Kathryn (start at 600 block and go north) and then one on Cortez (back to 600 block) to find it. It is also geocached.

Photograph by Isabel Winson-Sagan.

Why I Like The Word “Crippled” by Miriam Sagan

Why I Like The Word “Crippled”

I used the word “crippled” recently, and it didn’t go over well. People suggested I use disabled or something a little gentler. And this is my own fault. I’m somewhat in the closet.
Readers of this blog, my former HR, my doctors, family, and close friends know I’m…crippled. And that’s what I am. My right leg doesn’t work well. (Nor does my right lung, my right arm, my right ribcage, etc.) And SOMETHING crippled me—swine flu, pleurisy, thoracotomy cut, scar tissue. However, be that as it may, I look fine on the surface, particularly if I’m sitting down. I’m aware that everyone has problems, issues, ailments. I don’t want to stand out.
Is this a mistake?
Probably even if I come out of this particular closet the word “cripple” will still be rude. However, disability activists younger and hipper than me say it is ok to use whatever word you want to self-describe. Certainly many a rude word has been reclaimed that way.
Reasons to not come out in any situation (with a little risk assessment):
1. People will offer well meaning advice I have not asked for. Have I considered massage? Might I try to get off painkillers? I’ve been living in this particular version of my body for forty-five years. If I need advice, rest assured, I’ll ask.
2. People will pity me. Probably will. Maybe that’s ok, although I’d prefer protestations of desperate love or madly jealous admiration. Can’t have everything.
3. People will be cruel to me. A risk, to be sure. When I add my cane to my life—visibly coming out—people have been quite nasty at times. But mostly on airplanes, where people are already nasty.
Reasons to come out:
1. It’s honest (something which I am not completely.) This doesn’t seem super motivating.
2. It’s intimate. This is more motivational.
3. It’s true. Different than honest—not about me, but about reality. Which I’m in favor of.
And maybe people already know. And maybe they are not that interested? All of us tend to be mostly focused on…ourselves. Maybe what is on my mind really isn’t that big a deal to others.

Interview with Gary Gach–Question 3–Do you consider haiku to be poetry like other forms?

3 Do you consider haiku to be poetry like other forms? 

Well, I never say, “haiku poetry,” as I hear some people do. Is there such a thing? If so, how about “sonnet poetry”? A case could be made for haiku not being poetry, at all. It doesn’t rhyme. There’s no meter. 99% are invariably untitled. They don’t deal in intellect, per se. Rarely do we see figures of speech. They don’t necessarily begin from any intention. And so on. Seen through the lens of poetry, they are certainly a special case. I sometimes think of haiku as a singular practice of a kind of phenomenology, rather than poetry.

 The argument seems similar to whether or not Buddhism is a religion. Buddhism has no creator deity, no First Cause, no punishment nor reward, etc. Yet it answers the spiritual needs which religion in general is called to do. 

How’s this? – If poetry puts language under the lens of a magnifying glass, haiku looks at poetics (what makes poetry so) through an electron microscope.

New Chapbook! Which cover image do you like?

Flutter Press closed down, and that was disheartening, as I love their work and had been thinking of them for a new chapbook. Then editor Sandy Benitez started up again! And accepted my collection of poems written in Japan in January, 2018, “Ikisan Station.” Flutter has a simple elegant micro press approach, technology by Lulu, and a generous ongoing author’s discount.
I was dithering about whether or not to put all the Japan poems together. I know the fashion in collections is thematic, at the moment, but I have mixed feelings about that for myself. Sometimes my thematic work doesn’t feel strong enough. For example, I could never get the Iceland poems (summer and winter) to jell as one book. So a batch are appearing in my new book “Luminosity”–out in May 2019 from Duck Lake Books. That collection is partially clustered in terms of theme, partially not. Robert Winson (my first husband and an excellent editor) criticized me for not including my less formal and slightly weirded poems when I put a manuscript together. “Luminosity” should have some quirks. As does “Ikisan Station.”
These poems were written at Studio Kura (Itoshima), in the chilly House 3, a traditional style agricultural house with a tile roof and sliding screens. The wind whistles in many of these poems, beneath snowy mountains, the smell of the sea. I wrote some too at our air BnB in Tokyo, Zen House, in a neighborhood of old fashioned food stalls and unlimited tasty things to eat, sitting on the roof top porch.
I added in three haibun, which give an unusually narrative grounding to the poetry–which I found it needed. It’s not that easy to add in a batch of haiku without them seeming like an afterthought, but obviously writing haiku in English in Japan had a level of creative challenge, and I wanted to include that.
At Kura I was super focused on the collaborative project for Maternal Mitochondria with Isabel Winson-Sagan. We did our video and suminagashi installation in an ancient square grain storage room, and a haiku and teapot geocached path in a local garden. These poems were almost like outtakes–written early in the morning before the shared events of the day.
Photos of course by Isabel. Which do you like for the cover. Should one be on the back–a smaller image?

Is Zen over represented when we discuss contemporary American haiku? Miriam’s Well asks Gary Gach

Here is the second part of the five part interview. So pleased to be able to share it.


Q.: Is Zen over represented–or maybe not–when we discuss contemporary American haiku?

Answer: Good question. As a culture, we’re still getting past the concept of haiku as a neat packaging ploy: anything in 5-7-5 syllables is haiku. Similarly, we’re still moving past a murky sense of haiku being somehow connected with Zen – about which people still have a hazy grasp, not having committed to any introductory formal practice themselves. That is, we’re entering instead into a broader, truer perspective. 

I think it’s safe to take a step back and recognize that, as Americans have come to haiku, and Zen – Zen has been a meme carrier for haiku. DT Suzuki and Alan Watts introduced haiku in their writing. Haiku were important to Seymour Glass. For many Americans, these were some of the first inklings of Zen, and of haiku.

At the same time, essential aspects of Japanese haiku weren’t as widely recognized — such as tanka and renga, Pure Land and Shinto. And so on.

So, to answer the question being asked: yes!

Returning to the Buddhist roots of haiku, European Americans are still coming to recognize Pure Land, although it is a larger school than Zen. Yet many are familiar with two stellar examples of haiku influenced by Pure Land: haiku by Kobayashi Issa (“On a branch / floating downriver / a cricket, singing”), and Jack Kerouac ( “In my medicine cabinet, the winter fly has died of old age”).

Haiku originates in Japan, yet I don’t confine haiku’s relevance today to any single school of Buddhism. It’s been seen to reflect Vipassana, Zen, Pure Land, & Vajrayana. And there’s more going on in haiku than Buddhism.

Between my skin and the water by Miriam Sagan

Between my skin
and the water
is my history

my expectation
of a blow
or a caress

my name
the angel changed
against my will

changed from
“girl” to

changed from
“maybe someday”
to “right now”

when I say
crippled, that’s
just what I mean

between my skin
and the water
I was alone

on a riverbank
in the darkness
a stranger

walked towards me
just my height
face to face

beneath meteors
the rings of Saturn

I asked you
what your name

and for answer
the angel of God
dislocated my hip

when I say
lamed, that’s
just what I mean

when I say—

that’s just
what I mean

between my skin
and God
a sheen of sweat and dust

between myself
and being two pounds of ash
just my breath

between myself
and the placental

there’s nothing
not even


Arthur Roger Gallery, NOLA

Interview With Gary Gach: Question One

Miriam’s Well will be interviewing Gary Gach on haiku and more during the end of December. Expect the answers to five questions as well as some poetry!


1 How does your writing of haiku connect to your Buddhist practice?

They are as interconnected as a dragon and a cloud. Without creativity, my za-zen (sitting zen) could be likened to polishing a brick hoping it will eventually become a mirror. Just because a frog sits all day doesn’t necessarily mean it will realize Buddhahood. Haiku is a model of zen creativity applicable to zen practice itself.

Haiku is also a continual process, not an on-again / off-again intermittency. Haiku are everyday: no day lacks ample haiku (singular and plural). Writing haiku is my formal engagement with haiku; being aware of haiku throughout the day, is my informal engagement. What’s called for is my continually being present to haiku (and showing up, when I’m present). So too with my Buddhist practice.

I don’t need to compose or make haiku up: they’re already there; so too with what I experience in mindful awareness. There’s no abstract meditative state to strive for or construct.

As with these examples – whatever I might learn from haiku, I can also see if I can apply it by extension to other aspects of my Buddhist practice. And vice-versa. Haiku is Buddhism put into practice; Buddhism is practical understanding which each haiku realizes. In a word, both being empty, haiku practice and zen practice can inform each other perfectly. Zen, my self, and life are not three separate things.


Gary Gach hopes to write a couple really great haiku. Meanwhile, he’s published 9 books, including an anthology, What Book!? – Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism; and, most recently, PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE – Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. He hosts a free weekly Zen mindfulness group in San Francisco, at Aquatic Park, where he also swims in the Bay. For more info:

up all night
city tree & me​

​fall full moon