Mulling with Medusa
[These are the opinions of the management;
if you want your own opinions, 
you'll have to make them up yourself.]

Medusa's Bunched-Up-Panties Rant #1: FORMS?? OMG!!

A word about forms and other "triggers" for poems: Every poem you write is in a form, even if it's free verse. And every poem you write has a trigger: an image, a thought, a word. If I get an image from inside my head, it's no different than receiving it as an "instruction" from a book or another poet or Medusa's Kitchen; I need to learn how to spin gold from that image. Who cares where it came from? Poets steal shamelessly and endlessly; it's a necessary skill for any artist.

Some people complain that writing to forms or triggers is like stuffing their poem into a girdle, but the truth is, every poem you write should go through some kind of similar "stuffing": some kind of ordering and paring down and organization, rather than just a free-write spilling of words onto the page without any later editing. Similarly with forms: I need to pay attention to the rhythm and order and sounds of every poem I write, whether I'm trying to do a sonnet or an etheree or free verse (which really isn't, after all, all that free—if it is, in my opinion, it becomes too prose-y).

So join in the party and write your responses to triggers, whether they are images or forms or assignments or your grandmother's bustle. Wonderful poems come out of these exercises, which are, in my mind, like playing scales. And you can never get enough exercise, right?

Here are some resources to help you with the whole form thing:

•••Shadow Poetry:
•••Jan Haag’s Desolation Poetry:
•••Poets' Collective:
•••Poetry Foundation:
•••Poets Garret:
•••Society of Classical Poets:
•••Poetry at Adriadne's Web:

And for poetic terms, try Bob’s Byway:


Medusa's Bunched-Up-Panties Rant #2: Haiku—Get 'em RIGHT!

A lot of poems cross my desk professing to be Haiku. It's an American obsession to follow 5-7-5 syllables regardless of the subject—or just to write a three-line poem and call it a Haiku. Nonsense! Below are the rules of Haiku (and senryu) as set forth by the HSA; read 'em, learn 'em, and obey!

Report of the Definitions Committee
Adopted at the Annual Meeting of the Society, New York City, 18 September 2004


Definition:  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. Those who wish to learn more of haiku must read the best haiku they can find, not merely definitions of haiku. The numerous "Haiku Collections" on the HSA Web site at are a good place to start.

Notes:  Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line longest, though today's poets use a variety of line lengths and arrangements. In Japanese a typical haiku has seventeen "sounds" (on) arranged five, seven, and five. (Some translators of Japanese poetry have noted that about twelve syllables in English approximates the duration of seventeen Japanese on.) Traditional Japanese haiku include a "season word" (kigo), a word or phrase that helps identify the season of the experience recorded in the poem, and a "cutting word" (kireji), a sort of spoken punctuation that marks a pause or gives emphasis to one part of the poem. In English, season words are sometimes omitted, but the original focus on experience captured in clear images continues. The most common technique is juxtaposing two images or ideas (Japanese rensô). Punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break may substitute for a cutting word. Most haiku have no titles, and metaphors and similes are commonly avoided. (Haiku do sometimes have brief prefatory notes, usually specifying the setting or similar facts; metaphors and similes in the simple sense of these terms do sometimes occur, but not frequently. A discussion of what might be called "deep metaphor" or symbolism in haiku is beyond the range of a definition. Various kinds of "pseudohaiku" have also arisen in recent years; see the Notes to "Senryu", below, for a brief discussion.)


Definition: A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.

Notes:  A senryu may or may not contain a season word or a grammatical break. Some Japanese senryu seem more like aphorisms, and some modern senryu in both Japanese and English avoid humor, becoming more like serious short poems in haiku form. There are also "borderline haiku/senryu", which may seem like one or the other, depending on how the reader interprets them.

Many so-called "haiku" in English are really senryu. Others, such as "Spam-ku" and "headline haiku", seem like recent additions to an old Japanese category, zappai, miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse (usually written in 5-7-5) with little or no literary value. Some call the products of these recent fads "pseudohaiku" to make clear that they are not haiku at all.


Questions I Perseverate On After Midnight: 

•••How much should we try to shape our work to the sensibilities of our readers? Should we avoid certain images because they might "trigger" unpleasant memories in someone or ourselves?

•••Which parts of history should we leave out when we write? Which subjects are taboo? Is censorship ever appropriate?

•••What kinds of things inspire us; what exactly does that word mean?

•••What is our job as writers? Does the word "comfort" even fit? What good can come out of being uncomfortable?


I'm just sayin', z'all...
(This is my driver's license picture.)