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Month: July 2016



After constructing Life-Built Poems for a number of years, I noticed something:  You can use the discipline of writing these kinds of poems to look at the world and tell yourself what you see.  Like Joan Didion, you can “write to find out what you think.”

You can also use Life-Built poems to tell metaphoric tales about what you are doing.  At the time I wrote this poem, I was devouring the books that populated the self-help and spiritual sections of every library and bookstore I could find.  I even did the dumb exercises and stuff in those books.

A lot of what I was encountering was more than a little foreign to me.  Making my poems helped me to figure out what I thought and felt about those strange and wondrous worlds I was exploring.  (I figured that had to be better than ingesting odd substances that make your head all wonky.)


It was an exercise in one of those books that tell you how to take
your head into your own hands and wash and scrub it, inside and out,
letting the old stuff dribble out of your ears and down your neck.
I threw my heart and belly in there and scrubbed them up as well.
I figured since I had the scrub brush out, why not?
Maybe I overdid it.

I watch the flames lick at the lies I’ve told myself,
the ones I was conned into eating up whole when I was too young to know better,
the ones I grew myself as I got older,
the ones that kept replicating themselves and crowding in my head,
all of them running full-tilt around and around,
like mad hamsters stuck inside a squeaky mobius treadwheel.

I’d written them all down on bits of paper and stuck them in an old metal bucket.
I threw incense and fragrant oils on them,
honoring the power the lies once held over my head, my heart, my gut.
Then I touched them with fire
And I watched the bits of paper burn away,
making a line of smoke, rising high in the early morning sky.
There they go…all gone now.

I am free.
It says so, right there in that book.
The lies have flown away.
They were wrapped around in that smoke that lifted them up and away,
releasing them from the bondage they had been serving in my head,
so they can return to wherever they began.
(I hope they like their freedom.
They’ve been good servants, after all, and I do wish them well.)

It’s a strange thing, though.
Probably it’s ’cause I’m obtuse and just a little bit dense.
Maybe I’m just not doing it right.
All I know is, I am feeling hollow.
There’s an echoing empty inside me now
where once lies thronged like a multi-colored crowd caught up in
busy hurry-scurry — on a mission — every one.

This has started me wondering:
So, what do I do now?
Where do I go next?
Now that I’ve lost the lies that used to guide me and advise me,
the gates of the old castle they defended stands wide-open and
I can see the Forest Perilous stretching before, wide and wild.

I’ve gotta tell ya,
This is REALLY scary!       

by Netta Kanoho

The whole point of this, I think, is that you can explore ideas and concepts as easily as feelings with your poems.  It’s even more meaningful if you can do them both together.  Go on…try it!  Maybe you’ll like it.

Picture credit:  by theilr via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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In his book ISLAND WORLD:  A History of Hawaii and the United States, Gary Y. Okihiro talked to master navigator Mau Piailug, the man who taught the Hawaiians how to navigate the Hokule’a, the Hawaiian sailing canoe in the manner of their ancestors.

Piailug talked about having a star compass in his head with Polaris pointing north and the Southern Cross south.  The navigator paid attention to the rising of certain stars (which indicated east) and others setting (which showed west).  Locating the canoe’s position on the open sea depended on his estimates of the canoe’s speed and direction.

The interesting thing was that Piailug plotted his progress in relation to a “reference island” which sat well out of sight over the horizon and to familiar stars whose rising and setting indicated direction.  The navigator’s goal was to keep his canoe stationary as the imaginary island moved from the bearing of one horizon star to another until the island had moved past all the horizon stars.  Once the island had passed all of those stars, the journey was completed.

The navigator’s mental plotting system let him break the voyage into manageable segments which were marked by the movement of the imaginary island from one horizon star to the next.  This let him calculate his position.

“In Piailug’s world,” Okihiro says, “islands move and canoes reach their destinations by holding steady.”

For me, that sounds like the most beautiful metaphor for how to move towards a goal that I’ve ever run across.  You aim yourself, knowing that the goal is already out there, already moving towards you.  All you have to do is make sure you’re positioned just right, in its path.  It’ll come if you can hold steady, without manipulations and extraneous movements that take you out of its path.

I’ve always had problems when I chase after a “goal” or desired outcome I’ve set.  It’s like chasing butterflies if you do it the way everybody expert keeps telling you.  You zig, you zag, you run yourself ragged, and the durned thing flitters all over the landscape, making no sense whatsoever.

Ho’okele mindset, the mindset of the navigator, feels better to me.  You just sit in your canoe and hold ‘er steady, doing all the stuff you need to do to keep yourself right-side-up and moving into the right position for the goal to intersect with your path.

Here’s another poem…one made when I was thinking on these things:


Here’s the thing:

I start from trust.



I trust I will be able to

Deal with whatever comes at me.

(Either that or I shall be overwhelmed

And then I’ll die gracefully.)

I trust that even if I lose my way

I will keep walking – one-step, one-step, one-step –

Until I recognize some landmark, some attracting sign

That draws my compassed heart

Back to my own True North.



I know the Creative dwells in me.

It whispers even when I am not listening.



I know they have a hard time understanding why

I dance and twirl around so much.

I know my dance makes it really hard for them

To cover my back.

They try anyway.



I trust in its abundance, and

I know that I am punahele

One of the favored children –

I know that dancing in its abundance

Is my birthright.



I trust that it moves as it moves,

Following immutable, inexorable laws of give-and-take,

Turning and turning, moving and flowing,


If I can follow the lines of energy,

If I am strong enough to jump into

The raging rapids of the Tao’s flowing,

If I am skilled enough to negotiate

All of the ups and the downs,

Then I’ll climb out onto the bank on the other side

And I can go wandering off to see what is there.

How fun is that?


Most of all,


And I really feel it takes joy in my playing.

And isn’t that a very good thing?

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  by HongKongHuey via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that helps people and organizations “generate brilliant ideas.”  In his book about developing a voice, LOUDER THAN WORDS:  Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, he recounts a piece of advice that artist/illustrator Lisa Congden received from her art teacher.

The teacher told Lisa that the thing to remember is that every creative project (no matter what it is) has a U-shape.  You start with a clear plan and great enthusiasm.  As you work on the project, your natural energy starts fading.  Things that seemed so very simple at the top of that U when you began the thing prove to be complex and unclear and the way gets very boggy as the mist rolls in.  Nothing is as straightforward as it first seemed.  At this point, people often lose heart and give up.

But, he said, if you keep slogging on through the deepest muck at the bottom of that U, then your heart starts to fill up again, your passion revives, you start seeing the patterns of this thing and the fog clears.  You find the path opens up again and your energy will return – sometimes stronger than ever.  When this happens, he said, the resulting work is usually far better than ever seemed possible at the bottom of that U.

For this reason, Henry says, you need to be guided by a larger vision for your work.  Your job (as you slog through the Valley of Despond) is to keep your end-goal in sight, even when your view of it is blocked by frustration and complications.

The antidote for the part when you’re running on fumes at the bottom of the valley is to remain focused on your vision and to keep on taking the next step, then the next one and then the one after that.  You keep going until you get through the downer place.

As Henry says, “There will be peaks upon which everything seems so clear and your work is so on target that you want to share it with everyone you meet, and there will be valleys in which you question why you’re even trying.  It’s all part of the process, and it’s never ending….”

Another poem….


And life goes on…

Whatever is happening

Does a slow and stately dance,

Flowing like dark molasses, heavy and dense,

Or else it tumbles like some hip-hopping crew

Zit-zack-zuck, whizzing by,

All the many, many parts

Zooming, on the fly.


Me, I’m just one little bit –

A ‘one’, a ‘zero’, a spectator, really –

Trying (in my way) to see

The whole meshugennah thang,

Trying to go for the grace,

Step-step-stepping lightly,

Looking for the beauty,

And helping other people play.


I can just do little things:

Lend a hand when I can,

Do the small move that evokes a quiet smile,

Turn on the teeny maglight

And shine it on the path,

Turn one small key that opens one more little lock.


And I’ve been thinking…

Maybe that can be a cool thing.

by Netta Kanoho

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We are all of us affected by each other’s stories.  It is the way we humans connect.   All of these stories, the ones we live and the ones others live, have the power to reach into us, to allow us to build bridges.  Telling a story, writing a poem that looks at our lives and other people’s lives is like reaching out a hand in the expectation that fingers will be there waiting to slip into our own.

This action – writing down the words– takes courage.  It very often hurts and can be a very scary thing.  Taking it one step further, sharing the story with other folks, can be an act of mana and power – a magical thing.   Sharing our stories has the power to heal.  With stories we can heal ourselves and we can heal each other.

In this beautiful TED talk from the TEDGlobal 2011 stage, actor and dancer Thandie Newton tells a story about her life in a way that helps us see how we can make our own bridges with the people around us.

In my own poetry practice, I’ve reached a similar conclusion…


Every person is a story

Made up of hopes and fears,

Paths passed up and others taken,

Through the passage of the years.


Every person is a story

With lessons learned and missed,

Travails endured, and sorrows,

And every joy that forms its gist.


Every person is a story,

Full of beginnings and of ends,

And every life’s another page

In the dream that never ends.


Every person is a story

And every story is true.

The best we can do for one another

Is to remember how the other flew.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Storyteller” by Hans Splinter via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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Making a poem can be a way to get your mind clear when you’re facing a major crisis.  My friend (George) Cameron Keys was the featured poet at one of our Maui Live Poets sessions at the Makawao Library.  To help him read his work, he asked another friend, Paul Janes-Brown, a noted actor in our local theater.  Cameron said he was afraid that if he read his own work he would start crying.  Paul’s reading of this poem got the rest of us in the audience misty-eyed.

Here’s Cameron’s poem:


The beast roared twice before I could give it answer.

The voice said I was dying, or that’s what my mind heard.

The cure must start NOW, but I have no time.

Isn’t it all futile? The voice had said the WORD.


Hadn’t I always treated others well, with kindness and compassion?

The WORD had made me think otherwise. What had I done?

Along life’s path, hadn’t I met many others who were callous?

Weren’t they more deserving of this fate? Was anyone?


Do I waste my remaining days in this futile attempt?

I see despair in Linda’s eyes, fear for us.

Together we shall fight, her strength and mine,

With too much ahead to live and love.


 Picking my poison, each creates a new me with the cure.

Lose my hair? voice? hearing? job? I chance the worst for music, the best for life.

Days are long and lonely, I am now vulnerable, needing invisibility.

I hide from friendly eyes. Loving, caring eyes.


I hear her crying in my despair, she follows my thoughts with her eyes.

Occasionally she rolls over to look at me with a new aspect.

She delights with my caress; purring and playing with my fingers,

Distracting me from other thoughts, allowing me to laugh.


I notice the leaves moving in a dance from the freshening breeze;

A ballet of colour and sound announcing Spring.

Taking walks among strangers; laughing and sharing.

There is no pity in stranger’s eyes. Don’t they see?


I laugh, love, and remain connected to others who have not had the same experience.

They need not know of the terrible choices and pains involved.

All they need to know is that I’ll be there when needed;

To give caring love, or distance, as each one needs.


The story behind the poem is inspirational.  Cameron says, “On June 10, 2006 I received the diagnosis that I had Squamous Cell cancer in my neck and throat. As with most people, I thought of the news as a death sentence. The news came by phone as they didn’t want to delay surgery longer than necessary.

“I was depressed and thought of what I would need to do to wrap up my life, leaving some security for Linda, my wife. Then I thought that I’ve never been a quitter and I wasn’t going to start now. Getting as much information as I could, my doctors and I developed a plan of action. From then on it was simply making some very hard choices and moving forward. After 2 surgeries, chemo and radiation, I’m still here, relatively healthy, and with a new appreciation and gratitude for life.

“Even though the “cure” has its own problems and damages, I’m still here. I believe I’m still here to give of my experience as an example to others who may be in the same predicament. Everyone needs a shoulder at some time in their life.”

The poem has since been published in a couple of cancer newsletters.    When I decided to start a page on my website for poems of meaning and mana that were written by other folks as well as the stories behind them, I asked Cameron first to allow me to use this poem.  He also graciously provided this recent picture of himself in Ireland cuddling a Scottish Border collie pup.

[Please note:  If any of you would like to contribute a poem to this page, please let me know by leaving a comment below….  I’d be happy to hear from you.]

photo credit:  via Facebook (with owner’s permission)
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For a long while now, I’ve been trying to figure out why certain works of art (and poetry) speak so strongly and most others don’t.  I am thinking that it could be the ones that shout out loud really are attempts by the artist to actually say something Real.

What makes it Real is the courageous, open connection and access to the artist’s heart, it seems.  A lot of times we shy away from being that exposed…and maybe that’s why the work we do only mumbles.

Entrepreneur Seth Godin once said, “As soon as you’re willing to say ‘It’s not for you,’ you’re freed up to make art.”

What he’s pointing out, I think, is that if you try to make something that “everybody” will like, something that will not offend or disturb or otherwise ruffle feathers, you are probably compromising your art.

You’re taking the nickel bet, churning out lots of little bits of meaningless stuff that most people will feel lukewarm about rather than aiming for a heart-grab that squeezes your own heart just as much as it squeezes your reader’s … one that actually means something to you and to the person with whom it resonates deeply.

The thing is, doing that means you have to shoot from your heart…and you know that’s going to hurt.

So you waffle and  you winge and you compromise and you piddle away the juice and it all turns wishy-washy.  Pfui!


  • Make what you love as best as you know how and use what you learn from that to get better at it.
  • Have the courage to follow your instincts and your intuition even if they take you way, way out of your comfort zone.
  • Take the risks you need to take to speak with your truest voice.
  • Stand up for your work when you must and push back at the fears that eat at you (A-A-A-A-H! Nobody’s gonna like it.  Everybody’s gonna hate it!  A-A-A-A-H!  I’m gonna have to eat Worms!  Argh!)
  • Turn it loose and let it fly or limp or lurch or whatever the heck it wants to do.

Do that over and over.  Your audience WILL find you and they’re gonna love you (or possibly hate you).  They will not go to sleep, however.

On to the poem:


I am a sweetie-pie,

Really I am.

See my saccharine face?

It’s all overflowing with

The godawfullest sweetness and light.

I am sweeter than Krispy Kremes,

You bet.


But, I gotta tell ya…

There’s this voice that comes:

The motormouth in my head,

The one that revs whenever

Someone comes all over “poor-t’ing me,”

And this is what that bitch says:


Yeah, yeah, yeah…

You are a precious and unique being…

One in seven billion and counting

And, yeah, you are in distress.

But, I gotta tell ya, babe,

You are trying my patience.

The histrionics that accompany

Your latest tale of woe-some-mo’…

Well, they bore me.


All that cryin’ and wailin’

Get in the way of working

Toward better solutions and resolves.

All that moaning

Trivializes your ordeal.

AND, it is giving me a headache!


Frankly, I ain’t got the time.

On a scale from one to ten,

In my world, your hell that’s playing itself out

In this here slice of heaven rates about a 1.5.

I mean, come on…

I only have the standard issue

31 million, 536 thousand seconds

Allotted to me every year, ya know.

Get on with it, get over it, or get it away from me….


Your choice.

By Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  by Joi Ito via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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I felt silly the first time I tried this.  I had to talk myself into it over and over again.  I mean …REALLY.  You set a plastic mechanical timer (preferably one that is shaped like a tomato because it’s traditional) for 25 minutes, and then you go do a thing you’ve been putting off (like writing a blog or a poem, for instance).   When the bell rings, you stop and rest for at least five minutes.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  (It’s also traditional to do the sequence four times.)  Finding the old tomato timer at the Kula Iki thrift shop was a sign that I HAD to do this, I told myself.

The plastic tomato (or whatever other silly mechanical timer you can find) is supposed to help you develop a new habit.  You have to set a particular task or project  before winding up the tomato and  then you do that task while the silly thing sits there going tic-tic-tic.

A funny thing happened, though.  This bit of silliness actually worked!  Done stuff kept piling up as I went through the ritual every day for weeks on end.  That silly tomato and me got to be great friends!

This bit of silliness, which is called the “Pomodoro Technique,” is an actual time-management exercise.  It was developed by a very successful entrepreneur named Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student in the late 1980’s.  (An authentic Cirillo-authored book about it costs some bucks these days.  It’s become a collectible.)  Cirillo named the technique after his plastic tomato timer.  The technique is supposed to help you develop your focus.   Other folks have taken up the banner and run with it.


All you really need is a timer that ticks and dings after you reach the end of a time period and a small piece of paper and pen.

The Pomodoro Technique is a six-step process:

  • Decide on the task you want to do.
  • Set your Pomodoro (or plain old mechanical timer) to some number.  (You don’t have to keep it at 25 minutes.)
  • Work on the task until the timer rings.
  • When the timer rings, put a checkmark on the piece of paper.
  • If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3 to 5 minutes), then go back to Step 1.
  • If you have more than four checkmarks, take a longer break (15 to 30 minutes), then reset the checkmark count to 0 and go back to Step 1.

Four checkmarks = one Pomodoro “set.”  Each Pomodoro is “indivisible.”  If you’re using it the regular way for developing focus, every time you get interrupted you ignore, postpone or record  whatever it is and get back to it after you finish your Pomodoro.  If you can’t ignore or postpone the thing (or if the person who’s interrupting you is a persistent little person who keeps playing with the tomato), then you have to abandon that Pomodoro set.  When you get back to it, it’s like you are starting a whole new set-of-four.

People who know say you really should use the low-tech method, even though there are all kinds of electronic substitutes.  The physical act of winding the timer confirms your determination to start the task.  The timer’s ticking externalizes your desire to complete the task.  And the ringing announces a break.  (Me, I just like the physicality of it all.  It feels like a ritual, and I’m big on ritual.)


Design Gifts has tomatoes, lemons, apples, peppers and a bunch of other silly ticking timers.  They are fun, they’re under $10 and they work.   You can get one at


Since I tend to get OCD about things and really hyper-focused for hours on end, I also used this technique to STOP me from getting lost in a project that was particularly entrancing.  The tomato helps to make me stop every twenty-five minutes and take a break, then stop completely when I’ve done my four.  This, too, is a very good thing.

The point of all this is that this technique is a beauty.  If you are easily distracted or very good at talking yourself out of doing a thing you want to do , the Pomodoro will help you start to work on your Someday Project and  actually help you form a habit of working on it until you’re done.  If you’ve got the other problem and tend to get lost in some project or other to the detriment of the rest of your life, it helps you stretch your attention back to the normal world.  How cool is that?

And here’s another poem….


Sometimes I think boring would be just FINE….

Walking ’round with cotton stuffed up my ears,

Mouth all set to pout and whine.

What could be cooler than numb and dull,

Without a thought in an empty skull?


It’s gotta be better than all this rattle-and-roll.

Trauma and drama that shakes the soul,

Ducking puzzle pieces flying around,

Catching the 2x4s, prat-falling down and down.


Okay…where is it?

Why isn’t boring part of my fate?

Why is it always ridges for running, thin ice to skate?


Ah, well…here I go, back to the grind.

Boring’s another country of the mind.

Can’t buy a ticket there, it seems…

Gotta get back to chasing those dreams.

By Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  by Erato at Italian Wikinews via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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You’ve probably seen this image before.  It’s a cartoon of your brain’s hemispheres and the kinds of thoughts each half of your brain handles.  Left brain is straight-line, logical, and full of words and numbers and measurements and stuff like that.  Right brain meanders around, spiraling in and out, just seeing what-is and mostly having a hard time talking about it.

I was reading Leonard Shlain’s book, THE ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS:  The Conflict  Between Word and Image.  In it, he does a cool riff on “metaphor,” a thing that is dear to poets.  Shlain says, “When people find it necessary to express in words an inner experience such as a dream, an emotion, or complex feeling-state, they resort to a special form of speech called metaphor that is the right brain’s unique contribution to the left brain’s language capacity….  Metaphors allow one to leap across a chasm from one thought to the next.  Metaphors have multiple levels of meaning that are perceived simultaneously.”

“Metaphor” = meta (over and above) + pherein (to bear across).

Hmmm….That translation from the Greek roots of the word sounds a lot like bridges, doesn’t it?  Poetry, very often, is just metaphors piled on metaphors.  The purpose behind stacking up all of those metaphors is trying to reach a new way of seeing or feeling.  Poems can contain worlds.  Metaphors are how you build them.

In order to use and understand metaphor you have to do the right brain dance.  Right-braining is not linear….no straight, a-b-c progressions.  Right braining is intuitive so any insight you get is experienced all-at-once with multi-colored layers and flash.  (A thing is not LIKE something else…it IS the something else.)

Right braining is not about symbols because the right brain perceives the world concretely.  Whatever’s right in front of you, ready to lick your face, is real and concrete and right brain helps you deal with being in the here and now.  Symbols, on the other hand, are the ultimate constructs and all the meaning in the symbol can be – and probably has been – endlessly explained by words and more words that are sort of packed inside those symbols.  Right brain doesn’t need the word “tree” to know what a tree is.

Or, as the wordy guy who wrote the book says, “Right brain has the ability to cognate images and can simultaneously integrate the component parts in a field of vision, synthesizing incongruent elements all at once.”

There’s one other interesting thing:  Right-braining is timeless.  (Your right brain can’t tell time.)  Shlain throws out a truly mind-boggling concept, that the “left brain is actually a new sense organ designed by evolution to perceive time.”  Whatever.

My own take on it is this:  With your very own brain you can either play with unicorns and leap around galaxies and parallel universes ad nauseum while stumbling around looking for the exit into the world where there’s a pot of chicken noodle soup waiting for you, or you can play around in time and never find the door into that other place with the rainbows you can slide down.  Or you can do both.

Metaphor’s the door that gets you there.  With metaphors you can travel into and out of both of the worlds your brain can see.  If you take a pencil and some paper with you, it’s quite likely that you’ll end up with a poem by the time you get done wandering around.

When I was playing with poem forms, I ran across a Persian poetic form, the ghazal.  Persian ghazals are rhymed couplets that evoke strong emotions.  You pile them, one on top of another until you get a gestalt-thing going.  American ghazals don’t have to rhyme.  Here’s one I did:


‘Merican ghazals don’t have to rhyme, it says here,  maybe ’cause
‘Merica’s home of the brave, land of the free, where the ‘Merican Dream is the only reality.

Picture:  Indian brave, tears rolling down his hardened face
As he rides through the smoking ruins of his un-made village.

Picture:  dark-skinned woman screaming out her pain behind a still face, her hands deftly making her master’s bread
As her man and her babies get dragged off to some other where.

Picture:  brittle young girl, shimmering young man, slivers of intensity wandering through dirty, dark streets,
Hey…they’re living the Life, bravely, brightly looking for the next:  meal, bed, death.

Picture:  poor man at his wit’s end, weeps, slowly walking out the door,
Dragging his broken heart away from love-burdens grown too heavy.

Picture:  brave young girl, growing a baby in her belly,
Walking along the bridge and thinking on her fickle man who never comes ’round no more.

Picture:  soldier for the free, down in the ditch, sobbing, cursing, quaking,
As friendly fire rains down from unfriendly skies.

Picture:  old man’s hands trembling, remember-eyes moist,
As he reaches yet again for the pair of faithful hands — gone now.

Picture:  not-pretty-any-more woman, bruised and broken,
Trembling, afraid her beloved monster will track her down again.

Picture:  ice-cold faces of the brave and the free, hiding insides that shake and shiver,
As they turn away from ones smashed by the Dream.

Pictures ain’t so pretty when you start looking real close.
Maybe ‘Merican ghazals don’t rhyme ’cause mostly, the ‘Merican Dream don’t.

By Netta Kanoho

image credit:  Allan Ajifo via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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Everybody says it.  It’s probably even true:  “Writers write.”  They write because they can’t NOT write.  The whole not-writing thing is unsatisfactory.  They feel unsettled if they don’t capture the thoughts they think somehow….

And the best thing about writing, of course, is having written.  Then you can go do other things.

So…you want to be a Writer?  Write.  Every day.  Write.  You don’t have to use high-falutin’ words.  You can make lists.  You can make notes to yourself or to somebody else.  You can look at the world around you and check out what everybody else is doing, and then you can write.  You can unpack your head and look at all the stuff seething in there and then…write.

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  If you’re a poet, you don’t even have to be grammatical.  You just have to make sense and that’s a way bigger thing than grammar.

You don’t need special equipment.  You don’t need the latest and greatest technology.  Writing’s been around for about as long as Jane in the Jungle needed to leave a message for her Georgie.  You have to know that all she had was a stick and some dirt, probably.

So…what are you waiting for, Writer?  Write.

Here’s another poem….


Words are doorways into worlds, you know.

They can kidnap people and plunk them down

Into strange and different,

Where nothing is as you thought it was

And nobody knows your name.


It can get really scary, you know,

And, mostly, people fight against

This violation of the how-they-see-it

With other words as shields and spears and swords,

Making declarations, explanations

Reinforcing walls they already have.


And that only makes more words.

Nobody gets anywhere

When the words fly around like those little gnats

That swarm around bare lightbulbs.

The words get blasted by the heat

And they litter the light fixture covers

Like piles of dead soldiers.


But, did you know this?

If you grab onto the words

And wrestle them into neat and concise formations,

You can make bridges that take you

Over the gap between one world and the next.

Sometimes, people will come and cross over.


And then you’ve got a playmate.

And that’s a very good thing.

By Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  Kathryn Decker [CC BY 2.0]

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I am one of those poets Life built:  I have no “creds” as a poet, but I do know that making a certain type of poem helped me keep my head straight through a number of karmic dust storms that blew away the world as I knew and liked it.

I guess you could call it home-grown, dirt-cheap psychotherapy.  All you really need to do it is paper, a pencil or a pen, and an awareness of the need to mend the broken circle of your life.

The act of sitting down and writing out what is in your head and your heart does take practice.

There are all kinds of books that can tell you HOW to write.  Ignore them.  Just sit down and line up the words as they rise up.  Take dictation from yourself.  Go until the flow of words stops or until you are starting to repeat yourself.

Put the words away for a while, then go back to them.  Find the ones that ring truest for you about the situation you’re thinking on.  Put them together until they sound right to you, until they dance, and they show you how you are feeling.

When you’ve done all that, you will have a poem and, for you, it will have power.

Read it out loud and think on it.  Maybe you’ll find something in it that starts another round of writing and another poem.  Maybe you will be able to see what action you can take to resolve some impasse, connect with someone, or just clear up the confusion you are feeling about something.

It occurred to me that at some point every one of us needs a way to get our heads back together. Poetry is a powerful way to do that.

The Sufi mystic and poet, Melvani Rumi wrote, seven centuries ago, “Don’t be satisfied with the stories that come before you; unfold your own myth.”  That’s what writing life-built poems is:  a concrete way to think on your own story and make your own myth.

The practice and the process of making life-built poems help you untangle the thoughts in your head when life hits you with yet another curve-ball.

If you do it right, you begin to understand how you’re actually feeling about any confusing situation when the thoughts just keep skittering all over the place and morphing into more and more of a tangled mess.

Often if you can just get a handle on all the chaotic feelings and thoughts you are experiencing, you’ll be able to see where you stand in all the turmoil and maybe see the actions you need to take to move gracefully in the direction you want to go.  At least, that’s the way it seemed to work for me.  Maybe it can do the same for you as well….

This poem came to me nine months after the death of my husband Fred.  We had been married for almost 27 years and were having a grand time being symbiotic when he sustained fatal head injuries in a car wreck.

I had always played with poetry for years.  After Fred died, though, I just slogged on through the days for a while.

When I started doing the poetry again, the poems were…different.  They were not just about playing with form any more.


When you died, Ei Nei, I dropped ten pounds.
Our friends said it was the grief.
I joked that you loved my sweet ‘okole so much
You took it with you,
And scandalized their true hearts yet again.
You would’ve laughed and probably agreed.

I don’t tell them — no I don’t —
About the other things you took.

You took your arms,
Corded hard with your strong passions,
That cradled me quiet as I drowsed
That picked me up each time I stumbled,
The peacefulness enfolded in them,
You took that with you.

You took your voice:
The way it resonated through me,
Sending echoes through each cell,
Winding around my heart
And pulling me to you, time and again.
You took that with you.

You bound me to you, then you went away.
You took a lot of things when you left.

You took your mouth:
Your teasing and your laughter,
Your “betcha-can’ts” and “you-better-nots,”
That made me so wild, I’d want to hit you
Until your goofy smile melted me silly.
You took that with you.

You took your eyes:
The fierce tenderness that held me,
Flashing hot at my proud challenge,
Softly glowing and content,
Intoxicating to the core.
You took that with you.

You took a lot when you went.

You took your hands,
Their gentle, solid strength,
Their familiar, clever touch
That reached into the soul of me,
And always drew me in.
You took that with you.

You took your body:
That hunting-cat tightness,
The warm, sweet hardness of you,
Lithe as a serpent, flowing against me,
The heat I craved, my best obsession.
You took that with you.

Ei Nei, I can forgive you taking all of that…
Most of the time, I can.
But, oh, how my tears well up,
Mourning the loss of all the dreams
The two of us flew when we were friends.

You took that with you too.    

[In case you don’t know, ei nei is Hawaiian for “my dear.”  The word ‘okole means “butt.”  Hawaiian musicians Keola and Kapono Beamer had a popular song, “Sweet ‘Okole” about a certain hula dancer of their acquaintance….]

by Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  James Diedrick via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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