Dreaming in Haiku: Karen Neuberg on Patricia Carragon’s Urban Haiku

Urban Haiku and More, Patricia Carragon, Fierce Grace Press

Anyone familiar with the poetry scene in New York City and its environs is very likely familiar with Patricia Carragon, whether through her two highly respected and well-attended Brownstone Poets reading series, her own featured readings at myriad venues, her participation in open readings, or her generous support of other poets on and off the ‘circuit’. Her latest chapbook of poetry, Urban Haiku and More; Haiku, Senryū, Hay(Na)Ku, and other Unrhymed Tercet Poetry, may well provide her with an even larger audience of admirers. One is always surprised and never disappointed by the range and style of Ms. Carragon’s writing.

Urban Haiku and More is a fun read, with serious undertones. As with her earlier book, Journey to the Center of My Mind (Rogue Scholars Press, 2005), the images are sharp and pulsing:

decides to
take the subway

and gets screwed
in the

MetroCard is
not his E-Zpass

Urban Haiku and More begins with a nod to Matsuo Bashō, who broke from some strict rules of court poetry of his time and wrote clear and brief – and often humorous – haiku, and to Jack Kerouac, who is often credited with creating an Americanized haiku form. Carragon sets us up at once by defining her intentions:

When Bashō wrote
the sound of the pond
was heard

5 – 7 – 5
too tough when done in English
thanks Jack Kerouac

Carragon begins with an ancient form which has changed over time, while paying respect to the original concept and tradition. By including Hay(Na)Ku, she uses a 21st century form, which some sources credit as being officially introduced on the Web on 6-12-2003. The word is a Tagalog word translating roughly to mean “Oh” (or in Spanish, “Madre Mia”). The form is a tercet with a total of six words: one in the first line, two in the second, and three in the third with no restriction on syllables or rhymes. It can also be done in reverse and is often, like other tercet forms, chained to make a longer poem:

douche my
drain with Drano®

does hers
with Liquid-Plumr®

The poems on these 37 pages run the gamut of observation. Love, anger, and cynicism, and the guts to say it like it is, are side-by-side with more meditative musings that turn, in what I think of as ‘vintage’ Carragon, into a moment of shocking reality, which can offer a more meditative read as well:

dreaming in haiku
in a raindrop

as the lotus opens
she meditates
on the universe

he throws out
the garbage
before Zen enters

The poems are also loosely arranged in a seasonal/holiday order beginning with a range of emotions around Valentine’s Day. For instance,

Valentine’s Day
the heartache
of an empty life

Valentine’s Day
chocolate tastes better
than sex

Several ink-brush illustrations by artist William L. Hays gently enhance the poems and keep with the Japanese ‘feel’ of the volume. One of my favorites depicting a small, perched, feathery bird makes the third tercet of this chain all the more surprising, and ironically funny:

feathered troubadours
outside my window
sunrise serenade

birdsong will be heard
before dawn passes
through the sycamores

tree and flowers bloom
robins and thrushes fly by
crap on windows.

The collection ends with the close of the year, adding a sense of poignancy and a touch of hope:

the year ends
a prayer for peace
at midnight

What might appear to be a simple little read, surprises and engages us again and again. I thoroughly enjoyed Urban Haiku and More and think you will too.


Karen Neuberg is a poet and writer living in Brooklyn, NY and in West Hurley, NY. Her chapbook, Detailed Still, is available from Poets Wear Prada Press. Her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Boxcar Poetry Review, decomP, Ditch, PoetryBay and elsewhere. She’s a Pushcart nominee, holds an MFA from the New School and is assistant editor of Inertia Magazine.