Background on the Poet
John E. Carley, translator, polyglot, creator of the zip form of haiku, renku master, author of “The Little Book of Yotsomunos” and “The Book of Renku,” was born and raised in an Irish Catholic family in the north of England in 1955. He lived in the Pennine Hills of northern England. Discovering poetry helped John to overcome dyslexia in his early years. A former musician, John developed a particular interest in the phonic properties of poetry and has written, performed, and published a wide range of material in English, Italian, French, and Piedmontese as well as literary translations from Urdu, Bangla, and, more recently, Japanese. John was inspired by working with William J. Higginson, as he always paid a great attention to minor detail. But the figure that made the biggest impression was without a doubt Nobuyuki Yuasa with his 1966 translation of The Narrow Road by Basho. In John’s eyes, Yuasa held the keys to the spirit of haikai.
In recent years, John’s radical analogue to Japanese teikei (the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry), nicknamed the ‘zip’ style, has earned both dismay and support amongst those specializing in Japanese verse forms in the English language. His love of linked verse saw him invent the four-verse yotsumono, and he celebrated the form with a collection written with several authors, in The Little Book of Yotsumonos (Darlington Richards, 2012). The same publisher is bringing out the hard-copy edition of The Renku Reckoner, John’s life work and taken from his website of the same name.
From 2004 through 2006, John Carley served as renku editor for the haikai journal Simply Haiku and has appeared frequently as an essayist for the World Haiku Review, The Journal of Renga and Renku, as well as in A Hundred Gourds, and other journals. His Renku Reckoner was considered to be the most viewed source of renku diagram and aesthetics in the English speaking world.
John has acted as a poem leader (sabaki) for more than a hundred renku sequences, many composed in more than one language. Several have been published in international venues and won awards, including First place in the 2013 Einbond competition. John’s emphasis lied in that kind of collaborative linked verse composed after the style or in the school of Matsuo Basho—Shomon haikai renga—a distinction he strives to make perfectly clear.
John E. Carley died on New Year’s Eve in 2013 after a four year battle with mesothelioma. He was a friend, a supporter, and a mentor to so many. The haiku community will be reaping the rewards of his kindness for a long time to come, and his support for renku made him a modern master of the form in English Language Haiku.
(From The Living Haiku Anthology, with a few edits)
by the time I reach the gate post
another leaf has fallen
© John E. Carley
This is a zip poem, which closely resembles haiku in form and content, though it is 15 syllables and contains one internal caesura represented by a double space. You can say the poem is divided into four parts. Let’s take a look at why the poet possibly divided the poem into these parts.
I think the first gap shows the time it took the poet to reach the gate—the elongation of time. The second gap demonstrates the moment of witnessing: him watching the leaf fall.
The meaning of the poem can be said to be many things. The poet, through his keen awareness, notices the decaying world around him, symbolized in the fallen leaf. It is not just decay, but the amount of it. The poem could be reminding readers that in each thing we do, there is loss, and that things around us are ceasing to exist. It is saying, in a sense, that we must weigh our construction in light of deconstruction.
The poem could also be about reaching one’s goals, and seeing loved ones pass away in the process. Also, when he writes “another leaf,” we can start to think about the other leaves that fell. There could also be an implication that the poet is the other fallen leaf.
But I believe at the heart of the poem is an awareness of longing, and giving sacred time to view it—not ignoring it.
The sound of the poem contributes to its reading. “by the time I reach the gate” has a string of “eh” sounds, which bring out the starkness of the moment, and the “eh” sound continues with “another leaf has fallen.” What’s also interesting is the pivot sound of “post” having a long “oo” sound, showing the length of time the leaf has fallen.
John E. Carley created haiku and poems that made us think of the greater potential of micropoetry. Through spacing, sound, and aesthetics that seemed new but linked with the past, he presented a fresh voice for the world.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky