Hats – Brief Poems by Richard Brautigan

brautigan-240x160Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) is best known for his novel Trout Fishing in America (1967) a counterculture classic which, according to poet Billy Collins, “had a huge impact. It achieved a kind of instant cult status, not just for adolescents but I think for a whole generation that was weaned on a much more traditional kind of fiction. And I think it also had to do with something of the drug culture, that this was a kind of refracted and drugged way of looking at things. It was a disruptive and surrealistic vision.

That vision is also evident in his poems, one of which – “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” – presents a prescient and optimistic view of a future society. While many of the poems may have dated, like the hippie fashions of the sixties, there is something appealing about his goofy and whimsical approach. By the mid-’60s he was a San Francisco celebrity. He printed poems on seed packets and gave them away in a collection titled Please Plant This Book. In a letter, the critic Malcolm Cowley called Brautigan’s poems, “pensées, like grasshoppers in flight.” This particularly applies to the shorter poems. Novelist Ken Kesey, who had his own brush with fame, fortune and the hippie zeitgeist, once compared Brautigan to Basho, the greatest of Japanese poets. “Five hundred years from now, when the rest of us are forgotten, they’ll still be reading Brautigan,” Kesey said.

That’s unlikely. Raymond Carver, attempting a balanced view, said that some of the poems resemble “little astonishments going off in your hands,” while others are “so-so, take them or leave them,” while still others, “I think too many—are just filling up space.”  Another poet, August Kleinzahler, is more circumspect. He observes that by the early 1970s, “the critics were already having a go at him,” and they were, he says, “on the whole, quite right: he wasn’t really very good after all. The work is not without charm or felicities of style, but it is pretty thin stuff, precious, self-indulgent fluff.” But the charm of the fluff survives, especially in the shorter pieces where the haiku was a favourite form. (Brautigan travelled regularly to Japan where his work was especially popular.) The charm and the fluffiness just about saves some of them from an inherent gaucheness and sentimentality. There are many more and, if you think I omitted any good brief poems, you can contact me below.

And the hats? One poem too long for a tweet is “Kafka’s Hat” which I will slip in here because I like the first stanza:

With the rain falling
surgically against the roof,
I ate a dish of ice cream
that looked like Kafka’s hat.

It was a dish of ice cream
tasting like an operating table
with the patient staring
up at the ceiling.

Another poem “Man” (see below) is a humorous haiku depiction of a man who increases his height with his hat. And then there are the wide, broad-brimmed tall hats he used to wear in the self-portraits that accompanied many of his books. At the height of his popularity a volume of poetry like Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt (1970) could be counted on to sell 50,000 copies and thousands attended his poetry readings. Now only the odd novel is widely read. But the poems, particularly the brief ones, deserve an audience. I raise my hat to his memory.





Color as Beginning

Forget love
I want to die
in your yellow hair


Haiku Ambulance

A piece of green pepper
off the wooden salad bowl:
so what?



Do you think of me
as often
as I think
of you?



she tries to get things out of men
that she can’t get because she’s not
15% prettier



Everybody wants to go to bed
with everybody else, they’re
lined up for blocks, so I’ll
go to bed with you. They won’t
miss us.


Boo, Forever

Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a
I’m haunted by all
the space that I
will live without


Just Because

Just because
people love your mind,
doesn’t mean they
have to have
your body,


Love Poem

It’s so nice
to wake up in the morning
all alone
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don’t love them
any more.


Widow’s Lament

It’s not quite cold enough
to go borrow some firewood
from the neighbors.


if i should die before you do

you wake up
from death,
you will find yourself
in my arms,
I will be
kissing you,
will be crying


Star Hole

I sit here
on the perfect end
of a star, watching light
pour itself toward



I talked a good hello
but she talked an even
better good-bye.


For Fear You Will Be Alone

For fear you will be alone
you do so many things
that aren’t you at all.


Everything Includes Us

The thought of her hands
touching his hair
makes me want to vomit.


It’s Time to Train Yourself

It’s time to train yourself
to sleep alone again
and it’s so fucking hard.


April 7, 1969

I feel so bad today
that I want to write a poem.
I don’t care: any poem, this


Xerox Candy Bar

you’re just a copy
of all the candy bars
I’ve ever eaten.



With his hat on
he’s about five inches taller
than a taxicab.



I lift the toliet seat
as if it were the nest of a bird
and I see cat tracks
all around the edge of the bowl.






Nils T. Devine claims to have the largest collection of Richard Brautigan poetry on the web.

The Official Richard Brautigan Page is on Facebook.

There is a page on The Richard Brautigan website devoted to his poetry.

The Richard Brautigan Collection from poet Joanne Kyger includes an extraordinary archive of original artwork, inscribed books, rare ephemera and magazines, photographs, typescripts and more.

There is a balanced critique of Richard Brautigan’s work on the Poetry Foundation site.

Nipples – 50 ways to write an erotic haiku

fdaf868b4a33f11678bba41b25662933The classic Japanese haiku rarely dealt with love and almost never with sex. American practitioners of the form have, however, developed a sub-genre which has been called, in a barbarous neologism, erotiku. It is difficult to see how an erotic charge can be maintained without the benefits of verbal foreplay.  And the possibility of post-coital cogitations, ruminations and conversations is almost negligible. I say almost because Marsh Muirhead’s witty haiku does include an after-sex cigarette. Some poets have managed to create an erotic frisson  in such a confined space. Raymond Roseliep , a Catholic priest who died in 1983, saw no contradiction in writing erotic haiku, “it keeps me alive and young and remembering; and always with feelings that are deepest and most sacred in all of us.” George Swede creates a parenthetical cleavage in the spaces left in his haiku. Alexis Rotella is preeminent among those who have made something sensuous out of something short. Brynne McAdoo has a more poignant and a more humorous perspective. Her reposte to Jeffrey Winke’s haiku reminds me of Sir Walter Ralegh’s response to Christopher Marlowe’s  “Come Live With Me and Be My Love.”

What Marlowe, that most erotic of English poets, would make of an erotiku is a tantalising thought. But the writer whose long, sinuous and sensuous account of the consummation of Hero And Leander’s passion for each other would hardly have found “a glimpse of stocking”, let alone a nipple peeking over a dress (as in Paula Fisher’s haiku) or becoming erect (as in Lee Gurga’s haiku) or being nuzzled by a bristled beard (as in David Cobb’s haiku) in any way tantalising. Maybe Robert Herrick, more of a miniaturist than Marlowe and the author of “Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast” would have found the haiku form  more appealing. Some of the images in that ten-line poem are haiku-like:


Have ye beheld (with much delight)
A red-Rose peeping through a white?
Or else a Cherrie (double grac’t)
Within a Lillie? Center plac’t?
Or ever mark’t the pretty beam,
A Strawberry shewes halfe drown’d in Creame?
Or seen rich Rubies blushing through
A pure smooth Pearle, and Orient too?
So like to this, nay all the rest,
Is each neate Niplet of her breast.


When it comes to the more salacious aspects of the form, what may be called hard-core haiku, questions of propriety, taste and value arise. The money-shot, as evidenced in the Irish language haiku of Gabriel Rosenstock and the English language haiku of Hiroaki Sato, is hardly worth more than the 25c of Alan Pizzarelli’s “Porno Movie.” Perhaps the last words on erotic haiku should be left to Ron Lockley whose alliterative 1-2-1 poem with its elongated title provides a cynical summation of the limitations of this intriguingly brief form.




after sex
the blow-up doll and I
share an e-cigarette


Marsh Muirhead
6 haiku by Raymond Roseliep


on the breasts of the girl
who picks turnips


her lover
coming forever




holding the shape
of our night


love made,








our bodies


Raymond Roseliep



Night begins to gather         between her breasts


George Swede
5 haiku by Alexis Rotella


Lying in the wet grass,
him still beating
inside me.







Late August
I bring him the garden
in my skirt


During our little talk
I tear a daisy
to shreds


Against his coat
I brush my lips—
the silence of snowflakes

Alexis Rotella

2 haiku by Jeffrey Winke


after the summer fair
she strips to her
neon glow necklace

her seven button
three undone


Jeffrey Winke
6 haiku by Brynne McAdoo


first & last date –
back from the ladies room
my blouse buttoned higher



new crush
I give him a haiku
about crocuses



spring equinox
with the lilacs she comes out
as bisexual




after he googles me
the pleasure of



my haiku lover…
not many words
between us



you don’t know
where i live but still
i leave the porch light on

Brynne McAdoo

lunar eclipse
a nipple peeks
over her dress


Paula Fisher


old lovers
only her left nipple
becomes erect


Lee Gurga


a two-day growth of beard
bristles her nipple…

David Cobb



Without clothes
it’s a different


John Brandi


holding you
in me still…
sparrow songs
Anita Virgil



from the bedroom window
cool moonlight


John Shimmin


spring love—
the curtains breathe in,
and out

Kevin Bailey


we sweat on our beds
after each climax
the rain never stops

David Cobb



a room with a view–
making love
in the mirror
Philip Rowland


pistachio shells…
wife’s red fingers,
redder lips

Michael Dudley


falling into dusk
my legs wrapped around him
the moon rises in his eyes

Jo-Anne Elder


deep penetration the bedside candle quivers lightly in the moonlit room

Eric Amann


Winter wind…
the creaking house…
the creaking bed

Margaret Saunders


letting go
that moment before
letting go

Alan Gettis


autumn evening after splitting wood his wedge

Marlene Wills


turning from the window
her blouse full of sunshine
and shadow

Larry Kimmel


dog days of summer
sucking all the red
from a popsicle

Wanda D. Cook


Silk sheets tussled damp
Evidence of where we lay
Winters the long night

Dave Wright


That sunflower stands
so erect — I find myself
falling to my knees.

Kenneth Pobo


bl*w j*b
she kneels
in Prada

Ai Li


she leaves —
a curled hair
in my soap

David Walker


on the car seat beside me
the sun
light on her thighs

James Tipton


his fingers slowly
unbutton me


Roberta Beary
2 haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock


waxy glistening of leaves
sometimes i’d come
along your thigh




standing stark naked before you
shadow-penis lengthening on the wall
you tantalize the shadow


Gabriel Rosenstock
2 haiku by Hiroaki Sato


in your panties
slightly pulled down
a crisp fallen leaf




that first time
my middle-finger slipped into
your warm wet cleft


Hiroaki Sato


Porno Movie

the girl
      loosens her bra
starts peeling off panties


Alan Pizzarelli




On the Transmission of Bodily Fluids Through the Air after a Long Hiatus




Ron Lockley




A column on erotic haiku from the All Poetry site.
 Review of some books of erotic haiku on the Poem Shape site.
Alexis Rotella tweets her haiku regularly, some of them erotic.
Roberta Beary tweets her haiku regularly, some of them erotic.
An interesting review of Brynne McAdoo’s slim collection, Venus in View.

Beetles – Brief Poems by X. J. Kennedy

XJKennedyX. J. Kennedy was born in New Jersey on August 21, 1929, shortly before the crash of the stock market. Irked by the hardship of having the name of Joseph Kennedy, he stuck the X on when he began submitting poems for publication and has been stuck with it ever since.

I first came across his work in the contemporary American poetry anthologies which were popular in Dublin bookshops in the late nineteen-sixties. There I discovered a voice that was distinctive in its mixture of the high and the low registers. His poetry may not be as well-known as other contemporary poets because of his preference for, in his own words, “old-fangled structures most poets have junked these days.” As Kennedy’s comments on his verse suggest, his poetry is witty, concise, and unpretentious, as the “beetles” below display.

And those beetles? Once, while browsing in a Galway bookshop, I saw a copy of his collection Breaking and Entering with its unusual purposely-torn cover. I bought it. I was not disappointed. Among the many intriguing poems in the collection was a series of short poems called “Japanese Beetles”, most of which are extracted below. According to a gardening website, Japanese beetles can create havoc in a garden by feeding on the leaves of a number of different plants, skeletonizing the leaves and eventually defoliating the plants. Some of the Kennedy beetles are equally pestilential in his typically witty and concise manner.

As well as being a poet, Kennedy is also the author of the best text book on poetry I have encountered: An Introduction to Poetry. First published in 1966, and updated numerous times since with the assistance of Dana Gioia, it it is as relevant today as then. In another incarnation, as a teacher of English in Ireland, I found it an invaluable resource.

X. J. Kennedy recently won the ninth annual Jackson Poetry Prize, an award given by Poets & Writers to honor exceptional American poets. The prize includes a $50,000 purse. He deserves every last cent.



At a Reading of Poems of a Poet’s Agonies

We sit and listen, writhing in our chairs,
Pierced by a pain far worse than what he shares.


The Seven Deadly Virtues


Strict constancy’s an overrated virtue:
A little flexibility can’t hurt you.


While greedy bastards grab bucks by the fistful,
The generous grow poorer and look wistful.


Spurning forbidden fruit—peel, pulp, and juice—
The chaste know peace, but rarely reproduce.

Good Cheer

When grief and gloom are what you want, good cheer
Is nothing but a big pain in the rear.


Though sometimes modesty’s worth emulation,
It’s worse than useless during copulation.


A certain charm inheres in strict sobriety
Until one ventures forth into society.


When talk is soft, there’s no harm in the humble
Who, when shrill protest’s called for, merely mumble.


You Touch Me

You touch me.
One by one
In each cell of my body
A hearth comes on.


Japanese Beetles

1 The Minotaur’s Advice

Unravel hope, but be not by it led
Or, back outside, you’ll still hang by a thread.

2 Teutonic Scholar

Twelve hefty tomes his learning demonstrate.
Now earth squats on him like a paperweight.

3 Translator

They say he knows, who renders Old High Dutch,
His own tongue only, and of it not much.

4 To a Now-type Poet

Your stoned head’s least whim jotted down white hot?
Enough confusion of my own, I’ve got.

5 Advice to an Anthologist

Extoll those bards whose very names are lost.
Like not too well the living. That kind cost.


Time is that dentist fond of sweet desserts
Who, drill in hand, says, Stop me if this hurts.


Here lies a girl whose beauty mad Time stay.
Shovel earth in. We haven’t got all day.

Parody: Herrick

When Vestalina’s thin white hand cuts cheese,
The very mice go down upon their knees.


An epigram, if buffed to its right gloss,
Is a steel thumbtack thirty feet across.


By the cold blow that lit my husband’s eye
I could read what page eight had said to try.


Imperious Muse, your arrows ever strike
When there’s some urgent duty I dislike.


Each other for some other spouse they trade
As though what’s tarnished might be overlaid.

13 Diplomacy

An ultimatum is a document
That if unheeded never had been sent.

14 From the Greek Anthology

On miserable Nearchos’ bones, lie lightly earth,
That the dogs may dig him up, for what he’s worth.


To Someone Who Insisted I Look Up Someone

I rang them up while touring Timbuctoo,
Those bosom chums to whom you’re known as “Who?”


from Famous Poems Abbreviated


Of man’s first disobedience and its fruit
Scripture has told. No need to follow suit.


Whoosh! – hear the Sea of Faith’s withdrawing roar?
So, baby, let’s make love tonight, not war.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
Shall I just sack out in the snow
And freeze? Naaaa, guess I’d better go.



from Celebrities

Peter Lorre
Won lasting glory
Portraying heaps
Of creeps.

Oliver Hardy
Grew large and lardy
From dining to excess
On many a fine mess.



None but the Spirit, moving and igniting,
Deserves the credit in Creative Writing.



from Poetic Ends


Hart Crane
Flushed himself down the drain
When it seemed clear
That The Bridge didn’t cohere.


Weldon Kees
Stepped out on the breeze,
His work unrequited.
Still, he keeps being sighted.


Ambrose Bierce
Penned satires fierce.
He thought it mannish
Simply to vanish.


In a Secret Field

The snow’s soft tons

By the air




All poems Copyright © X. J. Kennedy





X. J. Kennedy has a website for himself and his wife.

Some of his poems are featured on the Poem Tree website.

More poems are available on the Poetry Foundation website.

Two poems, one early and one recent, appear on The Gladdest Thing website.

An interview with X. J. Kennedy in Contemporary Poetry Review.

A. M. Juster’s essay The Elegiac X. J. Kennedy.