Today's poetry for today's world

Margaret Chula


Margaret Chula lived in Japan for twelve years where she taught creative writing at Doshisha Women’s University.  She has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Just This.  She has also published What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.  Specializing in Japanese poetry, she teaches workshops at universities, Zen centers, and international poetry conferences. Chula's poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Kyoto Journal, The Briar Cliff Review, The West Marin Review, Poet Lore, America’s Review, Windfall, Sufi Journal, and Runes, as well as in numerous haiku journals worldwide.  Fellowships from Oregon Literary Arts and the Regional Arts and Culture Council have sponsored collaborations with artists, musicians, and dancers.  She currently serves as President of the Tanka Society of America and as Poet Laureate for Friends of Chamber Music in Portland, Oregon.




Click on the cover to buy Just This.

Poems from Just This

late summer

in the garden
just before dusk

touching leaves and flowers
as I never touched you
my parents and in-laws
moving toward senility
there is no one
I need to impress
how can barren
be so beautiful
the silver limbs
of cottonwoods
against a cobalt sky
from the garden
a handful of lilacs
and mint for my tea
lilt of a Mozart concerto

just this, just this

from Just This (2013)



Click on the cover to buy What Remains.








In Sacramento, I was a newspaperman, but now I stuff
newspapers into cracks around the door frame, between
the floorboards and into knotholes to keep sand, wind
and rattlesnakes out of our barracks.


Here at Topaz, the Jewel of the Desert, I have become a carpenter.

I use my hands to make life in the camp bearable for my family.

When we arrived, our shack held nothing but four army cots.

For mattresses, we were given bags to be filled with straw.


I salvaged lumber from the yard to build crude furniture—

a table, chairs, and a few shelves. Emi borrowed a broom and
swept out the dust, then sewed curtains by hand to hang in
the window. My son made a pull toy from the lids of tin cans.


Mama came with us. She was an Issei and a poet.

One day she wandered into the desert and never came back.

I fashioned a box with no nails to hold her ashes.

Emi made an ikebana from tumbleweeds.


Beneath the shadows of barbed wire, I have discovered
the beauty of tools. How a plane can subdue the harshness
of wood, its cold steel a comfort in my palm. How a level,
with its bubble that does not freeze in winter, can offer levity.


I have learned how to face a sandstorm with a strip of cardboard
plastered with glue, then to use this sandpaper to smooth out
the incongruities of our lives. I have been shown the miracle
of precision and balance—how a hammer can straighten out
the bent backs of nails and make them useful again.




Originally published in Prairie Schooner, 2006

Included in the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery (Sante Lucia Books, 2008)

Published in What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps (Katsura Press, 2009)




Click on the cover to buy The Smell of Rust.








cushion, incense, bowl

so much preparation

to do nothing


Buddha’s birthday

I open a new

box of incense



before striking the bell

I hear the bell 


for a moment

nothingness    then

noticing it



myself as a Buddha

my limbs turn to bronze


sudden draft

the candle flickers

and drowns in itself


after meditation

I sit and meditate

smell of candle wax





Published in The Smell of Rust (Katsura Press, 2003), recipient

of the Haiku Society of America’s National Book Award, 2004






Click on the cover to buy Grinding my ink.                      






                        Ayabe, Japan


morning twilight

beyond the raindrops

the first bird song



walking into silence


by a flutter of wings



he keeps turning around—

the black cat I follow

into the fog



soft spring rain

the cat licks

the cabbage leaves



rutted path

strewn with sasanquas

my first corsage



floating in the pond

where the old woman drowned

red camellia heads




the borrowed umbrella

splattered with blossoms





Published in Grinding my ink (Katsura Press, 1993),

recipient of the Haiku Society of America’s National Book Award, 1994

A recording of this haiku series can be heard on the Grinding my ink CD.





Click on cover to buy CD of Grinding my ink.




WRITER'S TIP: Haiku master Matsuo Basho said, “To learn about the pine, go to the pine. 

To learn about bamboo, go to the bamboo.”  When writing haiku, you need to spend part

of each day outside in nature.  Observe things around you—both large and small.  Notice

the shape and color of a tree.  Touch its bark, leaves, and needles.  Smell the tree’s fragrance

in every season.  Listen to the sound of leaves in wind, in rain, in stillness.  Taste the berries

along the trail.  Notice the heft of your boots on the earth.  Let these sensations settle and

become part of your experience.  Open yourself to the images and memories they trigger. 

Then write your poem.




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