John Wisdom (Masters of Wabi)

Masters of Wabi

noon sun
a dead catfish iridescent
in broken shells



long afternoon
barely a ripple
as a jellyfish turns


John Wisdom has been writing various forms of poetry since childhood. His grandmother received her Master’s in English, in about 1912, so writing was a given in his life. Here are a few samples of haiku, tanka, verse, and traditional poetry written over several decades. Many of the works have been recognized in contests, various haiku journals, such as Modern Haiku and The Heron’s Nest. There is no profit in poetry, so it is all about the joy of writing, and day to day life experiences.




It is with astonishing awareness and keen instincts that John Wisdom situates his works elucidating the custom of wabi near or underwater, submerged or in close proximity to our proverbial drink, for all intents and purposes – where the ocean is concerned – in an arena which comes the closest to earthly embodiment of astrophysicists’ black holes, singularities from which light cannot emit or escape. Its borders, too, curiously resemble an event horizon of sorts, the passage over which – accompanied by intense pressure as depth increases – pulverize anything introduced not built for such exotic locales. This formless sea jelly, whose barely visible motions bring to mind both Freud’s theory of the unconscious and Hemingway’s iceberg slant for omitting, seems a perfect analog for wabi’s unassuming, without airs authenticity and candor. The whiskered carcass also imparts the personality of a piscine recluse, that wild card in the tarot deck, mountain cuckoos of the aquatic ranks with their famous stubbornness, curmudgeonly tenacity one may easily equate to the solitary hermits throughout history, strangely beautiful laid to rest, inadvertently cooking on a jagged divan. That view similarly suggests the beds of nails and hot coals navigated by performers, and more hazardously as tests of strength or piety which could prove fatal for those like French Crusader Peter Bartholomew who could not endure ordeals by fire.  The shells, once exited and discarded on the shore, become brilliant specimens of wabi in and of themselves too, no less the vacant corpse, once all animation and essence has exited with its 21 grams of inscrutability. These set noteworthy precedents too in their chronologic whereabouts. While the inverse may also be no less valid, and wabi can without difficulty be swiftly located in the dark of a wintery night’s bleakness and obscurity, the agony of a sweltering peak, when the cool relief of twilight is furthest distant, those absolute polarities on either end (like climate devastation, exacerbating both extremes) where an operative portion is glaringly absent, find superb usage in this perceptive localization. The jellyfish, separate and disconnected from its observer, similarly echoes the aloofness associated with this sensibility; just as Thoreau had his cabin by the pond and Basho his hut with the banana tree, distance and solitude are by many deemed essential prerequisites for meditation and focus, by beliefs ancient and modern. And what of the gleam, from whence originates that sparkle in the sands?  Colorful scales, exposed bones bleached by punishing rays?  In each tableau Wisdom ingeniously lays out the wabi at both ends, in the murkiest depths to that blinding glint, from Hyperion’s beams to the gaping maw of Charybdis! These are verses of extraordinary dynamic range worth admiring…

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