O R I G I N S
the beginnings: an email exchange
between Larry Kimmel and ai li
I’m sitting here, in the wee hours (as I do so often nowadays), the bared owls calling each to each in the woods below the house, while I lean back from the monitor recalling the brief, but significant history of the cherita. I’m recalling the fourth verse in the Lunenga, that we later title: The Roof:
crossing the stream
her coy smile
skirt bunched above the knee
from the shade
of a maple
I watch wait
You replied, “That is so male.” And that’s when I told you how this verse within your longer Lunenga sequence helped me to write a small poem that had kept eluding me in free verse; how the succinctness of the ‘now known cherita form’ caused me to jettison some material which brought the poem into focus. And that I thought that six-line verse could be a form unto itself. Or maybe you thought that. I’m not sure. But I do know you thought it was an interesting idea and I do remember with certainty, that you said you’d think about it and give it a “smashing name.”
I remember, too, how I’d asked you before we began that first collaboration what were the rules of the Lunenga, and you said: “It’s like sex, Larry, there are no rules.” So like you. So like you.
by Larry Kimmel
a tribute cherita by Michael H. Lester our former art director
decades after my birth
a woman comes
and makes to me a gift
of the cherita
those lazy, crazy, hazy days and nights of 1997 . . .
the origins of cherita by ai li
she cries alone
the house on a hill
deep in shadow
27 May 1997
I suppose, technically speaking, the very first Cherita has to be, and is, the opening stanza of the Lunenga which I created on 22 May 1997, and which has been reproduced above. The name Cherita was not even a twinkle in my eyes when it was lifted out of the Lunenga to become an independent off-shoot.
However, twenty years on, I would have written that very first Cherita very differently. Like this for instance :
on a house
on the hill
with shadows deep
and the creak of
old bedroom slippers
23 February 2017
The original Lunenga stanza was written in one breath as was my updated one above. I may still be telling the same story but I am seeing the mise-en-scène through 2017 eyes. It is interesting to note that what is different here is that a reader is seeing the growth of an individual through life’s experiences, twenty years on, as in this case. We hopefully grow as writers and poets, and our stories are still stories but how we tell and share them with the readers can be very different. This reflects our own ongoing growth, both emotional and mental, and which affects us as poets and as individual human beings.
I created the Lunenga as a linked form of 21 verses, and these verses are made up of one-line, two-lines and three-lines stanzas with a paragraph break between each stanza. One link has to include the moon. Along with this new form came seventeen other unique and new linked creations which included the Cherita, and they all belong to my very own poetry stable. Yet another, the Septenga was an earlier linked form that I co-created with Alexis Rotella on 15 February 1997.
When I first shared the Lunenga with Larry Kimmel way back in 1997, he found that he was at ease writing with the 1-2-3 opening stanza of the Lunenga. We both realised then that there was the potential of a shorter form contained within the Lunenga. Finding a name for this new short form was not as difficult as I thought then, in retrospect, because of where I was born and raised and who my grandparents were. The Cherita name had been resident within my very being all my life and it just needed a poetic awakening.
My maternal grandparents filled my growing days with tales of ancient worlds that coloured all our long monsoon months in Malaya. I was that wee little sponge soaking up stories that they, and their families had brought over the oceans on sailing junks, braving new worlds that were full of danger and of life’s uncertainties. This tradition of oral storytelling was embraced by many immigrants in their new adopted homelands, sewn into the very fabric of their longings and their dreams of a new life free from revolutions, famine and pestilence. It was their way of honouring their past and of remembering their ancestors and loved ones.
The first memory I have of my grandmother telling us all a story is me in shorts sitting cross-legged on old wooden floorboards while she was lying down on a hard kang Chinese-style wooden bed with no mattress and her neat chignoned head resting on an even harder black and red lacquered Chinese pillow which was for her day use. For the night, she relied on a square open-ended Chinese blue and white porcelain hand-painted pillow with faraway tea pavilions, willow trees and a pair of mandarin ducks, and which was covered with a plain cotton drawstring case. This white cotton fabric afforded my grandmother a small measure of creature comfort. My grandmother did not suffer or complain from backaches her whole life and I worked out years later that the hard Chinese pillow must have allowed her to straighten her spine and lower back when she rested with her head and neck raised. This, in my opinion, must have helped align her entire spine and back in the most natural of ways.
Storytelling ran in my family. We ate sweetmeats under a full moon at our mid-autumn festival, adorned graveyard altars with food, flowers and cakes for tomb sweeping day and placed local delicacies, fruit and red hand-painted candles out in our dim back lanes for the wandering homeless dead on our hungry ghost festival every year. There was also Chinese New Year to celebrate for fifteen days with young girls throwing fresh mandarins off a local bridge to a throng of male admirers waiting to catch the right one below on the last day of the new year, the birth of new babies in the family, weddings and of course, traditional funerals which could last up to weeks with guests arriving at all hours of a day to share home-cooked food, play mah-jong and cherki cards long into the night to comfort and keep the bereaved company.
Even now, decades after I have left home, I am not short of stories. Being alive is being part of a continuing story of laughter, sadness, love and loss. May I gently urge you to play the miner of all your stories and to bring them to the light as Cherita? You owe it to yourself and more importantly, to all the people and loved ones who have been in and out of your lives, and who have contributed in some way, whether significantly or fleetingly. Let them live on in ink and in print. We cannot pay more homage and respect to them than by immortalising their stories.
The Cherita is twenty years old on 22 June 2017. I am immensely proud of the journey it has taken. I have continued to monitor its progress over the years and it is breathtaking for me to see the Cherita, once fledgling, now emerging, taking flight as a white crane.
Mazel tov and yum seng to you dear one, and to everyone and anyone out there who would like their words to sing.
Creator of the cherita
Editor of the cherita, your storybook journal
Founding Editor of still
Editor of moving into breath
Editor of dew-on-line
23 February 2017
A few vintage titbits . . .
Emails from ai li to Larry Kimmel
22 June 1997 22:37
Cherita is the name for the new Form lifted from the Lunenga. In Malay, it means story or tale. I have decided to use the old spelling, which I prefer to the new, which is CERITA. Hope you like it.Now, would you like your two very interesting and evocative examples added to this when it goes on our website? I am sorry that I kept you waiting for a name but I felt that all the other ones just weren’t good enough.Your haiku tandem experiment worked well. I am amazed at the flexibility of the CHERITA though I do agree with you that as a Cherita, it works a whole lot better.After a much welcome break at suppertime, I’m burning the midnight oil again, trying to get more engas up on the site.*
26 June 1997 17:41
Glad to hear that you have been following my progress. A few more have climbed on board the Express but CHERITA and GEMBUN are still not up, I’m afraid. I hope you’ll be patient with me.
Let’s see whether I’m able to help here…
CHE as in the first three letters of CHErry and RITA as in girl’s name
To uncharted waters,
01 July 1997 00:24
Thanks for sharing your new CHERITA. I added a few more backlog engas today. CHERITA will be there soon. I am trying to get them all on the website by the end of this week.
02 July 1997 00:30
CHERITA it is and not CHERITAS
07 July 1997 21:58
Re- the CHERITA anthology/book; it could work but you would have to be very stringent with the selection and ask for re-writes if need be. The very conciseness of the Form necessitates the need to be spot-on with the writing, as you know. I also believe that if marketed well, you could interest mainstream readers. Certainly, I would help circulate it for you on the back of my A5 flyers, if you would like me to. Please rest assured that if I say that I would help, that i will. Jane pestered me for months asking if there was anything that she could do to help.
19 July 1997 14:58
I believe that the Cherita should be seen together en masse, in a book someday. How do you feel about that? Of course this means that you don’t have to revise the cherita, that is, if you don’t want to.
02 March 1998 16:08
Subject: a promise
made many moons ago and here it is.
Cherita is the Malay word for story or tale. A Cherita consists of a single stanza of a one-line verse, followed by a two-line verse, and then finishing with a three-line verse. It can either be written solo or with up to three partners.
The Cherita tells a story. It was created by ai li on the 22 June 1997 in memory of her grandparents who were raconteurs extraordinaire.
Emails from Larry Kimmel to ai li
30 June 1997 15:52
Hello ai li,
Another CHERITA, hot off the press! I think you’ve started something with this stanza form.
the `chock’ of croquet balls
old, her eyesight gone
she sits apart
How are you doing? Hope you did something fun over the weekend. My weekend was nothing unusual, but good. CHERITA, is it also CHERITA plural, or is it CHERITAS? I ask because I can see a collection, a book of CHERITA. Something like this could bring the haiku and the mainstream together, maybe. And you would have started it. Could happen.
17 July 1997 13:13
Subject: of cakes and Key Lime pie
Sounds as though you’ll be very busy, with the magazine, the contest, and the buffet (which sounds great, I read the flyer carefully), so I won’t tax you with long letters, or questions that ask to be answered, and all that for the time being, but do want to let you know that the Cherita is alive and well:
draught beer in frosted mugs
the sun bleached street
wrapped in a buzz
24 June 1997 04:45
Could you give me phonetic help, or a rhyme, so that I will pronounce CHERITA right–right from the start. And what syllable takes the accent.
It’s a new word to me, but seems an ideal choice, and with the old spelling, too. I guess that about covers it for tonight. I’ll be looking in on your website tomorrow/today to check on your progress.
Thanks for everything, and the best of fortune to you in this mad dash into untested waters. I cheer you on.
02 July 1997 16:58
When I sent DANKE SCHOEN to you, I knew you would question `linger’, but I did not anticipate the leaving off of `the misting air.’ In one way I agree with you, in another I still want that `misty atmosphere’. You’d understand how I came to it, if I were to explain the whole evolution of that CHERITA, from what had been the beginning of a short story. Although a created scene, it has been in my mind so long that it is like a memory, that wants telling. But then, the reader dosen’t need all that’s on my mind. Hard to know which way I’ll go with that by the time I collect it into a book. I can tell a lot of story in 500 to 1500 words, but you are a minimalist’s minimalist. And I’ve learn from your work and your comments, so don’t ever worry about questioning anything I run by you. I think we’ve become friends enough by now, not to be put off by a suggestion or two. I find it helpful, especially with things `hot of the press’ because, sometimes one is just too close to the work. So never mind about that.
05 July 1997 05:14
I think, ai li, that you are destined to be a beacon of pure light in this ocean of political sloush
I’ve been day-dreaming this week about doing a book of one hundred, CHERITA. Do you think a collaborative book of CHERITA, by a dozen poets would work? It’s only rule being that each succeeding stanza had some connection with the preceeding. Would there be a market for such a book beyond the Haiku Community as well as within, I would hope. Oh well. So easy to think up projects, but without manifestation genius is dead.
I may have written this to you already, but I wanted to come out soon with a full-sized book of haiku, senryu, and tanka, but have decided it best to satisfy myself with chapbooks until I’ve been on the scene for a while. I think before the end of this year, I’d like to put together a collection of
31 tanka, and maybe 10 to 12 Cherita, with appropraite comment on its orgins and development, to be sure.
I compressed the `family barbecue’ into 17 syllables:
the `chock’ of croquet balls –
old, her eyesight gone,
she sits apart, smiling
don’t know that I’ll use it though, I like the Cherita better. On the other hand it looks pretty good. Maybe in shorter lines down the page, so as not to pretend its haiku/senryu. I’ll know later on.
10 July 1997 19:48
Here is CHERITA no. 5. And I do ask for editorial comment, if you care to do so. I’ll put my questions after the poems.
the storm passes
a flattened field of wheat
the loudness of birds
” … vaporized the electric fence,
here’s some that dripped”
1st) is the last verse clear enough for the general reader?
and 2) I’ve wanted `the loudness of birds’ before `a flatten field …’ but the aritcles were the problem.
a) `the storm …’ before `the loudness of ….’ I don’t see the two “the(s)” in a row as working well. To say `a loudness of birds” is not quite it for me. “the” or “a” –either would work with “flattened field …”, however. In fact, I prefer `a flatten field …’ –so for the moment I have solved it as above. Of course, I could avoid all these questions by saying “after the storm”, for the 1st verse, but I don’t think it as good, not as active.
07 August 1997 23:53
What I’d really like to do is do a book length poem (maybe one hundred stanze), somewhat narrative, using the cherita form, interspersed perhaps with other short new forms. I think a kind of narrative would result if two people took on a personna (not too unlike themselves), and let those persona have a dialogue. As if Li Po and Tu Fu had coressponded, with an emphasis on creating a legend. It’s a fond thought, ai li, just a fond thought. But the idea of an anthology, in lieu of a journal of new forms, seems more feasible to me at this time. Winfred Press could handle that.
03 October 1997 03:49
I’ve waited all week to tell you this, but I found a home for 21 of the cherita. John Sheirer has begun a very active small press, Tiny Poems Press, and he wants to do an anthology of haiku poets in the Pioneer Valley, which runs from Vermont to Conneticut, and includes a goodly number of well known haiku writers. So I will be in that, but he also asked if I’d like to have a chapbook this spring. I said sure. And then a couple weeks later, I was emailing some info about the Winfred Press contest, and I felt strongly that I should run a sample of about ten cherita past him.
So I did. He likes them. We’ve set March 1st as a time to begin the project, and he wants to do 21 cherita for a 24 page chapbook.
I think there should be an intro telling how the form evolved and where it began. I will run it past you when I do. Or if you have any thoughts about how you would say it on your website, I would incorporate that. At any rate, I want you to get all due credit. Let me know your thoughts on that.
27 October 1997 00:30
For sharing: Cherita as monologue, what do you think?
“it was all over the news–
charged with contributing to …
and talk of teenage prostitution, and
I just feel sorry
for his mother–I don’t know how
she’s lived through it all”
02 March 1998 18:59
Thank you kindly for the Cherita guidelines. They’re perfect. Yesterday we had a haiku meeting, and I gave John Sheirer some 35 cherita for him to select from, and told him to let space for the guidelines. Timing just perfect.
13 November 1998 05:52
ai li, it was wonderful to hear from you today. The acknowledgement of the subscription money and your *exciting* flyer of “new linked forms.” You needn’t thank me for anything, you know, you have helped put me on the cutting edge, so to speak, However, I graciously accept the thanks.
I have spent 4 twelve hour days at the computer, putting together a book of anecdotes, inner-monologues, etc. in a Whitmanesque type style, which is my compromise to writing something that is neither prose nor poetry. Well, much of it is prose, but I feel better using a line, or format, that isn’t the norm. Whatever!
But because of all this short prose activity, it hit me hard, the strength of the Cherita and the Gembun. Of course, the form is nothing, if the writing isn’t good. Right? And it is a bit exciting for me, too, to be a part of this explosion of forms you’ve created. Thank you.
I have had the thought since, that it might be best to write Cherita with three people. I can see that you have been more than just a little bit busy, so I’m not suggesting. Not now, at any rate. Also, I realized, that I have taken the Cherita very much to be my own, in the sense that I write it solo. It’s, for me, a useful form. Though I’d not let that stand in the way of sharing with others.
Oh my, I seem to be running on – I better stop.
04 February 1999 00:21
I’ve had some thoughts about CHERITA and publishing this week.
I have also had a goal of having 100 publishable Cherita, nicely sequenced etc. I have 85 at this point, which might winnow down to 50.
Would you find it all a feasible and desirable thought, to think of doing a book of cherita with me, and perhaps a few others,
It could be a book of, say, three solo collections by three authors, who then write a fourth section of collaborative Cherita. A book to show what the form can do. I would be responsibe for getting it together in ms. to send out.
These are just thoughts of the moment, but I feel it is the kind of project I can see myself putting my shoulder to the wheel and seeing it through. I know you are very busy so I ask this only in a very tentative way. It also occurs to me that one way to increase on the number of cherita to choose from is to (with whom so ever) write the stanzas as linked verses as in the Lunenga and see what happens.
Well, as always, I am too impatient, but the thought of doing something with the cherita and publication has been kicking around for some time now, and I feel ready.
22 January 2000 20:37
On the cherita front, the form is making its way.
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