he tells me

he is on
his last legs

a lone crane
on cold mountain


ai li



The review of under raintrees by Patricia Prime

I would like to share with you a review of under raintrees by Patricia Prime. She has been kind enough to give me her permission to post this review which appeared in Atlas Poetica 36. This book is a selection of my cherita by Arvinder Kaur who translated the poems into Hindi and Punjabi.




under raintrees: cherita by ai li in translation by arvinder kaur. India: Logeet Parkashan. (2018). RRP: 250 rands. ISBN: 978-93-83392-17-9. Pb, 105pp. Reviewed by Patricia Primeunder raintrees: cherita by ai li in translation by arvinder kaur. India: Logeet Parkashan. (2018). RRP: 250 rands. ISBN: 978-93-83392-17-9. Pb, 105pp. Reviewed by Patricia Prime

When I read a poem in a poetic form such as a sonnet, a villanelle or a sestina, I’m most interested in those moments when poems chafe against the forms that constrain them. Poetic forms are different, too. A sonnet, for example, has 14 lines. It has a volta, or turn, after the octave, except when it’s in loose, unrhyming couplets.

In arvinder kaur’s trilingual translations of ai li’s cherita, under raintrees, the cherita form (originated by ai li in 1997), is integrated explicitly. The collection comprises several short essays about the cherita from a variety of poets and editors, a selection of ai li’s cherita chosen and translated into Punjabi and Hindu by arvinder kaur and it is illustrated with photographs of ai li and arvinder kaur.

ai li takes this little song and fashions it in such a way to persuade us of something – of many things, but primarily of how to write “simply” and without artifice. Her cherita are carefully worked out “stories”, presented without artifice. The opening cherita, for example, is in the form of a question the poet asks herself:

finding you this late

the tint of my hair
another black

do i have the years
to give you
love and grace? (2)

Read aloud, it sounds like a prose sentence, but the line-breaks demand that we read it as a poem. ai li is deploying, in the context of a poem, prose’s strength for logical argument.

ai li’s cherita have a social, even convivial aspect to them. There are poems of loss and its consolations, poems of fitful sleep and dreams, of friends and lovers, of the living and the dead, of food, clothing, weather, ghost stories and this one about a family heirloom:

family heirloom

there’s dead skin
in the drawers

if you look closely
family dna that’s
not in the graveyard (10)

A cherita might begin with a well-worn, abstract indulgence – “love strays” – but the cherita opens out like a flower to show that the shadow love casts has its effects long after its first blossoming:

love strays

this year
the missing valentine

i open the box
of cards
i never received (30)

ai li reflects on loneliness, death and suicide with the same resilience:

death poem

using black ink
to make a point

who will read my words
if it isn’t found
this piece of rice paper (42)

ai li’s range of emotions and mastery of this brief form are outstanding and many of these moments will have been lived and felt by readers. Each cherita must be savoured for its poignancy, its experience and its language. The collection is a good example of how well ai li handles emotional material – moving, with palpable, but controlled, grief. It uses the conventional form of the cherita to do unconventional things, in a distinctive way. ai li dislocates the cherita from the lyric tradition, wrings tears from it, brings joy to it, sets it apart from conventional forms, without losing that directness of connection to the reader, that lightness of touch, which, it seems to me, is the essence of cherita.




M Kei, the editor of Atlas Poetica has very kindly given the cherita permission to post these two fine cherita articles from Atlas Poetica 27.


The Cherita and the Golden Spiral
​by Penélope O´Meara

The Cherita and the Golden Spiral

I was struck by the structure of the Cherita form and the sense of growth and unfoldment achieved by the movement from the single line in the first stanza to the closing line in the tercet. I am used to telling students about the effectiveness of the sonnet form, both Petrarchan and Shakespearean with its fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization, and a perfect conduit for the maximum expression of love. But I am also struck by the unfolding of human experience possible within the Cherita.

The double triplet achieved by the number of stanzas and the incremental addition of lines gives a contained, understated, concentrated story, yet like a pebble dropped in water, ripples are generated with spreading thoughts about what happened before and after. The growing triplet reminded me of the Fibonacci Sequence, and even without the starting terms of zero and one, their symbolism is held within the this poetic form; in other words, before that opening line has been written down, earlier ideas have come together, gone through the creative filtering process and been consolidated in that first line. I would hesitate to call it an opening line. Yes it is what underpins the following stanzas through foregrounding and possibly foreshadowing of ideas, but that first line has to be a precipitation of a world of thoughts before it is set down on paper. That first line, be it one word or ten, becomes a continuation of experience, and a loaded coil which is released into the following stanzas.

The sequence of one, two and three, and all further numbers of the Fibonacci Sequence, produce through division of two adjacent numbers at a time, the golden ratio, a recurring number found when measuring the outward spiralling galaxies, the apparently circular arrangement of sunflower seeds and the perfect curve of the nautilus shell. The Fibonacci spiral, or simply the golden spiral is the visual manifestation of the golden ratio which can be traced in the Mona Lisa and Renaissance paintings.

A study of the adjacent sequence of one, two and three, describes patterns and processes in nature. It is a sequence with power generated from a focussed centre, either seen or unseen, allowing an unfoldment, development and structure which facilitates a richness in art, architecture and music.

The golden spiral captures our imagination. It is a powerful composition tool in portrait painting, drawing and photography. It is a self-contained and unfolding structure which the Cherita embraces in its poetic form of three stanzas, expanding from a collection of thoughts and feelings to articulate a story of human experience.

Penélope O´Meara

MSc,MA and PGCE (cantab.), MRSB
Associate King’s College (Theology)
IAFL, BPS (Forensic Division)
Dip.Astrol., British Association Vedic Astrolog


once upon a cherita
​by ai li


once upon a cherita
cherita is the malay word for story

once upon a cherita

those were giddy nights when
you were created in the late 90s

over the years you have stood tall
enriching all our lives
with tales of life, love and loss

ai li

When Kei very kindly asked me to write a non-fiction article for ATPO 27, my first reaction was one of mild panic. I use certain brain muscles to write my Haiku and Tanka where the discipline of holding back and being as minimal as one can is not only essential but completely necessary for keeping the integrity and power of my one to five line poems. To have to elongate these tried and tested muscles would require some kind of compromise which I was not sure I was prepared to do. I have been writing short form poetry for over 20 years or so, and to start waffling on about one of my creations in a learned way [which I tend to leave to the academics] was anathema to me. Besides writing micro-poetry, I also take urban photographs where I am always behind the lens and not in front of it. The same ethos of finding me in my work and not in long essays applied.

However, after a short spell in Innsbruck doing my mediumship and gorging on luscious sachertorte, strudel and amarena ice cream for ze little grey cells, I wondered if I was capable of producing this article on the cherita but in a fun way, thereby invoking the spirit of storytelling. I have always believed that our inner child is also the custodian and archivist of all our stories, both told and yet to be told.

I was born in what was British Malaya. My father’s family were Roman Catholics but my mother’s side of the family embraced Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Hinduism. Malaya was multi-racial in the true sense of the word. Practically all creeds and religions jostled for place in this pineapple shaped peninsula, and with these legions of immigrants came stories told and re-told by coolies in old godowns dimly lit by swaying Chinese paper lanterns, sari clad women tapping rubber in tiger infested plantations and white Russian Jews over smuggled vodka in their opulent Art Deco cinemas. I had little choice but to be a poet and writer in later life with my ears still ringing with lost dialects, timeless lullabies and more importantly with the triumphs of the indomitable human spirit.

It was no small wonder than the cherita appeared as manna from heaven. I had been in self-imposed exile for decades in the West and the acute longing for my spiritual home never quite went away. Now it was the words from way back that jostled in my mind wanting to be heard again, bringing all the ghosts of past and present back to life. No article on the cherita can be deemed kosher, in my opinion, without mentioning how much one poet and writer, Larry Kimmel, who also happens to be a dear friend, has made the form his second skin. He, along with many others have written many examples of which I am truly in awe. I am also deeply indebted to the many poets out there who have written, nurtured the cherita and given it more than nine lives. I mustn’t forget too, the vision of all the editors who embraced this then new form and who have published many fine examples of cherita. In those mad and giddy nights in the late 1990s, so many other forms, both linked and otherwise, were created by a number of poets including myself, who wanted new avenues to open up for emerging Haiku and Tanka poets. I posted most of these new forms on still’s website. These forms, including the cherita, allowed us to experiment and push the boundaries within what was religiously policed. The emergence of these forms gave us all much needed fresh air and the chance to breathe free of the straight jackets of dogma.

The cherita was also my humble way of paying hommage to loved ones, many of whom have passed into spirit, for gifting me with their wonderful tales that littered so much of my childhood with their timeless sense of wonder. At this point though, I am wondering if I have been meandering and going off on a tangent. To ensure that I have not, here are a few virgin examples of mine to perhaps help bring us back to what the cherita is all about :-

where did love go?

i’m in an empty room
with no furniture to call my own

a battered suitcase, one fading love letter
no one left to remind me
as to who i am

in a nutshell

the storm will not miss us
and the shutters will not help

i’m therefore running a bath
with himalayan salt
with my headphones on

belly dancer

a latter day mata hari
and her bejewelled costumes

her love of men in uniforms
taking her far into the desert
where they shoot her with paintball guns

in a chevrolet

at the old drive-in
with tumbleweed

you wake up
in a cold sweat
and it is 2010

stepping out into autumn

a year older
another fine line on your face

you find
a new russet for
your cheeks and mouth

red lanterns in the west garden

the last butterfly
bathed in blood hue

no one came home
after the long war
and the grasses have grown tall

your will has been read

the silence
in the solicitor’s panelled room

the money has long gone
along with the exotic eastern gems of old
and the splendid decaying mansions

at the masked ball

you are pierrette
to his pierrot

a crescent moon hangs
in the makeshift stage
littering tinsel


a stopping point
under the first evening star

in her djellaba
with her eyes kohled
burning frankincense and myrrh


While pausing for some fresh juice, I had a phone call from my sister out east letting me know that we had lost our only brother to a sudden fatal stroke. He died alone in a hospital in Toronto, 3,547 miles away from London where I now live, and 8,991 miles from where we were all born. We were not close as adults but the news stopped me in my tracks.

news of your death

we try to find your ex-wives
and your two estranged daughters

while you lie uncollected in the mortuary
we shared the same blood, had similar dreams of hope
i hear my heartbeat in this new darkness

for larry 1943 – 2016

Writing about the cherita unexpectedly brought about my own sad story to share. It seems fitting to close here as every story should have a beginning and an end. We do not need to go and find stories to write about. They live within and around us. It is by sharing these stories that we are reminded as to how blessed we are that we are not alone in how we live our lives, how we love, often again and again, and ultimately how we grieve to start the process of healing.

ai li


The original guidelines

CHERITA [1 — 2 — 3]
[pronounced CHAIR-rita]

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 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. It was also inspired by Larry Kimmel’s sensitive recognition of a shorter form contained within the opening three-verse stanza of ai li’s LUNENGA, which had been created on the 27 May 1997.


CHERITA  TERBALIK – inverted cherita
[3–2–1], [2–1–3], [1–3–2], [2–3–1] and [3–1–2]
[pronounced CHAIR-rita tur-bar-lake]


a funeral

no one
will be home

to sweep
the first falling leaves


ai li




The Cherita Terbalik can be written in the above stanza formats. Examples of formats [3–2–1] and [2–1–3] will be featured in forthcoming editions of the cherita. Terbalik is the Malay word for reversal or upside down.

Cherita Terbalik also tells a story and can be written with up to three partners.



The original guidelines for Cherita and Cherita Terbalik [inverted cherita] are as above and are the only official valid guidelines for the Cherita genre. There can be no variations to these guidelines without the permission, consent and approval of ai li, the creator of the genre. All rogue attempts to vary these guidelines remain rogue attempts and should be ignored when you write Cherita.


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