L E C T U R E S  *  E S S A Y S  *  I N T E R V I E W S


29 October 2023

Here are some comments for ai li’s You Tube video interview :

Thank you once again for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. Your interview has been very well received. Our Team is particularly impressed by your attention to detail in everything you do. Hope we can take a leaf out of your book.

Dr Rachna Singh
Editor, The Wise Owl


You are magnificent. And look wonderful.

You brought an elegance to your end of the interview.

I loved the interview. You were so calm, sincere, professional and genuine at once. I like the way you did the reading of your cherita. The blank page with the words, the words on the page with the words of your reading. Wonderful presentation, all around.

. . . it is a fine video, one that will hold up over the years. Nothing sloppy or haphazard. Warts and all, there weren’t many of them. And nothing to cringe about. The care with which you plan and do things is always with you, isn’t it? Anyway, you gave a wonderful presentation that can only help cherita.

Larry Kimmel




ai li, i loved the interview, well done!!! clear, concise & intriguing. it will be very popular. already with so many views 🙂

hope you are doing well. 

ps thanks for using my poem in the essay.

w. love, xxx

Caroline Skanne




I hope you are well. It was lovely to see your interview in The Wise Owl, congratulations.

Joanna Ashwell



My dear ai li,

It has been so long since we last spoke, but you are in my thoughts tonight after listening to your lovely and engaging interview with Neena. Congratulations on your beautiful presentation! It was wonderful to hear your melodic voice reciting such timeless work. With my impaired vision, I truly appreciate being able to listen to the poets I admire!

love & blessings,
Debbie Strange




I watched your YouTube interview with Neena Singh and wanted to tell you how impressed I was with it. You present yourself with elegant poise and a great deal of charisma, and the content your contributed proved to be very entertaining and informative.

I identified with your commentary regarding cherita coming out in one breath and the need to write it down quickly as opposed to poets who spend a great deal of time working to get their poems right. I am most active on X and follow one or two prompt hashtags. I find that when given a word to write a poem around, I rarely am able to come up with something without giving it a great deal of thought. If I spend an hour on a haiku and still have nothing, I quit. On the other hand, often there are times when haiku or cherita just come to me seemingly without thinking about it, and I’m scrambling to get the words down as soon as possible. If I don’t, I’m not mentally open to the next one that appears, and when they come they need little, if any, polishing, and they are typically my best.

Since I submitted my cherita to you in March, I have learned a great deal. Having been an adherent to the 5-7-5 pattern of haiku, I have since grasped a better understanding of making my poems more succinct and have abandoned following patterns. It has improved my haiku immensely, and I’ve also applied that to my cherita with equally good result.

The cherita you read on the video are just fabulous. What struck me most about them is the aspect of juxtaposition in them similar to that of haiku, and their succinctness. I had not fully been thinking in that regard when writing cherita, but after hearing your cherita I feel as though I have been educated on what frame of mind to be in as I continue to write and learn. I feel as though watching your video was a revelation of sorts, and incredibly valuable.

In the meantime, I just wanted to write you with my thoughts on your video. You are a thoroughly impressive person! I’m glad to have learned about you and your marvelous cherita.

Leon Tefft




1 October 2023


ai li’s transcript for her video interview for The Wise Owl

Here’s the transcript of ai li’s video Interview with Neena Singh, guest editor for The Wise Owl e-zine.

The video interview was recorded on 22 August 2023 and is now on You Tube.

You can view ai li’s video interview on You Tube www.youtube.com


The Interview: ai li
(Neena Singh, Guest Editor, The Wise Owl interviews ai li)
The Wise Owl talks to ai li, creator of Cherita, Gembun and Dua, three unique storytelling short form genres. She is also the editor of the cherita, founding editor and publisher of still, moving into breath and dew-on-line. She is also a Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain [FRPS], and an evidential spiritualist medium who trained at The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and The College of Psychic Studies, London. ai li’s poems have been widely published in the UK, USA, and Japan.
ai li has created 22 original, unique and exciting linked forms akin to Renku aka Renga, three of which are the Cherita, Gembun and Dua. These three storytelling short form genres have been widely embraced and have grown in popularity since ai li created two in 1997 and one in 2022. Cherita, Gembun and Dua bring out the storyteller which lives in all of us.
ai li taught a Cherita class at the Hampstead U3A, and this class produced 7 fine poets who have contributed to the cherita with their timeless stories. She encouraged and guided her students to write in one breath whenever possible. ai li strongly believes that with 6 lines, and other short form poetry, drafting can rob a poem of its immediacy and essence which inevitably means a Cherita, Gembun and Dua will lose their potency. She writes all her Cherita, Gembun, Dua, Tanka and Haiku poems in one breath and has been doing this for almost thirty years for four of these genres.
She lives quietly and mindfully in London and writes in a Rousseau inspired dream yard watched over by three old stone buddhas, a resident pair of hedge sparrows, and a chorus of blackbirds, robins, green finches, dunnocks, gold finches, chaffinches, blue tits, coal tits, long tail tits and a goldcrest.
Thank you ai li for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. We are delighted to interact with you.


Namaste Neena. Meera Naam ai li. Lovely to meet you at long last albeit virtually. How are you and your loved ones?

NS: You are a prolific poet and creator of several genres of poetry. Our readers would be keen to know what attracted you to poetry. What were the creative influences in your life that inspired you to become a poet?


Before I answer this question Neena, do I know this person you have just been describing?

Now it’s my turn to thank you Neena and The Wise Owl for very kindly inviting me for this tete-a-tete. I’ve scribbled some notes in anticipation of what you may be asking me and I hope it’s okay to refer to them as my dyslexia can rear its mischievous head, if I don’t.

Now to answer your question : Poetry fell into my life like an autumn leaf. I didn’t go looking for it.

I naturally have a very retentive visual memory of people, places, and of objects anyway, and this probably paved my way into the realms of poetry making me the Wordsmith, Storyteller and Word Healer I am today.

Certainly, One – Early Hollywood motion pictures played a large part. They were magnificent tableaux vivant with their stories, sets, costumes, lighting, lyrics and songs that were melodious, coherent and memorable.

And secondly the Monsoon : We were cooped up indoors from the daily relentless rain and ensuing floods often from October to March in my grandmother’s old house, and my maternal aunts and uncles encouraged us wee ones to combat boredom and ennui by making collages and crafts. They also made us listen to music on my grandmother’s old radiogram and captivated us all with stories galore.

Third one – small town blues – Growing up in a small town encouraged me to daydream, to create a magic flying carpet of my own.

And Four – a household of mixed faiths – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The coming together to share food, the ups and downs of life and stories – there was always laughter, joy and tears.

And lastly, leaving home at a young age, not quite 16. Learning to fend for myself and having to grow up quickly. Being on my own in a place where I wasn’t fluent in its lingo encouraged me to be unafraid to try out new ideas and food.

It also taught me about existential loneliness which resides in all my writing.

So, all five factors played major nurturing roles in my early life and so it’s probably safe and correct to say that they were all complicit in being tiger mums to me turning out as a poet.

NS: You have created 22 original linked forms akin to Renga, three of which are the Cherita, Gembun and Dua. As this edition is a Cherita special, a genre created by you, our readers would be curious to know how and why you created this genre.


Thank you. The Cherita was my humble way of paying homage to my ancestors and loved ones who are sadly no longer with us, and of giving my belated thanks. Their storytelling and the way they lived their lives imbued mine with the richness of their memories.

I am of Straits Chinese or Peranakan extraction. The women were called Nyonyas and the men Babas. The Straits Chinese were the descendants of Han Chinese men who settled in the Malay archipelago and married Javanese, Sumatran and Malay wives.

My family were immigrants from China to Malaya and they braved the oceans in sailing junks, braving new worlds that were full of danger and of life’s uncertainties.

They brought along with them their stories of the old kingdom. This tradition of oral storytelling was embraced by many immigrants in their newly 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.

As to how, well . . . The late 1990s was an electrifying time for me when I was energised to create these unique linked forms, one after the other, and which included Cherita and Gembun. Dua came much later. This was also the period when I first started to edit and publish still which showcased Haiku, Tanka and short poems. My 22 unique forms can be found with their guidelines and examples on my personal website www.aili.co.uk for anyone who may be interested in writing them.

It was also the period when I received firstly my Associateship, and then within 6 months of that, my Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. I hit the ground running so to speak. Time and Tide wait for no one.

I created the Lunenga on 27 May 1997.
It has 21 verses of 1-2-3 line stanzas with a gap between each stanza of 6 lines.
One link had to include the moon.

So technically speaking, Cherita was born within the Lunenga itself and under la luna.

Larry Kimmel, my dear friend and kindred spirit who’s also a fine Cherita and Tanka poet told me in his own words:

‘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;

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.’

The rest is now Cherita history. More detailed info can be found on the cherita website under the ORIGINS heading.

Thank you Neena.

NS: I was reading about your concept of ‘one breath poetry’ and your belief that drafting tends to loss of potency of the verse. Could you please elaborate on this concept.
I’ll try.
For me, writing in one breath is akin to prayer.
I write and have always written all my poems in a semi-altered state of consciousness. Without a doubt, this must have come from my meditation.
Producing a Cherita or any other short form poem, for me, has always felt like manna from heaven.
I’m old school and wedded to pen and paper, and when these gifts of words appear, there’s a rush to get them down on paper pronto before they vanish. And vanish they do on occasions when I am too slow to record them accordingly. I only come back to these poems in my writing journals when I need them again for publication or otherwise. They remain how they have been written in one breath, untouched and unaltered.
I’ve often been told that there are poets out there who spend hours, even weeks trying to get a poem ‘right’ and this concept of writing just floors me. With respect to them, we are not writing the Ramayana here, for heaven’s sake. The more minimal the poem, the stronger its true essence if written in one breath, in my opinion. Once the poem has been messed around the circuit so to speak, its true essence and AHA moment will be irretrievably lost.
As for its authenticity, that has also gone AWOL in the poetry swamp.
I am not advocating that everyone should write in one breath but if you are bold enough to attempt this way of writing minimal poetry, the rewards will surprise you. That I can assure you.
You will be opening yourself up for spirit or muse to come in freely with gifts of words that will descend as scented blossoms.
I have prepared 8 one breath Cherita from my book dream sequence [published May 2023] which I would love to read and share with your readers now if I may. These pieces will hopefully give them an idea of what I have intimated above.
I will read them twice as they are so minimal.

ai li
wordsmith * storyteller * word healer

cherita is now 27 years old
22 June 1997 – 22 June 2023

storytelling is oxygen for the soul
storytelling on its own is incomplete,
you have to feel what you have written

ai li

dream sequence by ai li
available on amazon in paperback and kindle



in empty space
i lean on

to start
the carousel



i’m a friend
of rain

i listen

once i too
fell from
the sky



time machine

who will build it now
to stop the princess

from getting
the black Mercedes

For Diana, Princess of Wales 1961-1997



finishing what you were

placed here
to do

you walk
into the mountains
to become sunrise



an old name
in Chinese
for fireworks

smoke flowers

a banquet of echoes
for the night sky



scented page

what was
in here

the Alhambra



father’s voice
on a still night
he hasn’t left

in dreamtime

even when
leaves fall



nothing left
for me
to do

but write myself

out of
this empty room

all cherita copyright © ai li 2023


NS: You have been teaching Cherita and other related forms. Your Hampstead U3A class produced 7 fine poets. What would be your advice to upcoming poets of Cherita and related genres?
For starters, discard the straight jacket of rules that police thought and most importantly read, read, read as many good Cherita or other short form poems, as you possibly can.
Keep your eyes and ears open for stories wherever you may be if you find it difficult to rely on your imagination or memories to tell a story. 
If your wish is to be a bona fide Cherita storyteller, then write about what you know and not about what you don’t. When I have my editor hat on, it is often very obvious to me when a poem is not kosher in sentiment.
Try not to repeat an opening line or subject matter. Unless each version of a Cherita is totally different in content to the next, it can be boring for an editor to read the same opening line or subject matter again and again. 
When I was editing and publishing still in the 90s, I once received a submission of 30 Haiku, each of which started with the word butterfly. I don’t think I need to finish this sorry tale for you Neena.
There is also a tendency for poets to only wish to read their own published pieces. This will only narrow their writing skills. One has to read widely, not just one’s own poems, and one can learn hugely from the varied ways of writing Cherita, Gembun and Dua. My own personal books of poetry reflect the versatility and flexibility that is inherent in the DNA of the Cherita, Gembun and Dua genres. 
Think of writing Cherita, Gembun and Dua as different disciplines of writing. I think of them as a workout or a spa day for my brain cells and I enjoy switching genres in any one sitting.
I would also advise reading your poems out loud when you have written them. If the words don’t flow or a word jars, then start again.
I began by reading every submitted poem to me out loud but these days I can hear them in my mind as I read them. It came with practice.
The rest is hard graft. Pure and Simple.
My advice is purely for the purposes of publication. If you are writing Cherita for a private daily journal, then obviously you don’t need to be quite as stringent.
I have prepared another 8 one breath Cherita from my book nothingness [published November 2022] which I would love to read and share with your readers now if I may. I hope these Cherita will also give them an idea of what I have intimated above.
I will read them twice as they are so minimal.

nothingness by ai li
available on amazon in paperback and kindle


the silverfish and i

get acquainted
over an old ghost story

when winter arrives
on the page
of the dead



honeysuckle cottage

i left you behind
30 years ago in my dreams

but on this cold night
you perfume
all my longings



the hologram of you

will always be
in my consciousness

i still talk to you
about moonlight
and old dreams



they have all gone

before me
the quiet

of chinese new year
with opera
in the other world



my inner scars

there be

to burn
them off



in a room

without language

then the moon




her night

with rhinestones
and sequins
sewn into dreams



a life
apart from poetry

i cook, clean,
launder, iron
and bake

sublime cherry madeira

all cherita copyright © ai li 2023


NS: You are not only an acclaimed & published poet in your own right but are also founding editor of journals, still, moving into breath and dew-on-line. How do you manage to balance these two equally demanding roles?


I find ‘acclaimed’ a trifle hard to accept Neena. My poet profile is well below the radar in my opinion as I am not on social media at all.

However, ‘published’ I can accept with open arms as it is fact.

As for balancing both roles, well …

For my body, I try and eat healthily and in moderation, drink lots of water, sleep deeply and well and take some form of exercise even though I am not a sporty person.

I am also teetotal and drugs are a no no for me.

For my mind, I meditate and my soul honours the ancestors.

Most importantly, I don’t take myself seriously but I do take my work and any projects that I put my mind to very seriously indeed.

It is also safe to say that I have a life outside of poetry which is equally rewarding and which grounds me.

I don’t know if what I have intimated is how one balances two equally demanding roles but it works for me.

Contemporary poetry for the most part is about articulating internal thoughts and musings. Narrative poetry like Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient mariner’ is no longer a genre of interest. Also narrative poetry is traditionally long. Stepping away from tradition and contemporary trends, you have made cherita a mouthpiece for flash fiction & tiny stories. What made you look for and find this gap in current poetry genres?


I have M. Kei Editor and Publisher of Atlas Poetica to thank for calling Cherita flash fiction. Here is what Kei originally wrote :

‘This form created by ai li has proven to have a staying power that will see it entrenched alongside the cinquain as an enduring poetic form. True to its storytelling origin, many cherita read like the world’s shortest flash fiction. They combine the evocative power of tanka with the narrative of a personal story, like the vignettes we glimpse as we sit in a café and watch the world go by.’

I couldn’t have written it so beautifully. Thank you again Kei.

I didn’t go looking for a gap in the current poetry genres. That would be so calculating of me to do so. Frankly, I was too busy travelling, ticking off my bucket list, after emerging from a long union as it so happens.

Being the free spirit that I was then and still am now, it was only a matter of time before the memory of the proverbial campfire storytelling get togethers would draw me into a bout of nostalgia to initiate a 21st century revival.

And I did with Cherita and my own books.

I can’t make anyone write Cherita, Gembun or Dua. I’m no magician. If Cherita has become a mouthpiece for flash fiction and tiny stories, then there must have been a collective hunger out there for timeless minimal storytelling with Cherita and its two siblings Gembun and Dua.

NS: What is the cherita award?


the cherita award is an exciting new project from my 1-2-3 press.

Why not become a Cherita storyteller to enthral a new generation of storytellers?

All you will need is pen, paper, imagination and an open invitation for spirit and muse to grace your page.

I selected, edited, collated and published our first Cherita book river lanterns this august by a solo poet Joanna Ashwell who’s a regular Cherita contributor. I loved the challenge and decided then and there, to offer to publish more Cherita books from solo poets.

In a nutshell, poets should submit 30 previously unpublished Cherita as a presentational portfolio.

If the 30 virgin Cherita pass muster, they will go on to the next stage which is to submit another 170 virgin Cherita for me to finally select the entire 90 poems required for their Cherita book which will be published by me.

However, if only 20 are found to pass muster, they will also go on to the next stage but they have to submit another 180 virgin Cherita, 10 more, for me to finally select the entire 90 required for their Cherita book.

The best news is that the selected poets for the cherita award will not have to pay a penny to enter or win the cherita award and it will be ongoing.

the cherita award is gratis to enter or win and open to all.

Having said this, their Cherita will have to be timeless and top notch to make the grade.

Full information can be found on the cherita website www.thecherita.com

I have prepared the last 8 one breath cherita from my book the promise of rain [published May 2022] which I would love to read and share with your readers if I may. These pieces will hopefully give them an even better idea of what I am looking for in terms of Cherita.

I will read them twice as they are so minimal.

the promise of rain
by ai li

available on amazon in paperback and kindle


she is always writing

in her dream
by a window

the baby dragon
at her feet



a fortune teller

the empty house

night must fall
before i ask her
where love is



this aging place

you used
to call

the colour of stove
in north wind



a cup of tea

of snow
i wrap

my shadow up
in cashmere



i’ve become a peacemaker

for my soul
it’s happy
to sit home now

make fudge
and not attempt Everest



the word homeless

another old
winter story

that takes
breath away



the call

from someone
who died young

to come out
and play
a ghost moon



the illusionist

telling me
it’s all smoke

and mirrors
my shadow nods
in the empty room

all cherita copyright © ai li 2023


NS: You are an evidential spiritualist medium who trained at The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and The College of Psychic Studies. Please tell us a little about this.


My mother lost two of my older sisters when they were children. I never knew them as I was the youngest in the family. The fact that they were buried separately, with no grave markers in the wilderness haunts me to this day. This was the norm then with children who died suddenly before they reached adulthood.

When I was going through a tough emotional patch in my life, a dear friend recommended a medium in South London who she felt could help me through this difficult period.

I found myself in a bright but small, rather nondescript room, sitting on an office chair and facing this total stranger of a medium. He looked straight at me and said, and I quote ‘2 young women have come through and they tell me they are your sisters. They are not of this world and they are both hugging you and letting you know that you will be okay.’

That broke the dam and I was sitting there sobbing my heart out.

Two sisters who I did not know, and who died young, had returned grown up as young compassionate women to comfort their youngest sibling.

How could this medium, a total stranger, know anything about my family history yet his words touched and comforted me deeply, and it changed my life and helped make a difference for me at my time of crisis. I wasn’t alone.

This was how my mediumistic journey unfolded and I went on to ‘train’ with two august spiritualist organisations to enable me to share love and messages from beyond, with the bereaved, who most needed to hear from their absent loved ones.

I won’t bore you with more tales as this is a poetry chinwag, suffice to say that it is so emotionally rewarding and uplifting when a message can be received by the intended, with the realisation that love does not simply disappear when the ferryman comes for all of us.

Thank you.


NS: You are a Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Please tell us what triggered your interest in photography?


Two names – Henri Cartier Bresson and Minor White.

As you may know – Cartier Bresson was French and a consummate humanist storyteller. He was often called the father of photojournalism, and he was also one of the founding members of Magnum photos in 1947.

Here are some of his quotes that inspired me apart from his timeless black and white photographs :

First quote – “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”


Two – “Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should?”


And Three – “As time passes by and you look at portraits, the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.”

So, Photography for me Is about capturing the impermanence of what’s around me and Cartier Bresson’s quotes can be applied to Cherita and the short form poetry that I write.

I have a personal footnote about the great man which I will elaborate after my comment on Minor White.

Now we come to Minor White –

Minor White was an American photographer known for his black-and-white prints of landscapes, architecture, and men. His interest in Zen philosophy and mysticism was evident in his meticulous photographs.

I’ve chosen 3 quotes of his which have inspired me and become personal mantras :

One – ‘No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer it has chosen.’


Two – ‘…innocence of eye has a quality of its own. It means to see as a child sees, with freshness and acknowledgment of the wonder; it also means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child – with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder.’


And lastly – ‘Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts.’

I apply the same one breath method to my photography. When genius loci steps in, I click on the shutter and receive my gift. There is no dilly dallying, no prevarication.

And now, for my personal note on Cartier Bresson :

When I was a student in Paris umpteen moons ago, I met an elderly Indonesian lady who took me under her wing. Her fellow country woman friend invited her to visit one afternoon, and my friend very kindly asked me to come along.

Madame Cartier was a formidable Javanese lady who was warm, full of life, and who corrected me for calling Dutch toast French toast.

Whilst these two ladies were sipping tea and chatting in Dutch, I looked around the room we were sitting in and noticed these black & white photographs of the people of Paris hanging on the wall. The ingenue that I was, was mesmerised by how striking and special these images were when Madame Cartier came up to me and whispered that they were by Cartier Bresson. I was too young then to have fully comprehended what that name implied.

Years after my father’s death, I found a large stash of all my handwritten letters from Paris which my father had carefully tied up with ribbon now faded.

In amongst them was my letter describing that dream afternoon spent in Madame Cartier’s apartment. I had often wondered if I had imagined that afternoon visit over the years, but here was the proof in my own young handwriting.

I often ask myself if my deep interest in Photography was first kindled in that dim late afternoon light of a Parisian room when Cartier Bresson ‘spoke’ to me as a doyen of a storyteller with his humanist photographs.

Thank you.

Our readers would be keen to know if you are working on a book as we speak. Please share details with our readers.


A number of books are in the pipeline. I am immensely possessive of my own virgin work. If it hadn’t been for my other half, these poems of mine would not have seen the light of day.

He patiently persuaded me to let them be seen and read and I am now so glad and grateful to him that I did let go.

Whenever I have a small window of opportunity, I start working on a new book to enlarge the stable of my own unpublished volumes of Cherita, Gembun, Dua, Tanka, Haiku and other new forms of mine.

I have to admit that the fear of not being able to produce any more poems one day is a constant and unwelcome companion. This fear rides tandem with my omnipresent rage against the dying of the light.

However, the combined fear and rage keep me on my toes writing deep into the mortal’s night.

So, to answer your question Neena, yes, there is always a book of mine sitting in abeyance for publication. I am not someone who rests on my laurels. I am not proud of it but I am driven.


NS: If I were to ask you to describe yourself as a poet in 3 adjectives, what would they be?


This is a tricky one and I should proceed with caution here.

I have always adhered to my dear much missed late father’s advice which was that one’s voice out there has to be thrown by others and not by oneself.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with these 3 adjectives which I hope my father would have approved of :

Truthful – Fearless – Independent


NS: Thanks ai li for taking time out to speak to The Wise Owl. We are honoured and delighted to speak with you. We wish you the best in all your creative pursuits and hope that you make the world richer with new genres of poetry and storytelling.


Thank you for having me.
Dhanyavaad Neena or should it be
Bahut Shukirya if we have been informal with our tete-a-tete.

I thought I would be nervous but you made me feel so at home. Bless you.

Thank you Neena.



19 September 2023

ai li’s essay on cherita, gembun and dua for Rhyvers 

My essay for Haiku Blossoms was live on Saturday 16 September 2023 on the Rhyvers website on Column #22 . This column by Neena Singh is for the appreciation of Japanese short forms of poetry.

Rhyvers is an impassioned Digital Media Portal brimming with a whole gamut of undercurrents, offering waves of endless space for Art and Art Connoisseurs. The Rhyvers link is https://rhyvers.com/hk22/

My grateful thanks to Neena and to all the poets whose Cherita, Gembun and Dua graced my essay.

You will find immediately below the essay Neena kindly invited me to write on Cherita, Gembun and Dua.

In light,

ai li


one of ai li’s three old stone buddhas in her rousseau dream yard
photograph copyright © ai li FRPS 2023




i, storyteller


sipping tea

a harvest moon

we are no longer
the scented steam

ai li
from sandalwood dreaming by ai li


The stories and voices remain but they have all gone.

La Luna always takes me home.

As a family, we would tell stories and eat sweetmeats under a full moon during the mid-autumn festival, to honour the moon goddess, 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. Then there was the arrival 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. And as always, there were stories and storytelling, long into memory’s night, which was part and parcel of who we were in our newly adopted homeland.

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 the words and stories from way back jostled in my mind, wanting to be heard again, bringing all the ghosts of past and present, back to life.

Then a gift arrived on 27 May 1997 and the Lunenga [1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3,] was born, where one link has to include the moon.

Its first stanza format of 1-2-3 soon became Cherita on 22 June 1997, less than a month later.

Cherita is now in its 27th year [1997-2023] and it continues to be, not only a storytelling medium, but also Flash Fiction in 6 lines.

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

CHERITA TERBALIK or inverted cherita [pronounced CHAIR-rita tur-bar-lake] on the other hand gives you [3–2–1], [2–1–3], [1–3–2], [2–3–1] and [3–1–2] stanzas and it too can be written in collaboration with up to 3 writing partners.

The Cherita genre tells a story of Life, Love, Loss and Renewal. It was created by me on the 22 June 1997 to honour my maternal 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 my Lunenga, which had been created on the 27 May 1997. www.thecherita.com


Here is the true essence of what timeless Cherita is all about :


in the pond
in the water

yet above it
pure and

the lotus

Neena Singh
from the sweetness
edited by ai li


a night for dreaming

the nile
your window

the pharaoh’s moon

ai li
from how soft the light
by ai li


a thousand paper cranes

none can fly
as time does

I stop
number three

Jackie Chou
from the aroma
edited by ai li


who knew
we would fall
in love

with a room

of memories

Connie Pittman-Ramsey
from cloud shadows
edited by ai li




dying snowflakes

Larry Kimmel and ai li
from dark to light
edited by ai li




the past

Sherry Grant
from words in my dreams
edited by ai li





Caroline Skanne
from words in my dreams
edited by ai li


the tree quiet
no leaf

as if
it knows

the meaning of silence

James Haddad and Kathabela Wilson
from ink stain
edited by ai li


If you haven’t as yet, do wake the storyteller that lives in you, and come join Cherita’s caravanserai of storytellers.

Someone has to keep the storytelling campfire burning into legend.

Have pen will write, and having written, spirit moved me on to two other minimal forms of storytelling that would also arrive as manna from heaven.

The Zen of storytelling in Gembun . . .

the colour

of night
fast asleep
in the lake

ai li
from snow clouds
edited by ai li

And then in Dua :

i can hear the night

in a passing train

ai li
from dancing shoes by ai li


distil, distil, distil with Gembun and Dua.
There are no syllable restrictions or seasonal words required for you to write Gembun and Dua.

Be the free spirit you were meant to be in ink and you will find the true essence of storytelling.

Gembun and Dua are siblings of Cherita. Cherita and Gembun were created by me in 1997, and Dua was the twinkle in my eye that finally became a reality on 4 March 2022.

The Gembun [1-3 or 1-4] [pronounced Gem-Boon] is made up of either a one-word first link or anything up to one sentence, to be capped by a haiku of up to four lines.

Gembun has to include an element of suggestion in either the opening sentence, the haiku or in both. It was created by ai li on the 12 June 1997, inspired by Larry Kimmel’s TIBUN.

Gembun Terbalik [3-1 or 4-1] [pronounced Gem-Boon Tur-Bar-Lake] now joins this minimal form and is an inverted Gembun. It is written with a haiku of 3 or 4 lines as its opening stanza and then capped by a one liner.

The Gembun and Gembun Terbalik have to include an element of suggestion in either the opening sentence or haiku, the haiku or opening sentence or in both. Gembun was created by ai li on the 12 June 1997, inspired by Larry Kimmel’s TIBUN. www.aili.co.uk/gembun/

The Gembun genre can cover births, deaths, anniversaries, betrayals, disappointments, abortions, bankruptcies, joblessness, vendettas, suicides et al, and also about travel, work, hobbies, light and dark passions, eating disorders, night shifts, cross dressing, the erotic, mindfulness and any other subject matter that I may have missed or forgotten. The list is endless.

I will now pave the way for both Gembun and Dua to speak their Zen, tip toeing in with twelve amuse-bouche below to quietly tantalise your writing palate :


came back
to see

if we were ok

James Haddad
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


on weeds

Milky Way

Neena Singh
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


a new notepad

to wake
the storyteller

ai li
from snow clouds
edited by ai li


on my hands and knees

a baby spider
out of the door

Genie Nakano
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


wind chimes

a bamboo alley
sways in the breeze
my summer dress

Laughing Waters
from snow clouds
edited by ai li


poet’s house

the view makes more sense

Tim Gardiner
from snow clouds
edited by ai li



I’ll try again
to learn the robin’s song

Keith Evetts
from snow clouds
edited by ai li


night sky

the crescent moon

R. Suresh Babu
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


half past twelve

a mosquito’s
under her duvet

Radhamani Sarma
from paper talisman
edited by ai li


hidden path

secret for so long
she forgot
the way back home

Connie Pittman-Ramsey
from paper talisman
edited by ai li


out of
a quiet

a storm

Sharon Hawley
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


the trees

and then silence

Lorelyn De la Cruz Arevalo
from windswept rain
edited by ai li


With Dua, you may need to practice morphing into a poetry perfumer to capture the essence of an even more minimal moment in time.

Dua is a short form storytelling poetry genre of only 2 separate lines of 1-1 [the ultimate 2-piece] and can be written with up to two poets.

The Cherita, Gembun and now Dua, in my opinion, embody the true essence of short form poetry which is saying more with fewer words.

Dua can be written with up to two poets.

The secret is to distil, distil and distil to arrive at the essence of your story.

The pause between the two lines is the key as it amplifies the quiet before the relevance of the story sets in.

What you want to avoid is writing a diary or personal journal entry.

Like most linked forms, Dua can be written and used in a sequence if preferred but it remains at its most powerful as it was created – as a 2-line poem that need no other distractions, and the genre shares the same strong spirit of storytelling as Cherita and Gembun.www.aili.co.uk/dua/


Here are twelve dua amuse-bouche to further tantalise your writing palate :


i must make a pilgrimage

a poem

Larry Kimmel
from remembering
edited by ai li


near the moon gate

falling leaves

David Cox
from remembering
edited by ai li


threadbare blanket

the holes in the night

Jackie Chou
from remembering
edited by ai li


memory leaves

like real people

Madeleine Basa Vinluan
from remembering
edited by ai li


your love left

under my pillow

Kathabela Wilson
from remembering
edited by ai li


a lone leaf

on an empty road

paula song sarmonpal
from remembering
edited by ai li


after walking on water

she came right back

Sharon Hawley
from remembering
edited by ai li


the cut flowers wilting

the vase beautiful

Pitt Büerken
from remembering
edited by ai li


the leaf at her toe

says i have fallen

James Haddad
from remembering
edited by ai li


the verandah empty now

with rain

ai li
from remembering
edited by ai li


this afternoon… at the turn of the

river mother waits for me with fairy tales

Partha Sarkar
from remembering
edited by ai li



calling me home

paula song sarmonpal
from remembering
edited by ai li


Find the quiet in you with Cherita, Gembun and Dua.

ai li FRPS
wordsmith – storyteller- word healer

Creator of Cherita, Gembun and Dua
Editor and Publisher of the cherita
Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society

all cherita, gembun and dua copyright © ai li, the cherita and the attributed poets above 2023





And now for some great news for September.

Haiku Blossoms a column by Neena Singh for the appreciation of Japanese short forms of poetry, on the Rhyvers website will be featuring “i, Storyteller” my essay on my three unique storytelling short form genres Cherita, Gembun & Dua. Neena is no stranger to the cherita having had her Cherita and Gembun grace our pages, with Dua to come, and she has informed me that the essay will be in Column #22, in September 2023. I have included in my essay timeless examples by various poets from selected editions of Cherita, Gembun and Dua.

Watch this space.

ai li




once upon a cherita . . .
ai li’s lecture at the U3A, Belsize Park, London

on Wednesday 20 March 2019 



once upon a cherita . . . with ai li

on Wednesday 20 March 2019
in Room 2:21 at the U3A Belsize Park
starting at 11.35 am

You are invited to an intimate morning of storytelling
with ai li, wordsmith, word healer and storyteller. She is the
creator of the Cherita, a 6 line poetry genre. The poems, though
minimal in content, will move you with their personal truths
and the deepest of emotions She will take you on
a healing journey through Life, Love and Loss.


a piano

in the soft dark

of early evening
i’m in your
memory now


ai li



In a voice, which has been described as
a compassionate hug, her words will bring prayer to poetry,
and in the after silence, these words echo.

ai li is an internationally published Straits Chinese short form poet. One of her six word haiku has been included
in ‘Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years’ published by WW Norton & Co which features work by Jack Kerouac, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Seamus Heaney
and other literary giants.

She is also the author of three books on cherita, twenty five books on Cherita, Tanka and Haiku, the founding editor and
publisher of still, moving into breath and dew-on-line,
and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
She teaches an ongoing Cherita writing course at U3A in London. www.thecherita.com


This was my A5 flyer which I designed for my U3A lecture




I tweaked my original Singapore lecture a little, to better suit a UK audience, and this version too, was very well received.

A bouquet of exquisite fresh exotic dark orchids was in the lecture room when I arrived for my presentation. I was extremely moved by this well-wishing gift. This more than generous gesture was from Maryalicia Post, a fine Cherita writer and poet and loyal contributor to the journal. I would like to thank her again, this time in print, for her kindness and thoughtfulness.

My mother bred prize winning orchids after we all left the nest and I was really moved by Maryalicia’s thoughtfulness [who was unaware of my family connection with orchids] which made her gesture the second auspicious moment for me on the day of my lecture. I felt my mother close that morning and also my maternal grandfather and he would have been 119 years old on 20 March 2019. I was offered the date at short notice and I knew I had to accept it for the reason mentioned earlier.


This was my beautiful bouquet of dark orchids from Maryalicia Post which I photographed in my Rousseau-like  dream yard where I write and contemplate. Eleven days on, these orchids are still singing their deep dark shades of red indoors on my dining room table.


My heartfelt and grateful thanks also go out to everyone who attended, especially my London friends, who very kindly took time off from their busy schedules to be with me. I was very touched by their generous support and presence.

We all sat down together and tucked into a delicious lunch at our café after the lecture and had a whale of a time catching up on all our news.


ai li




Thank you very much for your talk & poetry readings yesterday. I found them very moving and so did others.

Ken Baldry, London




You were only wonderful. It was a very original presentation and very moving. One of the ladies there said she found it very sad and almost cried in one part, so it just shows how with such few lines you can manage to convey so much emotion.

Looking forward to sharing more things with you in the future!

Ruth Corman, London




Your talk was so inspiring and I echo some of the audience in saying how restful and healing it felt.

I loved seeing the photographs of your family, learning about the history and I really enjoyed listening to you recite your Cherita.
Thank you for asking me to come.

Nicole Tinero, London




We enjoyed your talk very much, especially for Amy who has not seen photos like the ones you presented for some time (though I dare say she may have some old ones tucked away somewhere, ne’er to be found!).

Many thanks once again for inviting us to U3A.

Shirly Ling, London




Many of your Cherita and the way you presented them, the 3 themes, plus combining with origins, family heritage, visuals are resonating with me …… you did well. I understand it’s not easy to do what you did.

Alan Cousins, London




Wishing you well with your lecture, and wishing you a good audience. x 

Larry Kimmel, USA




. . . I would have loved to have been there myself..

It’s especially happy news that the talk went well ‘and all the chairs taken’.

You can enjoy a deep breath and a bit of a rest now.. Well done!


I can well imagine the feedback is heartwarming… Your ancestors and I would expect nothing less..


Maryalicia Post, Ireland




Hope your lecture went well today, very nicely timed to coincide with the vernal equinox.

I would like to have been able to attend, but it’s a little too far for a day trip, instead I have bought a kindle version of night rain to console myself.

Robert Horrobin, Scotland




. . . just wanted to send you a quick note to say I’m thinking of you & hope all is well etc…

Caroline Skanne, Kent





ai li’s  once upon a cherita . . . lecture
at the Peranakan Museum, Singapore
on Monday 7 January 2019


one of the many cherita i shared with the museum audience :



the tea pavilion
now deserted

steam from osmanthus buds
my embroidered sleeve
older than this century


ai li

update 30 november 2019 – I have just added my original blurb for the Peranakan Museum because all their links have been disabled except for their homepage due to their renovations. Please click on the image below to read the blurb I wrote and designed for my lecture:


The two Peranakan Museum links below unfortunately have been disabled by the Museum whilst it is undergoing its makeover :


For those of you who would like to see a photograph of the Peranakan Museum that does the Museum more justice than my hurried snapshot, taken on  a very hot day, here is a current link to its home page which shows the building as its best and in its full glory.


The Museum has now closed for its makeover. I feel blessed that I was able to give my lecture in the Ixora Room in January of this year.


Facade of the Peranakan Museum, Singapore taken by me on 5 January 2019 – two days before my lecture.

The Peranakan Museum is the major museum for the Straits Chinese, and not only does it explore the art and culture of Straits Chinese communities in South East Asia, but it houses one of the finest & most comprehensive public collections of Peranakan objects. Peranakan simply means ‘local born’ in Malay. The Peranakan Chinese are the offspring & descendants of traders from the southern ports of china such as Amoy [now Xiamen], who then settled & made their homes in the Dutch East Indies [now Indonesia] & the Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore. As early as the 14th century, these foreign traders married local women, likely to have been of Javanese, Balinese or Batak origin.

I am Straits Chinese or Peranakan as we call ourselves, from my mother’s side of the family and I was hugely honoured by the invitation for me to give a presentation at this prestigious museum where a large number of my late mother’s personal collection of fine kebayas, sarongs, and related accessories have found a permanent home.


One set of my mother’s large collection of sarong and kebaya displayed in the museum’s glass cabinet, two mannequins down from the off-white cheongsam or qipao of Kwa Geok Choo,  the wife of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore and the mother of Lee Hsien Loong, the third and current Prime Minister. This photograph was taken by me on 5 January 2019, two days before my lecture. 






Thank you for a beautiful and spiritual evening at the Peranakan Museum. You transformed the Ixora at the start of 2019 with soft but powerful words, inviting reflections beyond Peranakan culture on Life, Love, Loss and Renewal. The pace and pairing of the images with the poems were touchingly evocative.

Jackie Yoong, Curator, Peranakan Museum, Singapore





I would like to thank you for the inspiring session last Monday at the Peranakan Museum.

Denisonde Simbol, Events Organiser, Peranakan Museum, Singapore




I just wanted to write to thank you again for your reading at The Peranakan Museum. I hadn’t heard of the Cherita before but after your talk, it seemed to me that it is so clear and necessary for this form to exist (I feel it is especially beautiful when used to express the nuances of the archipelagic thought.)

Amrit Dhillon, Singapore and UK




Glad to hear it. Cherita is regularly in the submissions for ATPO. You’ve created a form with staying power.

M Kei, USA




Close to the time of your talk at the Peranakan Museum, i have been thinking of you in the recent days and now. I hope it has been a heartwarming emotionally deep and satisfying time for you! . . . Sending love and cherita joy to you from afar. Wish I could be there in person. My heart is with you, and hopefully we can meet in person in UK this year.

Kathabela Wilson, USA



Wow! Another masterpiece! Congratulations! Thank You Miss Ai Li. Like your amazing simple English language poetry talk at recent Peranakan Museum in Singapore. It was very very arty to understand with feelings. It reminded me of my belated English literature teacher, Mr Dudley DeSouza who once taught me on poetry during my secondary school days that I miss dearly.

Also miss my Spanish, General Manager, Mr Lionel De Rosario who writes with wonderful Oxford Engish(like you) during his suffering in ww2 during the 🇯🇵 3-1/2 years Occupation in Singapore and the Prisoner of War in building the Thailand railway bridge over River Kwai.

Keep up your wonderful works. It’s really Extra Excellence Work on Poetry Art.

Anderson Teo, Singapore




It was a pleasure to hear you at the PM. What a great introduction to your writing and it made me travel far in my head ! I loved being introduced to your family.

I will go back to the museum with interested eyes !

Charlotte Thesiger, Singapore




Congratulations!!! Of course I knew you would bring the roof down . . . I hope you’re having a fab time . . .

Caroline Skanne, UK





. . . I enjoyed the reading very much. I love all the old pictures. Your reading voice was soothing and very calming.

Irene Cheng, Singapore




Marvelous, ai li. Been thinking about you.

Larry Kimmel, Godfather of Cherita, USA



. . . you must be relieved it is over and that it went so well. What a wonderful start to 2019.

Robert Horrobin, UK



That’s good news, ai li, and doesn’t surprise me. Enjoy your visit to Singapore in the days to come.

Michael McClintock, USA




Wow, congratulations, my dear ai li!

Of course I had absolutely no doubt that you’d shine! I wish I could’ve been there to soak up the energy you would’ve created.

Samantha Sirimanne Hyde, Australia




Oh, I am so happy (and not surprised at all) to hear this wonderful news, my friend! You are an inspiration, and you deserve every success that comes your way.

Debbie Strange, Canada




So happy to meet you, but the timing was too short and no time to talk.

 . . . your presentation was perfect and the audience appreciated your knowledge and experience as a professional of Cherita and more in the History of your family.

You are a perfectionist !

Anne-France Salmon Stevenson, USA



wish u could come to the usa and do it.

stanford forrester, usa




I hope all went well and no doubt your pleased to be safely back in Blighty.

Alan Cousins, UK




I have missed you and know that your presentation went amazingly well.

Daniela Becher, UK



Absolutely lovely Ai Li, to read your account of your Singapore visit.

Keep it up.

kala ramesh, india




It has been a great pleasure to read your email. Anthropological journey of man is indeed fascinating. I am glad to know that you are sharing your PowerPoint presentations. I shall love to read to fine tune the new genre. Presently I am writing an article on Gandhi for an Indo- USA Book Project.
Pravat Padhy Kumar. India




And lovely to read in greater detail about your lecture in Singapore…and to know you are giving it in March in London.. where I’m sure it will be equally well received.

Maryalicia Post, Ireland





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