Poetry Pantry: The Dead are Near Us


Shared on Poetry Pantry at Poets United

The Dead are Near Us

We are never, ever alone, no
Because the dead are ever near us
Planted in the meadows
Dust scattered on the seashore

Or walking down the alleyway
Knocking over our garbage cans

May 31, 2015
sijo with zombie theme

I am a fan of the television series ‘The Walking Dead’, and this poem is an outgrowth of my zombie-addiction. I like the  image at the end of the zombie as a clumsy nuisance knocking over garbage cans rather than a horrifying destructive force.

The reason I like the sijo form is that it gives you more room to work with than in a haiku. I find the haiku very difficult to write well and it was only after writing many sijo that I finally managed to write haiku that I’m not ashamed of.

Korean sijo are written in three lines— because in the Korean alphabet three lines of the syllable length required would fit on the page. English sijo are usually written in six lines. Sometimes a solid block of six lines, sometimes with a space between each pair of lines, and sometimes as the one I have written above, with the first four lines in a block and the last two after a space.

This arrangement, which I borrowed from my favorite sijo book, puts the last two lines together because those lines are a turning, or counter-theme, or something unexpected, as well as the conclusion of the poem.

I tend to write sijo using a model poem— an old Korean sijo in English translation. I copy the model down, often in handwriting. I note how the model carries out the traditional sijo pattern and I count the syllables in the translation. When I write my own poem, I often have themes or keywords in mind. Sometimes I use some words or patterns from the model poem, sometimes not.

This is the model I used for the poem above:

In a valley where a stream flows,
I built a cottage on a ledge.
When I plough the soil under the moon
And lie down in the clouds there,

Even the sky and the earth seem to say,
Live and grow old along with us.

This is an anonymous poem, found in the book ‘Sunset in a Spider Web: Sijo Poetry of Ancient Korea’, adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron. As you can see I didn’t take much from the poem other than a lesson on how to construct sijo. No death, cremation of zombies in this poem. Sad, really.


A basic guide to writing sijo

13 thoughts on “Poetry Pantry: The Dead are Near Us

  1. Great! Another poetry form to try. However it is not the form but the content and your words put us right there at the scene with such a great effect.

  2. I like the sijo form too, though have not played with it very often. I also liked your process notes about using it; thank you. And I very much like the poem! Not a fan of zombies, I read it as being about ghosts. It works very well with that interpretation.

  3. this is an excellent article on the sijo form.
    i once read some translations of sijo poems and was hooked. tried writing some, but was never satisfied with them. 🙂
    i like your poem here, but i too, thought it was about ghosts. anyway, this shows it works!

  4. I like Z Nation better than the Walking Dead. But, the lady with the cookies is who I want to grow up to be. She is terrifying.

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