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Bob Lucky, General Editor & Ray Rasmussen, Technical Editor
January 2020 Vol. 15 No. 4

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Bob Lucky

Random Praise: Jonathan Humphrey’s “Calligraphy”

In CHO 15.3, Featured Writer Kala Ramesh writes that Basho, towards the end of his life, claimed that karumi, a lightness and lack of pretention being the simple gloss, was the most important aesthetic characteristic or principle of haikai writing. Of course, there are those who agree with Basho and those who don’t, and those who mistake simplicity with shallowness, and….

For this Random Praise, I’ve picked Jonathan Humphrey’s “Calligraphy” (CHO 15.3). It’s an imagery-packed prose poem with a haiku that could’ve tumbled out of the mouth of a Daoist hermit drinking with the moon. The subject, the natural calligraphy in the world we inhabit, is made for the rich visual imagery he employs. And the natural tone he creates is a perfect vehicle to convey it.

Jonathan Humphrey


Calligraphy needs a vacation from rice paper and parchment. Motor oil, chewing tobacco, cracked black walnut. These all look striking on pavement. The gentle curve of spilled mulch through an intersection beats most brushwork hollow, though few are willing to admit it. Moments after dawn I nearly took out a turkey vulture with my car. He was flying in hot for a taste of split open doe, and as I swerved, the tip of his wing drew a line of tremendous character through the dew on my windshield. I’ll dry up a thousand permanent markers in failing to create such a horizon. I know this is time well spent, trying to capture an ounce of a bird’s grace. Hell, we’re lucky to watch sparrows eat berries, then squirt out their signatures on branches and fences. That being said, there’s a blackberry patch up the road that’s been harvested by the same family for generations. Locals swear they’ve seen ghosts combing the knots of thorny bushes. Not full-figured phantoms, mind you. Just their stained hands reaching through the dusk in flourishes of purple ink. And by god, if that’s not calligraphy, I don’t know what is.

the snail whose track
is mostly loops –
I’ll drink with him