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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: August 2021
Micro-Poems: 44; 41; 47; &
  14 words
+ Publisher’s Note: 166 words
+ Poet’s Commentary: 572 words
By Jonathan Yungkans
[Featured Artist]

Four Cherita


I stopped remembering my dreams years ago 
as they starved themselves into transparency—
like Claude Raines in The Invisible Man, once 

he stripteased bandages and clothes and threw 
table and chairs around to show he was there—

oxygen molecules as alarm bells, pitched true. 




Wind spins a fig’s dry, yellowing leaves 

into spokes inside a black carriage wheel, 
pining as if longing for another autumn—

their whisper of bone ringed in iron tires, 
set to hooves’ rhythm, harnesses’ squeak 
and gravel humming its fractured refrain. 




Crows perched to watch one another’s backs 

along yellow pilings and white corrugated tin, 
watching the ocean, watching the bike path—

as if the ocean could come from any direction, 
as if they were inclined to choose a direction—
paint peeling from wood as if waves, wavering. 




steel rails hum 
their parallel 
dirge to the sky 

train wheels 

the moon 


—“steel rails hum” published previously in Cherita Poets on Site (Facebook, 20 June 2021)

Publisher’s Note

In July, I was thrilled when Jonathan Yungkans sent me a batch of poems to consider, comprising the ekphrastic “Woodcuts” (which appears here in MacQ-9) and several cherita (four of which you see above). In my thank-you reply, I had included this cheeky—and unsolicited—opinion about the micro-poems:

I kinda think only one of them may qualify as cherita, “steel rails hum.” The other[s] seem to have too much meat on their bones, so to speak. As I understand it, cherita, like haiku, senryu, and tanka, are concise and distilled.
BUT, I’m still learning about Japanese short-forms and their Western variants. The cherita is fairly new to me...[having first learned of it in 2017]...so I’m no expert just yet.

And I invited Jonathan’s thoughts in return. To my delight, he graciously went above and beyond by expending time and effort to respond with the following thoughtful letter-essay. Glad to say, my perspective has been expanded!

Poet’s Commentary: Summer 2021

I can understand the emphasis on cherita which are concise and distilled. At the same time, does this emphasis preclude the potential for thematic interplay among the form’s three stanzas? Such a working-out of interrelationships potentially means dense poems. For this density, I am guilty as charged. (Maybe that also makes some of my cadralore a relative chore for readers, or at least not easy going.)

When I pulled together most of the cherita in the latest batch, I was trying to follow guidelines that ai li supplies on thecherita.com:

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 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 27 May 1997.[1]

I was focusing largely on narrative potential, letting musical qualities of the language essentially fend for themselves. Maybe that is where I erred—in emphasis on story over image, multiplicity over singularity—and if I did err, the works are six-line poems, not cherita. This generalizing would be like readers of my cadralor “Morro Bay” calling it a haiku sequence. To me, those stanzas are not haiku. They are three-line poems that resemble haiku. (Writing “Morro,” by the way, was also the only time I wrote anything close to haiku without becoming self-conscious. Maybe that was because their being haiku didn’t enter my mind.)

Again, from ai li:

Storytelling is about healing the heart and mind.
It enables us to remember and not forget those who went before us, and also of those who loved or hurt us with their words and deeds. The recording, both oral and written, and sharing of stories is age-old. When we start to write, we bring to life the lost words of yesterday—from just a few moments ago to the time of our ancestors huddled around a roaring fire in some smoky cave of all our beginnings.[2]

The process of storytelling—and with it the process of diagnosis and potential healing—reminds me strongly of what Los Angeles poet Kate Braverman calls “poetry of exploration.” This avenue deals “with what the poet does not yet know...shining a flashlight into the pitch black,” which “has the advantage of stumbling on the brilliant connections that make us human.”* The story is told as the storyteller discovers its twists and turns for himself or herself. This axiom has driven much of my work for some time. It also might be something upon which I fell back too firmly for the cherita form to take. This confession comes from a writer who thinks poet Robert Creeley’s motto, “Form is never more than an extension of content,” is one of the greatest things since sliced bread.[3] As Bugs Bunny phrases it, “Maybe I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”


*Author’s Note:

Quotations by Kate Braverman are from Cameos: 12 Small Press Women Poets, edited by Felice Newman (The Crossing Press, 1978), p. 41.

—Commentary by Jonathan Yungkans is from email correspondence with Clare MacQueen in July 2021, and appears here with his permission.

Publisher’s Footnotes:

1. Larry Kimmel in paragraph 13 of his essay Flexible Forms: a personal speculation (Tripod, Winfred Press, 2007): “...[ai li] first devised the 1/2/3/ line unit as part of a linked form, called the Lunenga.”

2. From the home page of The Cherita online, by poet and publisher ai li:

3. See Robert Creeley in Conversation with Leonard Schwartz, radio interview conducted on 24 November 2003 on “Cross-Cultural Poetics” (KAOS 89.3 FM, Olympia, WA, USA); transcribed by Angela Buck, in Jacket 25 (February 2004).

(Links were retrieved in July and August, 2021.)

Jonathan Yungkans
Issue 9, August 2021

is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.

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