West Point resident Linda Toren, a poet and teacher, can now add published author to her list of accomplishments.
Toren has written one haiku–a type of short-form poetry originating in Japan–every day for five years, and now hundreds of those poems have been published in a 166-page collection. The book, “Raven Braids the Wind: Haiku: A Life in Syllables,” was recently published by Calaveras County-based Manzanita Writers Press and has consistently ranked on Amazon’s Best Sellers List for haiku and poetry.
Press for Toren’s book describes the collection as “at once a reflection on nature, diary of days, and exploration of life…” and that “whether or not you write haiku, you will be able to appreciate their accessibility and simplicity and find yourself opening doors and windows to companionable thoughts and feelings.”
“Raven Braids the Wind” is Toren’s first book of poetry to be published, though the poet has had her works in published anthologies including “Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach,” and has even created her own spiral-bound books. Toren says it was “good fortune” that her spiral-bound draft copy of this book landed in front of Monika Rose, director of Manzanita Writers Press, who offered to publish it.
Toren says the process was collaborative, with Rose offering editing and layout suggestions and helping Toren to select artwork. Toren’s husband, Ted Toren, contributed drawings to the book, and Fiddletown artist Wendy Rogers painted the cover artwork.
Prior to becoming an author, Toren taught at West Point Elementary for over t20 years and also worked as an etymologist for the Pacific Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Toren continues to teach poetry as a volunteer in Calaveras and Amador county. When she isn’t teaching in classrooms and workshops, she is busy directing a 55+ writers groupserving on the Board of local non-profit Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families (BMCYF), volunteering with Friends of the Library, and hosting a radio program that’s all about “the celebration of thoughts and language.”
Toren, who has a master’s degree in ecology and systematic biology, says she is “a naturalist biologist at heart”– which is one reason why haiku is an excellent form of expression for the poet.
Haiku originated in Japan several centuries ago. The earliest haiku were actually part of a larger poem, called a renga. The haiku, or hokku, was the opening stanza and thus set the scene of the poem, typically indicating a season–or moment in time–by utilizing descriptions of nature. Today, most haiku are organized into three lines, with each containing a specific amount of syllables. Many believe a haiku should be organized into a pattern of five, seven, and five syllables. However, traditional Japanese haiku are not organized in this way, as the language does not use syllables but instead uses mora or rhythmic units. For this reason, Toren sometimes writes her haiku in a “relaxed” form that may have more or less than the common 17 syllables.
“Raven Braids the Wind” features haiku that take readers through all of the seasons of the calendar year, month by month. For the month of March, Toren writes, “My orchid blooms/ against a backdrop of/ winter rainstorms” and “Steady rain surges/ sifts through cedars/ thus purified.”
The book also features a collection of another type of Japanese poetry, similar to haiku, called senryu. Senryu are structurally similar to haiku, but differ in that rather than having elements of nature, they turn to the internal landscape of thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and may be satirical or ironic in nature. One such poem contemplates a sleepless night, saying, “In the wee hours/ there is no dreaming, just one thought/ after another.”
A third section in the book features 40-some “questionable haiku,” all of an inquisitive nature, which Toren wrote all in one day. One haiku asks, “How would it sound/ the truth ringing like/ a grandfather clock?” Another ponders, “I heard a frog sing/ What else is there to/ know in this world?”
Toren continues to write haiku daily but is also working on other projects. She has plans to publish another book of poetry and also is writing a memoir that will feature anecdotes, both tragic and humorous, from her experiences of her as a teacher and about the essential aspects of learning.
Toren is also working on a poem for nonprofit BMCYF that will be displayed publicly as part of the West Point Art Path, a community “art walk” that is currently in the planning stages. Toren’s Radio Show, A Way With Wordsairs on KQBM.org on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 3 to 4:30 pm Toren also directs the Voices of Wisdom writer community for Manzanita Writers Press, which is a 55+ group for writers of all types. The group meets at the Manzanita Writers Press office in San Andreas.
Manzanita Writers Press formerly held a gallery, arts center, book store, and retail space in downtown Angels Camp, but that location closed permanently with the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Now, they occupy a business location at the Volunteer Center of Calaveras County in San Andreas, where they have workshops, meetings, and classes.
For more information, contact Director Monika Rose at email@example.com, or leave a message at 209-728-6117. The Press also maintains an online bookstorewhere all of their published works, including Toren’s “Raven Braids the Wind,” are available for purchase. Manzanita Press will be in attendance with local authors, including Toren, at the Spring Wine Weekend event to be held at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys on Saturday, April 23. The Press is also hosting an online zoom poetry event, Poetry In The Motherlode, Saturday, April 30 from 2-4 pm The event will feature Toren’s poetry among others, and the public is invited to share as well. Registration is required in advance, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toren will also have an event for her book at Hein & Co Books in Jackson on May 7, from 2-4 pm and will perform a reading of “Raven Braids the Wind”at the Modesto Stanislaus Poetry Center on May 10. “Raven Braids the Wind”is available by contacting the author at lintorengmail.com or can be found online at manzapress.com, bookshop.org, and amazon.com.
For those interested in poetry, the application period for Calaveras County Poet Laureate is open through May 13. Visit calaverasreads.com or manzapress.com for more information.