Art and Earth

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A Zen Master and A Word-Surfer: The Writing of James Ciriaco and Tommy Tsunami


James Ciriaco: Zen Master

I discovered James Ciriaco's work while he was on an internet hiatus. For the better part of a year I romped through this English professor's writing, amazed by its quality. For work that is profound and multi-layered, his writing is amazingly reader-friendly.

James combines sensuality with a love of the natural world and a precise use of language. He explores humans as a part of nature, and he’s fascinated by how we behave according to an interaction of conscious thought and instinct.

Much of James’ early work consists of masterful erotica, sometimes written in collaboration with Corinna Parr, an excellent author in her own right. I fell in love with his 2005 story Shoreline*, in which the narrator compares his lover to a mythical seal-maiden (selkie).  Below are excerpts:

You must have been so cold at first. Deep autumn, and the wind whipping the sea grass behind us; you clutched your arms over your belly as I led you to the rock. You gave me such a look when you felt my fingers curled under the collar of your robe! Uncertain, dark-eyed, and with that wry ghost of a smile, as if to say that for no other man would you stand in the bitter surf… The ocean touched your naked body and fell in love with you, as I have… We coupled like sea and shore— rude and stark, relentless, surging and falling back…


But this isn’t only about a human-seal encounter. There’s a potent, fertile feel to this story.  The elements tryst along with the lovers, recalling the way terrestrial life was born at the juncture of land and sea. James’ words remind us that the ocean still runs in our veins, and we’re not nearly as far from our origins as we might think.

In 2009 and 2010 I watched James expand his work from literary erotica to minimalist Japanese-form poetry.  At times he combined the two genres (as in the masterful haibun Standing Wave*); at other times he stripped everything non-essential from his writing. The culmination of his effort, To War: A Tanka, is one of the best Japanese-form poems I’ve encountered:


We took our sabres

down from the wall and wondered

when they’d hang again.

Now the wall is gone, the house;

even our fears were naive.

In the first lines, the narrator goes to war and is presumably stunned by atrocities.  By the last line the narrator is a homeless but enlightened buddha-to-be, having realized the hell of war and the transience of physical comfort.

This poem is amazing for what’s between the lines. There’s no reference to blood or violence, yet the last line holds a sharp retort. The narrator’s (and reader’s) universe of physical comforts and certainties has been completely deconstructed.

Enlightenment usually takes a lifetime, yet To War gets us there in five lines. This is the work of a master poet.

Among my other favorites by James Ciriaco: Syrinx by the River Ladon, Syrinx Debauched*, Biogenesis, MasterstrokeFor Leda*, (*Flagged for adult content) Hit By Pitch, Becalmed, Drought. James Ciriaco’s blogs: Cordial in the Cup (Fiction, Poetry and Essays), Helicon (Collaborative Fiction)



Tommy Tsunami: A Tidal Wave of Words

While James Ciriaco writes of the surge of the ocean, Thomas Washington (aka Tommy Tsunami) is that surge.

Tommy’s words gush from him like water from a well. He’s a natural master of wordplay who’s never content to use language conventionally. He confidently strides the thin line between creativity and insanity as he explores love, fantasy, paranoia, and the universe in general.

Tommy’s poem Darkfieldtilt exemplifies everything I love about his work. It’s written in meter, and his words morph and rhyme into each other (orb to absorbhover to over).  Although Darkfieldtilt is drawn from a real-life experience, it has a surreal feel.


A couple sitting outside at night feels the ground move below them, and suddenly recall that they are astride a spinning orb.  As the scope of the poem expands, I can feel Tommy’s amazement at the universe.  Below are excerpts; click here to read the original:

at first, the earth was dirt beneath.

the sky was just…a night.

wild grasses gathered near that tree.

far stars, a muted light…

they talked of any errant thing—

of matters deep or trite…

and then

without a mystic wind

or wand—no wizard’s hand—

no whizzing sand, nor witch’s chant—

they knew this tipping land…

oh, busy Man! -a glimpse! a scan!


we live upon an orb.

oh, that thing spins and circles—

'round a burning ball. absorb

we are spinning. under each beginning,

this tilt never ends.

Man is whirling through the cosmos.

in all stillness, He pretends.

…that stars hover beside us.

that Up is…Over There.

-a mind, a clock to bind it,

and an atom is as air…

This poem takes my breath away.  From its modest beginning it enlarges to the outer reaches of the cosmos, calling on physics as it questions our sense of time and place. By the last five lines I’m completely unmoored, and concepts like here and now seem illusory.

Although James Ciriaco’s Shoreline and Thomas Washington’s Darkfieldtilt begin with the same scene— a couple outside at night— the two pieces are as different as can be. James’ vision is firmly rooted in the earth and sea he loves, while Tommy’s words spin to the outer reaches of the universe.

James is a child of the earth, Tommy a child of the cosmos. Yet both writers, in the end, make us question our assumptions about reality.

Among my other favorites by Thomas Washington: Amarantine, Miss Sing Magic, Deadmarch, The Blackmorrow Riding 


Copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida

Photo Credits:  Portraits courtesy of the authors.  Other photos, in order: 1. Seal Woman of Eire by Andy Fetir 3. Stock Image 4. Stock image 5. Midnighflower on Tumblr  6.Stock image 

Filed under erotica fiction flash fiction literature longreads poem poems poetry poets thomas washington prose long-reads lit illustrated poems tumblr poets poets on tumblr tumblr writers writers on tumblr ann marcaida james ciriaco

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