Ralph Covert: All Creative Choices Begin with Choice and Limitation 

Collaboration. Community. Songwriting! Join us on March 31 for the Haiku Milieu concert at Golden Dagger in Chicago. Get your tickets here!

One of our artists for this show is Ralph Covert. Ralph is a Grammy-nominated multi-hyphenate artist: singer. Songwriter. Producer. Playwright. Actor. Educator, and the list goes on! He will be sharing not just one, but TWO songs with us on Friday!

I experienced his work for the first time as many of us did, on the radio, then in venues ranging from clubs to theatres to one unforgettable evening in a now long-since-closed wine bar on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, where he played for an epic three hours and then talked with fans for another couple of hours.  He is as generous of a person as he is as an artist.

I was thrilled when he said yes to writing for Haiku Milieu. And when he said he'd be willing to do a deep dive on his creative process for this email - ? I was over the moon.  Hope you enjoy this peek into the one and only Ralph Covert's process.

"There are several aspects of my songwriting process that lend themselves well to writing a song that incorporates a haiku. There’s the creative process itself, and there’s the analysis of the creative process.

You can’t know a flea

Unless you look at the dog

And the bite they share

There are four primary aspects of a song I look at when songwriting: Words, Music, Rhythm, and Emotional Center.

While they are of course interrelated, thinking of these four categories allows me to construct a tool box of techniques I use while writing.

For example, within the category of Words (lyrics) there might be considerations of where the light and heavy syllables fall (the poetic rhythm), line length, narrative structure, point of view, what rhyme schemes are employed, and the meaning (if any) of what’s being said.

Music would include both harmony (chords), which exists vertically and within a specific duration, and melody, which is a more linear collection of notes that happens horizontally over the course of time.

When I look at Rhythm, I consider both time signature and the pulse or groove of a song as well as harmonic rhythm and the ways that the different sections of the song flow from each other (Song structure creates the rhythm of the song as a whole).

Finally, I use the idea of Emotional Center to describe the way a song makes the listener feel as well as both the emotions and memories the writer draws from and the state of mind they’re in while writing.

For me, all creative acts begin with choices and limitations. In some ways these two things are the same. Every choice you make during the creative process adds corresponding limitations until the song you arrive at is the only possible solution to the creative riddle you’ve been solving.

The five-seven-five syllable line structure dictates line length, and so shapes both the lyrics and the melody. I find writing verses in haiku form no different than any other verse.

With every song you write, the first verse composed is easiest because it establishes the poetic rhythm for all subsequent verses. We then experience “Second Verse Syndrome,” because the pattern is now set, and the writer needs to internalize this structure before they can write more verses within this new pattern.

The more haikus we write, the more transparent the form becomes, because we have internalized the form. 

Interestingly, because haiku doesn’t require a specific poetic rhythm, I sometimes find that I need to re-write a haiku that I’m using to get the pattern of light and heavy syllables to be consistent with other haikus that I’m using. The melody and phrasing of the lines needs a consistent poetic rhythm.

One of the wonderful things about haikus is that their condensed form requires cleanly constructed insights or images.

These lend themselves well to songwriting, because they often contain strong emotional centers. Often, the emotional center helps inspire melodic, harmonic, and lyrical ideas. 

The music inside

A seed fallen from a tree

Haiku becomes song."

- Ralph Covert

 Join us in person for Haiku Milieu this Friday, March 31 at 8:00 pm at Golden Dagger in Chicago!

Getting What You Want is Wonderful 

Originally published in the Sunday Haiku Milieu newsletter. Sign up here: haikumilieu.com.

I got what I wanted, and it was wonderful.

A while ago now, I remember going to a shop that had been in one location forever and the owners seemed...unhappy.  As a person who routinely feels her own feelings AND the feelings of everyone else in the room, it was too much for me.  I loved what they had, but would find reasons to do without it.

When they moved to a larger space, I went in to visit them, and it felt like that burden was completely gone!  And it made me wonder about the simple power of getting what you want.  Letting people have what they want, even when it is not what you would have wanted. Even when you think they should not want what they want.  Let them have what they want, and you go get what you want.  That, to me, is the essence of genuine freedom.

Last weekend, I got what I have been wanting for a long time: time with my beloved out-of-town friends, and space to do nothing but connect with people through music.

I love my life. I love that it’s busy, and if there’s something going on in one arena that doesn't feel good, I almost always have something cooking in another that does.  But sometimes, having all these mini "masters" to serve, even when I chose them, generates a kind of fight or flight momentum in me.

Amidst all I have to do, I can forget what I really want.

What I really want is to connect with other people. That’s why I started writing songs, that’s why I started writing haiku. Sometimes you get a run of days where that all comes together. 

That’s what happened last weekend in Chicago, IL and in Door County, WI doing a little run of shows with Katie Dahl, Jessica Holland and Jeanne Kuhns, dear friends and fellow songwriters. People as devoted to the craft of songwriting as they are to tending the garden of the rest of their lives. It was such a pleasure to let everything else go and just be with them and the truly lovely audiences that filled each show with connection, knitting us together as a tribe spanning time, space and experience.

And should you be lucky enough to have physical places that share live music with your community, count your lucky stars! Venue owners really are unsung heroes, and we were at three venues for the record books.

One show was at Friendly Tap in Chicagoland, a hub of community that lives up to its name with an incredible proprietor, bartenders and baristas in Berwyn, IL.  One show was in at SWY231 Gallery, a blank canvas an elegant curator, warm wood floors, and creamy white walls inviting an artists' imagination in Sturgeon Bay, WI.  The final show was at Kick Ash Door County, a reimagined church chock-full of the things that make life worth living: books, books and more books, granola, tea, coffee, and extraordinary baked goods in Ellison Bay, WI.

Though I returned home a week ago, I am still reflecting on the conversations, the communion between artist and audience, and the almost sacred spaces in which these experiences took place. 

I got what I wanted. It is STILL wonderful.

I share this with you, dear reader, if in fact you have read this far into this reflection (thank you!) because the only reason this even happened is because I decided to LET myself have what I really wanted. 

I am so grateful I did not permit myself to use being too busy or too caught up serving the various masters I PUT IN PLACE as an excuse to not do it. It wasn’t a given that I was going to do that, even as the gigs drew closer and tickets were being sold. 

I am grateful to the audiences that came out and joined us, holding the space, giving and receiving in equal measure; to the venues that hosted us; and most of all to my fun, silly, deep songwriting friends who walked through literal and figurative storms to come together and do what we love doing most.

I got what I wanted. It lives with me now. It IS wonderful. 

If you feel like it, drop me a line about a time you got what you wanted, and it was wonderful.

1/7, 6:30 online and 8:30 in person! 

Nothing ever ends 
without possibility  
and hope being born

An oldie but a goodie, from the first New Year after I started taking photo and haiku as a daily practice.  

I still feel the exuberance in the air from that day, the sense of possibility and adventure, tinged with affection for the people we were before everything that has happened since then.  

Things like pandemics, you know?  

And also, triumphs and losses from the sublime to the ridiculous that make us who we are.   

It's less that I miss who we were then, and more that I marvel that I could ever have not have known what I know now.  

Come celebrate the New Year with us at Friendly Tap this Saturday night with a concert full of songs inspired by Haiku Milieu.   

Join us online at 6:30 pm and live at 8:30 pm. 

May the New Year bring us all love and peace and trust in the mystery in 2023 and beyond.

2023 Haiku Milieu Gifts - shipping on me! 

Lately I start this email on Saturday, and finish it up in the wee hours of Sunday morning.  Right now, I wonder where you are?  If you are starting to wake up?  Starting to think about the day or week ahead?  Savoring the wee dark hours? 

Or maybe you are reading this when the sun is high in the sky, either Sunday (today) or the next day?  Over coffee in bed, at a table with flowers, or in between errands, or maybe during hold music?  Or maybe the day after that? 

And just thinking about what you might be doing, makes me feel like I'm there with you. 

It has always been this way, that the mere thought of another person connects us to them, but it feels particularly magical in the wee small hours of the morning, working on this email, when I feel like I get to tell you what you mean to me in the cathedral of my thoughts, where we always understand each other and the conversations always go the way we intend. 

On some level, I think that's all the Holiday season is trying to do.  To get us back to that moment of genuine appreciation and understanding.  We anticipate stringing moments of connection together, one after the other, like lights on a tree. 

We think about the people we love. We make plans to get together if they are still with us.  We look past the things that didn't go right, and look for gifts and experiences that carry the energy of what they mean to us, to them. 

If you are interested in giving the gift of Haiku Milieu to those you love, most everything you need is on sale now. The 2023 Calendar, just 4.75 x 4.75, it is itself a haiku! - and it comes with a card in a beautiful antique gold envelope.  You can choose last year's card or this year's card. It's perfect for mailing to a beloved person or stuffing into a stocking. 

And of course there are the Haiku Milieu books, audiobook, t-shirts, greeting cards, and more. 

If you are looking for a Haiku Milieu experience, consider joining us for the Saturday, January 7 "Best of Haiku Milieu" concert that will happen at Friendly Tap, preceded by a Haiku Milieu concert screening. 

Have dinner at Autre Monde next door, then walk over to hear some of your favorite local singer songwriters share songs inspired by Haiku Milieu backed by a formidable band. 

My hope is the Haiku Milieu does for you what it does for me: makes you feel connected to your life and experiences, and the people you love.  If it does, pass it on. 

As my gift to you, shipping is on me! 

Quantities truly are limited, so please take a look as soon as you can.   You will find everything at haikumilieu.com.

Let's DO this! 

Sending this with the very warmest Thanksgiving greetings!  
I hope your Season is off to a beautiful start.   

As I write this, the rain is falling with a gentle insistence, as if to say:  
Do the things you got talked out of doing.    
Forgive the people who don't even know they've wronged you, including yourself.  
Shelter what is true in you, and in others.  

Saying these things is one thing; doing them is another. So I made the first-ever Haiku Milieu Calendar for 2023 to keep us both company in the coming year.   

It's stocking stuffer size, just 4.75 x 4.75. It will fit in a purse or a pocket, hang on a nail, or perch on your desk.   

My hope is the calendar will do for you what the rain is doing for me: reminding you to do the things, forgive the things, and protect the things.  The "things" you say?  Yes, the things. The things that I can't know for you and you can't know for me.  If that sounds like a lot, just know I'll be doing too, at the same time as you.  

Let's DO this!  

Shipping begins on December 2.   You can order the 2023 Haiku Milieu Calendar and the brand-new 2022 Holiday Card at haikumilieu.com.

2023 Haiku Milieu Calendar! 


SO MUCH good news to share! 

The first-ever Haiku Milieu Calendar debuts in stocking-stuffer size for 2023! 

The debut of the 2022 Haiku Milieu Holiday Card! 

And…drumroll please… 

HAIKUMILIEU.ART will be live this Black Friday!!!  With fun things for you to bring into your lives for the Holidays, or for no reason at all! 

it began as all things do, with the enthusiasm that begets worlds. 

And in the beginning, it was as falling in love always is.  Trancendent.  Everything else looked like it wasn’t trying very hard, even those things you’d poured yourself into.  This new thing.  This is going to be IT!  This will change my LIFE!! 

In reality, what is it that changes your life? 

The myriad tiny little things you do every day.  The things that typically elude your notice.  Like the way you drive a certain routes, hello to people on the way into the office; and also the way you might grumble to yourself on the way out of the office.  These are the things that make a life.  

That kindly rearrange themselves so your new great love has some room. Truth is, they are excited for this new love as much as you are; maybe things will change around here!  Shake up the monontony of this ordinary and wonderful life. 

So it went when I had the idea to launch haikumilieu.art. 

It started because I was tired of all the odds and ends of merchandise still sitting in my basement.  I imagined them, listening to the dehumidifyer go on and off, the water heater turn on, Robin and I rushing past them with a load of laundry here, a hasty search for something there.  

I keep wanting to make physical objects and share them; I don’t want to keep having to find room for them in my basement. 

Hmmmmmm.  I thought. 

And haikumilieu.art was born. 

On a weekly basis, I’ll upload the new Haiku Milieu.  If you see one you absolutely love and don’t want to wait for the next book to see if it’s in there, you can go there and pick up a poster, a card, a coffee cup, or my personal favorite – MAGNETS! 

Sounds obvious.  Print on Demand!  Sounds SOOOOO simple, right? 

Except for… 

I have made more than 10,000 haiku, taken more than 35,000 photos, and published 1,250 of them online and another 150 in the Sunday emails.  Guess where they all are?  All in mixed together.  With everything else from all other parts of my life. 

So first, the great sorting. It has begun, and it will be ongoing.  For a long time.  And I mean, maybe as long as forever because once you dig into your archive, there’s just a lot to process. Even with the best of intentions, you can get lost within 30 seconds between memories, ancient urgent things you meant to do years ago and now could do quickly, and the sheer overwhelm of having to move through it all. 

Enough of it has occurred, however, for haikumilieu.art to be LIVE THIS FRIDAY! (Did I say that already?) 

Second, the great reckoning of with what you have created.  I am lucky enough to have had several Haiku Milieuvians who I respect and admire ask me for a calendar.   We hit the threshold with the number of requests and so it moved to the first position in the cue for the 2022 Holiday Season. 

What is it you ask?  A CALENDAR! 

And as I tend to do, of course I wanted it to be BIG.  A big, saddle-stitched, high-quality paper, 4-color love affair that would inspire you on a monthly basis to find the extraordinary in the every day. 

But then I learned about resolution.  It’s one thing to share images on the web, another thing to gather them in an 8x8 book; and quite another thing to reproduce them in larger formats.  

So now my brain, one foot in this world, trying to bring something new into it, and one foot in the past, trying to get something out of it to get it into the real world of now, almost exploded.  

Remember, my art teacher in kindergarden made fun of another student’s art.  My high school art teacher ridiculed my painting of a bird for being so much larger than the landscape.  I CRIED when I thought I would have to take more art classes to graduate!  And now I have to learn about photo resolution?!?  

Who am I even? 

My husband, you know, Robin?  The one with the art degree? Stepped in and said calmly, “can you make a smaller calendar?” 


who even says that?  To ME? 

when have I EVER gone smaller?? 


my heart stopped pounding.  I could hear the tv on in the other room instead of the blood pounding in my ears.  my overwhelming desire to consume the entire box of gluten-free crackers subsided. 

OK, I thought.  He’s on to something. 


a haiku. 

a single espresso. 

how rain sounds as its moving towards you. 

how the moon looks as it’s waxing. 

Turns out, most of my favorite things ARE smaller.  If it turns our yours are too, you can pre-order both here: 

You can pre-order your 4.75 x 4.75, 2023 Haiku Milieu Calendar here and the 2022 Holiday Card here.


We Got This! Or, Me and the Allen Wrench 

This is me, finally getting an Allen wrench to work! 

I wish you a week where you pick the right key for every lock, glide it in smoothly, open the door and walk in with a sense of accomplishment, every. single. time.

And if it doesn't go that way, maybe go get yourself a cup of something warm and delicious and have a think about what would make someone (me) smile like that about getting an Allen wrench to (finally) work, ultimately concluding that they (me) like you, tried and failed again and again, yet never gave up. 

WHY did they (me) never give up?  Was I buoyed by love?  Friendship?  OF COURSE.  I didn't take that picture myself, you can see both of my hands! My friends were cheering me on.

And so now we get back to the crux of the matter, which is: should you feel alone and friendless, overmastered by an overwhelming if minor task, think of your friends (like ME!), all of whom have triumphed over a mundane task as you will surely do when you get back to it, and imagine us cheering you on.