The First-Ever Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie! 

What do you get when you ask songwriters to write a song to a haiku? A BUNCH OF NEW SONGS, silly!

TOMORROW, Sunday, May 28 at 8:30 am, we'll watch the First-Ever Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie at Friendly's on the big screen. You can join us in person, or from the comfort of your own home.

How it works is this: each artist chooses one of my haiku and images writes a song to it.

The audience has a bird's eye view of the process from inspiration to completed song. It is THRILLING to witness how one work of art gives rise to another, to contemplate how completely different works can be forged of the same initial impulse, and to witness the power of creativity to connect us with the world and each other.

Featuring video made especially for this show as well as performance videos from the Golden Dagger Haiku Milieu show, the Sunday Haiku Milieu Movie features new songs from long-standing Haiku Milieu contributors and newbies alike, many performed for the very first time in front of a live audience.

And being as it is the first time for many of these songs, do some of us forget our words? (ahem, I'm raising my hand here) and/or the order of the verses? (slight cough, downward glance, hand back in air) OF COURSE!! That's part of the fun.  These are professional musicians who have been gigging for a LIFETIME and who have THE VERY SAME JITTERS we all get when doing something new! 

That is part of the magic of the Haiku Milieu show: putting ourselves on the line, alongside others doing the same thing in a different way, working at the highest of levels with a goal of bringing this piece of ourselves to the audience where it may do them, and us, some good. 

I hope you'll join us.

Artists include Ashley and Simpson, Phil Angotti, Caitlin Arquinnes, Naomi Ashley, Robin Bienemann, Ralph Covert, Jason, Braun, Jonas Friddle, Ron Lazzeretti, David Zerlin, Shelly Miller, Matthew Pittman, Haiku, ukulele, Duke, Blue Stevenson, Victoria, storm, Heather Styka, Cathie, Van Wert, Emily White, Jon Williams, Josh Piet, Jason Batchko, Haiku Your Milieu with Amy Lazzeretti and Marilyn Rae Beyer, and of course, yours truly. 

See you at the show!

A Good Chance You’ll have a GREAT Time! 

I have the great joy of hosting the Singer Songwriter Circle at FitzGerald's on the third Tuesday of each month. 

This past month, musical glitterati Gerald Dowd and Casey McDonough were the special guests, and they were spectacular! And we had no fun at all, as you can tell by the photos. :)

The evening was made all the more special by the presence of Olivia Flanigan, who I held in my arms as a baby and never laid eyes on again until that evening!  You never know what's life's going to bring you, but if you go to FitzGerald's on Tuesday nights, there's a good chance you're going to have a great time.

Speaking of great times, it’s going to be a really fun Memorial Day Weekend.  I hope you can join us!

On Saturday night at Friendly Music Community in Berwyn, Illinois, I’m playing a full two sets of my own songs with an amazing band that includes John Abbey, Steve Doyle and Andon Davis, Ryan Shepherd, Ron Lazzeretti, and Jodi Walker.  The incomparable Bill Brickey opens the show at 8:30 pm. 

Then the next day, Sunday morning at 8:30 am, we will be streaming out the first ever "Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie," a collection of songs and videos inspired by Haiku Milieu that will start your Sunday off right. If you can’t join us in person, you can join us online at Facebook and later in the day on YouTube.  

Sunday Morning Movie artists are: Ashley & Simpson, Phil Angotti, Caitlin Arquines, Naomi Ashley, Marilyn Rae Beyer, Robin Bienemann, Jason Braun, Ralph Covert, Jonas Friddle, Rebecca Jasso, Amy Lazzeretti, Ron Lazzeretti, Shelley Miller, Matthew Pittman, HaikUkulele Duke, Blue Stevenson, Victoria Storm, Heather Styka, Cathie Van Wert, Emily White, Jon Williams, and David Zerlin.
Then, Sunday night at The Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan, Naomi Ashley plays Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" album from start to finish. And right after that, her band Real Pretenders will do the entire "Learning to Crawl" record. Can you even stand it?!?  If you have never experienced this, you really must. I am thrilled to join these incredible human beings and musicians on harmony for a few songs.

If you click the link on the images below you’ll find out more information. We'd love to see you

Mother's Day: All the Good We Do is Never Lost 

There she is. Mrs. McCarthy, as they called her at the High School, or as I called her in the grocery store when she wouldn't turn around after I yelled MOM! a thousand times.

If you said Mrs. McCarthy she would turn around and give you her full attention, unless it turned out that you were calling her Mrs. McCarthy because you knew she had been deliberately ignoring your poorly behaved self as you wandered the aisles begging for a treat until she had no alternative but either lose her mind or push the cart forward and pretend she didn't know you.

My mom, who wants you to know she is either sweet 16 or 105, whichever you prefer, has been on the planet long enough to learn a few things.  One of them, is how to lower your center of gravity so when your children try to pick you up they can't actually do it.

Except for this one time...

We were in Alton's Drugstore in Naperville, Illinois. My little sister and I had been trying to lift her off her feet for YEARS, and through some amazing convergence of events, we successfully caught my mother just before she could lower her center of gravity and lifted her into the grocery cart. 

None of the three of us could believe it. The achievement shocked us into silence. We had to lift her out of the cart, and then she just walked out of the store. My sister and I just looked at each other. My little sister doesn't even remember it, and my Mom will swear it never happened, but you and I know the truth.  It did.

My saintly Mother.

We were the four McCarthy children, born of a Northside/Southside marriage, to parents who each had only one parent from the time they were young. We did what was required of every child growing up: having opinions, testing limits, lifting each other into grocery carts...and they did their part.  Trying to hold back the young hellions from their own untimely demise, trying to hold back the riptides of the past, and trying to prepare their children for a future none of us could have anticipated.

This makes me think of my garden.  

Over the course of the 20 years we’ve lived in this house I have invested the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, as well as copious financial resources, into a garden that for whatever reason simply will not take.  I have even had a garden service keep the earth around my fledgling plants weed free to support their growth! 

When I talked this over with a dear friend, she said the focus on keeping the planting beds "clean" means the soil has received no nourishment, and that those patches of dirt, weed free as they may be, will admit no flowers. Even the vinca vine bought from a reputable establishment only hunkers down in its own little cluster, and though its branches reach towards each other from plant to plant, each year the attempt seems a little more halfhearted.

But you know what? I was looking in the wrong place.

Just this week, I happened to notice that the vinca vine I planted under my yew bushes jumped the cement sidewalk into my neighbor's garden, where. it. is. THRIVING!

This makes me think of my Mom.

Much of the good my Mom, at great personal expense, tried to do to get me to bloom in the direction she thought I should go, might look to her like it did not take. 

But just like the vinca, the gifts she gave me made me blossom in the exact WAY she hoped I would, just not blossom HOW she thought I would.  

This seems like an apt metaphor on Mother’s Day.  As anyone who has ever brought something to life knows, all the good we do is never lost. It always turns into something.

I can only reflect gratefully on the way my Mom provided a sturdy back stop for the inevitable projections and rejections we kids had to hurl upon her and my Dad to blossom in our own ways. 

I think of them when I am called to do the same with the people I love, to support them in becoming themselves in the way that suits them best, not me. And I'd like to think that anyone who does that with anyone else, deserves warm Mother's Day greetings, today and every day.


Public service announcement on the topic of the miracle.
We think it's going to arrive with a giant bow and gleaming red lipstick, a four-door convertible screaming into the parking lot doing a half moon and stopping just at the tips of our toes.
In fact the genuine miracle feels so ordinary you might forget how hard you wished for it it once you've gotten it.
The genuine miracle happens naturally, and all the time.
We think miracles happen when we pray hard enough, or work hard enough, feverishly trying every key until we find the one that fits the ancient lock, turning it with a satisfying click and bursting through the door from one reality to the one we’ve been praying for.
In reality, the reality is much less noisy.  Much less dramatic.  And without getting too romantic about it, miracles are happening all around us, all the time, each breath in and each breath out, one foot in front of the other. Garden variety, tiny miracles.
My own ingratitude startles me sometimes.  Sometimes I will be in the middle of receiving a miracle and I'll actually be dissing it in my own mind, like, “Oh sure, this is happening NOW…”
In those moments I am literally out of my mind, out of my body, and out of my own experience. I'm not experiencing my life for the fervent desire to be experiencing some thing different, and thus totally missing the miracle that is unfolding right in front of me.
I say this not to cajole you or change your mind about anything…but if you feel like it, look around. What What has been working for so long in the background so beautifully, but demands nothing of you, does not call for your attention, does not need you to fix it; if anything, it's been humming along fixing YOU. Feeding you, nurturing you, this whole time.
See if you can't find one miracle today. When you find it, let it take you by the hand and take you to the next one.
And if there's nothing that feels miraculous today, if your experience feels painful or difficult or boring or full of shame or rage or hurt, even THEN there is at least one thing around you that's working.

Try to find it.

Not to avoid the difficulty or bypass it, but to diffuse it. To render it powerless to come between you and the ordinary, everyday miracles that belong to you.
We all have a perfect right to the miracles in our lives.

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Haiku Milieu at Golden Dagger 

Jenny and Jon Williams singing "Follow the River" at the March 31, 2023 Haiku Milieu concert.

Last Friday's Haiku Milieu concert at Golden Dagger in Chicago was one of those very special, alchemical nights between artist and audience. If you couldn't be there - don't worry! We'll have video to share in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, remember the song I've been collaborating on with Jon Williams? We performed it last night! Click for a  snippet of video   and read the final version below, based on this Haiku:
Come and take my hand
you have a place in this world
right here next to me

Jenny Bienemann and Jon Williams

There’s a river singing in you
a melody that's soft and strong
there’s a river singing in you
to bring you back where you belong
so whenever you are lonely
you don’t know what to do
follow the river that’s in you
Follow the river

There is a hand reaching for you
to lift you up when you are down
there is a hand reaching for you
to bring you back where you belong
so whenever you’re defeated
feeling like a fool
Take the hand that’s there for you

Follow the river
Take the hand that’s there for you
And when you can’t
Just remember
I keep a place with me for you

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:

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.