Across the Haikuverse, No. 15: Catfish Edition
by Melissa Allen
Hi fellow travelers,
It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, at least in the form of tour guide. A lot has happened. The earth has shaken. It isn’t tilted quite the same way anymore. I think I can feel it. I’m a little off kilter these days. Not that I can complain, seeing as how I don’t live in Japan.
It’s strange — last year at this time I didn’t even know anyone who lived in Japan, and now I know many people there, whose welfare I am deeply concerned about. They mostly all seem to be mostly okay, at least physically. But their sense of security has been pretty much shattered; they’re living with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I am so admiring of the way they are keeping themselves centered despite this.
I think haiku helps. Maybe any art helps. It’s a way to take the broken pieces and make something whole out of them.
And on that note…here are a few places you might want to drop by for earthquake news and art:
1. Gabi Greve’s earthquake blog, Japan — After the Big Earthquake. It’s very Gabi-like, meaning insanely comprehensive and completely fascinating. Mostly it’s full of Japanese news reports about all the details of the earthquake/tsunami aftermath and aaathe ongoing nuclear disaster saga, but there are also lots of Gabi-style notes about Japanese earthquake folklore and plenty of earthquake haiku from all over the world. A couple of examples:
A giant catfish (namazu) lived in mud beneath the earth. The catfish liked to play pranks and could only be restrained by Kashima, a deity who protected the Japanese people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty rock with magical powers over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed his guard, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.
– Gabi Greve
the third wave
– Svetlana Marisova
2. Scott Watson’s amazing, moving earthquake journal from Sendai, being published serially at Issa’s Untidy Hut. The prose is mostly spare and economical and to the point, which makes his picture of the deprivations they are suffering in Sendai all the more effective. Here’s a typical passage, from Part 6:
On the way back meet an elderly neighbor walking his Akita dog. The dog is up in years too. We talk a while about how we canʼt ﬂush our toilets. Such an inconvenience. When will gas service resume. When will we have water. Some American friends, I tell him, strongly urge me and my family to ﬂee Japanʼs nuclear disaster. But how would you get out of Sendai, he asks. Thatʼs exactly what I tell them. They donʼt understand that we canʼt go anywhere even if we want to.
– Scott Watson
Sometimes Scott waxes a little more lyrical, as in this passage from Part 5 — the last sentence is one of my favorite statements about poetry, ever:
Nukes in Japan. Earthquake land. They are safe, they are necessary, the people are told. Experts are telling the people. Government ofﬁcials are telling the people. Electric power companies are telling the people. Eventually the people come around. The people repeat what they are told.
Poets tell people nothing. People donʼt repeat poems. They sing them in the here and now, which is when, exactly.
— Scott Watson
3. Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site, see haiku here, where the haiga are all about the earthquake these days, and are heartwrenching and beautiful. Speaking of Sendai, he illustrated a wonderful Basho haiku that follows a Sendai episode in Narrow Road to the Deep North:
I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet –
straps for my sandals
and followed it up with “after” pictures of Sendai, which, unfortunately, are not nearly as pretty as iris sandals.
One of my favorite of Kuni’s own haiku about the earthquake is this one, also a stunning haiga:
how I wish
I were a bird
— Kuniharu Shimizu
4. Miriam Sagan’s Miriam’s Well, where she has been posting many earthquake haiku submitted to her — I believe she’s still accepting submissions. Here’s one of my favorites:
pieces of future days
— Mark Brooks
5. This haiku of Bill Kenney’s from haiku-usa:
all the names
I’m learning to pronounce –
— Bill Kenney
6. We Are All Japan, the brainchild of Sasa Vazic and Robert Wilson (who edit the journal Simply Haiku). It’s a very active Facebook group that is open to all comers and is a sort of clearinghouse for earthquake news, support, and poetry. Sasa and Robert are also putting together an anthology of earthquake-related poetry (all forms, not just haiku or other Japanese poetry) whose proceeds will benefit earthquake victims. They’ll accept (previously unpublished) submissions until May 15 at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not Facebook-y, their website is http://wearealljapan.blogspot.com.
Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch
People have also been known to write haiku (and tanka) that aren’t about the earthquake these days. Those are fun to read too.
From Miso Soup:
From Haiku Etc.:
I am not here
but these red peppers are
so I buy one
— Kris Lindbeck
From Heed Not Steve (there is also a great illustration so go visit):
oh I see you
in the scrawl and scribble
— Steve Mitchell
leaving my lover alone for a minute my tongue hunts a lost cloud
— Alan Segal
crocus and frogs after rain
kestrels and hyacinths
telling you secrets non-stop
oh, poet for you, no rest
— Alegria Imperial
From a lousy mirror:
of words burrowed in
spring darkness . . .
a mole eating his way
through the may or may not
— Robert D. Wilson
From Stay Drunk on Writing:
to the Zen Garden –
— Chen-ou Liu
From Yay Words!, the hokku of a great kasen renku in progress between Aubrie Cox and Wayne Chou — go read the other verses:
on the atlas
— Aubrie Cox
From Blue Willow Haiku World, two entries, because there is no way I could choose just one out of four whole weeks of daily entries:
ボブ・ディラン掛けよ蛙の夜なれば 榮 猿丸
bobu diran kakeyo kaeru no yoru nareba
play Bob Dylan
it is a night
— Sarumaru Sakae, translated by Fay Aoyagi
haru nare ya mizu no atsumi no naka ni uo
the water’s thickness
– Yumi Iwata, translated by Fay Aoyagi
From Crows & Daisies, see note above about impossibility of choosing, etc.:
the white mare’s whinny
lifts a cloud
i always was
the odd one out
— Polona Oblak
once more the moon
— Tom Painting
From a handful of stones, the haiku that wins the Most Makes Me Want to Read It Aloud Award for this edition:
sick train the night heron shifts silt for all of us
— Alan Summers
From rolling stones:
more to the moon
than this sliver
From Jars of Stars:
to those around me
I watch blossoms
a thousand years from now
— Paul Smith (@monkeywillow)
From Daily Haiku:
crows in a pine
moving the dark
from limb to limb
— Carolyne Rohrig
From Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a great haiga — go look:
what winter has taken
what winter has spared
— Mark Holloway
In case you’re wondering, “Isn’t there someone who collects great haiku from all the haiku poets on Facebook and puts it somewhere where we poor Facebook-less souls can take it in? And maybe sometimes translates it into French or English depending on which language it started out in?”, the answer is yes, yes there is. He is Vincent Hoarau and his blog is La Calebasse. From a set of fantastic spring haiku he shared recently, here’s one of his own that I love (I am presuming this was probably written first in French and then translated into English, but this was the order it appeared in on the blog):
sun ! sun ! sun !
the daffodils don’t know
where to look
le soleil ! le soleil !les jonquilles ne savent plusoù donner d’la tête
– haiku and translation by Vincent Hoarau
Anyone who hasn’t discovered Contemporary Haibun Online (cho) yet? They released a new edition a couple of weeks ago (dated April 2011 — now that’s efficiency). Please go check it out now so I don’t have to hunt you down and stand over you while you read it. Here’s one of my favorites from the issue to get you started.
Into the garden
take a small square of Kozo paper.
Fold, crease, fold and fold again.
Now place upon an upturned mirror:
crossing a dark sea
of reflected galaxies
this empty boat
The Wild, Wild Web
A roundup of amazing haiku websites I’ve stumbled upon since the last time I rapped at you.
How to explain Basho’s Road? The posts there are infrequent but worth waiting for. The site is beautifully designed and all the posts contain both poetry (usually Japanese short-form, but sometimes not — the most recent post as of this writing contains a quotation from Montaigne) and art, wonderful art. It’s a quiet and thoughtful place and I can feel my breathing slowing down and my brain speeding up whenever I stop by. The proprietor is Norbert Blei, stop by and thank him (I guess now that I’ve said that, I should do it too…).
…………….today haiku come as easy
as picking them off a small fruit tree
– Ronald Baatz, from White Tulips
Since I discovered John Martone’s poetry a few months ago (via Issa’s Untidy Hut), I’ve been noticing it — and hungrily seeking out more of it — everywhere I go. Then recently I got this brainstorm to use this amazing new “Google” thing the kids are all talking about and what do you know, it chewed up my search request and spat me right out at a web page called “john martone’s poetry projects,” which contains links to about a zillion pdf’s of collections of John’s work, and now I’m locking myself in the bathroom and not coming out until I’ve read them all.
Most of these collections are best read as collections — they contain variations on one or several themes and have much the same effect, on me at least, as a turning kaleidoscope, a really well-made one that you just can’t tear away from your eye. Here’s one verse, though, that I think works well on its own.
– John Martone, from box turtle (2008)
Ray Rasmussen, a Canadian poet well-known for his haiku and haibun, has just recently put together a couple of very striking and well-edited sites that you’ll want at least to go take a look at, and possibly to contribute to.
The first one is Day’s End, which looks at various aspects of aging through (mostly previously published) haiku, senryu, tanka and haibun. It was put together by Ray and guest editor Anita Virgil. Here’s a sample:
first time together
kissing a grandmother
— Charles Trumbull
The second site, which is still a work in progress, is Romance under a Waning Moon, a website of haiku, tanka, haibun and images about the ups and downs of later-in-life romance. Ray’s still accepting submissions for this one (he prefers them previously published) — check out the details at the site.
The website of the British haiku journal Presence contains numerous fascinating essays, including several meditations on that perennially fascinating topic: what, exactly, is a haiku?
The one that made me think the most, although I did wish the author would stop shouting, was this one by David Cobb. I’ve italicized the passages I found the most thought-provoking.
My mind is kind of spinning in circles, now, actually — I have to try to integrate these ideas (which I find compelling and convincing) into my mental conception of haiku.
Two Differing Views of Time and Nature in Haiku
1. A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of A MOMENT keenly perceived, IN WHICH NATURE IS LINKED TO HUMAN NATURE. (From A Haiku Path, recording the official definition adopted by the Haiku Society of America and used in Frogpond magazine.) [My (meaning Mr. Cobb's) capitals.]
2. In the first place, Japanese haiku are NOT NATURE POEMS AT ALL. Japanese poems are concerned with the four seasons of the year, so they are SEASON-POEMS. Haiku are TIME-POEMS; where content is concerned, haiku deal with the passage of time, with things that have passed away, with the present and the future. And the poet illustrates this process of becoming and passing away within a short or long period of time by referring to things in the natural world, both alive and dead. (tr. from an article by Thomas Hemstege in Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, Vol.16, No.60, March 2003.) [My (yes, Mr. Cobb's) capitals again.]
This definition argues that references to Nature are incidental or instrumental to the poet’s impressions of the passage of time. The nub of the action is something that poets do with Nature. The case is made for a haiku continuum rather than a haiku moment.
– David Cobb
[Editorial note to Mr. Cobb: I love your -- well, Mr. Hemstege's, I suppose -- ideas, but there are these things called italics which are used by most authors to provide emphasis, and which are MUCH LESS UNNERVING to the reader than ALL CAPS.]
Dead Tree News
Recently I was reminded again that I really needed and wanted to read R.H. Blyth’s seminal four-volume work Haiku, first published in the late forties, which was one of the main instruments for introducing haiku to the general public in the Western world. Blyth introduced a lot of misconceptions about haiku too — the idea that it was somehow fundamentally attached to Zen Buddhism, perhaps, being the main one. But he also passionately loved and was intimately familiar with the body of classical Japanese haiku (not to mention having an encyclopedic knowledge of Western poetry), and did translations of thousands of them that, although they sometimes are more poetic than accurate, are really, really lovely. So as long as you take him with several pounds of salt, he is still well worth reading.
The problem is, Haiku is out of print and commands an impressive price on the used-book market. And though I had no problem borrowing the volumes from my university’s library (libraries, people! wonderful things! use them!</librarian sales pitch>), I realized almost as soon as I started reading them that I needed to own them myself. So one night I was noodling around on Amazon looking at the ridiculous prices that some dealers were asking for these volumes ($700 just for the “Spring” volume?!), when I found what seemed like a very reasonable deal. And almost quicker than I could ask my husband, “Honey, would I be crazy if I paid this much money for four books?”, I’d ordered the things, and a few days later they arrived at my house all nicely wrapped in gloriously old-fashioned layers of brown paper. And lo, when I had removed all the wrapping paper, I discovered they were beautiful, and I was very happy.
I haven’t read them all yet. I suspect it will take months, if not years. But I am in love. The first volume is all about Eastern culture and haiku in general (and contains lots of very authoritative-sounding, incredibly well-written and inspiring, and dubious theories), and the remaining three volumes contain haiku translations and (highly subjective) commentary, in seasonal order starting with Spring and grouping the haiku by kigo. Pretty much any page you open to you’ll find something you love. I just opened the “Summer-Autumn” volume at random and look what I found:
Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.
— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth
I swear, I will never hit a fly again.
I’ll be back with more about Blyth someday soon, I promise.
(Note: Don Wentworth, over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, has been writing some thoughts about Blyth lately too — you’re well advised to take them in.)
Long day. (Although the days have gotten a bit shorter due to the earthquake, did you know?) Long month. All kinds of things shifting and spinning. That catfish still restless underground.
But haiku is still there. The haikuverse is still full, still worth exploring. It’s some comfort to me, how about you?