April 4: Vietnam Era (Haibun)

Vietnam Era

Baby, baby, wash your hair in gravy!
Dry it out with bubble gum and send it to the navy.

We cling to the safety of a thick tree trunk, the three of us, four years old apiece, peering between the branches in satisfaction as our three-year-old victim cries in confusion. She isn’t even sure what we’re talking about—because, of course, what we’re talking about makes no sense—but she can tell we mean her harm. We mean her harm because she’s young and weak and we want to believe that we’re not. Because there are three of us and one of her. Because we have a sturdy tree to hide behind and she doesn’t. We are filled with blinding certainty and superiority until like lightning our tiny, white-haired, ferocious nursery-school teacher descends upon us, the wrath of God coming to punish us for our sins. “Go sit on the porch for the rest of recess!” she shouts. “How dare you make fun of someone like that, someone smaller than you! You should all be ashamed!” And just like that, we all are.

mute button
the last generation’s war
rages on the screen

 

 

________________________________________________

first published in Haibun Today 5:1, March 2011

Regent Writing Circle: Welcome

writing haiku
I forget to look around
during the journey

.

________________________

.

Just a quick note to say hi to the members of my son’s writing group, who will be learning about haiku this week and have been assigned to read this blog for homework. Homework! I’m homework now? I don’t know how I feel about that. I feel a little stodgy, I think. I might need to run off and get a tattoo or dye my hair blue or something.

I do have an invitation for you RWC folks. If there’s enough interest, I’d like to put together a post featuring your haiku — ones that you write either this week or during class next week or shortly thereafter. I would work with you to revise them and post them under whatever name you want, your real name or a “haiku name” (famous Japanese haiku poets all have special haiku names) or “some teenager” or “anonymous” or whatever. Think about it and let Ben know next week if you’re interested.

Enjoy your visit, and feel free to leave a comment or email me if you have any questions.

 

NaHaiWriMo, Week One

1    hailstones dreaming of semiautomatic weapons
2    blizzard so many ways to fly
3    lunar new year stamps so that’s what persimmons look like
4    stone wall the gaps in what you tell me about yourself
5    honeybee sting the desperation of the search for sweetness
6    environmentally conscious recycling your love letters
7    fiddleheads the family I never see anymore

_________________

I wasn’t going to do NaHaiWriMo, because I figured, I already write a haiku (or two, or ten, or thirty) every day, why should I make a special event of it?

But then I got carried away by all the fun everyone else seemed to be having doing it (man, over on Facebook people are partying it up), and then I thought of a theme, or a gimmick, or something, that got me more interested in it. I decided to write only one-liners. So many of my ku already start out as one-liners (and then get rewritten into whatever number of lines seems to work best for them) that I thought this couldn’t be too painful.

I also decided not to put too much pressure on myself to make these brilliant, and I also also decided not to post them on the blog or Facebook every day. I’ve been tweeting them instead (@myyozh, in case you’re interested). For some reason I am more laid-back on Twitter. It’s a pretty laid-back place. Not that this blog is exactly known for its uptight vibe, but, you know. I don’t like to let you guys down.

I don’t completely hate the way all of these are turning out, though. So I decided to put them up one week at a time. That way the effect of the really mediocre ones is mitigated somewhat. Also I kind of like the juxtaposition of the varied subjects I’m coming up with.

A couple notes:

  • Yes, there is a little snow here. But not the actual word snow. That would be wrong, wrong, wrong. And if you have an actual blizzard, how can you not write a haiku about it? That would be wrong too.
  • Also, U.S. readers may feel tempted to point out to me that the fruit on this year’s Lunar New Year stamps is kumquats, not persimmons. Geez. Picky, picky, picky. I mean, the whole point of the poem is that I don’t know what persimmons look like, right? I’ve been so baffled the last couple of months trying to understand all these persimmon haiku that everyone writes. No persimmons in Wisconsin. I’m sure you can buy them somewhere but what can I say, I’m a little afraid of strange fruit. I also could just Google to see what they look like but what fun would that be? Sometimes you just have to say no to Google. (Hi, my name is Melissa and I go to library school.)

Tune in next week, same time, same place, for seven more of these.

Haiku North America Conference 2011

NOTE: HNA 2011 will now NOT take place in Rochester, but in Seattle, Washington, from August 3-7.

Please check out the new details at the above link or at the HNA website!

I am only leaving this page up for archival purposes. Again, its details have been superseded by the information at the links above.

______________________________

 

Michael Dylan Welch, the vice-president of the Haiku Society of America and an organizer of this conference, sent me this press release to post here, which I am very happy to do because I want you all to come to this.

I mean, I’m not completely sure I’m going to be able to come to it — I was definitely going to when they were planning to have it in Decatur, which is not all that far from here, but getting to Rochester will require some serious planning. And money. And luck. But if I can, I will, because I had a fantastic time at my first haiku conference and I think if anything this will be even better. And then we’ll all see each other there. Right?

_______________

New Location: Haiku North America to be Held in Rochester, New York, July 27–31, 2011

Organizers of the 2011 Haiku North America conference are pleased to announce that Rochester, New York, will now host the 2011 HNA conference, to be held July 27–31, 2011. The conference will maintain the theme of education in haiku and will take place at the Rochester Institute of Technology, cosponsored by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, by the Postsecondary Educational Network-International funded by the Nippon Foundation of Tokyo, and by the Rochester Area Haiku Group. Led by Jerome Cushman, the local organizing committee also includes Carolyn Dancy, Deb Koen, and Deanna Tiefenthal, with local and long-distance help from Francine Banwarth, Randy Brooks, and others. Anticipated activities include an Erie Canal boat cruise, banquet, regional readings, a memorial reading, anthology, T-shirts, and possible visits to nearby cultural attractions, including the National Museum of Play and a guided tour of historic Mt. Hope Cemetery, the oldest Victorian municipal cemetery in America and burial site of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas, and poet Adelaide Crapsey. More details will be provided at www.haikunorthamerica.com and on the HNA Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Haiku-North-America/113127392085466 (please take a look and click Like! if you’re a Facebook member). For more information, please contact Jerome Cushman at jercush@aol.com or Michael Dylan Welch at welchm@aol.com. We look forward to seeing you at Haiku North America in Rochester!

Note: Randy Brooks and Millikin University regret that they are not able to host HNA in 2011. We’re grateful for Randy’s initial work in planning HNA for 2011, and also grateful to haiku poets in Rochester, New York, for taking on the conference. Don’t miss it!
—Michael Dylan Welch, Garry Gay, and Paul Miller

Call for Proposals
If you already submitted a proposal for HNA at Millikin University, it will still be considered (no need to resend). If you would like to submit a new proposal, please send it to Michael Dylan Welch at WelchM@aol.com by January 31, 2011. The theme will be education in haiku, but proposals do not have to fit the theme. Proposals can include papers, presentations, panel discussions, readings, workshops, or other activities featuring haiku and related literature (except tanka) in North America. Please provide the following details with your proposal (directly in your email message; no attached files, please):

1.       Title (as you would want it to appear in the conference program—make it catchy or provocative if appropriate).
2.       A maximum of 50 words describing your presentation (as you would want it to appear in the conference program; please write to attract an audience).
3.       Additional descriptions or goals of your presentation (for the benefit of conference organizers), mentioning any planned handouts or activities.
4.       Special needs such as digital projection (for PowerPoint presentations), audio, whiteboard, etc.
5.       Length of time needed or preferred.

365 Poems

Because we are big geeks in our family, this is what my son got for his sixteenth birthday*:

Basically what it is, is an empty box. That I ineptly decoupaged with a bunch of random scraps of paper I had left over from various other inept craft projects that I have unwisely attempted over the years. I know! I’m the world’s best mother, right?

The thing is — because, as I mentioned, we’re all geeks here — once I explained the purpose of this box, my son, instead of giving me a look like, “Now I have plenty of material for the therapy sessions I will require in ten years or so,” said, “Oh! Cool!” And from the way his eyes lit up I could tell he was not just indulging his insane mother while making a mental note to go to college as far away from home as possible.

The purpose of the box, you see, is to accumulate poems. One a day for a year. Not my poems, God forbid — if he’s really dying to read those he can check out the blog, which I have reason to believe he does occasionally when he has nothing better to do, which is hardly ever. No, these are, you know, real poems. By real poets. I’ve been photocopying up a storm from my small but select collection of poetry books, as well as printing things off the Interwebs, and late at night the Poetry Fairy comes and … okay, I don’t really make an attempt to perpetuate that fiction with a sixteen-year-old. I have my limits. But I do put a poem in the box every day (unless I go to a haiku festival and forget, in which case I put three in the day I remember).

The main criteria I have for these poems is that they be: a) not crap; b) poems I enjoy; c) poems I sincerely believe my son will enjoy. I’m not attempting to provide him with the Greatest Hits of English Poetry. (Though I do try to cover a range of eras and types of poetry, just because you never know what will click with someone.) The purpose here is not really educational, except in the sense that everything is educational. (Ask me about my educational philosophy some time if you really want me to blather on interminably.) The purpose is more — to foster joy. Joy in the possibilities of language, the possibilities of imagination, the possibilities of human thought.

This is a kid who has been performing in uncut productions of Shakespeare’s plays a couple of times a year since he was nine, so he knows from great poetry, and he appreciates wonderful language. But I’ve been thinking for a while that he would enjoy a lot of other types of poetry, while being confounded about how, exactly, to sneak in a course of poetry appreciation amid all his other myriad activities. (Oh — he doesn’t go to school, did I mention? Who has time for that, anyway?) Then I thought, “One poem a day. That’s how to do it.” And the box was born.

So the reason I’m bringing this up now — I can hear you sighing in relief as I get to the bloody point already — is that what went in the box today was a couple of Japanese haiku, each in two different translations. Because reading different translations of Japanese haiku is one of my favorite things to do, and I thought my son would enjoy it too. And then I thought that you might enjoy it, too. So here they are.

I hope you can actually read them. They’re by Basho and Moritake. I’m not sure who the translators are because the poetry textbook I took them from didn’t say (bad poetry textbook!).

If you are interested in comparative haiku translation there are lots of great books and websites that feature competing translations — sometimes 30 or more translations of the same ku, such as this page which offers up translations of perhaps the most famous classical Japanese ku, Basho’s furuike ya or frogpond haiku. (There’s a link to it on my sidebar as well.)

Here are two different versions from that page, just to give you some sense of how widely translations can vary:

Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.

– Lafcadio Hearn

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

– Curtis Hidden Page

Does that blow your mind or what? I think it’s pretty safe to say that the second version takes some, um, considerable liberties with Basho’s verse. The first is pretty literal, which is much more the trend these days (though Hearn was writing in the nineteenth century). Even closely literal translations, though, can vary quite a bit, just because of the effort of cramming Japanese syntax into something readable by English speakers.

Okay, thus endeth the lesson for the day. You can all return to your regularly scheduled lives now, and think fondly about your own mothers, who would never have dreamed of pulling such a stunt on you.

______________________

*That wasn’t all he got for his birthday, in case you are thinking of reporting me to Child Welfare or something. He also got some cool running shoes and new shifters for his bike. And with his birthday money from relatives he bought himself an iPhone 4. We don’t live entirely in the past around here. Though sometimes we think it would be nice to try.

Haiku in “The Makioka Sisters”

When I was writing about renga the other day, I said something about poetry writing having been a basic communication tool for the Japanese (at least the upper classes) back in the old days.

At the time, I was thinking “old days” = hundreds of years ago. But later, I remembered a scene from my favorite Japanese novel, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, which is set in the 1930s. This wonderful scene describes a family — three adults and a ten-year-old girl — writing poetry together as an evening activity the way an American family might play a board game.

Background: The book describes the lives of an upper-middle-class family consisting of four sisters, two married and two not. (Much of the drama of the story lies in the family’s efforts to get the two single sisters married off, and protect their reputations in the meantime. The book reads amazingly like a nineteenth-century English or French or Russian novel.)

At the beginning of the story, one married sister is living in Tokyo with her family; the other three are living in Osaka in the household of the other married sister. Then, due to complicated circumstances, one of the single sisters goes to live in Tokyo too. Everyone misses her. So — apparently more or less as a matter of course — they decide one night to write her some poetry:

“Suppose we each write something,” said Teinosuke [the married sister's husband]. It was some twenty days later, on the night of the autumn full moon. Everyone thought this an excellent idea, and after dinner Teinosuke, Sachiko, Taeko, and Etsuko gathered near the veranda of a Japanese-style room downstairs. The traditional moon-viewing flowers and fruit had been set out. When O-haru had ground the ink, Teinosuke, Sachiko, and Etsuko each composed a poem. Taeko, who was not good at poetry, did a quick ink wash of the moon coming through pine branches.

The clouds are passing.

The pines reach out for the moon.

Teinosuke

The night of the full moon.

Here, one shadow is missing.

– Sachiko

The moon tonight–

Yukiko sees it in Tokyo.

– Etsuko

– Junichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters, trans. Edward Seidensticker

(The final poem, by the way, is by the ten-year-old.)

I don’t know whether these poems are meant to be haiku in the original Japanese. They are certainly haiku-like, though. And it’s interesting to me that there doesn’t seem to be any discussion among the family about what kind of poetry to write, yet everyone produces the same kind, as if everyone just knows that this is the kind of poetry you write on an occasion like this. Clearly poetry-writing has been a standard part of their upbringing and education. (I also think it’s touching and funny that there’s one sister who considers herself, or is considered, “not good at poetry,” and who instead specializes in a different sort of traditional Japanese art.)

Tanizaki wrote this book during and after World War II partly out of nostalgia for what he saw as the lost culture of prewar Japan — there is a lot of information about the family engaging in traditional Japanese music, dance, theater, and crafts as well. So maybe he was simply more inclined to portray characters as cultured and artistic, and this is not a realistic representation of what a typical Japanese family of their class and time would have done. But the scene seems so quiet and matter-of-fact that it’s hard to believe it was a complete fantasy on his part.