The Lives of Poets, No. 1: Peter Newton

A while back I conceived this idea to harass all my favorite poets by sending them an interminable list of questions and whining until they answered them all so I could post the answers here. I immediately sat down and drew up the list of questions and saved it as a Word doc entitled “Questions to Annoy Poets With.” But then I wasn’t brave enough to actually do anything about it for a while. Because, you know, I might annoy someone.

Then over the summer I met Peter Newton, whose poetry I’ve admired for a long time, at the Haiku Circle in Northfield, Massachusetts. He was friendly and kind and since we’ve exchanged cordial email messages off and on for a while, it occurred to me that he probably wouldn’t actually bite if I sent him this long list of troublesome questions and audaciously invited him to lay bare his poet’s heart. Plus, with school starting again today, I needed to come up with some way of formulating interesting blog posts without actually writing them myself. The idea of making other people write them was getting more attractive all the time.

And to my delight, Peter not only responded to my request but did so at great and thoughtful and illuminating length. I’m so pleased to present his words to you and hope I’ll have the opportunity to do the same with many more poets in the future. But for now I’ll just get out of the way and let Peter speak.

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Peter Newton

Peter Newton: The Interview

The Basics

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Name/pen name:

Peter Newton

Day job/occupation:

Stained glass artist.

Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):

Generally, I’m a low-tech person. I work with my hands all day. I’ve never owned a cell phone and I use my laptop as a typewriter that remembers everything. However, the idea of the Twitter stream interested me a few years ago. I think I’m up to a whopping 300 or so tweets, mostly poems of mine and poetry related information. Twitter.com: @ThePeterNewton

Family, pets, non-poetry hobbies, etc.:

Partner of 27 years is Mark Pietrzak. No kids. A dog named Possum. Since I’m self-employed and work at home, my hobbies include working on my old house (1883) and dabbling in yardwork (cutting the lawn).  I’m pretty active in my small town of Winchendon, Massachusetts (aka “Toy Town”). I belong to the Historical Society, community volunteer groups, etc. One of the great things about living in a small, remote place is that one person can make a difference.

Love to plant things, just as long as they can take care of themselves after awhile. I spend two months a year up in Vermont where I work at The Bread Loaf School of English and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Something I’ve done for two dozen summers. Not much of my free time is non-poetry related, I must admit. Though I went to college and got my M.A. to become an English teacher I now spend most of my days in a small glass workshop making fun, funky, 3-D creations for the mass gift market. And I feel like I’m right where I need to be. What’s that zen saying: “No snowflake falls in the wrong place.”

How long you’ve been writing haiku and what gave you the idea to do such a crazy thing in the first place:

I started writing haiku in the early 90s while I was living in Atlanta. I was struck by a reading William Matthews gave up at Bread Loaf around that time. He opened his reading with a dozen or so one-line poems (with titles, which I always thought was kind of cheating) and they were great. I was impressed with how much could be conveyed in a handful of words. They were funny and serious but all were almost philosophical. And surprising.

Matthews got me thinking about words in a new way. If they were the right words in the right order, they were like seeds in the reader’s mind that could grow and grow. I think that was my first interest in really exploring short form poems of my own. Then of course came the long and tedious tutelage of Robert Spiess at Modern Haiku. I say tedious because as many out there know his criticisms were even shorter than the poems he wrote. And I say tutelage because he was very patient and kind toward me and my early efforts at haiku and senryu. I spent years re-teaching myself how to write. Re-thinking how I look at the world. Learning to pay attention. Still at it.

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The Nitty-Gritty

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Do you have a personal philosophy of haiku or a particular vision of haiku poetics? What do you think haiku are, or should look like, or should be, in English? What do you think their purpose is?

A haiku is a poem and far more than a poem. It’s the road and the destination at the same time. I know that sounds a bit vague and Zen-ny but the point is that haiku have allowed me to see the world with “fresh eyes,” as Basho said. A world that I had spent many years observing closely as a poet but in some ways never really lived in. Some sort of barrier was removed between me and the rest of the world when I started reading, writing and studying haiku seriously. Through my awareness of ordinary things and occurrences I feel like I am able to appreciate my place in the world. The haiku poet learns to look at life very democratically. A blade of grass can equal many things. Birdsong becomes the soundtrack for your life. Along with the wind, the swell of tides, a person’s voice. You get the idea. Haiku means going green. Not just back to nature, but back to your roots as a human being. Fresh eyes. Picasso had a saying: “It takes a long time to become young.” Makes sense to me.

Haiku has been a kind of reincarnation in my poetic life. I had given up on the whole mainstream poetry publishing game. Haiku allowed me to see poetry as something new and exciting. To see poetry for what it is and always has been, for me anyway, a small song about the world I live in. A glimpse. An elevation of the pedestrian detail—the dog asleep in her strip of sunlight, the cardinal’s red, the sunflower’s bow. Haiku are the way I make my real life imaginary. And my imaginary life real.

If I have any haiku philosophy it is: say it from the start. Don’t hold back. No one else can say whatever it is you have to say. Even if they wanted to. If you don’t say it, no one else will. As Emerson said “writing means hurling yourself at the mark when all your arrows are spent.” My approach to haiku is my approach to life, which is also short.

Rediscovering haiku has been like finding a homeland I didn’t know I had. Each day is another adventure on Haiku Island, to borrow Jim Kacian’s analogy. Here on the island, I am free to wander like a curious kid who’s old enough to know there’s always more to learn. Haiku are the lessons you teach yourself. Bookmarks in the good parts of your life you might want to come back to, or share with someone else. A chronicle of perfect moments, I’ve said before. And that remains true.

What should haiku look like? Not for me to say. Whatever can be imagined. They probably should fit on a bumper sticker though. A t-shirt, maybe. I do believe in the underlying principles of Japanese haiku construction: our relationship with nature, collaboration with the reader, a wabi-sabi appreciation. A less is more approach. Less intellect and more sense. And that haiku be the poetry of the people. Inclusive, not exclusive.

I like to tell the story I either heard or made up at this point but the one about the famous old poet being interviewed by a reporter. The reporter asks: “So, what made you start writing poetry in the first place?” And the famous old poet answers: “The question is not what made me start writing poetry. It’s what made everyone else stop?”

The Haiku Society of America has an Education Committee but really it includes each of us reading and writing haiku today. We need to help spread the word about the risks of confusing haiku with the limerick, for example and the rewards of noticing something in your own back yard, for the first time, and setting it to words.

As far as the purpose of haiku? Discipline, restraint, gratitude. These are not bad life lessons just in case we didn’t get enough growing up. Basho set out on his 1,500-mile field trip for a lot of reasons, many of which we’ll never know. But one thing is clear to me. Basho sought a greater awareness and enjoyment of the fact that we, as people, are more alike than we are different. Certainly, all poetry tells us this.

So I say haiku is a way of life and people sometimes ask: what do you mean by that? Like some kind of poetry cult? Not exactly. It’s just that no matter how many times I hear the red-winged blackbird skip its stone song across the pond. I stop. Keep quiet. It’s the only proper way I know how to answer. That’s the haiku way of life.

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What does your haiku writing practice look like? Do you write daily or regularly? Do you have special times or places you like to write? Do you write longhand or on a computer? Do you revise extensively? Is there anything in particular you do to put yourself in “haiku mode?”

Again, working backward toward the truth. I have to start from now, just like in haiku. It’s more a matter of what I don’t do in order to get into the haiku mode. I try to back away from the fray. I’m a bit of an ostrich in that I stick my head in the sand when it comes to the goings-on of the world at large. That reminds me, I really do need to cancel my satellite dish service. The world will go on with or without me. Better for me to focus on the tasks at hand. This poem. This breath. Okay, that yard full of leaves. That woodpile to be stacked. “Haiku mode” is synonymous for living well. Life is full enough without being plugged-in 24/7. Am I sounding like a Luddite yet?

Writing haiku is a daily practice for me, in the early mornings, usually, sitting in the same spot with a cup of coffee and the same view that only changes with the seasons. I have stared out that east window toward the cupola of our old barn for so many years I feel part swallow, part squirrel – the one we never seem to be able to get rid of. I give up. And discover that the state of surrender is a pretty cool place to live. I continue to strive toward that home anyway. The next haiku I write starts out as an invitation to sit awhile. Be quiet. I am a witness to generations of yard fowl. I watch the hemlocks grow into themselves.

I write on my laptop from notes I scribble on pieces of paper that I carry around in my pockets. I’m not obsessed but more automatic when it comes to carrying a pen and paper. I learned early on that the role of the writer is to write what you know. So, it’s a good idea to take notes along the way. Life’s distracting. I’m sure there are many wonderful poems out there that got forgotten by me and many others. We should arm ourselves with writing utensils. At the ready.

Haiku revision? Absolutely. Only after days or weeks or longer of repeating words, committing some to memory do the real words emerge. Imposters fall away. They can’t hold on long enough. True haiku stay with you. Kerouac said “Haiku should be plain as porridge.” Maybe he also meant that the good ones fill you up, stick to your ribs.

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What does your haiku reading practice look like? Are there poets you particularly appreciate? Journals you find especially inspiring? Do you read haiku daily? Do you read mostly English-language haiku or do you read a great deal of Japanese haiku (in translation or not) or haiku in other languages? Are there books you would recommend, either of haiku or about haiku?

Read people you love. And, of course, I mean that figuratively. Read people whose poems you love. I keep certain books close by at all times. And a pile by the bed, a few on the shelf, some in the car. It’s silly almost. Books are scattered throughout my life. No one would ever guess that I actually know where and how they are “filed.” How I look at Peggy Willis Lyles’ haiku as a kind of touchstone. At Stan Forrester’s as the perfect gift. John Stevenson as a friend I never met. And many others. I have relationships with books and look at libraries with a reverence some reserve for church.

So, I read haiku everyday. A few, dozens or maybe a hundred. By all different poets. All in English. None in translation unless they are published in the handful of journals I check in on regularly: Acorn, Chrysanthemum, Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Notes from the Gean, Roadrunner. And a few blogs and websites I admire aside from this one include: Curtis Dunlap’s Blogging Along Tobacco Road, Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site See Haiku Here, Don Wentworth’s Issa’s Untidy Hut, The Haiku Foundation’s various forums, Cornell’s Mann Library’s Daily Haiku, Tinywords, and occasionally Twitter, which streams a surprising number of true talents if you don’t mind wading through a little drivel, some of it, no doubt, my own.

One thing’s for sure. I could spend my life reading the work of all the haiku poets out there. And I think that number is growing. Hope it is.

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Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing haiku? Or about how annoying these questions are?

Just a reminder to myself to always be open to new voices—my own and those of others just arriving on Haiku Island.

Rumi said: “You become what you love.” And I believe him. I like to think that I’m part haiku by now . . . open, unfinished, imperfect.

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Which of your haiku would you like to share with my readers?

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over my thoughts the hush of pines

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in the cat’s mouth
a handful of feathers
& how many songs

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mid-argument
wind chimes
we gave each other

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whatever I was thinking the cardinal’s red

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– Peter Newton

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Haiku North America, Day 5 (The End)

What do you do at a haiku conference when you’re done conferring? When all the books and handouts and PowerPoint slides have been packed away, when all the lecturers have had their last sips of water, when half the conferees have departed by plane or train or automobile…but you can’t. quite. stop.

You go for a boat ride, of course.

Katharine Hawkinson and Argosy Cruises

The last official activity of HNA was a tour on Argosy Cruises out to Blake Island in Puget Sound and back. (That’s Katharine Hawkinson up there. She’s a haiku poet and a tour boat captain. She didn’t captain us, though, because she was too busy making sure none of us got lost. She’s very good at doing that.)

It’s Seattle, so it was foggy in the morning. My photos all turned out very…wabi-sabi. Yes. That’s what I’m calling it.

Seattle in fog

View of Seattle in fog

However, we kept our spirits up, some of us by pretending to be frogs…

Billie Dee in frog hat

Emiko Miyashita, Fay Aoyagi, Lidia Rozmus

(Top to bottom, left to right: Billie Dee, Emiko Miyashita, Fay Aoyagi, Lidia Rozmus)

… and some of us by listening to our great tour guide, Jim, telling stories about Chief Seattle and his tribe and the way they assisted the generally hapless European settlers. The old American story.

Jim the tour guide

Blake Island is, in fact, where Chief Sealth (later Seattle) was born. It’s a state park now with campgrounds and hiking trails and so on, and also something called “Tillicum Village” where the heritage of the native peoples of the area is celebrated.

Blake Island

Tillicum Village

Totem pole

Half a dozen of us got the idea to circumnavigate the island on the 3-mile-or-so trail that skirts the water’s edge. We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to be at Tillicum Village for a smoked salmon lunch and Native dance performance, so this seemed like plenty of time. We started out at an extremely leisurely place, stopping to ooh and aah over the fauna and flora, trade the names of things in Japanese and English (did you know the Japanese also call forget-me-nots forget-me-nots? I mean, you know, in Japanese), and take notes either mentally or on paper for possible future haiku.

Billie Dee and deer

(In case you can’t tell, that’s Billie Dee in the background watching the deer.)

Forget-me-notsFerns and tree trunk

Foxglove

Cedar

Tree trunksPoets look for pens

sound of waves
the haiku poets all reach
for their pens

(Terry Ann Carter, Emiko Miyashita, Lidia Rozmus — reaching)

Forty-five minutes from Seattle by boat, and sometimes it felt like we were lost in the wilderness.

Charlie Trumbull, Fay Aoyagi

We kind of liked it that way.

Emiko Miyashita, Terry Ann Carter

(Wow…I just noticed those bright flashes of red in this landscape.)

Fay Aoyagi and Lidia Rozmus

(Top to bottom, left to right: Charlie Trumbull, Fay Aoyagi, Emiko Miyashita, Terry Ann Carter, Fay Aoyagi again, Lidia Rozmus)

At some point in this lovely idyll we realized that our poet’s pace was not going to cut it if we wanted to make it back to Tillicum Village in time to eat our smoked salmon, so we had to start panting instead of poetizing. But we managed to hit the front porch of the lodge just as the steamed clams were being served. And as they were finishing up smoking our salmon in the traditional manner in the front hall.

Salmon smoking

Men smoking salmon

One thing our tour guide Jim mentioned on the boat was the fact that although in early times Native Americans in most other parts of the continent had to spend up to ninety percent of their time hunting or gathering food in order to survive, the incredible abundance of salmon on the coast meant that in this area, the Native Americans had plenty of leisure time to create complicated, sophisticated, large-scale works of art, such as totem poles and paintings and elaborate costumes for elaborate dances.

Totem poleCat paintingNative dance costume

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It reminded me that the development of art in all times and in all places has depended on a certain degree of wealth that facilitates a certain degree of leisure. Leisure to sit around reading and writing poetry, leisure to travel halfway across the country to meet other people who like to do these things. We’re lucky people, in other words. I try to remember that.

The salmon was delicious, the storytelling and dancing was fascinating, and I was thrilled to get a chance to chat over lunch with Abigail Friedman, the author of The Haiku Apprentice, which I have discussed here several times and is still one of my favorite books about haiku. And with Fay Aoyagi, who has long been one of my favorite haiku poets.

The whole week was like that. Meeting so many people who have shaped my haiku and my thinking about haiku in such important ways. And meeting new people who I can tell will be shaping it in the future. Talking constantly, about haiku, about poetry in general, about words, about our lives with words and our lives in general. It was very different from my “normal” life, which is quite solitary, really, and very quiet. I need a lot of space around me as a rule, but I was happy to be crowded this week. To fill my brain with other people’s sparkly exciting ideas instead of just bouncing my own around the echo chamber of my skull.

Not that there wasn’t some time for solitary reflection this week. Sometimes you just have to slip away and stare out to sea.

Abigail Friedman, Lidia Rozmus

Lidia Rozmus looks out to sea

(That’s Abigail Friedman and Lidia Rozmus talking up on top, and then Lidia looking out at Puget Sound.)

For the amazing job they all did preparing and executing this conference, shepherding and entertaining us, dealing gracefully and cleverly with the inevitable snafus … huge thanks to the HNA planning committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry; to key volunteers Dianne Garcia, Katharine Hawkinson, and Tracy Koretsky; and to a whole host of other volunteers and supporters way too long to list.

Here’s Tanya, walking and thinking at her usual speedy pace late in the day on Sunday. That’s half of Michael in the background, in his trademark “Watch out, Michael has the camera out” pose. (And Emiko Miyashita between them, determinedly leading us around Pike Place Market on a mission to inspect the fish…

Tanya McDonald and Michael Dylan Welch

… and score some smoked salmon samples for us. She is a force of nature.)

Emiko Miyashita at fish market

My day, my conference, ended with a slightly drunken, more than slightly exhausted dinner at a seafood restaurant with those three, Katharine Hawkinson and her husband Kevin, Fay Aoyagi, and Makoto Nakanishi,  a Japanese haijin.

Fay Aoyagi, Makoto Nakanishi

And then a sleepy ride back to the hotel on the monorail. Feeling sated in so many ways. Thanks, everyone.

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(I would especially like to say thank you to my mother, Sheila Allen, for substantially underwriting this trip despite not really understanding what this haiku stuff is all about. Mothers are like that. Love you, Mom.)

Haiku North America, Day 4

In the last installment of this thrilling diary, as you may recall, we left our heroes at a bar in the small hours of the morning. After the small hours of the morning, I’m sure you’re aware, come the large hours of the morning, and if you haven’t slept very much in between the small hours and the large hours, the large hours can be very painful.

All this is by way of excuse for my missing the first event of Saturday morning, a panel discussion by Maggie Chula, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball, and Garry Gay called, “Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades.” I heard from reliable reporters that it was a fascinating discussion, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it while holding my head and moaning. To distract you from the fact that I have nothing to report from this session, I will now present some placeholding Pretty Pictures from Around the Conference.

Ikebana 1Ikebana 2Seattle Center courtyard

Great ikebana, eh? Beautiful courtyard sculpture. Now what were we talking about?

… Oh yes. The second session of the morning. Of many tempting options I chose to attend Paul Miller‘s talk on “Stretching Western Haiku (Gendai Haiku in the West).” The question Paul posed to us was, “How far can you stretch haiku and still consider it haiku?”

I’m not sure he or any of us came to a definitive conclusion on this, but Paul did an excellent job of analyzing Japanese gendai haiku and dividing it into some broad categories, including: Haiku that are metaphors or similes; Haiku that are “fantastic transformations” (in the “fantasy” or surreal sense of the word) where one object turns into another in a way that is impossible in real life; Haiku that are “fantastic metaphors”; Haiku that are “just fantastic”; Haiku that directly tell; Haiku that are “private discourse,” depending on associations known only to the author; and Haiku that contain abstract language. In Paul’s estimation, only the second, third, and fourth categories are really effective as haiku. Here’s one from category two that most of us really liked:

After a heated argument
I go out to the street
and become a motorcycle.

— Kaneko Tota

I might not place all Paul’s examples into the same categories he did, I might not have the same categories, and I might not have the same opinions about which haiku and which categories are effective. But as he said, this is just a place to begin thinking and talking about gendai and how it works. There will certainly continue to be endless discussion in the years to come.

…And oh yeah. Charlie Trumbull didn’t announce this until later in the day on Saturday, but here would probably be a good place to report that Paul will be the next editor of Modern Haiku, starting in the spring of 2013. Congratulations to him. Here he is (he’s not this blurry in real life):

Paul Miller

Shortly after this session ended we were all shooed in the direction of the Space Needle (a few blocks from our convention center) for the HNA banquet. You know how banquets work, right? You have them in landmark buildings in rooms with spectacular views … no, wait. Usually you have them in dark, dull hotel banquet rooms with no windows. Thanks to the HNA planning committee for making ours more interesting.

View from Space Needle

We did have some more normal banquet features, such as banquet tables that everyone takes an endless time to get settled at because they’re all busy talking to each other.

HNA BanquetEve Luckring and KazJim Kacian, Marilyn Hazelton, Billie Dee, Richard GilbertAlso, a charity auction with a highly entertaining auctioneer who is also a haiku poet, named David Ash. It was called an Unsilent Auction because mostly it was a silent auction except for the part where David was talking. If you see what I mean.

Silently, I won (by cleverly bidding four dollars over the cover price) a copy of John Martone’s Ksana, which I have wanted since the moment I first heard it existed. No, you can’t borrow it.

… Oh yes. And what haiku conference would be complete without a visit from Elvis?

David Ash

Elvis with Katharine Hawkinson

Not HNA, that’s for sure. That’s Carlos Colon all dressed up there (with HNA volunteer and organizer extraordinaire Katharine Hawkinson). Without video or audio I cannot fully convey to you the brilliance of Carlos’s performance as Haiku Poet Elvis. There were many hardened poets laughing so hard that tears came to their eyes and they nearly needed to be resuscitated. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard myself I would have written down Elvis’s entire haiku repertoire, which amounted to several dozen poems, but here are a couple I managed to control myself long enough to record. These were all interspersed with appropriate Elvis-like patter. Again, it had to be seen to be believed.

Lily…
out of the water
out of her suit

jailhouse rock
it bounces off the head
of a heckler

— Carlos Colon (“Elvis”)

Carlos was a tough act to follow but unfortunately I had to follow him. Not just me, of course — me, Fay Aoyagi, Gene Myers, and Don Wentworth, who had to hustle down from the Space Needle and get back to the conference center for our presentation on Haiku Blogging. We were delayed a bit waiting for the audience members who were still in the elevator trying to get off the top of the Needle. Still, we had a fairly entertaining discussion and not a bad crowd at all considering most of them were still trying to digest banquet food and the amazing spectacle of Carlos Colon as Elvis. I don’t have any pictures, sorry, I forgot to give my phone to anyone to record me for posterity. (There are some pictures floating around Facebook, though, if you hang out there in haiku circles. I look like a tired, short woman sitting at a table.)

Far more interesting was the next presentation, by Eve Luckring, on “Video Renku: Link and Shift in Visual Language.” Eve is a photographer and filmmaker as well as a highly original haiku poet. She began by discussing the film technique of Sergei Eisenstein, including his theory of “montage” and the different visual effects that could be used by filmmakers to evoke different emotional responses. We saw numerous clips from Eisenstein films such as “Battleship Potemkin.”

Then, brilliantly, Eve drew parallels with these montage techniques and the linking techniques used in renku, such as word association and the elusive concept of “scent.” When our minds had been sufficiently blown by this comparison, she introduced an exercise: Giving us all prints of photographs, she asked us to write a renku link to them, concentrating primarily not on the subject matter of the photograph but on its visual elements (see below for Eve’s slide describing these).

It’s difficult to explain without presenting these photographs exactly how this exercise worked or how brilliantly compelling it was, but when I get home I am going to do some more of this. I found it really worked to knock loose unusual images and unexpected comparisons from my mind. This was one of my favorite presentations at the conference.

Eve Luckring
Visual language in photography

After this, I found myself once again compelled by exhaustion to miss a couple of events I would have loved to have seen and heard excellent reports of later — the folk music of La Famille Leger (Dejah Leger and her husband), and Terry Ann Carter‘s presentation on the history of haiku in Canada.

Instead, I went off and had a bite in the hotel courtyard and breathed for a while, and then came back to hear Charlie Trumbull‘s fascinating, comprehensive talk on the history of haiku in English. Can you say “forty-eleven well-designed PowerPoint slides accompanied by a well-structured, erudite, but eminently listenable speech that all must have taken Charlie the better part of forever to put together”? I thought so.

Here’s one of his slides pointing out the effect that the writings of Thoreau and Emerson had on early haiku poets in English. Obviously. Duh. I knew that.

Emerson and Thoreau

I was especially grateful for Charlie’s presentation during the next event of the evening. It was a “Haiku Bowl,” created and moderated by Charlie and Jim Kacian, and featuring two teams facing off, striving to win glory and honor by answering questions about haiku history. The Frog team featured contestants Eve Luckring, Michael Dylan Welch, David Lanoue, and Fay Aoyagi and the clacking alligators they used to signal when they knew the answer to a question. The Bird team featured contestants Emiko Miyashita, Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, me, and our bird whistles. (I would just like to state for the record that it takes longer to produce a sound with a bird whistle than an alligator clacker.)

Rooster whistle

Mostly I sat back in amazement while the other Birds and the Frogs brought forth all kinds of obscure haiku knowledge from the depths of their powerful brains. When I knew the answer to something, it was usually because everyone did. We were all greatly helped, though, by having just attended Charlie’s lecture. Our team was further assisted by having one of the questions be “What was the title of Cor van den Heuvel’s first published book?”

It was a fun, light-hearted contest and the two teams took turns being in the lead, ending with an elegantly arranged near-tie. Okay, technically the Frogs won, but only because they had a better idea of what the population of Livermore, California is. Don’t ask. But we all had a great time, and we also all got prizes. The Frogs got a box of flies and the Birds got a box of worms.

See?

Worm box

This rip-roaring pseudo-entertainment was followed by some real entertainment by talented people — La Famille Leger once again, providing the music for a square dance. It looked the kind of thing that would be great fun if you weren’t ready to topple over with exhaustion. So I stuck around to take a few pictures and then went back to the hotel. Where I stayed up too late blogging. But hey! At least I hadn’t had any fun square dancing!

La Famille Leger

Square dancing

Square dancing circle

… And that was the end to the official conference-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Coming tomorrow: The official tourist-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Featuring fog, panting hikers, totem poles, and salmon. Don’t miss it.

Haiku North America, Day 3

Long day. Long post. I’ll see what I can do but my usual sparkling repartee may be a little off. Feel free to insert wisecracks and trenchant observations of your own wherever you feel they’re appropriate.

Okay. (Deep breath.) Got up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday morning and ran off to a presentation by Wanda Cook on Erotic Haiku. (Actually, Wanda prefers to call them “sensual.”) In case you were wondering how many haiku poets actually write erotic/sensual haiku, Wanda’s unscientific survey of 30 haiku poets revealed that 28 of them do and the other 2 were offended by the very suggestion that they would do such a thing. Also, about the same percentages of men and women publish erotic haiku as publish haiku in general. (55% men, 45% women, more or less.) Here she is telling us all these things.

Wanda Cook

Wanda herself has been writing sensual haiku for a while (but her grown son doesn’t want to know about it, so shhh) and has collaborated quite a bit with Larry Kimmel on erotic haiku sequences.

frosted windows
holding him
deep inside

– Wanda Cook

She broke us up into small groups and gave us some sensual haiku to look at and try to decide whether it was written by a man or a woman and, I don’t know, how sensual it was exactly. Our group had a lively discussion about a haiku involving blackberries and lips (as Billie Dee asked, “Which lips?”). We mostly all thought it was written by a woman. It turned out to have been written by Michael Dylan Welch. So we were wrong.

Here are my fellow group members (Billie Dee, Garry Gay, Penny Harter) pondering it.

Billie DeeGarry Gay

Penny Harter

And below are a few of the other attendees at the presentation, doing likewise with their own assigned poems. (Dejah Leger, Johnny Baranski, Lidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie Trumbull, Tina Grabenhorst)

Dejah Leger, Johnny BaranskiLidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie TrumbullTina Grabenhorst

The mood turned a little more somber in the next hour as Marjorie Buettner presented a tribute to all the haiku poets that had died in the two years since the last HNA. It was meticulously researched and prepared and extremely moving.

Marjorie Buettner presentation

Then we were herded like cats by Michael Dylan Welch down a flight of steps to have our group picture taken. I took a picture of the photographers, because I always feel that zoo animals should be given cameras to record our crazy antics.

Photographers

Set free, I went to eat Indian food for lunch with Don Wentworth and Susan Diridoni. We ate too much and talked nonstop about poetry. Here is a dark and mysterious picture of Don.

Don Wentworth

Don has a great new chapbook out called Past All Traps which you should buy and read.

mistake after mistake
after mistake, adding up
to just the right thing
— Don Wentworth

(This is my new motto for life.)

Past All Traps

We rushed back after lunch so as not to miss Carlos Colon‘s presentation on concrete poetry. (Do a Google search for “concrete poetry” and click on “images.” Your mind will be blown.) It was a blast. Here are some examples from Carlos’s handout.

Concrete poetry

Then moving right along, to a great lecture by David Lanoue on the portrayal of frogs in the poetry of Issa – specifically, the way Issa attributes human qualities to frogs (and sometimes vice versa), which David attributes to Issa’s Pureland Buddhist beliefs about the essential equality of the souls of all creatures.

karisome no yomeri tsuki yo ya naku kawazu

a fleeting moonlit
wedding night…
frogs singing

— Issa, translated by David Lanoue

Here’s David, being thoughtful.

David Lanoue
… And zooming over to another room, for an open mic “Poetry Continuum” reading of the longer poetry of us haiku poets. I couldn’t believe the percentage of haiku poets who write non-haiku poetry. There was some great, great stuff. It was unanimously agreed that this should be a feature of all future incarnations of Haiku North America.

Here’s an assortment of poets who have taken off their haiku hats for the evening. (Cherie Hunter Day, Tracy Koretsky, Johnny Baranski, Ernesto Epistola, Margaret Chula, Kathy Munro, Terry Ann Carter, Tanya McDonald [waving the edition of A New Resonance her poetry appears in), and Ruth Yarrow)

Cherie Hunter DayTracy KoretskyJohnny BaranskiErnesto EpistolaMargaret ChulaKathy (kj) Munro

Tracy Ann CarterTanya McDonaldRuth Yarrow

After a lively dinner with Susan Diridoni, Tracy Koretsky, and Kathy Munro (can you imagine, there was more conversation about poetry), we headed back to hear yet another open mic, this one by poets who had recently published books (including Don). Didn’t get any pictures, sorry, I was too busy listening and admiring…

Then it was time for Richard Gilbert to give the William Higginson Memorial Lecture (this is the first time that one has been given). His topic was “Social Consciousness and the Poet’s Stance in 21st Century Haiku: From Kaneko Tohta to the Present.”

Richard Gilbert

Richard lives in Japan, is one of the world’s experts on gendai haiku, and is both extremely erudite and extremely passionate about his subject. He presented us with some dense, abstruse, but thought-provoking scholarship on modernist and post-modernist literature, including this passage from Charles Bernstein’s essay “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” which I may have to hang over my desk:

Words so often fail us. They do so little and they are so disappointing, leading us down blind alleys and up in smoke. But they are what we have, what we are given, and we can make them do what we want. Every poem is a model of some other world, a practice of some other reality; but it always leads back to this one, for if words give a way to envision possible worlds they don’t provide the way to inhabit them. …There is no place words cannot take us if we don’t take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, or as trampolines to hurl ourselves, inward and outward, upward and downward, aslant and agog, round and unrounded.

– Charles Bernstein, from “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” in My Way

Then, in support of his contention that literature and in particular haiku should move away from strict realism towards more challenging and inventive uses of language, he presented us with numerous examples of avant-garde haiku from the most recent (February) issue of Roadrunner. A, shall we say, lively discussion ensued. Traditionalists muttered while gendai enthusiasts raved. The lecture went far past its scheduled expiration date and the discussion ended up moving to a pub where twenty or so of us stayed until closing time, ranting about poetry (just so you know, I mean this in the very nicest way) and causing endless trouble for the extremely patient waitstaff.

Pub crowd 1Richard Gilbert, Eve Luckring, Fay AoyagiCor van den Heuvel et al.Kaz, Sue Antolin, Susan Diridoni

I wish I’d gotten a picture of Richard Gilbert and Cor van den Heuvel leaning intently over the table toward each other, each nursing a scotch and cordially discussing their very different points of view on poetry (and their opinions on scotch). The theme of this year’s HNA is “Fifty Years of Haiku,” and it was amazing to see Cor, who’s been writing haiku for all of those fifty years and more, exchanging ideas with Richard, whose ideas may be pointing the way toward what much haiku will look like in another fifty years. It’s not too often you feel like you can see as far back into the past as you can see forward into the future. It was a privilege.

Haiku North America, Day 2

For some reason I didn’t have quite as much energy on Day Two of HNA as I did on Day One. Which might account for why when I went to download my photos from my phone, I realized I hadn’t actually taken any pictures. Well, okay, a few. But this post will be a little less visual than yesterday’s. I’ll try to make up for it by annoyingly sticking my camera in everyone’s face all day long today. You’re welcome.

We started the day with a reading by the authors of the HNA anthology, Standing Still, which is a thing of beauty.

Standing Still, 2011 HNA Conference Anthology

That wonderful drawing on the cover is by Dejah Leger, who also did the wonderful illustrations inside, such as this one…

the fly's wings / raising / settling / the dust

There was a choice of activities after this and I chose to attend Jim Kacian‘s lecture on one-line haiku, which he is trying to get us all to call “monoku.” Hmmm. Aside from that, though, the lecture was dense with interesting information. Although I got a bit lost during his lengthy comparison of the history of tennis strokes and the history of English-language haiku, since on the few occasions I have attempted to wield a tennis racket…let’s just say that I don’t play tennis. (Jim is a tennis pro in his money-making life.)

He examined haiku with many other line lengths and then a wide variety of one-line haiku, and tried to identify the elements that make a particular haiku work as a one-liner. I won’t give you a precis of the lecture, I’m sure it will be published at some point. It worked to make me go out to the book fair and buy Jim’s book of monoku, though.

where I leave off

Naturally I bought a ton of other books as well (who buys only one book at a time?), but the one I would most like to show you is this one by my roommate here, Lidia Rozmus, the transcendent beauty of whose art (stunning, minimalist ink brush painting) and writing (haiku and haibun) are in direct proportion to the transcendent beauty of her kindness and generosity. This is a book about her emigration to the United States from Poland and her adjustment to life here.

My Journey

Here’s Lidia herself in the courtyard of the Inn at Queen Anne, where I retreated after the morning activities with a chicken salad sandwich and a bottle of hard cider to gather some energy for a busy afternoon (read: keep from fainting with exhaustion).

Lidia Rozmus

And here are some other poets who sat with us and chatted over lunch: Wanda Cook and Marilyn Hazelton.

Wanda CookMarilyn Hazelton

Another excursion in the afternoon: On the monorail downtown to (your choice) Pike Place Market or the Seattle Art Museum. I’ve been to the Market. I went to the museum. This may not have been a good idea, since as I think I have mentioned before, I have a severe mouse phobia and this was one of the first things I saw there.

Rat hovering over sleeping person

There was other art that made up for it, though. They were having a special exhibition of American landscape painting. One thing I noticed that many of the artists had in common was that they would incorporate a splash or two of something bright red (usually something man-made) into a landscape that was otherwise more drab in color.

Maybe there was something about this in the interpretive signs, I don’t know. I’m not very good about reading museum signs. It seemed to me that perhaps this was one way of asserting man’s dominion over nature: your eye was naturally drawn to that bright red, making it seem like the most important thing in the picture.

Sometimes I wonder if haiku does something similar to our experience of nature, by focusing our attention on one tiny aspect of it that a human being has noticed.

Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound

After the museum a bunch of us stumbled around looking for a place to eat, finally giving up on the tourist traps of the Market and heading back to our home base of the Queen Anne neighborhood for some Thai food. As we prepared to board the monorail,  a man noticed the excellent NaHaiWriMo-inspired T-shirt (see sample below) that Michael Dylan Welch was wearing and asked him, “So you must not like haiku?”

…Oh. You have never seen a man so happy as Michael was at that moment. The (gentle) lecture that followed started with, “Actually, I’m the first vice-president of the Haiku Society of America, and I love haiku!” and ended with the poor questioner walking away with his eyes glazed over, trying to grasp that everything he had ever thought he knew about haiku was wrong. Or else that he had just run into a pack of lunatics.

No 5-7-5 T-shirt

At the restaurant, Michael first tried to get us all to write haiku individually, and met with some pretty stiff resistance because we were all, you know, completely wiped out. But then Carlos Colon suggested the much more palatable idea of writing renku, so that’s what we did. This is one of those occasions that I really wish I had been alert enough to think of getting a picture of.

Renku participants: Katharine Hawkinson, Michael Dylan Welch, me, Carlos Colon, Marilyn Hazelton, Garry Gay. Present, but malingering: Carolyn Hall, Susan Antolin. Result: A summer junicho entitled “Racha Renku” (Racha was the name of the restaurant we were in.)

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a single cloud
the baby points at the sky

– me, verse 10 of “Racha Renku”

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The first event of the evening was a reading of haibun by featured reader Cor van den Heuvel and anyone else who cared to read haibun. I have to admit that since I was feeling utterly exhausted, I went back to my room for a quick nap and didn’t make it to this reading until quite late, but I really regret it now because I love haibun so much and the few readers that I did hear presented some outstanding examples.

Also, here is where I am going to cheat and show you a picture of Cor reading at Haiku Circle, which I attended in Northfield, Massachusetts in June. Because (naturally) I didn’t get a picture of Cor reading last night, but actually the picture of him reading outside in June is better than any picture I could have taken under the Seattle Center’s fluorescent lights.

Cor van den Heuvel

The final event of the night (at least that I attended) was a panel on haiku publishing moderated by Michael Dylan Welch and featuring Don Wentworth, Ce Rosenow, Jim Kacian, and Charlie Trumbull, all of whom run presses ranging in size from teeny-tiny to small. (Unstartling revelation of the evening: Small haiku publishers do not make any money from publishing haiku.)

There was a lot of discussion of various ways to structure manuscripts of haiku, including by subject, season, tone. And also discussion of how to submit manuscripts to publishers. (Some want you to send them a zillion haiku and let them pick out which ones they want to put in the book. Some just want you to send them a few poems and tell them what the rest of the book will be like. So ask them, I guess is the lesson.)

Don Wentworth, Ce Rosenow, Jim Kacian, Charlie Trumbull

After that panel I threw in the towel and went to bed early last night. Well…I guess it’s more accurate to say I went back to the hotel early. Then Lidia and I spent a while talking, partly about how much we love haiku poets and how happy we are to be here. There is so much talking here. You can’t get any of us to shut up. It’s as if seventeen syllables really weren’t enough to say everything after all.

Haiku North America, Day 1

I’m back in the garden of the Inn at Queen Anne. Taking a break. Writing to you. My brain is too full not to dump a little of it out onto the page. So here’s the story of yesterday.

On my way to register for HNA at the Seattle Center, I met Susan Diridoni in the courtyard…

Susan Diridoni

We talked one-line haiku and infuriating politicians. Two of our favorite subjects.

monomania the cure for wildflowers

First on the agenda after registration was a walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park down by the harbor. Michael Dylan Welch had a camera permanently attached to his face so the only picture of him I was able to get was one I took while he was taking a picture of me.

Michael Dylan Welch

Debbie Kolodji and I found ourselves reflected in one of the sculptures….

Reflections in sculpture

I’m not sure if our reflections count as “touching” in the eyes of those who wrote this warning sign. I also find it interesting to ponder the difference between visual art, which can indeed be harmed by indiscriminate touching, and haiku, which haiku poets encourage our readers to put their grubby little hands all over, knowing that will only make it more interesting.

Please Do Not Touch, Touching Can Harm the Art

It’s Fleet Week in Seattle, so there were ominous-looking ships mulling around the harbor. On the plus side, they interacted well with the sculpture.

Ships viewed past sculpture

These flowers were everywhere, growing low all over the ground. I love them. Somebody tell me what they are.

Pink flowers

This was my favorite sculpture. Anyone under the age of 35 who knows what it is gets a prize.

Sculpture

Debbie Kolodji and Carlos Colon were hard to keep up with sometimes. Especially when they were trying to avoid having their pictures taken.

Debbie Kolodji and Carlos Colon

We went in the Viviarium, where they keep a big dead tree trunk that has living stuff growing all over it (very symbolic) and where they have mushroom tiles on the walls, which made me happy.

Mushroom tile

This metal-plated tree enchanted me, if only because I don’t like to let well enough alone where nature is concerned.

Metal-plated tree

Back at the Seattle Center, Michael showed us this stone with a haiku of Basho’s engraved on it. (Rhyming couplet, awesome.)


Rock with Basho haiku engraved on it

Went out for a late lunch/early dinner with a few people, then back to the hotel, where Charlie Trumbull and Jim Kacian were scheming in the courtyard. (All their schemes were legal and ethical. I checked.)

Charlie Trumbull and Jim Kacian

Then to a dessert reception and open mic reading at the Seattle Center, where I met people at a ferocious rate.

… Wonderful people.

Lidia Rozmus, Wanda Cook, and Carlos ColonDon Wentworth and Marjorie Buettner

Marilyn Hazelton

(Lidia Rozmus [my wonderful roommate], Wanda Cook, Carlos Colon, Don Wentworth, Marjorie Buettner, Sarah and Gene Myers, Marilyn Hazelton)

David LanoueRichard Gilbert, Carolyn Hall, Jim KacianCarlos Colon, Carmen SterbaPenny Harter reading(David Lanoue, Susan Diridoni, Richard Gilbert, Carolyn Hall, Jim Kacian, Carlos Colon, Carmen Sterba, Penny Harter)

I talked until my throat got sore, and then I went off to a gendai haiku writing workshop and talked a whole bunch more.

Here we all (okay, about half of us) are listening to Emiko Miyashita telling us about gendai haiku in Japanese. (That’s Charlie Trumbull, Garry Gay, Kathy Munro, Billie Dee, Sheila Sondik, Jim Westenhaver, Emiko Miyashita)

Attendees at gendai haiku workshop

At the end we all tried our hand at writing more gendai, and I finally managed to get a picture of Michael without a camera in front of his face.

Michael Dylan Welch

It was past eleven by the time we finished. Wild and crazy haiku poets, that’s us.

A few of us had a late-night snack, and by the time I got to bed it was about three in the morning in Wisconsin. Which is the time that counts, after all.

I’ll write about today tomorrow. See how that works?

Hope you’re all having a great time whether you’re in Seattle or not.

Yorick in Moscow

Gravestones behind a hedge

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

The cemetery is full of trees. How do they dig the graves? You couldn’t get a backhoe between the trunks. Are there still gravediggers here, men with shovels making dark jokes about the things they unearth in the course of their work? I think about dying here and what it would be like to lie with my head against one set of roots and my feet against another. With a rock over my chest that told everyone my foreign name. People would walk back and forth over me, murmuring, in a tongue not my own, the first and last years I was alive. For decades I would dream my life, until the gravediggers retrieved me, held me up to the light, let the sun shine through my skull.

last frost
my footprint melted
into the soil

Contemporary Haibun Online, July 2011

(grandmother moon)

Moon over trees

altered photograph by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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grandmother moon
I can’t help wishing for
a gold tooth like hers
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(Haiku Bandit Society, June 2011 Moon Viewing Party)

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full moon
one plate missing
from the setting
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(Haiku Bandit Society, July 2011 Moon Viewing Party)

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__________________________________________________________

Hey…do you like writing moon haiku? Like reading moon haiku? (If you say no to either of those questions, you have to turn in your official Haiku Poet Badge, so think carefully before you answer.)

If so, you should really consider joining the party over at Haiku Bandit Society every month. It starts a few days before the full moon. Anyone can contribute a poem about the moon for those few days. Willie posts them all on the blog, and they are a blast to read. Then his dog Dottie picks out the three she likes the best and gives them the Dottie Dot Awards.

This is another one of my favorite things that people do with their blogs. I wish even more people would participate because I love moon haiku so much and there really are an endless variety of twists on them. I bet you’ve got something great up your sleeve. Think about it.

We interrupt this broadcast…

… for some brief self-promotion. You can do like I always do and just hit mute while the commercial is running if you want, though. I won’t be offended.

Okay: Tomorrow (July 16) is the last day to get your registration in to Haiku North America in order to be eligible for reduced rate registration. (You can still register after this, it will just cost a little more.) HNA is a huge haiku bash that will be happening in Seattle from August 3rd to 7th. All kinds of fun things will be happening there, as you can see from this schedule.

One of the fun things is a panel discussion on haiku blogging, which will be conducted by Fay Aoyagi (Blue Willow Haiku World), Gene Myers (genemyers.com), Don Wentworth (Issa’s Untidy Hut), and me. What are we going to say? You know, I don’t have the faintest idea. It’s a surprise. You’ll have to show up to find out. (Evil laugh.)

I will say that those other three people are kind of, like, blogger superheroes. If you’ve spent any time around here at all you’ve heard me quote Fay and Don over and over again. I am not quite sure what the world of haiku blogging would be like without them but I don’t want to find out. And although Gene’s blog focuses less exclusively on haiku and thus has gotten less air time here, it is also fascinating and extremely rewarding. So I’m very flattered to be included in their company.

I hope to see a bunch of you there. I think what I’m most looking forward to about this conference is being able to meet people in the flesh who have previously been only disembodied names. Make sure to say hi if you see me, if I don’t say it first.

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One more quick public service announcement: Tomorrow is also the last day to get your haiku/tanka/haiga about mushrooms to me if you want them included in my super-mega mushroom blowout post next week. Saturday midnight. Don’t forget.

not-haiku: sylvia plath on fungi

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Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

Sylvia Plath


No, I know it’s not a haiku. Or even a series of haiku. But I thought it might help you get inspired to write haiku about mushrooms. And send them to me. Plus, there are no words for how much I love Sylvia Plath. And think that you should too.

Babushkas


Broom
..

Old women everywhere, like crones out of fairy tales, sweep dirt from and onto the streets with bundles of twigs. I think about stopping one of them to ask for three wishes. But they stare at me suspiciously from under their kerchiefs and mutter when they hear me speak. “She doesn’t even know Russian. Her coat isn’t warm enough. What is going to become of all of us?” All I really want, I think, is one of those brooms.

new moon
the once upon a time
of my life

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.Contemporary Haibun Online 7:2, July 2011

illustration: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets