Across the Haikuverse, No. 22: Not Dead Yet Edition

I’ve been sick with a few different things over the last few weeks. Spent a lot of time lollygagging around in bed. Seem to be getting better now. Still don’t feel much like writing.

Somebody want to comment and let me know what you’re writing these days? It might make me feel better to know that someone in the world is not experiencing a creative slump.

Of course, there are all those people I quote down below. They seem to be doing just fine. Terrific, in fact. There are some spectacular images here. Some precise and lovely language. Some mind-altering revelations.

All of these poems are ones that made me step back when I saw them and go, “Whoa.” And then just breathe for a while, and read the poem again a few times, and feel really thankful I’d seen it.

In case you were wondering what my criteria were for choosing poems for this feature…that’s pretty much it. If a poem seems to me to be saying something that no one else in the world ever had or could say better…it’s going in.

It’s interesting to me, now that I’ve been reading haiku for a while, and have become familiar with the work of so many poets, how even in a form as short and relatively prescribed in form and content as the haiku (or tanka), there is such a wild and woolly assortment of styles possible and extant.

Reading the poems of people whose work you know and love is a little bit like looking at the faces of people you know and love: so familiar, and utterly unique, and the uniqueness makes you love them even more. You smile when you see them and say, “Oh, yes, that couldn’t possibly be anyone but [for instance] John Martone.”

Yes, I’m feeling much better now. Thanks.

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Poetry To Which Attention Must Be Paid

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yes, this one,
gently close the humidor
- the smell of cedar
both dogs whining in the hall
eager to join me outside

—Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

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sun between clouds
the flies on a dead bird
flash blue

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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grandma’s well
the water tasted like iron
and cold—
that darkness
from which I’m made

– Charles Easter, Tinywords

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物容るゝ壜も物言ふ壜も夏   中村安伸
mono iruru bin mo mono iu bin mo natsu

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a jar to keep things
and a jar which speaks
summer

– Yasunobu Nakamura, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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wishing on the first star for the last time … mockingbird’s song

— Terri L. French, The Mulling Muse (Please go check out Terri’s wonderful haiga associated with this poem)

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white sky -
the absent wind
with a girl’s name

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hvid himmel -
den fraværende vind
med et pigenavn

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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feeling it
not feeling it
the grasshopper
between my hands

– Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

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wind
thru

pines
thru

sleep 

– John Martone, originally published in Lilliput Review and quoted on Don Wentworth’s Issa’s Untidy Hut

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everything I see
I am…
autumn moon

— Paul Smith, winner of the 2011 Haiku Pen Contest sponsored by Lyrical Passion E-Zine

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Delicious Bloggy Goodness

Since I am giving this talk next week about blogging I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good blog and which blogs I am devoutly grateful for (there are a lot of them). I mentioned a few in the last Haikuverse and here are a few more.

1. Kuniharu Shimizu, whose haiga on see haiku here are a marvel of nature most of the time anyway, has been posting some mind-blowing “linked haiga” lately. They’re like haiku sequences, except…they’re haiga sequences, and they are linked not only thematically but graphically. I’m just gonna stop trying to describe them now and order you to go look at them. My favorites are:

Haiku by A.C. Missias, Joann Klontz, and paul m.

Haiku by Cor van den Heuvel and Taneda Santoka

Haiku by Michael McClintock and Taneda Santoka

2. The fascinating people over at Icebox recently took a poll about which characteristics participants considered essential to haiku. Of a long list of possibilities, you were allowed to choose three. Now they have revealed and analyzed the results of some 104 responses, and it’s a fascinating read, especially if like me you find numbers a welcome break at times from all those words we’re always bandying about.

Full disclosure: I participated in this poll, and I am (I guess?) relieved to find out that my top three choices are identical to the top three vote-getters in the poll. Either I have a vague idea what I’m doing, or I just like to be exactly like everyone else. I haven’t decided yet.

3. Over at Morden Haiku, Matt Morden’s long haibun about his cycling tour of Scotland with his 18-year-old daughter (it was a school-leaving present) had me captivated every step of the way, which surprised me because I normally have very little interest in travelogue haibun. But Matt is so good at painting images in both prose and poetry. And he managed to capture the nature of the bond between him and his daughter without any overt description of it or any sentimentality.

at the end of a day
when I could not ask for more
wild orchids

– Matt Morden, Morden Haiku

4. At La Calebasse, Vincent Hoarau has written a moving and perceptive essay about the work of Svetlana Marisova, an excellent haiku poet from New Zealand. Unfortunately for many of you, it’s in French; fortunately for those same people, he quotes Svetlana’s haiku in English (as well as in his own French translation), so at least you can read those, and Svetlana’s haiku are must-reads.

I can’t really translate French so I wouldn’t inflict my garbled version of Vincent’s essay on you, but I will briefly quote one of his descriptions of Svetlana’s characteristic style, which “depends on the juxtaposition of images, on allusion, suggestion, and concision.” This might be a description of all or most good haiku, but it is true that there is more of a sense of mystery and a deeper resonance to Svetlana’s haiku than to most.

This makes it all the more painful to have to report that Svetlana has an aggressive form of brain cancer, for which she is currently being treated in Russia. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who knows Svetlana and her work is keeping her in their thoughts these days.

wintry sky …
these dark tumours
draining light

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ciel hivernal … / ces tumeurs noires / drainant la lumière

– Svetlana Marisova, French translation by Vincent Hoarau

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Essaying: Words, Words, Words

The last few weeks I kept stumbling across, or getting pointed toward, thought-provoking essays about haiku, many of which I kept constantly open as tabs in my browser so I could reread them or bits of them at stray moments when, say, Facebook was failing to completely capture my attention. After a while (sometimes I’m slow) I started to notice a common theme between several of these essays: Words.

No, I don’t mean that they all contain words. I mean that they all deal in one way or another with the inadequacy of mere words to convey the meaning of haiku, with the fact that in haiku it is just as often what is not said that is important. That space, wordlessness, ma … there are so many ways people have tried to explain this notion of the open-endedness of haiku, the sense of possibility it offers the reader. But these three essays have a lot to contribute to this conversation.

Ian Marshall and Megan Simpson, in an often dense discussion of the literary theory of deconstructionism as it pertains (or doesn’t pertain) to haiku, spend a lot of time trying to decide whether the words in haiku can be trusted: whether they are revealing some kind of absolute truth or faithful depiction of the world, or whether they are saying more about the mind of their author than about any objective reality.

“What I’m getting at, what I’ve been getting at, is that the supposed ideal of ‘wordlessness’ of haiku, meaning that its language can represent the natural world in such a way that it becomes fully present in language, in seventeen syllables or less, is a fiction. But the best haiku are aware of the fiction and of the difficulty or impossibility of using words to achieve no-mind, or selflessness, or wordlessness. Bringing deconstruction to bear on haiku reveals that even haiku to some extent concern themselves with the problematics of representation, and recognizing this enriches our readings of haiku.”

– Ian Marshall and Megan Simpson, “Deconstructing Haiku: A Dialogue

Randy Brooks, in a long and rich interview with Robert Wilson in the most recent issue of the journal Simply Haiku, elaborates on his vision of haiku poetics, which considers the reader to be “co-creator” with the writer of the meaning of the haiku.

“Haiku is not a closed form of verse with three lines of five-seven-five syllables, self-contained and finished by the author. Haiku is an open form of poetry in which the silences before, within and after the haiku resonate with surplus meaning. Basho called this surplus of meaning ‘yojô.’ These unfinished silences are deliberately left open to the reader, so that the reader can enter into the imagined space of the haiku as a co-creator with the author to discover the feelings, thoughts, insights, and overall significance of the haiku. This surplus meaning is shared by the writer and reader, with a playful variety of unpredictable responses. In my opinion, this is the primary joy of haiku—the writer has crafted a haiku as a creative response to nature, reality, dreams, art, imagination, or to other haiku, and the reader gets to enter into that playful haiku with his or her own creative response and imagination.”

— Randy Brooks, interviewed by Robert Wilson in Simply Haiku

And Fay Aoyagi, in a fascinating essay about the history of the moon in haiku, talks about the necessity for subtlety and ambiguity in haiku, the need to leave things out. (The first paragraph of her essay is not specifically about this idea, but it was too wonderful not to quote here.)

“If somebody asked me to choose between the sun and the moon as a place to live, I would choose the moon. In my mind, there are highways with 10 lanes on the sun, but the moon has alleys and narrow streets I can explore on foot. For me, the sun is a destination, but the moon is a gateway and a peep-hole to an unknown world. …
“One of my Japanese friends told me that she did not understand how people write haiku in English. According to her, Japanese culture, including haiku, is very subtle. She said Japanese is a more ambiguous language than English; it is a more suitable language to express feelings. Writing in Japanese, a poet can avoid too much explicitness. I am not sure I totally agree. I think English haiku can be very suggestive, as well. … Haiku is a poetry form which requires reading between the lines. I strongly believe that we can achieve subtlety in English.”

– Fay Aoyagi, “Moon in the Haiku Tradition

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Well. I think in this edition I’ve had more of a sense than most of actually going somewhere, of making some kind of journey.

I can’t help thinking back to when I first started this blog, with a light-hearted, innocent notion that I would be spending a few minutes every day composing these charming little poems. And then…the deluge.

After just a few days of surfing erratically around the Interwebs, I began to realize that the well I had fallen into was deeper and had far more at the bottom of it than I had dreamed.

I was stunned by the richness of so much of the haiku I had found, by how different it was than the haiku I had previously seen or imagined.

I was amazed by the amount and variety of writing about haiku that I discovered, and by the amount of disagreement that existed about what exactly haiku was anyway, and by the quality and profundity of thought that so many poets and scholars poured into these tiny poems.

I had a sense of having found another country. And I knew almost immediately that it was one I wanted to emigrate to permanently, and spend a lifetime exploring.

Well, why not? The scenery is astounding, the population is warm and welcoming, the cultural traditions … well, I need say no more. But sometimes I just kind of look around and think, Wow. I am so lucky to be here.

Thank you for being here too.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 4: Procrastination Edition

It’s that time again. Sunday afternoon. Long, boring, dark, rainy Sunday afternoon. I’m back from my run but I haven’t been able to talk myself into starting my homework yet. Isn’t there something else productive, yet vaguely fun I could be doing?

Oh, right! Time to collect the random scraps of paper and electronic sticky notes on which I have jotted down the haiku-related “information resources” (as we like to say in library school) that most struck a chord with me this week. Time to patch it all together into a semi-coherent list and throw it up on the Internet for your entertainment and edification, or at least indulgent tolerance.

That’s right: it’s time, once again, to visit the Haikuverse. Please strap yourself into your transport pod and make sure you’ve adjusted your brain waves to “poetry.”

(If you missed any of the previous three visits and you’re feeling adventurous, there are links to them in the sidebar. Right over there. On your right.)

1.

The Haiku Foundation has announced their inauguration of the Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems, which I find cool for several reasons:

  • The prizes are actual stones (get it?). With your name and poem engraved on them. There is pretty much no other prize I would rather have than this, except maybe a million dollars, and I have come to accept that no one in the Haikuverse is made of that kind of money. Even if you don’t win one of these awards, I may get you a rock like this for Christmas (or another holiday of your choice within one month of the winter/summer solstice), just because I like you.
  • The submission process requires that you nominate no more than two haiku, and — get this — if you nominate more than one, the other one has to be somebody else’s. (As far as I can tell, they can both be somebody else’s.) This is perfect for those of us who, whenever we see a contest announcement, think, “Why on earth should they give this prize to me when they could give it to, like, somebody who can actually write haiku?”

Just a caveat — the nominated haiku must have been published in 2010 (somewhere where somebody besides you gets to decide what’s published, so your own blog doesn’t count). Go check out the rules. And think rocks!

2.
Also at The Haiku Foundation, Scott Metz has once more challenged and stretched me with his essay “Do You Play an Edge?” He starts out by quoting a number of (amazing) haiku that push the boundaries of haiku both in form and subject matter, and rhetorically poses the question of whether we, individually as poets and collectively as the English-language haiku movement, push those boundaries enough. Which is something I struggle with constantly — both wanting to experiment, to push past the rules to something new and exciting and soul-stirring, and also wanting to do it “right” and win the approval of a community that has come to mean a lot to me. As Scott says,

“I suppose the opposite of playing one’s edge would be playing it safe. And what might that mean? It could mean writing for approval. It could mean writing in a style that maximizes one’s chances of being published, or, having mastered melancholy, avoiding other moods.”

If you go over there, don’t forget to read the comments — as usual they are as interesting to read as the essay itself.
3.

Scott’s essay reminds me of this essay (a much longer one) by Peter Yovu that I have been meaning to write about for, oh, months:  Do Something Different. I think I have finally realized that instead of waiting until the mythical day when I finish my utterly unreadable two-thousand-word essay about this essay, I should just tell you to go read it, because it’s amazing and inspiring. Peter starts out with, literally, a wake-up call:

“Buddhists describe a simple practice: when you find yourself falling into some habitual pattern, acknowledge it, and then step out by doing something different. The idea, of course, is that anything we do by habit we do half-awake at best, and the goal is to wake up.”

He then gently points out the tendency of so many contemporary haiku to sound so much alike, and gives several practical suggestions for experiments you can try to wake up yourself and your haiku — focusing on sound, for instance, which is so often utterly ignored by English-language haiku poets. I sometimes think I should start out every haiku-writing session by reading this essay, but I suppose that would end up being yet another rut to get stuck in. Still, every month or so when I reread it, I find something new in it, and then something new in myself.

4.

Over at her blog jornales, Alegria Imperial has appealed to my well-known predilection for foreign-language haiku by reproducing a haiku she originally wrote in her native language of Iluko alongside her English translation of it:

morning ember
fanned
by broken word

beggang ti agsapa
naparubruban
ti puted a sarita

Okay, first of all — this is a cool haiku. Second of all, the language geek in me is deeply excited by seeing a haiku in a language that I know absolutely nothing about but looks really beautiful. Third of all, this post reminds me of another passage on Alegria’s blog that I have always loved, a piece of highly poetic prose about the difficulty of translation not just from language to language but from culture to culture:

“[L]anguage is deeply entrenched in culture, the totality of one’s being layered over by influences of earth, air, water, living things, language whispered, sung, murmured, chanted, stated, shouted, screamed, written for one to read under fluorescent light, Coleman light-flood, moonlight, candle light — how we whine and laugh and cuddle up wordless or word-ful, with what flowers we offer our sighs, what trees we carve arrow-pierced hearts, from what looming shadows we scamper away, what wings we shoot down, what edges of cliffs we plunge off to get to our dreams.”

5.

With their recent release of a haiku collection they edited, Michael Dylan Welch and Alan Summers have won, hands-down, the unannounced contest I have been holding in my mind for best haiku book title of the year: Fifty-Seven Damn Good Haiku by a Bunch of Our Friends. If you decide you don’t want a rock for Chrismukkwanzaa, this book (with bonus parsnips on the cover!) could be an excellent substitute.

6.

Elissa at The Haiku Diary posted a haiku this week that, like so many of her haiku, seems deceptively simple and trivial at first and then the more you think about it the more you feel your brain exploding. Also, it reminds me a little of my stab this week at excessively repetitive haiku, except hers is better. I love the way she works with the line breaks here. And there is a whole autumn-dark-death-fate of the universe galaxies-expanding-metaphorical thing going on here in six.freaking.words. I have to figure out how to do this.

I can’t believe it’s
already dark. I can’t believe
it’s already dark.

7.

Does the world need yet another version of Basho’s famous frogpond haiku? Well, that’s a stupid question. Run over to Haiku-doodle and take a look at Margaret Dornaus’s haiga riff on furuike ya. It’s a lot of fun, and she includes some interesting commentary on translation.
8.

So every week I think to myself, I am going to say something about Gabi Greve and the one-woman haiku-information-disseminating machine she is, and then I just get totally overwhelmed by how much stuff by Gabi there is out there in the Haikuverse. Good stuff. Really fascinating stuff. Where even to start?

What Gabi is probably most well-known for is her work with promulgating information about kigo and in particular her creation of the World Kigo Database. But in the sprawling network of blogs and websites that Gabi administers, you can find information about just about every aspect of haiku. I thought I might as well start with a post new to her haiku empire this week, which she alerted her followers about on Facebook: A profile and sample haiku of the classic haiku poet Ochi Etsujin (just one of a long list of classic haiku poets profiled on her “Haiku Topics” blog).

Etsujin, Gabi tells us, “was one of the 10 great and most important disciples of Basho.” His death-poem, aki no kure hi ya tomosan to toi ni kuru, is relatively unusual among haiku in including direct speech. The context for this poem is the dying poet being tended on his sickbed by his wife. The Yoel Hoffman translation for this haiku that Gabi gives is:

Autumn evening:
“Isn’t it time,” she comes and asks,
“to light the lantern?”

Gabi herself proposes a different translation, noting that the original says nothing about a lantern:*

autumn evening -
“shall we make light?”
she comes to ask

Anyway, run along now, and enjoy exploring the galaxy that is Gabi’s not-so-little corner of the Haikuverse.

9.

After starting to use Twitter a month or so ago, I was excited to discover the work of Alexis Rotella (who goes by tankaqueen on Twitter). Alexis has been writing haiku and other poetry to great acclaim for a long time but for some reason I had remained oblivious of her until now. I really liked this haiku she tweeted this week (both because I like to argue and because I have had a lifelong fascination with garbage trucks, no really):

passing through
our quarrel
the garbage truck

10.

This week on his blog “season creep”, Comrade Harps combines one of the great pop songs of all time with his shopping list to create a classic haiku. I will never again be able to listen to The Joshua Tree without thinking about this (or wishing I had it on a T-shirt):

at the supermarket
Bono sings
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

And on that note: I hope you all find what you’re looking for this week — your keys, undying love, the secret to writing a perfect haiku.

(Also, feel free to send me links and suggestions any time you run across cool stuff in the Haikuverse that you’d like to see in this space. I sometimes wonder if the scope of this column is a little narrow considering it reflects only my eccentric and questionable taste, so I’m more than willing to shake things up a little by having it reflect your eccentric and questionable taste as well. Whoever you are.)

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*After Gabi posted her link to this post on Facebook there ensued a lengthy and fascinating discussion between her and several other translators about how best to render this poem into idiomatic English, which I perversely butted into even though I know absolutely no Japanese, don’t ask me what I was thinking. But Gabi was very kind and didn’t tell me to shut up and go away. So I’ll share my very, very loose interpretation of this haiku, a pure example of ignorance at work:

autumn nightfall…
she comes to ask me
if I need light

See there, how quickly I was able to turn a tribute to a generous haiku scholar into a vehicle for my own egomania?