Across the Haikuverse, No. 31: Election Edition

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Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, which you knew already unless you’ve been living under a rock in Antarctica the last couple of months, in which case I’m profoundly jealous of you because you have probably been having a way better time than most of us here in the U.S. Since I do my best not to expose myself to any form of commercial media and I close my eyes while driving so as not to see billboards, I probably have not suffered quite as much as my fellow Americans, but I live in a battleground state, so I’ve suffered enough.

I think I’ve responded to five polls so far. I respond to all polls I’m invited to respond to because otherwise I suspect the opinions of middle-aged lady poets who like to live in their own private world instead of attending rallies and yakking to reporters all day long would go largely unrepresented in this race. I certainly never hear anyone talking about this demographic.

Mostly I’ve coped, though, by trying to go on with life as normal, which in my case largely means reading vast quantities of everything that is not news. Here’s some of my favorites of what I’ve come across lately.

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daybreak / a whitefish, whiteness / one inch

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daybreak–
a whitefish, whiteness
one inch

– Matsuo Basho, artwork by Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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A blackbird,
his anvil call
striking I, I, I

– Marie Marshall, Kvenna Rad

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around dusk a stone offers me its free will

– Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Monostich

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the growing
impatience of the queen -
autumn deepens

– Alison Williams, miso soup

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シーソーのかたへに秋の来てゐたり   金子 敦

shîsô no katae ni aki no kiteitari

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to the opposite side
of a seesaw
autumn arrives

– Atsushi Kaneko, tr. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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ils ont encore rasé
une parcelle du bois
j’ai encore maigri
.
they’ve cut down
another patch of forest
I keep getting thinner

– Vincent Hoarau, La Calebasse (very bad translation: me)

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Both of them in the long grass, the haiku poet and the frog he feels compelled to ignore.

– Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

– John Stevenson, R’r Blog

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evening sun
helping my dad
tend the cosmos

– Helen Buckingham, tinywords

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fish
the worm
heron
the fish
me
the heron
– glancing behind

– Bill Dennis, Last Resort Gallery

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Not long ago I was doing a thorough investigation into the history of English-language haiku and I discovered the following by John Ashbery, which I had inexplicably never encountered before.

37 Haiku

Old-fashioned shadows hanging down, that difficulty in love too soon

Some star or other went out, and you, thank you for your book and year

Something happened in the garage and I owe it for the blood traffic

Too low for nettles but it is exactly the way people think and feel

And I think there’s going to be even more but waist-high

Night occurs dimmer each time with the pieces of light smaller and squarer

You have original artworks hanging on the walls oh I said edit

You nearly undermined the brush I now place against the ball field arguing

That love was a round place and will still be there two years from now

And it is a dream sailing in a dark unprotected cove

Pirates imitate the ways of ordinary people myself for instance

Planted over and over that land has a bitter aftertaste

A blue anchor grains of grit in a tall sky sewing

He is a monster like everyone else but what do you if you’re a monster

Like him feeling him come from far away and then go down to his car

The wedding was enchanted everyone was glad to be in it

What trees, tools, why ponder socks on the premises

Come to the edge of the barn the property really begins there

In a smaller tower shuttered and put away there

You lay aside your hair like a book that is too important to read now

Why did witches pursue the beast from the eight sides of the country

A pencil on glass—shattered! The water runs down the drain

In winter sometimes you see those things and also in summer

A child must go down it must stand and last

Too late the last express passes through the dust of gardens

A vest—there is so much to tell about even in the side rooms

Hesitantly, it built up and passed quickly without unlocking

There are some places kept from the others and are separate, they never exist

I lost my ridiculous accent without acquiring another

In Buffalo, Buffalo she was praying, the nights stick together like pages in an old book

The dreams descend like cranes on gilded, forgetful wings

What is the past, what is it all for? A mental sandwich?

Did you say, hearing the schooner overhead, we turned back to the weir?

In rags and crystals, sometimes with a shred of sense, an odd dignity

The box must have known the particles fell through the house after him

All in all we were taking our time, the sea returned—no more pirates

I inch and only sometimes as far as the twisted pole gone in spare color

 – John Ashbery

I was originally going to quote only part of this, but I love, love it so much. The pieces of it are not really separable from each other. (Although, “You lay aside your hair like a book that is too important to read now”? I’m just going to lie down now and roll around in that sentence for a while. Don’t mind me.)

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And while we’re talking about stuff I can’t believe I didn’t know about before, here’s a really spectacular introduction-to-haiku website by the British Haiku Society, who apparently have a graphic designer extraordinaire on staff. I mean, look at this thing. .

furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto

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There’s a slide show, too, so if it’s your turn to give a presentation at the next meeting of the Well-Meaning But Not Necessarily Well-Informed Literati of Calaveras County Club, and you’ve just about had it with explaining to someone different every month that no, haiku do not have to have seventeen syllables…here’s your chance to blow their minds.

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And while we’re on the subject of appealing visual design, and the British Isles…Tzynchromesh is the latest venture of Colin Stewart Jones, poet and artist of Aberdeen. It’s a journal that will publish works of fusion..two or more art forms meshed together. Poetry, prose, painting, graphic art, photography, film, music, sound or spoken word. Go.

Colin has also started a Facebook page for people to share their fusion art, appropriately called Fusion. And while I’m on the subject of Facebook, I’d just like to mention for anyone who doesn’t spend much time there that there is a huge, thriving community of haiku poets on Facebook. I probably belong to twenty or thirty Facebook haiku pages, way more than I can possibly keep track of, let along contribute to, but there is a fascinating range of styles and approaches represented there. The granddaddy of them all, of course, still going strong with daily prompts provided by a different poet every month, is NaHaiWriMo. I like Free Haiga and One Line is new and exciting. Gabi Greve has just started Translating Japanese Haiku, which should be fun. Facebook: It’s not just for cats and politics anymore!

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So there we go: I’m back on the subject of politics. I got here via a circuitous and sneaky route, not unlike the routes that politicians take when, say, debate moderators ask them their position on the turmoil in the Middle East and they manage to turn the subject back to taxes and how bad it is that people have to pay them when they could be doing more interesting things with the money, like buying entire cities of Chinese laborers to build new and better widgets to entertain the restless American masses. I am thinking of running for office myself soon and I hope you’ll all support me, since my platform consists mainly of the sincere desire that people should spend way more time reading poetry, if only to keep themselves from spending time thinking about how they and their friends don’t have enough stuff and everyone else has way too much. God or, you know, whatever, bless America. God knows she needs it.

 

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november dawn more matter with less light

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Dragonfly Dreams

Assorted dragonflies

Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into when I announced this topic? No, I did not. I had no idea that so many people would send me so much varied and amazing poetry about dragonflies. Just as I had no idea there were so many kinds of dragonflies until I started doing a little (okay, a lot) of research…

I’ll launch into the poetry in a minute, but first off, for those among you who like me have to know every. single. thing. there is to know. about something before you can possibly just enjoy reading about it (yes, we are annoying)… here is the Wikipedia article on dragonflies (which fascinatingly contains an entire section on the role dragonflies play in Japanese culture and even references haiku) and here is the page on dragonfly kigo from Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database.

Okay, I’ll shut up now and let you enjoy this dream of dragonflies.

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Red dragonfly perched on grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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aki no ki no akatombo ni sadamarinu

The beginning of autumn,
Decided
By the red dragon-fly.

– Shirao, translated by R.H. Blyth
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toogarashi hane o tsukereba akatonbo

red pepper
put wings on it
red dragonfly

– Basho, translated by Patricia Donegan

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Origami dragonfly

(Photo by Jay Otto)

a dragonfly lands
on a stranded paper boat…
summer’s end

– Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies

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within his armful
of raked leaves
this lifeless dragonfly

– Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

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Red dragonfly over landscape

(Artwork and poetry by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

dragonflies
the soft blur of time
in another land

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Dragonfly on ferns

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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out of myself just briefly dragonfly

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adding a touch
of blue to the breeze -
dragonfly
(Magnapoets Issue 4 July 2009)

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fading light -
everything the dragonfly
has to say

– Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Common darter dragonfly

(Artwork by Amy Smith, The Spider Tribe’s Blog)

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a crimson darter
skims the mirror-lake…
your lips on mine
tomorrow
may never come
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twisting and turning
a dragonfly splits
a ray of light …
he says he loves me
in his own way

(Simply Haiku Winter 2011)
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catching
the blue eye of the breeze
dragonfly

(Simply Haiku Spring 2011)

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– Claire Everett, At the Edge of Dreams

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Dragonfly on reeds

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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on the water lily
remains of a dragonfly
morning stillness

(Evergreen English Haiku, 1995)
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from sedge
to sedge to sedge
dragonfly
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with a few brushstrokes the dragonfly comes alive
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autumn dragonfly
waning
like the moon
a few scarlet leaves
silently fall
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– Pamela A. Babusci

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Golden dragonfly

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

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Dragonfly rising
everything shining
in the wind
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Gold dragonflies
crisscross the air in silence:
summer sunset
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A cirrus sky
one hundred dark dragonflies
with golden wings

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– Kris Lindbeck, Haiku Etc.

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Dragonfly on grass blade

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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The dragon-fly,
It tried in vain to settle
On a blade of grass.

— Basho, translated by R.H. Blyth
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The dragon-fly
Perches on the stick
That strikes at him.

— Kohyo, translated by R.H. Blyth
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the instant it flies up
a dragonfly
loses its shadow

— Inahata Teiko (1931-), translated by Makoto Ueda

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Red dragonfly haiga

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

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red dragonfly
on my shoulder, what
rank do I have?
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spiderweb down,
a damselfly touches
my lips

— Michael Nickels-Wisdom
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born in the year
of the dragon-
fly!

— Mary Ahearn

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Red dragonfly in grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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sunset
from the tip of my shoe
the red dragonfly

(South by Southeast 18:2)

 

dew on grasses
the dragonflies
are gone
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in a wrinkle
of light
dragonfly
.

– Donna Fleischer, word pond

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Typewriter

(Poetry by Melissa Allen; illustration clip art)

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through and through the gate dragonfly

– Melissa Allen

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Red Hot Dragonfly

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coupling dragonflies
at break-neck speed—
HOT!

(Modern Haiku 35.1)

– Susan Diridoni

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Dragonfly close-up

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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on the dried husk
that was an iris blossom
black dragonfly
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we came here
seeking solitude
the loon
the dragonfly
and the speedboat

– Christina Nguyen, A wish for the sky…

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Dragonfly and Grasshopper(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro: “Red Dragonfly and Locust [Aka tonbo and Inago]”, from Picture Book of Selected Insects with Crazy Poems [Ehon Mushi Erabi]). From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.)

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this brief life a dragonfly
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dragonfly
where there is water
a path
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– angie werren, feathers

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tombô ya ni shaku tonde wa mata ni shaku

dragonfly–
flying two feet
then two feet more

– Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

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Dragonfly on rock

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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a break in the rain…
the stillness
of the dragonfly

– sanjuktaa, wild berries

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dragonfly—
how much of me
do you see?

– Alegria Imperial, jornales

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noonday heat
dragonflies slice
the still air

(South by Southeast Vol. 12 #1)

– T.D. Ingram, @haikujots (on twitter)

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Red dragonfly drawing.

evening breeze
teetering on its perch
a red dragonfly



(Haiku Pix Review, summer 2011)

.– G.R. LeBlanc, Berry Blue Haiku

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high notes
a red dragonfly skims
across the sound

– Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

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Blue dragonfly

(Haiga by Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies)

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the heat
between downpours
blue dragonflies

– Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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Steel blue flash
flies wing
drifts
– Robert Mullen

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Yellow dragonfly

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dragonfly dreams
the hospital intercom
repeats her name
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with the password
to her sanity
darting dragonfly
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iridescent dragonfly
hard to see
how her Ph.D. matters
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tell me the old stories
one last time
convalescent dragonfly
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discharge papers
the dragonfly returns home
on new meds
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letting go of her walker
she lifts into the night sky
dragonfly
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– Susan Antolin, Artichoke Season

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Multimedia Interlude:

Sick of everything around here being flat and quiet?  I found some moving stuff that makes noise for you too.

  • First, there’s this amazing (very) short film by Paul Kroeker of the last moments of a dragonfly’s life, which I discovered via Donna Fleischer at word pond. It’s set to music and is incredibly compelling:

http://www.petapixel.com/2011/08/11/spontaneous-and-creative-short-film-of-a-dying-dragonfly-shot-with-a-canon-7d/

  • Second, there are several versions of the well-known Japanese folk song (I mean, well-known to the Japanese) Aka Tombo, which means “Red Dragonfly.” This is apparently an indispensable part of every Japanese child’s upbringing. There are an almost infinite number of variations of this on YouTube so if these four aren’t enough for you, feel free to go noodling around over there looking for more.

Female vocalists

Male vocalists

Instrumental

With upbeat dance backing track added

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and on this general theme…

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perched on bamboo grass
the low notes
of a dragonfly

(Haiku inspired by Tif Holmes’s Photo-Haiku Project:  http://tifholmesphotography.com/cphp/2011/07/july-2011-series-entry-11/)

– Kathy Nguyen (A~Lotus), Poetry by Lotus

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for when even
the music stops—
dragonfly wings

– Aubrie Cox, Yay words!

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Dragonfly tiles

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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mid-morning
a dragonfly and I
bound for Mississippi
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in and out of view
the computer-drawn dragonfly
on the web page

– Tzetzka Ilieva
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dragonfly
at 60 miles per hour
those giant eyes

– Johnny Baranski

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Dragonfly on stalk

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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first impressions
a dragonfly hovers
before landing

– Cara Holman, Prose Posies

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Dragonfly zip haiku

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– Linda Papanicolaou, Haiga Online

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In this forest glade
The snail gone, a dragonfly lights
On the mushroom cap

– P. Allen

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Owl catching dragonfly

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‘Oh!  Catch it!’

‘I heard they eat their own tails’

When I was a child, living on an Air Force base in Okinawa, it was a common belief, among the elementary school set, a dragonfly would eat itself if you caught it and fed it its own tail.  I looked online and didn’t find any references to this notion so maybe we were all sniffing the good Japanese glue.

Anyhow, even though we constantly snagged lizards and grasshoppers and cicadas, I never saw any one ever catch a dragonfly, as common as they were.

dragonfly
we play in the puddles
afraid to get close

– Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

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Dragonfly on bark

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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dragonfly—
wings vibrating
on the rock face
(From the sequence “Ten Haiku: For the Dodge Tenth Anniversary Hike” in The Monkey’s Face)

dragonfly
on my fingernail
looks at me
(From Wind in the Long Grass, edited by William J. Higginson [Simon & Schuster, Books for Young Readers, 1991])

– Penny Harter, Penny Harter homepageA Poet’s Alphabestiary, Etc.

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An old tree
No bud and no leaf
full of dragonflies.

— @vonguyenphong22 (on Twitter)

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Dragonfly illustration.

neti neti
a dragonfly hums
raga Megh
(raga Megh(a)=a raga for the monsoon season. Neti neti= a key expression from the Upanishads: “not this nor this” or “not this nor that” alluding to the essence of things.)
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”the sky’s gone out”
on the radio – and then
a dragonfly
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dragonfly -
I mark an unpaid bill
“later”

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

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Orange dragonfly

(Photo by Melissa Allen)

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in and out the reeds
a blue dragonfly
mother keeps sewing
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stitching
water and sky together
-       damselflies

– Paganini Jones, http://www.pathetic.org/library/5644

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boys playing games
stones miss the darning needle

– Jim Sullivan, haiku and commentary and tales
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dragonfly heading to the lemon hanging in the sun

– Gene Myers, genemyers.com, @myersgene (on Twitter)

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Dragonfly and poppies

(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro, “Dragonfly and Butterfly,” from A Selection of Insects)

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bluetail damselfly
escapes the empty cottage
where children once played
(1st place Kiyoshi Tokutomi Memorial Haiku Contest 2009)
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on the bus
to the children’s museum
first dragonfly

– Roberta Beary, Roberta Beary

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flitting idly
from flower to flower
a blue damsel
lights upon the lotus
unfolding iridescence

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

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Dragonfly with water lilies

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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dark waters
a dragonfly dreaming
its reflection
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iridescent wings
the flying parts of
the dragon

– Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
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silhouetted dragonfly
reeds pierce the moon
(The Mainichi Daily News, May 30, 2009)

– Martin Gottlieb Cohen

Mushroom Harvest

Wow. You people are amazing. I say “Mushroom haiku,” you say “How many?” A lot, that’s how many. My mushroom craving has now been completely satisfied. I’m not gonna go on a whole lot more than that because … wow. You speak for yourself, I think. Thank you.

(Just a quick link for those of you who like your mushrooms with more scholarship: The mushroom kigo page from Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database)

for a few days / the mushroom / overshadowing the oak

– Terri L. French,  The Mulling Muse, first published Contemporary Haibun, Volume 12

6 AM moon –
out of the still dark grasses
one white mushroom

— sanjuktaa

Unlike the mushroom
A snail moves to the shadows
In a forest glade

— P. Allen

Mushroom pin cushion

(Photo: Melissa Allen)

fog rising –
mushrooms push aside
a bed of pine needles

(The Heron’s Nest VI:11, 2004)

– Curtis Dunlap, The Tobacco Road Poet

Translucent mushrooms

(Artwork: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

a tree falls
only the wood ear
listens

– Angie Werren, feathers

dry season
the earth not breaking
for the mushroom

– Mike Montreuil

mushrooms on a log

(Photo: Jay Otto)

boiling herbs—
the mushrooms we gathered
darkening

warm cabbage
mushrooms—only wind
at the door

– Penny Harter, Penny Harter homepageA Poet’s Alphabestiary, Etc.

sudden storm
the mushrooms’ umbrellas
overflowing on the grill

— Tzetzka Ilieva

Circle of red mushrooms

moonshine
a fairy circle lights
the pine forest

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

fairy rings
wishing for the rain
to stop

— Christina Nguyen, A wish for the sky…

Mushrooms and flowers

(Photo: Jay Otto)

Sticking on the mushroom,
The leaf
Of some unknown tree.

— Basho, translated by R.H. Blyth

(Now that you have read this, it is very important that you watch this YouTube video of John Cage discussing this haiku.)

Mushroom-hunting;
Raising my head,–
The moon over the peak.

— Buson, translated by R.H. Blyth

one by one
ignored by people…
mushrooms

– Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

My voice
Becomes the wind;
Mushroom-hunting.

— Shiki, translated by R.H. Blyth

pine mushrooms
live a thousand years
in one autumn

— Den Sutejo (1633-1698), translated by Makoto Ueda

Two mushrooms

(Artwork: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

mushroom garden-
in the damp,dark corner
full moon

magic mushrooms—
under the duvet I find
stars

dark cloud–
from the primordium
a billowing mushroom

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

Puffball mushroom

(Photo: Jay Otto)

a million puffball spores
dance across my map

– Norman Darlington
First published in Albatross (2007) as a verse of the Triparshva renku ‘A Bowl of Oranges’

garden in shade and fog
mushrooms grow
where something dies damp

— Jim (Sully) Sullivan, haiku and commentary and tales

to a mushroom:
wish i were
a toad

overnight rain–
and your head expands
into a mushroom

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

new beginnings in the shelter of each other growing

– Terri L. and Raymond French, The Mulling Muse, first published in Haiga Online Family Haiga Challenge, issue 11-2

asphalt and concrete
but I know a place near here
that smells like mushrooms

— @jmrowland

in this heat
hunting for mushrooms
with help

— Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

high noon -
seeking shelter under the mushroom
its shadow

— Kat Creighton

 Mushroom statue

(Photo: Jay Otto)

sunrise service;
blue meanies
at the potluck

– Johnny Baranski

Fearless mushroom
uppercuts
snarling hyena.

— Robert Mullen, Golden Giraffes Riding Scarlet Flamingos Through the Desert of Forever

roadside stand
the chanterelle seller’s
orange crocs

— Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies

Mushrooms growing on a log

(Photo: Jay Otto)

The following three haiku are from Penny Harter’s chapbook The Monkey’s Face, published by From Here Press in 1987.

just missing
the mushrooms
among stones

– Penny Harter, from the sequence “After the Hike”

counting mushrooms
in my basket—
numb fingers

– Penny Harter, from the sequence “Snow Finished”

under the mushrooms
the bones of
a field mouse

– Penny Harter, from the sequence “Home Village”

Penny Harter homepageA Poet’s Alphabestiary, Etc.

Mushroom with ragged edge

(Artwork: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

winter cemetery:
careful to tread between
the headstones
& these small clusters
of white mushrooms

— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

Elves with mushrooms

in the shadows
the child stomping mushrooms
smiles

– Penny Harter, revised version of a haiku from The Monkey’s Face (cited above)

crushing the year’s
first mushroom…
the laughing child

– Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

A word of explanation here: Penny wrote (or rewrote) her haiku above as a kind of experiment in response to my mushroom challenge — the original featured a child “squashing insects” rather than “stomping mushrooms.” She had no knowledge of the Issa haiku until I discovered it shortly after receiving her haiku and showed it to her. As Penny says, “It is both a fun coincidence—and a bit eerie, but then I’m used to eerie coincidences.”

Delicate mushroom

(Photo: Jay Otto)

After the rain
they come out
parasol shrooms.

A circle of toadstools-
what’s left to do
but dance?

Eating his lunch
on a tombstone
mushroom hunter.

No mushrooms there
the hunter gives the log
another good kick.

– Alexis Rotella, Alexis Rotella’s Blog

Diorama of Alice in Wonderland

(Photo: Melissa Allen. Artwork: Kimberly Sherrod.)

first mushrooms
the children steal
each other’s hats

after crashing into the rocks strange and beautiful mushrooms

mushrooms the flesh of rain

– Melissa Allen

Mushrooms in a tree

(Photo: Jay Otto)

mushrooms
the door
ajar

– Terry O’Connor

Across the Haikuverse, No. 15: Catfish Edition

Hi fellow travelers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, at least in the form of tour guide. A lot has happened. The earth has shaken. It isn’t tilted quite the same way anymore. I think I can feel it. I’m a little off kilter these days. Not that I can complain, seeing as how I don’t live in Japan.

It’s strange — last year at this time I didn’t even know anyone who lived in Japan, and now I know many people there, whose welfare I am deeply concerned about. They mostly all seem to be mostly okay, at least physically. But their sense of security has been pretty much shattered; they’re living with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I am so admiring of the way they are keeping themselves centered despite this.

I think haiku helps. Maybe any art helps. It’s a way to take the broken pieces and make something whole out of them.

And on that note…here are a few places you might want to drop by for earthquake news and art:

1. Gabi Greve’s earthquake blog, Japan — After the Big Earthquake. It’s very Gabi-like, meaning insanely comprehensive and completely fascinating. Mostly it’s full of Japanese news reports about all the details of the earthquake/tsunami aftermath and aaathe ongoing nuclear disaster saga, but there are also lots of Gabi-style notes about Japanese earthquake folklore and plenty of earthquake haiku from all over the world. A couple of examples:

A giant catfish (namazu) lived in mud beneath the earth. The catfish liked to play pranks and could only be restrained by Kashima, a deity who protected the Japanese people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty rock with magical powers over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed his guard, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.

– Gabi Greve

unseen
the third wave
blossoms

– Svetlana Marisova

2. Scott Watson’s amazing, moving earthquake journal from Sendai, being published serially at Issa’s Untidy Hut. The prose is mostly spare and economical and to the point, which makes his picture of the deprivations they are suffering in Sendai all the more effective. Here’s a typical passage, from Part 6:

On the way back meet an elderly neighbor walking his Akita dog. The dog is up in years too. We talk a while about how we canʼt flush our toilets.  Such an inconvenience. When will gas service resume. When will we have water. Some American friends, I tell him, strongly urge me and my family to flee Japanʼs nuclear disaster. But how would you get out of Sendai, he asks. Thatʼs exactly what I tell them. They donʼt understand that we canʼt go anywhere even if we want to.

– Scott Watson

Sometimes Scott waxes a little more lyrical, as in this passage from Part 5 — the last sentence is one of my favorite statements about poetry, ever:

Nukes in Japan. Earthquake land. They are safe, they are necessary, the people are told. Experts are telling the people. Government officials are telling the people. Electric power companies are telling the people. Eventually the people come around. The people repeat what they are told.

Poets tell people nothing. People donʼt repeat poems. They sing them in the here and now, which is when, exactly.

— Scott Watson

3. Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site, see haiku here, where the haiga are all about the earthquake these days, and are heartwrenching and beautiful. Speaking of Sendai, he illustrated a wonderful Basho haiku that follows a Sendai episode in Narrow Road to the Deep North:

I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet –
straps for my sandals

— Basho

and followed it up with “after” pictures of Sendai, which, unfortunately, are not nearly as pretty as iris sandals.

One of my favorite of Kuni’s own haiku about the earthquake is this one, also a stunning haiga:

tsunami swells—
how I wish
I were a bird

— Kuniharu Shimizu

4. Miriam Sagan’s Miriam’s Well, where she has been posting many earthquake haiku submitted to her — I believe she’s still accepting submissions. Here’s one of my favorites:

tsunami
pieces of future days
wash away

— Mark Brooks

5. This haiku of Bill Kenney’s from haiku-usa:

all the names
I’m learning to pronounce –
tsunami

— Bill Kenney

6. We Are All Japan, the brainchild of Sasa Vazic and Robert Wilson (who edit the journal Simply Haiku). It’s a very active Facebook group that is open to all comers and is a sort of clearinghouse for earthquake news, support, and poetry. Sasa and Robert are also putting together an anthology of earthquake-related poetry (all forms, not just haiku or other Japanese poetry) whose proceeds will benefit earthquake victims. They’ll accept (previously unpublished) submissions until May 15 at svtojapan@gmail.com. If you’re not Facebook-y, their website is http://wearealljapan.blogspot.com.

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Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch

People have also been known to write haiku (and tanka) that aren’t about the earthquake these days. Those are fun to read too.

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From Miso Soup:

Satie -
the rain
eases

— Alison

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From Haiku Etc.:


I am not here
but these red peppers are
so I buy one

— Kris Lindbeck

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From Heed Not Steve (there is also a great illustration so go visit):

oh I see you
in the scrawl and scribble
Graphite Buddha

— Steve Mitchell

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From old pajamas: from the dirt hut:

leaving my lover alone for a minute my tongue hunts a lost cloud

— Alan Segal

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From jornales:

haiku truths–
crocus and frogs after rain
kestrels and hyacinths
telling you secrets non-stop
oh, poet for you, no rest

— Alegria Imperial

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From a lousy mirror:

the surplus
of words burrowed in
spring darkness . . .
a mole eating his way
through the may or may not

— Robert D. Wilson

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From Stay Drunk on Writing:

stepping stones
to the Zen Garden –
dog dung

— Chen-ou Liu

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From Yay Words!, the hokku of a great kasen renku in progress between Aubrie Cox and Wayne Chou — go read the other verses:

spring breeze
tea stains
on the atlas

— Aubrie Cox

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From Blue Willow Haiku World, two entries, because there is no way I could choose just one out of four whole weeks of daily entries:

ボブ・ディラン掛けよ蛙の夜なれば     榮 猿丸

bobu diran kakeyo kaeru no yoru nareba

.

play Bob Dylan
it is a night
of frogs

— Sarumaru Sakae, translated by Fay Aoyagi

.

春なれや水の厚みの中に魚      岩田由美

haru nare ya mizu no atsumi no naka ni uo

.

spring—
fish inside
the water’s thickness

– Yumi Iwata, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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From Crows & Daisies, see note above about impossibility of choosing, etc.:

snowflakes
the white mare’s whinny
lifts a cloud

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hedgehog ball
i always was
the odd one out

— Polona Oblak

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From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:

summit road
once more the moon
changes windows

— Tom Painting

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From a handful of stones, the haiku that wins the Most Makes Me Want to Read It Aloud Award for this edition:

sick train the night heron shifts silt for all of us

— Alan Summers

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From rolling stones:

women’s day
more to the moon
than this sliver

— Jill

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From Jars of Stars:

invisible
to those around me
I watch blossoms
fall
a thousand years from now

— Paul Smith (@monkeywillow)

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From Daily Haiku:

crows in a pine
moving the dark
from limb to limb

— Carolyne Rohrig

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From Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a great haiga — go look:

the equinox
what winter has taken
what winter has spared

— Mark Holloway

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In case you’re wondering, “Isn’t there someone who collects great haiku from all the haiku poets on Facebook and puts it somewhere where we poor Facebook-less souls can take it in? And maybe sometimes translates it into French or English depending on which language it started out in?”, the answer is yes, yes there is. He is Vincent Hoarau and his blog is La Calebasse. From a set of fantastic spring haiku he shared recently, here’s one of his own that I love (I am presuming this was probably written first in French and then translated into English, but this was the order it appeared in on the blog):

sun ! sun ! sun !
the daffodils don’t know
where to look

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le soleil ! le soleil !
les jonquilles ne savent plus
où donner d’la tête

– haiku and translation by Vincent Hoarau

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Journaling

Anyone who hasn’t discovered Contemporary Haibun Online (cho) yet? They released a new edition a couple of weeks ago (dated April 2011 — now that’s efficiency). Please go check it out now so I don’t have to hunt you down and stand over you while you read it. Here’s one of my favorites from the issue to get you started.

Midsummer Night

Into the garden
take a small square of Kozo paper.
Fold, crease, fold and fold again.
Now place upon an upturned mirror:

crossing a dark sea
of reflected galaxies
this empty boat

—Jann Wirtz

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The Wild, Wild Web

A roundup of amazing haiku websites I’ve stumbled upon since the last time I rapped at you.

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How to explain Basho’s Road? The posts there are infrequent but worth waiting for. The site is beautifully designed and all the posts contain both poetry (usually Japanese short-form, but sometimes not — the most recent post as of this writing contains a quotation from Montaigne) and art, wonderful art. It’s a quiet and thoughtful place and I can feel my breathing slowing down and my brain speeding up whenever I stop by. The proprietor is Norbert Blei, stop by and thank him (I guess now that I’ve said that, I should do it too…).

……………………………………………ah!
…………….today haiku come as easy
as picking them off a small fruit tree

Ronald Baatz, from White Tulips

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Since I discovered John Martone’s poetry a few months ago (via Issa’s Untidy Hut), I’ve been noticing it — and hungrily seeking out more of it — everywhere I go. Then recently I got this brainstorm to use this amazing new “Google” thing the kids are all talking about and what do you know, it chewed up my search request and spat me right out at a web page called “john martone’s poetry projects,” which contains links to about a zillion pdf’s of collections of John’s work, and now I’m locking myself in the bathroom and not coming out until I’ve read them all.

Most of these collections are best read as collections — they contain variations on one or several themes and have much the same effect, on me at least, as a turning kaleidoscope, a really well-made one that you just can’t tear away from your eye. Here’s one verse, though, that I think works well on its own.

look at
that cloud
thats you

– John Martone, from box turtle (2008)

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Ray Rasmussen, a Canadian poet well-known for his haiku and haibun, has just recently put together a couple of very striking and well-edited sites that you’ll want at least to go take a look at, and possibly to contribute to.

The first one is Day’s End, which looks at various aspects of aging through (mostly previously published) haiku, senryu, tanka and haibun. It was put together by Ray and guest editor Anita Virgil. Here’s a sample:

first time together
kissing a grandmother
for real

— Charles Trumbull

The second site, which is still a work in progress, is Romance under a Waning Moon, a website of haiku, tanka, haibun and images about the ups and downs of later-in-life romance. Ray’s still accepting submissions for this one (he prefers them previously published) — check out the details at the site.

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Deep Thought

The website of the British haiku journal Presence contains numerous fascinating essays, including several meditations on that perennially fascinating topic: what, exactly, is a haiku?

The one that made me think the most, although I did wish the author would stop shouting, was this one by David Cobb. I’ve italicized the passages I found the most thought-provoking.

My mind is kind of spinning in circles, now, actually — I have to try to integrate these ideas (which I find compelling and convincing) into my mental conception of haiku.

Two Differing Views of Time and Nature in Haiku

1. A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of A MOMENT keenly perceived, IN WHICH NATURE IS LINKED TO HUMAN NATURE. (From A Haiku Path, recording the official definition adopted by the Haiku Society of America and used in Frogpond magazine.) [My (meaning Mr. Cobb's) capitals.]

2. In the first place, Japanese haiku are NOT NATURE POEMS AT ALL. Japanese poems are concerned with the four seasons of the year, so they are SEASON-POEMS. Haiku are TIME-POEMS; where content is concerned, haiku deal with the passage of time, with things that have passed away, with the present and the future. And the poet illustrates this process of becoming and passing away within a short or long period of time by referring to things in the natural world, both alive and dead. (tr. from an article by Thomas Hemstege in Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, Vol.16, No.60, March 2003.) [My (yes, Mr. Cobb's) capitals again.]

This definition argues that references to Nature are incidental or instrumental to the poet’s impressions of the passage of time. The nub of the action is something that poets do with Nature. The case is made for a haiku continuum rather than a haiku moment.

– David Cobb

[Editorial note to Mr. Cobb: I love your — well, Mr. Hemstege’s, I suppose — ideas, but there are these things called italics which are used by most authors to provide emphasis, and which are MUCH LESS UNNERVING to the reader than ALL CAPS.]

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Dead Tree News

Recently I was reminded again that I really needed and wanted to read R.H. Blyth’s seminal four-volume work Haiku, first published in the late forties, which was one of the main instruments for introducing haiku to the general public in the Western world. Blyth introduced a lot of misconceptions about haiku too — the idea that it was somehow fundamentally attached to Zen Buddhism, perhaps, being the main one. But he also passionately loved and was intimately familiar with the body of classical Japanese haiku (not to mention having an encyclopedic knowledge of Western poetry), and did translations of thousands of them that, although they sometimes are more poetic than accurate, are really, really lovely. So as long as you take him with several pounds of salt, he is still well worth reading.

The problem is, Haiku is out of print and commands an impressive price on the used-book market. And though I had no problem borrowing the volumes from my university’s library (libraries, people! wonderful things! use them!</librarian sales pitch>), I realized almost as soon as I started reading them that I needed to own them myself. So one night I was noodling around on Amazon looking at the ridiculous prices that some dealers were asking for these volumes ($700 just for the “Spring” volume?!), when I found what seemed like a very reasonable deal. And almost quicker than I could ask my husband, “Honey, would I be crazy if I paid this much money for four books?”, I’d ordered the things, and a few days later they arrived at my house all nicely wrapped in gloriously old-fashioned layers of brown paper. And lo, when I had removed all the wrapping paper, I discovered they were beautiful, and I was very happy.

I haven’t read them all yet. I suspect it will take months, if not years. But I am in love. The first volume is all about Eastern culture and haiku in general (and contains lots of very authoritative-sounding, incredibly well-written and inspiring, and dubious theories), and the remaining three volumes contain haiku translations and (highly subjective) commentary, in seasonal order starting with Spring and grouping the haiku by kigo. Pretty much any page you open to you’ll find something you love. I just opened the “Summer-Autumn” volume at random and look what I found:

Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.

— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth

I swear, I will never hit a fly again.

I’ll be back with more about Blyth someday soon, I promise.

(Note: Don Wentworth, over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, has been writing some thoughts about Blyth lately too — you’re well advised to take them in.)

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Winding Down

Long day. (Although the days have gotten a bit shorter due to the earthquake, did you know?) Long month. All kinds of things shifting and spinning. That catfish still restless underground.

But haiku is still there. The haikuverse is still full, still worth exploring. It’s some comfort to me, how about you?

March 13: For Japan

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earthquake —
no plum blossom viewing
this year

(thanks to Gabi Greve for inspiring this haiku)

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tsunami
clouds flooding
the moon

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radiation leak moonlight on the fuel rods

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moon viewing
before and after
satellite pictures

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*

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earthquake news —
beginning to learn
Japanese

 

February 17: Numerical Order

“To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test” (New York Times)

..

seven or eight
sparrows
count them again

..

This haiku appeared on this blog last May, and on Haiku News last week (with the headline above).

For some reason, even though I wrote it in pretty much my first week of writing haiku, it is still one of my favorites of my own poems. Beginner’s luck, I guess.

Why do I like it so much? (You don’t have to ask so incredulously.) Well…first of all, there’s the whole “it’s true” thing. It’s impossible to count birds. (Impossible for me, anyway; maybe you’ve had better luck.) They keep moving. They’re transient, they’re transitory.

So many things in life are. You can’t pin them down. You look one minute and things look one way; the next minute they look entirely different. Don’t even ask about the differences between years.

But for some reason we (and by “we” I mean “I”) keep trying to get some kind of firm fix on the situation, whatever the situation is. Seven or eight sparrows? Well, does it matter? Rationally, no … but so much of life is spent trying to count those damn sparrows.

Also, I like numbers. I like numbers in general; I like arithmetic; I count things and add and subtract and multiply things all the time, just for the hell of it. Give me your phone number and I’ll tell you something interesting about the digits in, like, four seconds. “The sum of the first three digits is the product of the last two digits!” Or something. It’s a little weird. Kind of Junior Rain Man. (I do know the difference between the price of a car and the price of a candy bar, though.  So your longstanding suspicion that I really should be institutionalized has not yet been entirely confirmed.)

I like numbers in poetry because they are so specific. Other things being equal, generally the more specific a poem is the more powerful it is, so numbers to me seem like high-octane gas or something for poetry.

Gabi Greve, on her mindblowingly complete haiku website, has a great page about numbers in haiku. Here are a couple of my favorites of the examples she gives:

咲花をまつ一に梅二は櫻
saku hana o matsu ichi ni umi ni wa sakura

waiting for the cherry blossoms
one is the sea
two is the cherry tree

– Ishihara 石原重方

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ビタミン剤一日二錠瀧凍る
bitamiinzai ichi nichi ni joo taki kooru

vitamin pills
each day two of them -
the waterfall freezes

– Ono Shuka (Oono Shuka) 大野朱香

Also, Issa is great at haiku that feature numbers. (Does this surprise you? I thought not.) A few examples, all translated by David Lanoue (and if you want more you should go over to David’s spectacular database of Issa translations and type your favorite number in the search box):

three raindrops
and three or four
fireflies

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houses here and there
fly kites, three…four…
two

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three or five stars
by the time I fold it…
futon

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rainstorm–
two drops for the rice cake tub
three drops for the winnow

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lightning flash–
suddenly three people
face to face

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mid-river
on three or four stools…
evening cool

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cool air–
out of four gates
entering just one

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on four or five
slender blades of grass
autumn rain

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a five or six inch
red mandarin orange…
winter moon

and one of my favorites of all time –

first snowfall
one, two, three, four
five, six people

Interesting how many of these involve the kind of uncertainty about exact count that my own haiku does. I don’t remember whether I had read any Issa at the time I wrote it. I might have been shamelessly imitating him, or I might just have been trying to count sparrows. You try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 10: Bleak Midwinter Edition

One of my favorite Christmas songs (I remembered recently, when I was part of a hastily-thrown-together chorus that sang it for a New Year’s Eve celebration) is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. The first verse, in particular, is really a masterpiece of English poetry, full of humble but strong Anglo-Saxon words, not a single one unnecessary and no necessary one left out:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago.

– Christina Rossetti

There are obviously too many words and too much meter and rhyme and too many metaphors in this for it to be a haiku, though it does have the requisite elements of simplicity and clear, evocative images, and I think there’s some wabi-sabi and yugen going on here as well. And I see possibilities in that third line for some kind of avant-garde haiku:

snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow

Really, I think probably someone could rewrite this verse, or part of it, into an effective haiku, though I’ve been trying and not finding it so easy. Any of you like to give it a shot? Let me know what you come up with.

Anyway. It is definitely bleak midwinter here. Snow on snow indeed.  It’s nice that it’s not for so many of you — you dwellers in the tropics and subtropics and summery Southern Hemisphere. I like to imagine your lives, walking outside barefoot, wearing short sleeves, smelling flowers. (Well, those of you who aren’t flooded. I’m sorry about the flooded part. I hope no one has floated away.) I’m not really jealous, it will be our turn soon enough. And though I complain bitterly about the cold and can never seem to get really warm, there is something about this downtime, for both the earth and me, that I grudgingly appreciate. Cycles. The world is full of them, and best just to accept them.

Which reminds me. Aren’t we supposed to be taking a spin around the Haikuverse? Best get started on that before you get bored with my waxing philosophical and wander away, never to return.

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Haiku of the Week

That’s haiku, plural. As in, the haiku I saw on the Internet this week that most struck me as interesting for whatever reason (could be my discerning literary taste, could be the state of my digestion) and that I actually managed to remember to bookmark. (This whole process is an art, not a science.)

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Mark Holloway over at Beachcombing For the Landlocked has been on a roll this week. You should really just go over there and read everything he’s written lately because I had a hard time choosing just one. I settled on this one in the end:

moss growing on the roof tiles      unsuspected      metastasis

Mark Holloway

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This wonderful piece from a handful of stones isn’t a haiku, I suppose. Do I care? Not really.

A mushroom sprouts
from the base of the locust tree,
and it will not be distracted
from its small brown task.

– Tamra Hays

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In this piece Angie Werren from feathers did a nice job responding to the same ku on this prompt that I did this morning:

sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
counting trees

– Angie Werren

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This wonderful offering at Jars of Stars was originally posted on Twitter by @cirrusdream, otherwise known as Polona:

winter thaw
i ignore
his white lie

– Polona (@cirrusdream)

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Another one of Bill Kenney’s “afters” appeared at haiku-usa (maybe I appreciated this one because I’ve been having weird dreams lately myself):

piercing cold
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream

– Soseki 1867-1916

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Also at haiku-usa, Bill points us to a collection of his “urban haiku” recently featured on Gabi Greve’s Haiku Topics and Keywords blog. Gabi also links to works by many other authors of such “urban haiku” (i.e., haiku that reflects the reality of the lives of most modern writers of haiku, who live not in pastoral Japan or pastoral anywhere, but in bustling outposts of the global economy). An example from Alan Summers:

Waterloo sunset
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map

– Alan Summers

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Every week there’s at least one something at Blue Willow Haiku World that I feel like reading over and over — usually several somethings. This week my favorite was this one:

月の汚れやすくてかなしき手   黒田杏子
ichigatsu no yogoreyasukute kanashiki te

January
hands that are easy
to get dirty and sad
— Momoko Kuroda, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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And while we’re on the topic of Fay Aoyagi (I never mind being on the topic of Fay Aoyagi), someone on Facebook (MDW — was that you?) recently reminded me about the wonderful series of essays she wrote several years ago for Frogpond about non-traditional use of kigo in haiku. I could swear I’ve read this entire series on the Interwebs, either on Frogpond’s site or Fay’s own, but I can’t seem to find any of them now except this one: “Haiku Traditions: Flowers and Plants.” But just this one will take you a long way. Fay discusses how traditional Japanese kigo like “cherry blossoms,” which are so evocative in their own culture, have given way in her own poetry to seasonal terms or keywords that are more meaningful to the American culture she now inhabits:

While cherry blossoms symbolize where I came from, roses represent Western culture and where I am now.  I think roses demand a lot of care.  To have a gorgeous, perfect flower, one has to tend them with water, fertilizers and pesticides.  Roses are somewhat the manifestation of my borrowed culture.  “Rose” itself is a summer kigo, but I prefer to use it in a winter setting.  I can put contradictory feelings or images together in this way.

winter roses—
I am tired of reading
between the lines
– Fay Aoyagi

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OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)

Every week I am amazed at how many cool haiku-related sites I have yet to discover. Since I have been thinking about venturing into haiga territory in collaboration with my amateur photographer husband, I went noodling around this week looking for haiga online and discovered … Haigaonline. (Warning: this link will lead you to a page where there are sounds of sparrows twittering and some music, which is sweet and pretty but if you’re in a quiet place or just not in the mood, you may want to hit the “mute” button.)

The December 2010 issue of this online journal features lots of good stuff, including a feature on “family haiga” — lots of husband-and-wife teams, so I appreciated that. What I really loved, though, was an exhibit of “experimental haiga” by Renee Owen — they’re colorful collages with intriguing haiku, such as:

waiting for God
to finish creation
leftover rocks
– Renee Owen

And yes you MUST go look at the picture! That’s the entire point! Click! Click! I think the link will just bring you to a page of thumbnails, all of which are worth looking at, but the one I’ve quoted above can be found if you click on the picture of columns in the bottom center.
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And I’m always looking for good haibun, so I was excited to stumble on Hortensia Anderson’s site The Plenitude of Emptiness. All haibun, all the time! I’m trying to write more haibun so I will be dropping by here often.

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Tanka Corner

I’ve been making some headway lately in my ongoing quest to get over my fear of tanka. I was helped recently in my endeavor by my discovery of this mind-blower over at Michele Harvey’s site. This is not only one of my favorite tanka I’ve ever read, it’s some of the best poetry I’ve read lately, period.

a fall cricket
sings alone on the porch
I too, wonder
about being born too late
or too soon

– Michele Harvey

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Alegria Imperial also published some wonderful trilingual tanka (English, Spanish, and the native Philippine language Iluko) over at qarrtsiluni this week. I have long been a fan of Alegria’s multilingual poetry, it is so amazingly dense with meaning and emotional resonance. And as usual at qarrtsiluni, there is an audio file so you can hear Alegria reading her beautiful words. Please check it out!

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Renku Everywhere

With the new year, the thoughts of many seem to be turning to starting new renku. Over at Issa’s Snail, Ashley Capes has done a nice site redesign and, after a long hiatus, has started up a couple of new junicho, with a third possibly in the works. I think most of these have filled up with participants already but it’s still fun to watch the process of a renku in the making, which you can do by reading the comments on the site. The “sabaki” or renku leader guides the group in choosing subject matter and making sure the poem flows and doesn’t repeat itself in theme or language, which is no easy task, but Ashley (I know from personal experience) is great at doing this. Plus he is just an all-around nice guy who is easy and fun to work with.

The same can be said of Willie Sorlien, who is currently guiding the development of a shisan renku at Green Tea and Bird Song. Again, don’t think they’re looking for new participants, but it might be worthwhile watching how it’s done by the pros before you leap in on your own.

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Haiku in the News

Haiku made an appearance in the mass media this week in the form of a lengthy radio interview on NPR’s “On Point” show with haiku venerables George Swede and Dylan Tweney and an economist named Stephen Ziliak, who wrote an article making a fascinating connection between economic models and haiku. An excerpt from Ziliak’s article:

The typical haiku budget constraint is limited by three lines of seventeen syllables. Basho himself understood well the joyful paradox of haiku economics: less is more, and more is better!

Stephen Ziliak

This was a fun interview to listen to — I especially enjoyed George Swede’s anecdote about his son, who as a fifth-grader took up a position as a conscientious objector by refusing to do as he was instructed by his teacher and write a haiku in 5-7-5. He wrote some twelve-syllable haiku instead and got them published in Modern Haiku (which at the time accepted haiku from students). Then his teacher was all impressed and wanted to put them in the school yearbook, but the young Swede told her (I’m sure in very well-mannered language) where she could put her yearbook. Go ahead and stream this one while you’re making dinner or something tonight, you won’t be sorry.

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The News in Haiku


Is everyone getting psyched up for NaHaiWriMo (remember, that’s the thing where you can sign up to write a haiku a day in the month of February)? Michael Dylan Welch has put together a website for the event so now you don’t need to be on Facebook to sign up (although go ahead and like the Facebook page too if you want). Think about it.

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A call for submissions for a new issue of haijinx has gone out (deadline: March 1), along with the exciting news that Roberta Beary will be their new haibun editor. Roberta is one of the best writers of haibun around so I can’t wait to see what she picks out. Also new on the haijinx website: Richard Krawiec’s latest installment of his column “Shooting My Poetry Mouth Off.” This month he implores us haiku poets not to try to publish everything we write but to be selective and try to recognize our best work, which will not only benefit us personally (since our poetic reputations will not be sullied by inferior work), but also haiku as a genre, since the journals will not be flooded with mediocre work. Worth reading and thinking about.

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Dead Tree News

Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694. The first great master of haikai/haiku. Where on earth did he come from?

It’s a little like asking where Shakespeare (1564-1616) came from, in my opinion. I mean you can see how before and all around Shakespeare, English writers were producing supple, lively, image-rich poems and plays, much of it in a natural and flexible blank verse — really, nobody could do English like the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, at the moment when modern English was brand new and no one had gotten around to inventing rules for it yet so writers had no compunction about bending the language to their will. That was the glorious and fortunate tradition Shakespeare was working in, but nobody else was Shakespeare, before or after.

So pity poor Donald Keene, who in chapters four and five of World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 has the unenviable job of explaining how the often-pleasant-and-skillful, but usually not much more, haikai of the haijin that preceded Basho produced the unparalleled haikai genius that is Basho. In the end, about all he can do is trace the literary movements that Basho’s work responded to and grew out of, and then throw up his hands and say, “The rest — that’s just Basho.”

As I discussed in Haikuverse No. 8, Basho was influenced by both the careful craftsmanship of the Teitoku school of haikai and the iconoclasm and experimentation of the Danrin school, as well as by his intensive study of Chinese verse and by his interest in Zen Buddhism. But he didn’t just sit around studying and writing poetry; he spent much of his life traveling around Japan, living at various times both in the city and in the country, meeting people, seeing things, gathering material. As Keene points out, “Haikai shared the literary spirit of the great Chinese and Japanese masters, and the Zen quality of … poet … Han Shan, but it had its own domain too, in the familiar and even vulgar activities of contemporary life.”

It’s when Keene discusses Basho’s masterpieces that his efforts to relate Basho’s genius to his poetic predecessors break down. Basho was just Basho; his vision was unique. In his most famous poem, the frog pond haiku furuike ya, Keene points out, “The ancient pond is eternal, but in order for us to become aware of its eternity there must be some momentary disruption…This verse is about stillness, yet only by sound can we know silence.” He contrasts Basho’s first line here (“old pond”) with the well-meaning and not unskillful suggestion of one of his disciples, “the yellow roses”:

[A]lthough the picture of yellow flowers surrounding the frog … is visually appealing, it lacks the eternity of ‘ancient pond.’ … Only by suggesting the age of the pond, its unchanging nature, is the momentary life of the frog evoked. This was the kind of understanding Basho demanded. He believed that the smallest flower or insect if properly seen and understood could suggest all of creation, and each had its reason for existence.

– Donald Keene, World Within Walls

By the end of his life Basho’s poetic ideal was karumi, or “lightness,” “a word used in contrast to technical finish or decorative effects.” Basho was seeing ever deeper into the hearts of things, in a way no haikai poet had done before and few if any have done since. He was going past the words into the essence.

What Keene’s discussion made me want to do more than ever was just sit down with Basho himself and engage with him, rather than the ideas about him. So that’s what’s on the agenda for this week. Feel free to join me.

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And thanks again for letting me ramble on at length; special thanks to those of you who actually made it to the end of this post. Love, love, love making these trips with you. It may seem like I’m the guide but I assure you I’m learning the territory as I go. There is still so much more of the Haikuverse left to explore, hope you’ll keep me company as I wander.