Across the Haikuverse, No. 29: The Not-Haiku Edition

It is not strictly true that there is no haiku here. There’s a bunch of haiku. There’s just a lot of other stuff too. It’s all poetry, though. Short poetry. Relatively short. It all makes me happy, okay?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how haiku is different from other kinds of poetry and wondering how different it is, exactly, and whether and what writers of haiku can learn from other kinds of poetry about how to write haiku. I know there’s a school of thought that haiku is haiku and Western poetry is Western poetry and ne’er the twain shall meet. That Western poems employ all kinds of tricky, slippery literary devices so their meanings are hidden in a miasma of metaphor, whereas haiku are clear as water and they mean just what they say they mean.

I wonder, I wonder. I’m not sure I believe any more that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely necessary to haiku, except extreme brevity, or that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely foreign to it. I think the salient feature of haiku is an almost painfully heightened awareness of some feature of the universe. I could say something about connections, too, and about concreteness, and perhaps about some sort of sense of the existence of time.

But basically, if I don’t feel, when I read haiku, as if my chin has been grabbed and my attention insistently focused on something outside my own skull, then I don’t feel as if the poem has done its job. And you can achieve that effect with very plain and unmetaphorical language or you can achieve it with metaphor or personification or literary allusions or surrealism or wordplay or pretty much anything else in the bag of tricks that Westerners use, that anybody in the world uses, to direct the attention of the poetry-reading public.

So if you’re going to write haiku — and we are — it seems wise to be aware, to stay always aware, of the full range of options available to poets to describe the universe they experience. Even if you choose not to use many, or most, of those options, at least you know what you’re not using, and hopefully why. You also might realize that something you need to say needs to be said in not-haiku. It’s been known to happen.

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Poetry. It’s All Good.

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again missing light...

– Johannes S. H. Bjerg, 3ournals and frags

Lately Johannes has been on a roll with these parallel poems of his: two poems running side by side, intertwined but able to stand independently. If you find this one interesting I recommend you dig around over at 3ournals and frags to see what else you can find, it’s a bit of a treasure chest over there.

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暮れそめてにはかに暮れぬ梅林   日野草城

kuresomete niwakani kurenu umebayashi

sun starts to set…
a plum grove suddenly
grows dark

—Sojo Hino, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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OCDC – mixing hard rock aesthetics with an anxiety disorder*

riff 
spliff 

dry ice 
precise

Not to mention three lines of lemon sherbet, each exactly 294 millimetres long, on a mirror, and a bowl of red M&Ms

[*by special request]

– Marie Marshall, kvenna rad

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I found a lion’s mane in our old shed
made of string and raffia
when we were young we used to chase antelope
I have scars on my knees*

– Kaspalita, a handful of stones

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the bride posin
bi the watterside  -  a swan
gaes intil the derk burn

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the bride posing
on the riverbank  -  a swan
enters the dark stream

–John McDonald, zen speug

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⅔ written
damn
my life
doesn’t really work
in the 1st person

–Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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signs of spring
one day rhyming
with the next

–William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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today in the city

–Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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a red apple
a green apple
on top of the table

– Shiki, translated by Burton Watson, R’r Blog

Over on the R’r [Roadrunner] Blog, Scott Metz put together a whole applepalooza of haiku about apples, which I highly recommend you take a look at.

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all the way
around the oak tree
no squirrel

– John Hawk, DailyHaiku 3/30/2012

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spring night / I give up explaining / the hippo constellation

– Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Scented Dust

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rick of new-mown hay
someone left the gate open
a little horse flew
the wildest urgent creature
between the vault of my ribs

–Alan Segal (“old pajamas”), old pajamas: from the dirt hut

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Blogged

Some more words of wisdom from the R’r Blog… about cooking and haiku.

“Tradition is everything. . . . The press . . . they love to separate avant-garde from tradition. At the end they are not two things. They are the same thing. . . . There’s only two kinds of cooking: the bad cooking and the good cooking. What happens is if we forget our traditions, if we don’t keep looking to the past, it’s very difficult to understand who you are, and even more difficult to be looking to the future.”

– José Andrés, chef and owner of minibarZaytinya & é & teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University

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To expand a little on what I wrote up top about the relationship between haiku and “regular” poetry… Ron Silliman, over on his blog about contemporary poetry, has written a very interesting consideration of contemporary haiku as seen in the pages of three books — the anthology Haiku 21 (which I’m going to review soon, I swear), John Martone’s ksana (ditto), and Jim Kacian’s long after (tritto).

Silliman is not a haiku poet — he writes long, very long poetry, as a matter of fact — but he is sympathetic to haiku, or more or less sympathetic; he eyes it a bit skeptically, but lovingly. (Entertainingly, he is very bemused that none of the poems in Haiku 21 have titles. Um, really? That’s the oddest thing about haiku for you? That ten-word poems don’t have titles? I don’t know, maybe we do have some kind of giant blind spot there and haiku could rock titles just fine, but they just seem kind of … unnecessary.)

Anyway. I feel indulgent toward Silliman because he loves John Martone and so do I — I could say more about that and I will, I will. His review is thoughtful and helpful, check it out.

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David Marshall wrote a haiku every day for a while and that made me really happy, and now he’s writing weekly (or so) essays and they make me really happy too.

“When I was writing a haiku a day, I hit upon an idea I could never express properly in that form. What if every haiku about a bird, a tree, a swinging backhoe, or a boulder blocking a path set that thing aflame—what if observing it made it burn with eternal fire? What would the world look like, blazing with attention? What might be left cool and untouched?”

– David Marshall, “One Essay With Separate Titles” from Signals to Attend

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Journaled

Oh, Modern Haiku, how I love you…

Some meditations on light and dark from issue 43.1.

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one bird sings inside another autumn dusk

– Francine Banwarth

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on the edge of a forest though I tried to avoid it

– David Boyer

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a Coleman lantern
lighting the compromise
quarter moon

– Cherie Hunter Day

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all that dark matter        white peony

– Billie Dee

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deep fall–
sparrows adding
color to the trees

– Bill Pauly

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trying to switch on a light that already is late October

– Alison Williams

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one road in,
one road out–
late winter

– Jeffrey Woodward

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Ribbons 7.4. Tanka. Yes.

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I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple
wondering
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness

– hortensia anderson

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it is taking
all my life
to understand
what is real –
spring begins

– Marilyn Hazelton

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hidden
by the maples’ red curtain
six kids
two dogs and a pending
foreclosure

– Christina Nguyen

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awake
during the procedure–
a tender light
wends its way
through my intestines

– Sheila Sondik

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Lilliput Review #184. If you haven’t seen Lillie before, please go over and visit Don Wentworth and order a copy or two, or ten. They cost a buck, unless you buy five or more, in which case they cost even less. There is no possible way you will ever find a lower cost-to-value ratio for poetry.

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white flesh peaches

– Renee Albert

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Prairie Dog Spoken Here

When speaking of things
you might desire but hesitate to do,
change all your “but”s to “and”s and
all your “asteroid”s to “VW van”s.

– Wayne Hogan

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into
my
nightly
coffin
of bone

– George Swede

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What If This Poem Didn’t Have a Title?

moonrise 
the wind stops

at the window
the face of
a disappointed man

not enough
time now—

for all his
belief systems
to catch on

fire

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 28: The On Beyond Zebra Edition

On Beyond Zebra

Sometimes 26 letters are not enough. Dr. Seuss fans will know what I’m talking about.

Anyone who writes seriously at all, I’m guessing, is frequently frustrated by the inadequacy of language to express the full range of things there are to express in the world. There aren’t words for everything. There aren’t even combinations of words for everything, although one of the things that great writers (and sometimes even we lesser writers) do is find new combinations of words to express things that haven’t been expressed before, or that have been expressed before but are in need of refreshing.

On my journeys around the Haikuverse that’s chiefly, I believe, what I’m looking for — people saying things in ways that are new, or new to me. I read a lot, I always have, so it’s not that easy for me to find words I haven’t found before. But it happens, still, many times each month. It’s one reason to keep going. There are others, but I keep coming back to words. I think language, for me, might occupy roughly the same space in my brain that religious awe occupies in the minds of many. We are endlessly finding new things to describe and inventing new ways of describing old things, as individuals, as a species; this seems like reason enough to believe in some form of eternity. Thanks to everyone who’s given me some reason to believe this month.

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Haiku

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just
kidding

you’re
not

alive -

morning rain

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driller
kun

du
lever

ikke -

morgenregn

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

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Dear Malvina,
It’s been a long time since we It’s already autumn here . . .
lonely evening

— Rafael Zabratynski, DailyHaiku, 12/21/11

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うごけば、  寒い     橋本夢道

ugokeba,        samui

if I move,                  cold

–  Mudo Hashimoto, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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Slime trail—
glancing back at
the glinting

—Don Wentworth, Tinywords

(Also, you should read this lengthy interview with Don from Christien Gholson’s blog.)

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crow watching –
the unseen tree branch suddenly
seen

— Angie Werren, feathers

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dusk at the beach
a stone and I
touch each other

Dietmar Tauchner, International Second Prize, The 15th Mainichi Haiku Contest

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冬蜂の死にどころなく歩きけり  村上鬼城

fuyu-bachi no shini-dokoro naku arukikeri

a winter bee
continues to walk
without a place to die

– Kijo Murakami, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

John Stevenson, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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cave mouth
a scream beyond my range
of hearing

– George Swede, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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first
snowflakes

like me
made to last

till
they’re

gone

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 3ournals and frags

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Tanka

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hour upon hour
a veil of simple snow
falling without reason
I feel an urgency
to risk everything I know

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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trailing my hand
through the water
for a moment
more river
than man

– Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Haibun

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Another grey day has fallen as a pall on the new calendar as if what makes a difference really doesn’t. Only the ticking clock and the distant squawking of a crow or better yet, complaint, as well as the deep sigh of engines passing by tell the trudge goes on. I look on the cypress with a creeping sense of sorrow. The deep cold has darkened its twigs.  Gifts piled beside it now holiday debris. A black garbage bag rests folded in the bin. I gather the cards. The wishes slide off my fingers. A bag of pebbles waits to be planted on the vase. Like wishes that might take root, I would have to water them each day. But for now

blue notes waver under the lamp

– Alegria Imperial, jornales

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No, It’s Not Japanese Short-Form Poetry, But It’s My Blog And I Can Do Whatever I Want

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Almost Ready

five forty five a.m.

very cold

I move
close to a heater

night like wind

forming

itself

By god
I hear
a rooster

Crow

I had
only heard
a rooster

Crow

In the movies
before

this

To think
of the beautiful things

Your memory
has led me
into

And this poem

Almost ready!

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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Essayed

Gene Myers, the blogger over at The Haiku Foundation, asked a bunch of poets in December what their hopes were for English-language haiku in 2012. One of my favorite answers to this question, part of which I’ve quoted below, came from Scott Metz:

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“One of my hopes is that the aesthetics and techniques—the poetics—that have become traditional (classical?), and entrenched, in English-language haiku (with all its wonderful and creative misreadings, limitations, misinterpretations and ahistorical stances) continue to flourish and intensify, and deepen. With an emphasis on transparency (and directness) of language, simplicity, plainness, literalism, direct experience, season words, and ‘ordinary reality,’ a remarkable, timeless foundation has been created.

“Another one of my hopes for English-language haiku is that it will continue to diversify and evolve; that poets will continue to play (the hai in haiku) artistically (with language, modi operandi, imagery, structure, culture, media, history, literature), go where they need to go—go where they must go—and continue to question and resist. …

“I look forward to the craft and artistry and invitations in everyone’s poems: all the doors and windows left open and/or cracked, all the lights on in the attics, all the latches and locks left undone. I hope for more of all of it and thank everyone for sharing it.”

– Scott Metz, Hopes for English-Language Haiku in the New Year

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Linked

Alan Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver, the team behind the haiku-podcast goodness of Haiku Chronicles, have once again teamed up with the astounding Anita Virgil to produce something amazing: a video exploration of the many dimensions of modern English-language haiga, narrated by Anita and set to music. You need to spend half an hour watching this: Haiga Gallery.

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Journaled

ant ant ant ant ant 12

Contact Chris Gordon at mrcr3w@yahoo.com for a copy of the most recent issue of his intermittently-published and mind-altering journal, featuring the poetry of the great Jack Galmitz. [Apologies to Jack for leaving his credit off the original version of this post. All I can say is, I need new glasses.] I highly recommend the ant ant ant ant ant blog too.

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Haiku from ant ant ant ant ant 12

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The Heron’s Nest

just how
to hold you
paper kite

— Dan Schwerin, The Heron’s Nest, Dec. 2011

Amongst the usual THN goodness in the most recent issue was this haiku? senryu? which was discussed at length at the most recent meeting of (one of) the real-life haiku groups I attend, during a session on senryu led by the great Bill Pauly. The author, Dan, a wonderful person and poet, is a member of our group — he drives two hours each way to join us every month, which makes us all feel very lucky. This poem of his is so light and deft and well-constructed that it reminds me of a paper kite; I keep expecting it to lift into the air any minute.

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bottle rockets #26

pinwheel –
as if a second thought
starts to turn it

– Satoru Kanematsu

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Booked

One day in December when I was feeling very gloomy Peter Newton’s new book showed up in my mail, with a cover illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu and an interior designed (oh, and written, of course) by Peter, with the kind of attention to detail that one normally associates with the finer still-lifes of the Flemish Old Masters. Or, you know, something like that. What I’m trying to say, in my usual pretentious way, is that this book is a lot of fun to hold. And page through. And look at. And read. Plus, there aren’t enough orange books in the world.

Cover of What We Find

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standing in the middle of now here

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on my ceiling
the untraceable wanderings
of an ant
someone’s words carved deep
on a tree in my mind

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The Lives of Poets, No. 4: Sanjukta Asopa

Sanjukta Asopa is the first of my interviewees (just as a quick reminder, the first three were Peter Newton, Susan Diridoni, and Christopher Patchel) that I have never met in person, and this is because she lives on the other side of the world from me, in India, where there are so many fine English-language haiku poets. But I feel like I know her from our online interactions — well, I feel like I know so many of you from our online interactions, and I’m not wrong, am I? She is relatively new to haiku (well, so am I) but I have been admiring her poetry for quite a while and have been impressed with her rapid recent development as a poet. And I’m not the only one to notice how good she is — in the September 2011 issue of The Heron’s Nest, she won the Editor’s Choice award for her striking haiku:

shanty town —
the jagged edges
of moonlight

         Sanjukta Asopa

I felt I should do a little quoting of Sanjukta’s haiku for her since she seems to be a little shy in this interview of doing it herself. But from here out I’ll let her speak for herself. She does a very fine job.

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Sanjukta Asopa

Sanjukta Asopa: The Interview

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Name/pen name:

 

Sanjukta Asopa / sanjuktaa

 

Day job/occupation:

 

Rushing about the whole day doing precious little.

 

Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):

 

Blog:  wild berries


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

 

I live with my husband in the somewhat sleepy city of Belgaum in the southern part of India, not too far away from the coast, surrounded by wooded hills and just opposite an eucalyptus forest. One daughter, married, studying abroad. No pets. My other hobbies include reading, music, birding, sitting glued to the TV watching cricket (or tennis or soccer) and occasionally letting out warcries if my team happens to be winning, though such occasions are not very frequent, I admit.

 

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

My first introduction to haiku was when I happened to attend a workshop on a poetry site way back in 2006. Until then I had been writing light verse and had only the haziest notion about haiku as being a three line poem written only in Japan. I am afraid most people still do have the same notion of haiku. However, I was published in a journal named ‘Cloudspeak’ and in ‘The Heron’s Nest’ the following year. But after that there was a long hiatus of more than two years during which I wrote almost next to nothing. I have been back on the haiku scene again since mid 2010 and hopefully, this time I don’t have to leave.

Anyway, after the workshop I started to read up on haiku and the more I read, the more I got fascinated. Perhaps what appealed to me was the brevity of the form and the challenge to capture a passing moment with so few words. I don’t understand abstraction in ideas. I had done my master’s in philosophy and that traumatic experience was enough to put me off any kind of abstruseness for life. The emphasis in haiku on concrete images appealed to me. (To be perfectly honest, I also must have thought something like ‘only 3 lines and I’m through’! Though I knew better soon.) I felt I could express myself best in this form.

So that’s how haiku happened.

wild mint
in the spring forest
a chance encounter

 

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

 

What should haiku look like? I think that could be best answered by the experts. Personally, I like all the forms in which haiku are being written – from the 1-liner to the 4-liner or more. I love the juxts in haiku as much as the much-maligned simple shasei which can be breathtakingly lovely. Gendai interests me, though I cannot claim to understand it fully. I read this essay by marlene mountain (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/haikumania/marlenejapanesehaiku.htm) some days ago and realized that I completely agreed with her. Techniques are necessary. Like many others, I, too, had started my haiku journey by reading Jane Reichhold and that has been invaluable as far as techniques are concerned, but beyond that, and here I am speaking only for myself, I prefer not to be steeped in too many technicalities. I have noticed too much education is not good for me, it kind of stultifies the spontaneity. Who was that who said, “Water which is too pure has no fish”?

Purpose of haiku? I agree with ‘discovery’ (Anita Virgil ?), I also think ‘oneness’. The world around us is so achingly beautiful and language or words can only get this far. If as the zen saying goes that “Speech is blasphemy and silence a lie. Beyond speech and silence, there has to be a way out,” then haiku is probably the striving of the poet to find that way out, to attain the unattainable.

Anyway, need there be a purpose to everything? Some of the most joyous activities in the world are purposeless.

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

 

 I used to be pretty undisciplined with my writing, but since I joined NaHaiWriMo (here, I have to thank you, Melissa, for inspiring me through your blog to join this site, and, of course, Michael Dylan Welch, who created this site), all that has changed. If not daily, at least, I try to write regularly. Whereas earlier I would write maybe two to three haiku a year!

Late afternoon or late evening is the time I curl up on the couch with my writing paraphernalia or prop myself up with pillows and cushions in front of the computer. I type as well as write longhand, but the final draft is always done on paper these days, after I lost quite a few of my poems when the computer crashed once.

Revisions are a must, of course; not once, but many times. On a few occasions I have sent submissions without revising, only to regret it later!

There is nothing special I do to get in the ‘haiku mode.’ Solitude is all I ask for, but never quite succeed in getting. I am careful to switch off the phones and the doorbell though! Not sure how and why the inspiration happens when it happens. A word, a phrase totally unrelated with poetry, a song , an image, anything can trigger it off. Sometimes it just falls out of the blue in my lap in the middle of the most mundane task I might be doing.  (And let me tell you, being armed with a notebook always, just doesn’t work. One cannot whisk it out and start writing just anywhere! People tend to look askance.) But such inspirational moments are rare. At times, I am sure there is a haiku lurking here somewhere, but it goes on eluding me forever and ever. So mostly, I am slogging for poetry. One thing I love to do though is to buy myself lots of new notebooks and pens all the time; not only it makes me feel like a proper writer, but just looking at them somehow motivates me to write.

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

 

 It is very difficult to get haiku books here in India. I am constantly asking my daughter to buy books for me or to subscribe to this journal or that. Even then I don’t have too many books on haiku. But thanks to all the online journals and the blogs of various poets, there is no dearth of reading material online. I could spend the whole day reading haiku and never tire of it. Apart from haiku, I read a lot of other kind of poetry as well, though not the very long ones. (Nor can I finish the scholarly essays. I bookmark them, promising myself to return later, but never get down to doing it. This is no reflection on the essays, but on my own limited intellectual capabilities.)  There are a lot of brilliant poets writing in Bengali, which is my mother tongue. Although sadly, none of them writes haiku, their poetry is an inspiration, nevertheless.

In haiku, along with all the standard online and print journals, whenever I can get them, I find Mann library’s archives an especially rewarding place to browse. There are poets there whose work is worth going back to again and again. My favourite poets? Not possible to name only a few, because there are so many of them whose work I admire. Many of my fellow NaHaiWriMo poets are also writing unbelievable.

 

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

 

 My only regret these days has been why I hadn’t come upon haiku much earlier in life? I hope the genre continues to flourish with more and more poets from different countries and cultures joining in and that I could continue to be a part of it in however small way, for as long as I can, because to describe the way I feel about haiku, I’d probably have to borrow the final words of Steve Jobs: Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.

 

Any final haiku you would like to share with my readers?

I really don’t think I’ve written anything memorable as yet. Could I quote a favourite poem of mine by another poet instead?

most of
what is
right

in

a wild
flower

patch

- Scott Metz

Finally, thank you a lot, Melissa, for giving me a chance to answer these questions.

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 26: The Z Edition

So: number 26. If I’d been lettering these editions instead of numbering them, I’d be up to Z by now. And Z, as we all know, is the end of the alphabet. This is convenient for me, because circumstances are such in my life right now that I am afraid I must put the Haikuverse on hiatus indefinitely. The blog, too, will probably be seeing far less frequent postings for a while.

I will miss you guys. Spinning around the Haikuverse, taking in the sights, shooting the breeze… it’s been fun. I’m not planning on disappearing completely, but I have things to tend to in other corners of the universe at the moment.

Stay in touch.

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underneath
the ice
of the poem
an imaginary frog
slows its heartbeat

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haiku

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the closest
I’ll ever be
to sentimental
a room full of hats

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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spring cleaning . . .
the rhythmic sound of her
sharpening pencils

—Kirsten Cliff, DailyHaiku

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lark’s song -
in an old landscape
I part my hair to the left

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lærkesang –
i et gammelt landskab
laver jeg skilning i venstre side

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

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Turning on the light I become someone alone in the house

— Sam Savage, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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autumn leaf already i am attached

:

without permission part of me starts to bloom

:

winter day barely one language

:

winter night she knowingly reveals another arm

:

another day of snow my jurassic layer

:

the only sound that’s come out of me all day firefly

:

at this point i just assumed they come alive at night

Scott Metz, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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he thinks again of turning leaves her hands

– Angie Werren, Tinywords

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autumn days     straying from the text to marginalia

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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人ひとに溺れることも水澄めり    保坂リエ

hito hito ni oboreru kotomo mizu sumeri

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a human wallows in
another human…
clear autumn water

– Rie Hosaka, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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swollen rosehips
if you found God
in your body you’d die

– Anonymous (“Jack Dander”), Masks 2

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on 60 televisions the scissors hesitate

– Anonymous (“Bridghost”), Masks 2

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haiga and other art

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dog star -- / the origins / of poetry

dog star
the origin
of poetry

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

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two red butterflies / play strange attractor / in the garden.

two red butterflies
play strange attractor
in the garden

— Kris Lindbeck, haiku etc.

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the universe / these points of light/ I spin

– Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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tanka

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if we had known
this would be
our last winter
when we professed
our love for the bomb

snow swirls
into light at the end
of the tunnel
echoes of the conductor’s
last call

postscript
for the apocalypse
countless years
from now — a cherry tree’s
first blossoms

– Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

.

hand in hand
a teenaged boy and girl pass
a cigarette
back and forth on their way
to being twenty

– David Caruso, DavidHaiku

.

.

haibun

Revisit

I thought I had been sucked into the past. That sort of thing happens from time to time. I sat on the train on the way to the big city – well, as big as they come in Denmark – when a hippie-looking guy boarded with his monstrous Big Dane dog. My thoughts went in two directions. I thought: now, there’s a weirdo, knowing very well that in this part of the country many “off-siders” have found a cheap place to live as it’s rather poor. And I thought: great!!! Nice to see a flash of the past, and my nose replayed all kinds of smells associated with the early -70′s. Patchouli, sandalwood, fenugreek, hashish and wet and dirty “Afghan” fur coats, which was a bit of a turn-off, that last part. After having put his corn-pipe away he sat himself down in a very upright position: straight back, both feet on the floor and looking us, the other travellers, straight in the eyes. I nodded. He nodded. Dog said nowt. Then he padded the seat at his left side (he’d taken the window seat) and the dog, big as half a horse, jumped up and sat perfectly cool beside him, straight as a statue. The dog had a colourful tie as leash. We bumped on while I was listening to Incredible String Band.

straightened stream
a mirrored swan
asks twice

– Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 3ournals and frags

.

.

___________________________________________________________________________

Dead Tree News

.

Some gems from the most recent edition of the always stunning Acorn (No. 27):

.

enough said…
the moon rises
out of the sea

— Francine Banwarth

.

isolated showers —
the genes that matter
the genes that don’t

— Michele L. Harvey

.

never touching
his own face
tyrannosaurus

— John Stevenson

.

all night love
the candle
reshapes itself

— Jayne Miller

.

dad’s shed
a ladder folded
in the shadows

— frances angela

.

full moon
from each shell
a different ocean

— Mary Ahearn

.

autumn quarry
the feel of a dozer
going deep

— Ron Moss

.

starfish…
to feel so much
of what we touch

— Peter Newton

.

spring melancholy
I cut my tofu
smaller and smaller

— Fay Aoyagi

.

_______________________________________________________________________

.

Hey, seriously, I meant that about staying in touch. Drop me a line. Send me a poem. Tell me how your day went and where your life is going. I’m interested.

.

away from the window
hearing the rain
trickle down the window

.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 13: Lucky Edition

Yes, this is the thirteenth edition of the Haikuverse and it is appearing on the thirteenth of February. But don’t worry, nothing can possibly go wrong! I’m a very experienced tour guide and I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Just don’t touch that red button over there on the control panel marked “Eject.” Got that? Okay, I’m gonna count you all at the end to make sure one of you didn’t give in to your curiosity. (Haiku poets, like cats, are notorious for their curiosity.)

I’m feeling a little bumptious tonight because I just got back from a great meeting of the Midwest Regional Chapter of the Haiku Society of America. It was wonderful seeing other haiku poets in person, which I very rarely do, although of course I adore interacting with all you people on the blog and via email and Facebook and Twitter … man, I love living in a time when such things are possible. But real live human beings are impossible to resist, even when you have to drive three hours one way to go see them.

Sadly, I overslept (up too late writing haiku again) and got slightly lost a couple of times on the way there, so I missed Charlotte DiGregorio‘s presentation on haiku for beginners, which I would have liked to hear because I am always trying to figure out good ways to explain haiku to beginners myself. But I did catch superlative presentations by Heather Jagman on Issa (you may think I already know a bit about Issa, but believe me, Heather knows more) and by Michael Nickels-Wisdom on the highly original Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker, whose collected works I have made a note to buy very soon. (I should write more about these talks later when I don’t have three thousand other words to write.)

And, of course, I saw a lot of the fantastic people I met at the “Cradle of American Haiku” conference last September (Charlotte and Heather among them), and met a lot of new fantastic people. A bunch of us had lunch together afterwards. It was weird to be at a whole long table full of haiku poets, but fun. I guess I should get out more.

Anyway. You would really rather read good poetry than my incoherent ramblings about my inadequate social life, wouldn’t you? Fine. The tour will now commence. Don’t touch the red button.

__________________________

Haiku (Haibun, Haiga, Etc.) Of the Week

The usual disclaimers apply. A random and eccentric sampling of haiku that gave me the shivers in the last couple of weeks.

Note: It was really hard these last couple of weeks because NaHaiWriMo has increased everyone’s output so considerably, and so much of that output is so good. Tons of it is on Facebook, tons of it is on Twitter. Some people (I love these people, even though I’m not one of them) are keeping it on their blogs. I made the executive decision not to feature any of the NaHaiku that exist only on social media sites, because there would be no end to it if I started to copy-paste every single haiku I’ve “liked” on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter in the last two weeks. I would have a nervous breakdown, and you don’t want to see what that looks like.

Another note: I know it seems like I feature the same people here over and over again. That’s because I kind of do. Please don’t think I don’t know that there are about ten thousand more fantastic haiku poets in the world than the ones that keep showing up on this blog. But these are mostly the ones who keep blogs themselves, blogs that a) I’ve managed to discover (feel free to send me URLs of any haiku blogs you love that you don’t think I’ve discovered); b) I love to pieces, so I really can’t help wanting everyone else to love them too.

I do try to honor and pass around the work of poets who don’t keep blogs in various other ways — by, as I mentioned, showing my appreciation on Facebook and Twitter, and by singling out in this column my favorite haiku published in  journals. (See this week’s “Dead Tree News,” for instance.) Again, let me know about any journals or other publications I’ve missed. Keeping up with the frantic and increasing activity in every corner of the Haikuverse would be a full-time job if I let it be. I welcome reports from correspondents in areas I may not have traveled heavily.

*

From The Spider Tribe’s Blog (an excerpt from a “tanka sonnet”):

the first splash
of ewe’s milk…
snowdrops

– Claire Everett

*

From feathers:

snow-fog field
geese ignore the sound
of my phone

— Angie Werren

*

From Haiku Bandit Society:

an empty screen;
a crow’s broad wings
disappear into glass

— William Sorlien

(And while you’re over there, make sure you check out this great haibun of Willie’s.)

*

Speaking of haibun, there was one I loved at Heed Not Steve recently. Here’s the haiku:

an icy breeze
whistling through bare limbs
the future

— Steve Mitchell

*
An “after” from Bill Kenney at haiku-usa:

first snow
having looked at it
I wash my face

– Etsujin 1656-1739

*

From scented dust:


February rain
stacking pills too round
to stack

– Johannes S.H. Bjerg

*
From season creep:

summer afternoon
on hats
the sound of rain

– Comrade Harps

*

From Yay words! (a NaHaiWriMo entry):


snow day—
I cradle a bowl
of steamed rice

– Aubrie Cox

*

From zen speug:

lightning
lingering
on the snowdrops

– John McDonald

*
From jornales:

meringue—
the children’s laughter
rise in the air

– Alegria Imperial

(By the way, lately Alegria has been writing some really fascinating meditations on her own haiku and the writing of haiku in general. Wander around over there and take a look at some of them.)
*

From my Facebook page, where Vincent Hoarau left me this great birthday present (a response to one of my own haiku):

les étoiles

exactement les mêmes

qu’à ma naissance

.

the stars

exactly the same

as the day i was born

– vincent

(By the way, a lot of people wrote me great haiku for my birthday, many of them on this very blog. They were amazing gifts. Thanks, Bill and Rick and Alegria.)
*

From Blue Willow Haiku World:


春浅し旧姓で待つ上野駅   森 裕子
haru asashi kyûsei de matsu ueno-eki

early spring
with my maiden name
I wait at Ueno Station

– Yuko Mori, translated by Fay Aoyagi

*

From The Perpetual Bird:

waning moon—
stars coming back
that were never gone

– Joseph Hutchinson

*
From A Lousy Mirror, a fascinating online publication by Robert D. Wilson:

dry wheat grass . . .
the whiteness of
a child dying
– Robert D. Wilson
*

From see haiku here: a wonderful haiga based on this haiku –

a cuckoo’s flight –
dissecting diagonally
the emperor’s city of Heian

– Buson

Kuniharu wrote the following fascinating commentary about this haiga, which will make no sense to you if you don’t go look at the haiga, people.

“Hototogisu, or cuckoo, is the kigo of summer, so this haiku is about the season. But what interests me is the word ‘diagonally.’

The city of Heian is a planned city, modeled after old Chinese capital city; the streets are just like in the haiga, in rigid lattice. And this lattice shape corrisponds to the ritual manner also. Many formal ceremonies took place at the emperor’s palace. One basic rule of human movements in the formal ritual is that you never move diagonally, they should be always right-angled. …

Knowing all these, our appreciation of the word ‘diagonally’ deepens more. Cuckoo is so free, free from all the rigidness and restraints in human world, which culminates at the emperor’s city.”

– Kuniharu Shimizu

*

From Roadrunner, August 2008, Issue VIII:3:

I can’t reproduce this here, but you absolutely have to go take a look at it. Scott Metz put together an interactive graphic that reveals some “found haiku” in poetry of Whitman and Thoreau. It’s stunning.

_________________________

Deep Thought

This isn’t directly about haiku, but if you like haiku I’m pretty sure you’ll like this. (Your money back if not completely satisfied.)

A while back I mentioned in this column my sadness at the fact that David Marshall was giving up his five-year-old haiku streak. Well, I’ve been finding my grief easier to bear since starting to follow his prose blog, Signals to Attend. David’s writing itself is beautiful — clear and concrete and at the same time lyrical and original — but even more important, what he writes about is in my view urgently worth writing about (I’m talking about a big-picture kind of urgency, not a news-at-ten kind of urgency).

One of his recent essays, “Making Scenes,” seems especially valuable for haiku writers (and other human beings, but this is at least theoretically a haiku blog). He starts out by saying simply, “I like to think about what people are doing right now,” and gives a list of examples — “a seventh-grade girlfriend talking to her new son-in-law,” “a former student hanging a print in a narrow apartment powder room.” People he knows, people he doesn’t know, mostly all doing the kind of mundane things we do all day that make up the vital texture of our lives. “[A] sort of peace,” David writes, “settles in me when I imagine everyone okay.” On News at Ten, after all, something terrible is always happening to someone. But something terrible is not happening to most of us most of the time. If you take the time to look around the world at what people are doing, you’ll mostly find them at a myriad of ordinary activities.

Then David jumps straight from the daily routines of humanity into poetry — in particular, Walt Whitman. “Little moments,” David says, “populate [Whitman's] poems,” moments that are “companionable, reaffirming people flow in one river that, at least in our daily lives, moves in similar ways to the same sea.” He quotes Whitman on the universality of human experience across time and space:

“I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; …
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d; …”

This amazing verse of Whitman’s ramps up the reader’s expectations, and David doesn’t let them down in the final paragraph of his essay. He wonders if technology is really helping us to empathize with each other or is further emphasizing our tendencies toward individuality and solipsism. After all, he reminds us, “we have imagination. Why can’t we see how closely other lives parallel our own, how, at any instant, we are all acting in the same scenes?”

To me, this is what poets do, or at least should do. They use the power of a sympathetic imagination to place themselves in the situation of another human being, to see the world from another person’s point of view, to figure out what makes other people tick. Maybe this is part of why, when people talk about the necessity of haiku faithfully reflecting our personal experience, it troubles me slightly. Obviously there isn’t anything wrong with reporting our own experience in poetry — sharing our experiences is one of the things that helps other people imagine what it’s like to be us. But we have to return the favor. We have to remember that we’re part of the wide river of humanity, and try to place ourselves in context in that stream by looking around us and thinking about what’s going on in the lives and hearts of other people.

*

Dead Tree News

A couple more print journals came in the mail for me this week. One was the venerable Modern Haiku, which has been around for several decades now and is going stronger than ever under the editorship of Charles Trumbull. The other was the very-recently-started, but already well-established, tanka journal Moonbathing, which features exclusively tanka by women and is edited by Pamela A. Babusci. (I wrote more about Moonbathing in Haikuverse no. 11, with information about how to contact Pamela for submission and subscription information.)

Modern Haiku 42:1, featuring the stunning Eagle Nebula on the cover (I know what it is because my physics-major husband told me, not because I have a nebula-classifying hobby — not that there’s anything wrong with that!), is full of so many things — haiku and senryu, haibun, haiga, essays, book reviews, news — that getting through it all has eaten up much of my free-reading time for the last week or so. I cannot possibly tell you all the things that impressed me in here. I will say that I thought the haibun selection was outstanding, and I am very picky about haibun. Then there were the haiku … okay, you’ve been patient, here’s a ridiculously small selection of the juicy stuff:

sparkler
at
its
end
cicadas

— Joyce Clement

 

nothing more to say —
the thunk
of an axe at sundown

—Susan Constable

 

I read aloud
the part about the rabbit hole …
falling snow

— Sari Grandstaff

 

How can one write
This ceaseless rain
Makes everything inseparable

— M Hasan

 

larch
burl
hack
marks
another
miracle
cure

— Mark F. Harris

 

father’s day —
an airplane flies us over
the fault line

— Michael Meyerhofer

 

 

goldenrod —
as if I should be happy
to hear from her

— Christopher Patchel

 

back from the war
all his doors
swollen shut

— Bill Pauly

in an urn
if only she knew
its pear shape

— George Swede

Einkaufszentrummenschen!
Wisst ihr wie bald wir
sterben werden?
.
mall people!
do you know how soon
we will die?

— Dietmar Tauchner

*

I am still trying to figure out tanka. I’m getting there, I think. But I still have a reflexive feeling much of the time when I read tanka that they are overgrown haiku that need to be pruned. Tanka aren’t just long haiku, of course, they have different aims than haiku — they’re much more personal, much more about feelings — so it’s not fair to judge them by haiku standards. And I did enjoy a great deal of what I read in Moonbathing. For instance(s):

rising winds
scatter fallen leaves
I hang
swinging between
two moons

– Marilyn Humbert

 

the illegitimate child –
I imagine turning up
on their doorstep
one day
in a bright red beret

– Angela Leuck

 

a gray cloud
through the window
motionless…
when I close my eyes
a single cry of migrating birds

– Sasa Vazic

 

___________________________________________________

.

Ready to cry uncle yet? (So often that’s people’s response to my helpful attempts to educate and reform them. Baffling.) Okay, I’ll open the hatch in just a moment, but first I want to know … did anyone press the red button? Anyone? Anyone?

No one? Okay, I guess my perfect record stands intact. No one yet has died of reading too much haiku. Not on my watch, anyway. And I have just scientifically proven that there is nothing unlucky about the number thirteen. Relax. Go write a nice little poem.

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.)

______________________

*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?

Across the Haikuverse, No. 1: Let’s Get Started Edition

I’ve been feeling lately like I need to share some of the amazing haiku (and other short-form verse) and writing about haiku that other people post on the Interwebs. After all, this blog for me is not just about having a forum to post my own haiku, it’s about developing a community of people who are learning about and sharing their knowledge and appreciation of haiku with each other.

I follow a few dozen haiku blogs on a regular basis, some by quite well-known haiku poets and some by haiku poets who deserve to be much better known. I also read haiku journals and haiku essays and informational sites about haiku, and I follow a bunch of haiku poets on Twitter (also occasionally post stuff there that I don’t post here, in case you’re interested — my username is myyozh), and I am a member of a few different haiku-related groups on Facebook. (And oh, yeah — sometimes I read haiku-related things on pieces of dead tree, too.) There is always enough new and exciting stuff in all these places to keep me interested and inspired. So I think on a weekly (or so) basis I’ll let you know what has stuck with me, or challenged me, or stopped me short and made me glad to be alive. I hope some of what I share does something similar for some of you.

(N.B.: I’m limiting myself to what has been posted, or what I have discovered, in the last week or so. You have to draw the line somewhere. And this got way longer than I expected even with that constraint. That being said … if you find something haiku-related this week that you think others would enjoy, send me the URL and I may post it in my next version of this feature.)

___________________________

For this All Souls’ Eve, Margaret Dornaus, over at Haiku-doodle, has posted a great selection of haiku that pay tribute to loved ones who have passed away. (The haiku for my father that I wrote for his birthday earlier this week is one of them.) It’s worth taking a look at them. I mean, not only are the haiku worth reading, but Margaret has an actual ability to do layout (the bane of my existence), which means they are literally worth looking at.

I really like the ambiguity caused by the way Patti Niehoff of A Night Kitchen has split up the lines in her autumn (Halloween?) themed poem “can’t avoid.

As usual I found all kinds of treasures this week at Fay Aoyagi’s Blue Willow Haiku World, including her translations of the Japanese haiku autumn wind, still lonely (which I think must be a riff on Basho’s famous haiku about the autumn road along which no one is passing), and holding my knees. Also, Fay’s own haiku Halloween.

Daily Haiku usually has plenty worth reading — my favorite this week was Robert Epstein’s Indian summer day.

David Marshall’s Haiku Streak is one of the first haiku blogs I started reading and still one of those I enjoy the most. He writes a daily haiku; they are often surreal, always utterly original — he has his own inimitable style which is not quite like anyone else’s. This week I found myself drawn to “The New Apocalypse.”

Issa’s Sunday Service at Issa’s Untidy Hut (the blog of The Lilliput Review) is one of the highlights of my week. It combines rock music (including embedded audio), haiku (always including one by my man Issa!), other poetry, and literary and philosophical musings to create a mind-altering experience. This week’s song is Bob Dylan’s “As I Went Out This Morning”; Tom Paine’s Common Sense is mentioned in the context of the upcoming midterm elections; there are a couple of great autumn-related poems; and the Issa haiku about cherry blossoms is going on my list of all-time favorites. Added bonus: Check out the jukebox in the sidebar that enables you to play all the songs from all 76 Sunday Services.

At his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott Metz’s “leaf shadows” is as thought-provoking as most of his ku.

Stacey Wilson’s found haiku collages at the odd inkwell are wonderful both to look at and read. I especially liked “autumn sun” this week.

I just got around to downloading the most recent issue of Roadrunner (X:3, issued in September) and all kinds of wild ku are now spinning through my head, including Peter Yovu’s wonderful

the night heron’s cry
your left elbow slightly
sharper than your right

Notes from the Gean also published its most recent issue in September and I have been revisiting it more or less weekly since then. This journal publishes a lot of haiku (and tanka, haiga, haibun, renga) and it’s hard to absorb it all at once. Right now I’m very fond of Chen-ou Liu’s one-line haiku:

single married single again a rushing river

And I also think it would be worth your while to read Zane Parks’s haibun “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

I found a lot to think about in Susan Antolin’s essay on her blog Artichoke Season about what makes a “good” poem. (If you go there, you should also spend some time reading Susan’s wonderful haiku and haibun.)

Curtis Dunlap’s Blogging Along Tobacco Road has a great feature called “Three Questions” in which the same three questions are posed to a wide variety of haiku poets, which provides a fascinating look at their varied motivations for writing haiku and understandings of what haiku is. This week the featured poet is Aubrie Cox, a college student who is already a fine haiku poet (and whom I met at Mineral Point and have spent some time batting around ideas about haiku and other literature since then).

If you are on Facebook, I highly recommend joining the pages (or liking them, or whatever the heck it is they call it these days) “haiku now” and “The Haiku Foundation,” where there is almost always some kind of lively discussion of some aspect of haiku going on and where haiku poets from all over share their work and comment on others’. The Haiku Foundation has a regular, weekly-or-so feature where they ask members to contribute a haiku on a particular theme — the current one is “water.” It’s fascinating to see all the different riffs on the topic.

Also on Facebook: Michael Dylan Welch has just come up with the brilliant idea of NaHaiWriMo, a takeoff on NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month that is starting tomorrow (and that I have, probably unwisely, signed up to participate in, because I don’t have enough to do, I guess.) NaHaiWriMo, naturally, calls for participants to write one haiku a day for a month, in this case the mercifully short month of February. You can join the group now, though, and start commiserating with your fellow participants several months ahead of time.

Via Facebook I have recently become an admirer of the haiku of Vincent Hoarau, who writes primarily in French but frequently translates his haiku into English for the benefit of the non-Francophones among us. I find that my high-school French (as well as the services of a good French-English dictionary) is just sufficient to allow me to enjoy the rhythms of Vincent’s French haiku, such as the one he posted on Facebook yesterday without translation (but I am not going to attempt to translate for you lest I completely embarrass myself):

l’heure d’hiver
dans la paleur de l’aube
un peu perdue

Dead-tree news: From the Everyman’s Library Haiku, which I have been slowly making my way through, several verses have been resonating with me this week (all translations by the not-necessarily-accurate but stylistically pleasant R.H. Blyth):

The flea
That is poor at jumping,
All the more charming.
— Issa

A cage of fireflies
For the sick child:
Loneliness.
— Ryota

The beginning of autumn,
Decided
By the red dragonfly.
— Shirao

Between the moon coming out
And the sun going in —
The red dragonflies.
— Nikyu

The peony
Made me measure it
With my fan.
— Issa

Having cut the peony,
I felt dejected
That morning.
— Buson

From what flowering tree
I know not,
But ah, the fragrance!
— Basho

Roses;
The flowers are easy to paint,
The leaves difficult.
— Shiki

This willow-tree
That looks like a white cat,
Is also a votive flower.
— Issa

As if nothing had happened,
The crow,
And the willow.
— Issa

And that’s the Haikuverse for this week. See you again soon.

On being lectured at. And enjoying it.

I really, really hate sitting and listening to lectures. Especially long lectures. It’s hard for me to sit. It’s hard for me to concentrate for long stretches of time. It’s hard for me to take in information that is spoken — I’m a reader. In college I usually gave up going to my lecture classes after a while because I fell asleep after the first half hour anyway so it was more efficient just to stay home and read the textbook. Or take a nap.

Yesterday morning, however, I sat and listened to lectures for three hours straight, and never blinked. I was totally engrossed the entire time. Apparently lectures about haiku are an exception to my lecture-hating rule.

(It didn’t hurt that these lectures took place in the newly refurbished Mineral Point Opera House, originally built in 1919 and full of lovely architectural details. If you want pictures you’ll have to check out the link, since my iPhone decided at some point during the morning to go completely dead on me [don't worry, my son performed some kind of magic rite on it when I got home and now it's fine].

This also means, sadly, that I don’t have pictures of any of the wonderful people I met yesterday or of the town of Mineral Point, which is as far as I’m concerned the loveliest small town in Wisconsin. Also one of the oldest, and hilliest, so it makes this New England transplant feel right at home.)

Anyway. Back to the lectures. The first was a talk by Randy Brooks (one of the few haiku professors in the country) with the wonderful title of “A Tumbly Life of Haiku: The Poetics of Robert Spiess.” He took us through a chronological selection of Spiess’ poetry, analyzing his development as a haiku writer from, essentially, more to less traditional. The early ku are mostly conventional in form and nature-based, though keenly observed:

all water turned ice:
delicately a gray squirrel
is lapping snow

the day after rain;
a reach of river bank
scattered with morels

Later Spiess experimented more with both form and subject matter:

a    square
of    water
r e f l e c t s
the    moon

making lunch for refugees —
my back turned, a child
picks through the garbage pail

*
The next lecture, which really enthralled me, was Lee Gurga’s talk on “Robert Spiess’s Muse and the Future of American Haiku.” Lee managed to touch on just about every issue in the writing of contemporary haiku that most interests and concerns me, and enhanced my understanding of all these issues by about five hundred percent. Also, he was entertaining and inspiring.

I took copious notes, which I will try to distill down to a reasonable length. This may mean that I don’t represent Lee’s ideas in the order they appeared in his talk. And needless to say, apologies to Lee if I don’t get the details right or end up misrepresenting what he was saying — this was a dense and challenging lecture and I struggled to type fast enough to get it all down.

Lee started out by saying that he was currently collaborating on an anthology of haiku from current journals with Scott Metz, whom he considers the most talented haiku poet in the under-40 generation. Despite the fact that Scott’s experimental haiku are at the opposite end of the haiku spectrum from Lee’s more traditional poems, Lee thinks the future of American haiku lies with experimental and gendai poets such as Metz, Richard Gilbert and Jim Kacian. (I find these guys exciting myself and have written a couple of essays about them.)

Lee spoke about the process of editing Gilbert’s seminal essay “The Disjunctive Dragonfly” in 2004 when he, Lee, was the editor of Modern Haiku. The essay outlines Gilbert’s view of haiku poetics, which emphasizes disjunction — a complicated concept, maybe best summed up as a sort of disorientation or shift in viewpoint, intended to “erupt the complacent mind” of the reader. Traditional haiku, in contrast, tend to favor juxtaposition — a finding of commonality between disparate elements — and to emphasize clarity of language, with a goal of enlightening the reader.

Disjunction, imagistic fusion, language as language rather than a way to convey meaning — these characteristics of experimental haiku, Lee said, have “sent haiku off in all different directions”  — an exciting development. He thinks these techniques will produce haiku that are successful both as haiku and as short poems.

Lee discussed a bit about the history of English-language haiku: The early haiku translator R.H. Blythe, one of the first to introduce haiku to the English-speaking world, had a romantic vision of haiku as poems of discovery rather than of invention. In the sixties and seventies, the haiku ideal tended to be “the aha moment” — a sudden experience of enlightenment.

Gradually poets began to realize that these aha moments could take place at the time of the experience or at the time of writing. And the new experimental poets tend to think that the idea of writing about aha moments at the time of experience is a little played out. Lee himself, although he thinks this type of haiku will always be written, doesn’t think they will provide the future direction for American haiku. The new haiku poetry tends to consider words themselves the object of the poem, not experience.

If  Lee were to encapsulate in a phrase what’s different about American haiku today, it would be “the opacity of language,” contrasted with the earlier haiku ideal of transparency of language. He said, memorably, “The ideal for me is not transparency but translucency.” This means that the haiku can be read at both the literal and deeper — metaphorical or symbolic — levels. These multiple levels add richness to haiku and make them worth keeping and adding to the English literary canon.

As Lee has been working with Scott Metz, he’s been finding that Scott also values translucency — but his haiku are more at the opaque end of the translucency spectrum, whereas Lee’s are more at the transparent end. Scott often finds more transparent poems “boring” — Lee often has the reaction “so what” to more opaque poems. Both poets, however, are beginning to open each other’s eyes to the value of ku closer to the other end of the spectrum from what they naturally prefer. (Lee entertainingly summed up his attitude: “Too opaque is not superior to too transparent, perhaps only more pretentious.”)

Lee’s goal in editing the anthology is to reflect the current state of haiku in Japan: There, three schools of haiku exist, with their own organizations and standards: the traditional, the mainstream, and the gendai (more experimental). He wants to show that something like these three schools currently exist in English language haiku as well.

Lee gave some memorable examples of experimental and mainstream haiku from current journals. From Roadrunner, the journal Scott Metz edits, he cited the following (all of which I have represented as one line; I have no idea if some actually have line breaks or where the line breaks might occur — apologies to the authors if I have misrepresented your work):

moon flower the fragrance of names

their wings like cellophane remember cellophane

his kiss deepens midnight’s throat of stars

like a mosquito or an old empire city night

where I go searching bare trees ending sentences

baby beans racing moonlight

razored through to the void raven

bird me catch me

I see the iris and its stamina and am blue

From Modern Haiku he gave these more mainstream examples (same disclaimer as before — no idea where the line breaks occur, if any):

dusk rearranging silences

small town small talk big moon

october light I open my ribs to pray

insomnia two parts doubt one part moon

a coyote’s skull reconsidering the way

when fire had sentience winter solstice

someone’s last first cicada

floating in the sonogram summer moon

sparrows pour through a blue hole into our gray world

Traditional poetry, like that of Robert Spiess, is quite easy to find in most haiku journals.

For Lee himself as a haiku poet, balance between the extremes of experimental and traditional haiku is important. He enjoys experimenting, but also sees its dangers. He cites William Ramsay from a Roadrunner essay, “How One Writes in the Haiku Moment: Mythos vs. Logos”: “The haiku that Gilbert shows as models of disjunctive technique are excellent … [but] I don’t want to write … demo haiku .. I want to write haiku” that reflect events in his life and his feelings about them.” Ramsey wants to avoid the phenomenon of “disjunctive haiku as bludgeon,” overpowering and confusing the reader.

Some of Ramsey’s own haiku, which Lee considers to achieve this balance between experimental and traditional, are:

on a white plate two figs in syrup deep winter

cool pillow stuffed with pale lives I have sloughed off

born to live I hoe and ah born to die I kiss the melon [my comment: WOW]

Lee sees an approaching bifurcation in American haiku — it will become not a single movement of like-minded poets but will be more divided into schools like the Japanese haiku movement, with journals becoming more specialized and oriented toward one school or another. He sees this development as an indication of the maturity of American haiku — leaving its adolescence behind.

Lee asks, “Haiku will survive but what will it be?” His answer: There will be a cross-fertilization between haiku and other minimalist poetry. Haiku will come to emphasize both attention to the world around us and attention to the material, the language, of the poem. Unequivocally, Lee said, “I believe this is the technique that will produce the best haiku.”

Lee does hope that the haiku of the future will not abandon completely two important elements of traditional haiku: the notion of seasons (whether of the solar year or, more metaphorically, of life), and the idea of “an invitation to the reader.” He doesn’t want haiku to lapse into narcissism or solipsism, but to reach out to its audience.

The best haiku, Lee believes, will enable us to “enrich our connection to others so that we become the best poets and the best human beings we can be.”

*
I had really been looking forward to Charles Trumbull’s talk on “Verbs in Haiku” ever since I saw the title on the program. This is because I am a big geek and really like grammar. I even got excited when Charlie announced at the beginning of his lecture, “Things will get suddenly heavy now.” Hey, I like heavy! I was not disappointed. (And once again, any idiocies in the following discussion are certainly mine and not Charlie’s.)

Charlie is actually writing a book on grammar in haiku and his talk concerned his research into the role of verbs in strengthening or weakening haiku. He started out with the question — are verbs necessary in haiku? Traditionally, haiku present two separate images, usually noun-based, so perhaps verbs can be considered optional. He presented Cor Van der Heuvel’s haiku as an example:

the shadow in the folded napkin

To answer this question, Charlie read all the previous literature on verbs in haiku (which consisted of three articles, discussed below), and also examined 200 haiku from journals in two years, 2005 and 2008. He analyzed what verbs these haiku used, if any; what tense and mood they were; whether they were active or passive, transitive or intransitive, weak or strong. He considered the role of participles and gerunds in haiku. For all these categories he presented numerous examples from his research, which were fascinating but I will mostly skip them.

There were a few concepts Charlie went into in more depth, for instance the idea, very common among traditional haiku poets, that haiku should all be in the present tense. He presented a few quotes on the subject, for instance this one by Bruce Ross: “Haiku takes place in the present. This is its special feature.” Rebecca Rust, likewise, says unequivocally, “Haiku is a record of a present moment.” Jane Reichhold offers a slightly more nuanced explanation for her preference for present-tense haiku: stories are more gripping if told in the present tense.

Charlie did find that most haiku in his sample were written in the present tense, but presented several compelling examples of ku written in other tenses:

the crow flew so fast
that he left his lonely caw
behind the fields
— Richard Wright

a woman at last!
tonight, old moon,
you will have to sleep alone.
— Jim Tipton

Charlie also discussed the use of verbs in Japanese haiku, which are often difficult to translate into English precisely:

the faces of the dolls!
though I never intended to,
I have grown old.
— Seifu-jo (tr. Blythe)

In this haiku, Charlie said, the verb in the last line indicates a completed past action and might be more accurately translated as “old age had happened” — a sudden realization of the fact of the poet’s age.

Charlie discussed the three previous articles on verbs in haiku. The first, by Ted-Larry Pebworth, disparages weak verbs in haiku, saying that “ ‘to be’ is one of the most dangerous verbs available to the haiku poet.” Charlie tends to agree, saying that in his sample he could find no uses of the verb “to be” (the copula) used to represent simple equality. “Very few respectable haiku poets use this form anymore.”

However, one acceptable reason to use the copula is to convey the idea of transformation, as in this example by Fay Aoyagi:

new year’s eve bath –
I fail to become
a swan

The second essay, by Gustave Keyser, encourages the use of strong verbs as the “key to optimum effect in haiku.” One example Keyser gives, coincidentally, is the haiku that Gayle Bull cited as her favorite by Bob Spiess during the remembrances the night before. It was written about a bush in her own yard:

of the snow that fell
some lies on a common bush
uncommonly well

Here “lies,” Keyser says, is “the precisely right verb for the mood of the poem.”

Charlie also agrees that strong verbs improve haiku and notes that the number of strong verbs increased from his 2005 to his 2008 sample.

The third essay, by Bob Spiess himself, advocates for the use of no verbs in haiku. This does not mean, Spiess says, that the haiku will not have, or need, a “verbal element,” but this function can be taken over by other words.

Charlie found that in his sample, one quarter of the haiku had no verb at all, but most did have some kind of “verbal element” obliquely indicating action. In some, a verb, whether the copula or a more active verb, seemed to be implied:

early spring walk
your hand
in my pocket
— Roberta Beary

(Here Charlie suggested that “is” is implied after “hand.”)

Nouns can also have verbal overtones:

after making love
the slow click
of her knitting needles
— Michael Overhofer

(Here “click” is a noun that implies a verb.”

Participles, obviously, can have a verbal function:

a hole
in the starling’s skull
mint gone to seed
— John Barlow

Here once again Charlie discussed the difficulty of translating haiku from the Japanese and points out that different translations of the same haiku might use a verb, a participle, or no verb at all.

To my delight, he also presented Jane Reichhold’s idea of “The Technique of Noun-Verb Exchange,” using a word that can be interpreted in the haiku as either a noun or a verb:

spring rain
the willow strings
raindrops

After all his research, Charlie feels that either a verb or some kind of verbal element is desirable in haiku — haiku that don’t have any kind of implied verb seem weaker to him. I am still thinking about whether I agree with him.

Had enough? Yeah, by this point I had too. Let’s take a break for lunch.

July 4: 1-16: Fireflies and Freedom

Happy Independence Day, to all the Americans out there. And to all the rest of you … enjoy your freedoms too.

In that vein …

“fireflies are indeed a fascinating topic. of course, they allow total freedom.”

— Scott Metz

1-4.

on the same wind
fireworks
and fireflies

shining
as if you weren’t there
fireflies

fireflies
spending the night
for the first time

the moon
waxing and waning
fireflies

5-8.

never to know
about fireflies
mayflies

bees
wits unsettled
by fireflies

reciting
multiplication tables
fireflies

fever dream
a thousand fireflies
breathing

9-12.

death
the consolation of
fireflies

white pebbles
imagining the afterlives
of fireflies

bitter oranges
spitting out the seeds
at fireflies

sweet jam
at the breakfast table
last night’s fireflies

13-16.

trust
a hand cupped
around a firefly

innocence
spending money
on fireflies

ignorance
looking away
from fireflies

chained men
the light from
fireflies

Innovators in English-language haiku: Gendai or not gendai…

Yesterday’s post on gendai haiku is now already my most popular post of all time, which kind of blows me away because I assumed a total of about three people would ever read it and at least two of them would hate it. This makes me think I should strike while the iron is hot and write my promised post on innovators in English-language haiku. Once again, try not to be put off by the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m a newcomer to the haiku world, a rank amateur, probably nothing more than a poseur, but no one, at least, can accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm, which you will just have to accept in place of expertise.

A good place to start, I think, would be with a comment Scott Metz posted on troutswirl quite recently in response to the essay of Richard Gilbert’s I mentioned in another post the other day: The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century. Be forewarned, these are some pretty polemical remarks (as remarks by poets go). If you are not entirely sold on the whole gendai/avant-garde haiku scene, try not to be offended by them but to take them in the spirit of sincere love for haiku and the English language with which I believe Scott offers them:

“…Japanese haiku are indeed, very much so, a word-based poetry, not the enlightenment-’moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra so many continue to espouse and cling to. … [English language haiku] are … for the most part, still, ‘slavish imitations’ of translations of what westerners *think* Japanese haiku are. Creative oversimplifications, most of which lack internal energy/dynamics. creative misreadings are cool. but i think they’ve lost their virginal glow in this case. …

“One direction i find interesting for [English language haiku] is that of symbolism and literary allusions/references being used within them, either in a mythological way, or in a more canonically literary way. knowingly or unknowingly. …

“Japanese haiku, at their root, are not simply, or only, about images at all, or moments, or ‘real/true’ experiences … but about language and culture and literature: an intricately woven rug of all these elements. …

“What also strikes me … is how strangely satisfied those writing [English language haiku] are with their nature imagery. Considering how radical Basho and his followers were about always trying to do something new and fresh with kigo, it seems a shame, and kind of mortifying, that so many writing [English language haiku] don’t try to experiment more with nature/environmental imagery. To try to turn them on their heads. To twist them. Play with them. …

“I think folks writing [English language haiku] need to play more: with images, words and techniques. and that not just western poetry/poetics should be considered and sampled, but anything and everything we can get our hands on. which is why it’s exciting to see things like ‘kire’ and ‘ma’ and vampires and sufism and gendai popping up. what can we do with these things?”

– Scott Metz, comments on troutswirl

Well…I think I should let what Scott said stand as most of the commentary here, and dedicate my efforts to displaying haiku by sundry poets that I think meet at least some of his criteria for “playing” with the haiku form, doing something “new and fresh” instead of, in Scott’s immortal words, remaining content with the “enlightenment-’moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra.”

Whether we use the word “gendai” to refer to these poets or whether we should stick to some term more familiar to us in English like avant-garde, experimental, non-traditional, I think we can all agree that most of them are attempting something different than is espoused by the mainstream haiku movement in the English-speaking world, and closer to what gendai haiku poets in Japan are doing with the genre.

It seems logical to start with Scott himself. On his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott republishes those of his haiku that have been printed in journals. References to pop culture, politics, and current events are par for the course; so is a fresh (if sometimes somewhat obscure) use of language.  A couple of examples:

5/21/2010:

the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
Pac-Man strategies

4/17/2010:

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

– Scott Metz

The next obvious place to go would be Roadrunner, the haiku journal Scott edits in accordance with his preferred haiku aesthetics. Here are some examples from issue IX: 4:

second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing

– John Barlow

A candle is a sweet machine

to fly across the crow-

shaped night

–  Grant Hackett

A couple of other journals frequently feature non-traditional haiku, such as Modern Haiku. Here are a couple of examples from the Autumn 2009 issue (vol. 40:3):

reading a poem
of urbane intelligence
how dead it is

– William M. Ramsey

O what the hell
haiku poet finally
kills the fly

– Le Wild


Here are some examples from the journal Notes From the Gean (vol. 2 issue 1, June 2010).


waiting
for something to happen —
The Evening Standard

– Ruth Holzer – USA

the echo of fireworksthe echo ofthe echo

not speaking the boiled egg clings to its shell

– Bob Lucky – Ethiopia

Richard Gilbert, the gendai haiku scholar I referred to extensively in my essay on that topic, also is a haiku poet himself, some of whose recent, innovative haiku appear on the website Word Riot:

dedicated to the moon

I rise

without a decent alibi


a drowning man

pulled into violet worlds

grasping hydrangea

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)

blood orange:

the curving radius

of sunset

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 6, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: Summer, 2008.)

– Richard Gilbert

Fay Aoyagi is another poet doing innovative work with haiku. In my gendai haiku essay I mentioned her website Blue Willow Haiku World, on which she presents many of her English translations of Japanese gendai haiku. Her own haiku are described by David Lanoue, in his Modern Haiku essay, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape, as “avant-garde” and “new-style.” Following are a couple of Fay’s haiku with enlightening commentary by David from his essay:

pre-surgery dinner

tiny ocean

in the oyster shell

[Lanoue's commentary on this haiku:]

“I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested. When Aoyagi brings us with her to the table for her pre-surgery dinner, we suspect that she has no a priori idea that the journey will take us to a tiny ocean in an oyster shell. We arrive there with her, sharing the ‘ah!-moment’ of the vision and sensing its nonlinear, non-logical connection to the poet’s (and our) interior life. Thoughts of mortality, the fear of the surgeon’s knife, a vague feeling of dread and lament … so many emotions ebb and flow in the tiny ocean in the shell. The shell on the plate is itself a post-op carcass that on closer inspection becomes a gleaming continental shelf enclosing a tiny, salty sea. Aoyagi doesn’t say what she feels about her vision, whether it comforts or terrifies her; she invites us into the intimacy of the moment to contemplate for ourselves what it might mean.”


ants out of a hole —

when did I stop playing

the red toy piano?

[David's general commentary on Fay's technique:]

“Her decision to probe her inner life is not new in haiku tradition, though few do it as well or as interestingly. The contemporary Japanese poet Hasegawa Kai (whose work Aoyagi has translated) describes the shift from outer to inner focus within a haiku as a sort of kire or “cutting.” In a interview with Richard Gilbert, Hasegawa defines zengo no kire as “The cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live — from the literal place / environment / atmosphere (‘ba’) of literal existence.” Such cutting, according to Hasegawa, entails a shift of focus from outward scenes to the “realm of the mind” — exactly Fay Aoyagi’s method.”

– Fay Aoyagi/David Lanoue, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape

There are a number of haiku bloggers I’ve discovered (many of whom also publish in journals, but I know their work mainly through their blogs) who, consciously or unconsciously, play with the traditional Western haiku form with interesting results. For example, John Sandbach of Crystal Dragon says, “I am deeply enamoured of the modern haiku of Japan, which, like modern art, is of many styles and energies, and which is constantly recreating itself as it unfolds. Unfortunately, the West is still primarily focused on traditional haiku and has not yet tuned in to the wonders of modern Japanese experimental artisans of this form.” Below is one of his haiku sequences:

Lettuce’s Bliss: 5 Haiku

1

To die
in a hippo’s jaws –
the lettuce’s bliss

2

Remorseful
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it

3

On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog –
spring in Kansas City

4

In spring
a stone mason –
servant of the endless wall

5

Skin
smooth and white –
the pyramid’s youth

– John Sandbach


Nicole Hyde of the blog “noodle,” who commented on my gendai haiku post, “I’ve bought a ticket on the Gendai Haiku train too,” has some interesting examples of nontraditional haiku on her site. Since she is also a painter, her haiku often refer to art.

English Bay Lune

unbound, the English

Bay in fog –

not seen: some weird duck


Art Tiny Poem

soundless

in the night museum

Wyeth’s boots


Prairie Town

prairie town

from end to end –

one haiku

– Nicole Hyde


Alan Segal, or “Old Pajamas,” from the blog “old pajamas: from the dirt hut,” innovates in many ways, often describing what are clearly imaginary or fantasy scenes.

mourner’s kaddish
does the fly, too,
wear a yamulke?

6/2/2010

unwrapping an impossibly blue bird, flown from a castle keep

– Alan Segal


Brian Pike of paiku describes his poetry as “Haiku. More or less.” In the Q&A for his site he explains:

But aren’t haiku meant to be exactly 17 syllables long?

You’re right. They’re also meant to include a seasonal reference (kigo) and a structural break (kireji). But I’ve never been good at following rules.

If your poems don’t meet the criteria for haiku, why confuse the issue?

I like haiku. I think these are similar in mood and intention. And I quite enjoy confusion.

A few of Brian’s “paiku” follow:

10 May 2010

Blackbird waiting
For idea of cat
To go away

21 March 2010

There’s a big field
Where you can dig up
Everything you ever lost

– Brian Pike


Yi Ching-Lin of the blog y writes primarily short free verse but occasionally writes haiku, and they are generally nontraditional, as in this recent example (the link on the second line connects to Yi’s photography):

it happens daily (6 June 2010)

it happens daily
with a wounded twist
– Yi Ching-Lin

Anne Lessing, the teenage writer of the blog “Phantasma,” who is just beginning to write haiku (and intends to start a project of writing haiku daily in January 2011), has produced some very interesting haiku about zombies based on the video game “Call of Duty,” one of which I’ve reproduced below:

6/4/2010

that flower looked so pretty

so I choked it

with my child’s blood

– Anne Lessing

Finally, Elissa of The Haiku Diary writes daily haiku describing events in her life, some of which are simply quotidian or jokelike, but many of which seem to transcend the category of mere diary-entry and evoke deeper feelings and meanings.

The second of the two haiku of Elissa’s I’ve quoted below is especially interesting in light of Scott Metz’s and Richard Gilbert’s discussions of the way haiku has always been in a dialogue with the past, constantly referring back to previous poetry and other literature and history. In a way this haiku of Elissa’s, referring as it does to a famous haiku of Basho’s (“The bee emerging/from deep within the peony/departs reluctantly”), is both modern and completely classical — so it seems like an appropriate place to bring this post to an end. Hope it was a fun ride.

Front and Center, June 8, 2010

Closing my eyes and

swaying with the music makes

me that girl, but so what?


I literally

watched a bumble bee stumble

out of a peony!

– Elissa of The Haiku Diary

Gendai haiku

Continuing in my time-honored tradition of writing lengthy, dull essays about things I know practically nothing about, I wanted to ramble on for a while about my recent explorations of gendai haiku. A plea: even if you are not interested in my sketchy research, uninformed opinions, or pretentious literary analysis, you should at least skim down to read what are some pretty cool haiku. (By other people, needless to say.)

The Japanese term “gendai” simply means “modern,” but in the context of haiku it seems to carry the connotation of something more like “avant-garde” or “experimental” in English. Scott Metz, who is a pretty avant-garde American haiku poet himself, explains its origins on his blog “lakes and now wolves”:

“… influenced by changes in culture, society, economics, art, and literature—globalization—many different schools and strands of haiku developed during the 20th century. … Starting with a foundation centered more on realism and experience, 20th century haiku immediately expanded into areas such as politics, subjectivity, the avant-garde, feminism, urbanism, surrealism, the imaginary, symbolism, individuality, and science fiction: in general, free-form and experimental aesthetics. … The rigid limitations and conservatism of traditional techniques (namely 5-7-5 on/syllabets and the necessity of a kigo) were no longer absolutes for Japanese poets.”

– Scott Metz, for ku by

I first encountered the term “gendai” in an essay by Peter Yovu on the website of The Haiku Foundation, troutswirl, where several compelling examples of the genre are cited, such as:

like squids

bank clerks are fluorescent

from the morning


—Kaneko Tōta (trans. Makoto Ueda)


in front of the scarlet mushroom

my comb slips off


—Yagi Mikajo
 (trans. by Richard Gilbert)


from the sight

of the man who was killed

we also vanished


—Murio Suzuki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)

(All examples from Peter Yovu, What is Your Reponse to Gendai Haiku?)

These examples seemed so exciting to me, so much more interesting than the standard Zen-nature-moment haiku, which I confess I’m getting a little weary of, that I went straight off to gendaihaiku.com, a website by Richard Gilbert, one of the most influential Western scholars and proponents of gendai. It contains profiles of some of the masters of gendai haiku, videotaped interviews with them, and examples of their work. There I found stuff like this:

wheat –
realizing death as one color
gold

Uda Kiyoko

revolution

in the snowy kiosk

for sale        .?

Hoshinaga

–[Gilbert adds an explanatory note to this haiku:] … Kiosks filled with novel items began to appear in train stations throughout postwar Japan as the rail lines developed, and represented a new world, a new era of consumption and economic development. The resulting revolution spoken of here is domestic and cultural. A unique formal feature of this haiku is its last, fragmentary character na, which follows a question marker (ka), comma, and space, a uniquely creative contribution. Hovering between a statement of certainty and strong doubt (disbelief?), an indefinite solution is created by the orthography, causing this haiku to reflect back upon its topic, deepening the question.


cherry blossoms fall

—
you too must become

a hippo

Nenten Tsubouchi

water of spring
as water wetted
water, as is

Hasegawa Kai

–Hasegawa comments.
 Almost anything in this world can be wetted by water. However, the one thing that cannot be wetted in this way is water itself. Although water wets other things but cannot itself be wetted, I nonetheless intuit that the water of spring, uniquely, has a special quality in that it can be wetted — though it too is water.


There are clearly a lot of cultural and translation barriers to a non-Japanese fully understanding these poems — among other problems, I still don’t quite get why Tsubouchi wants me to be a hippo. But it struck me forcefully that these poets were clearly not interested in following the “rules” about haiku, particularly about haiku subject matter, that so many English haiku poets seem insistent on and fearful of breaking.

These poems aren’t about “haiku moments.” They have vivid and compelling images; but they’re allusive, elusive, experimental, full of large ideas — not just tiny moments of awareness. I say this not to cast aspersions on tiny moments of awareness, just to point out that in the culture where haiku developed, there is apparently a much broader conception of what constitutes a “real” haiku than in our own.

In an interview with Robert Wilson, Gilbert points out that gendai haiku poets are not breaking off decisively from the classical haiku tradition, that haiku has always been about referencing the past while making accommodation to the present:

“Gendai haiku partake of a tradition and culture in which, unlike that of the historical Judeo-Christian West, nature and culture were not extensively polarized. So in gendai haiku exists an invitation to the present and a future, in congruence with the past. This congruency is also an uprooting, accomplished via expansive and often experimental avant-garde language and techniques. Yet the old is likewise held in the new, in plying the form. The key to haiku, what makes it a brilliant literature, is that haiku cut through time and space …

“The gendai haiku tradition partakes of Bashō’s ‘world of mind,’ and like Bashō and other accomplished classical masters, extends a literary conversation. … [H]aiku are never merely singular works of art, they swim in an ocean of poetry, in which any given term (e.g. kigo or kidai) and image has multiple reference to over 1000 years of literary history (poems, historical events, personages, authors, myths, etc.). …”

– Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I would add that haiku, in its several hundred years of existence, has undergone many changes in style and approach and has never been as limited in subject matter and structure as many Westerners seem to believe. A lot of what we now think of as “proper” haiku (the nature observation, the Zen moment of enlightenment) was a late-nineteenth-century development and actually, ironically, owed a lot to the realism of Western poetry, which was just beginning to be known in Japan at the time. Haruo Shirane, in his great essay Beyond the Haiku Moment, points out that early haiku were just as likely (or more so) to concern historical or literary or entirely imaginary subjects as the personal experience of the poet:

Basho traveled to explore the present, the contemporary world, to meet new poets, and to compose linked verse together. Equally important, travel was a means of entering into the past, of meeting the spirits of the dead, of experiencing what his poetic and spiritual predecessors had experienced. In other words, there were two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems. …  Basho believed that the poet had to work along both axes. To work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai was, by definition, anti- traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. Rather, it depended upon the past and on earlier texts and associations for its richness.

– Haruo Shirane, Beyond the Haiku Moment

An interesting historical note about this movement is that gendai haiku poets underwent significant persecution at the hands of the Japanese government during World War II, as is chillingly explained in an article in the haiku journal “Roadrunner” (again, by Richard Gilbert):

“[B]y the 1920s … the ‘New Rising Haiku movement’ (shinkô haiku undô) wished to compose haiku on new subjects, and utilize techniques and topics related to contemporary social life. These poets frequently wrote haiku without kigo (muki-teki haiku), and explored non-traditional subjects, such as social inequity, utilizing avant‑garde styles including surrealism, etc. …

“During the war, over 40 New Rising Haiku poets were persecuted; they were imprisoned and tortured, and some died in prison. … [The director of a haiku society associated with the government stated:] ‘I will not allow haiku even from the most honorable person, from left-wing, or progressive, or anti-war, groups to exist. If such people are found in the haiku world, we had better persecute them, and they should be punished.’

“… According to the fascist-traditionalists, to write haiku without kigo meant anti-tradition, which in turn meant anti-Imperial order and high treason. …

“One sees that, historically, ‘freedom of expression’ in the gendai haiku movement was not an idle aesthetic notion. … The liberal, democratic spirit and freedom of expression exhibited by the New Rising Haiku poets remains at the core of gendai haiku.”

– Richard Gilbert, “Gendai Haiku Translations

In this same article Gilbert and Ito Yuki offer translations of some haiku by this generation of persecuted poets, all of which, naturally, are a little on the dark side — but exhibit the same freshness of approach as my previous examples:

clean kills: in a night war a canyon a crab
–
Hirahata Seito

the shriek of artillery
birds beasts fish shellfish
chilling dim

– 
Saito Sanki

leaving a withered tree
being shot as a withered tree
– 
Sugimura Seirinshi

machine gun
in the forehead
the killing flower blooms
– 
Saito Sanki

(Translations by Richard Gilbert and Ito Yuki, from Gendai Haiku Translations“)

If you’re starting to wonder if all gendai haiku are dark and depressing…fear not. A wonderful place to sample a wide variety of gendai haiku is Blue Willow Haiku World, the website of the fine Japanese-American haiku poet Fay Aoyagi, which features both her own haiku and that of modern Japanese haiku poets in her own translations. A few examples:

no hesitation

he comes and whispers

in a dancer’s ear

–Suju Takano

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

– posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 9, 2010


azuki-bean jelly

I prefer a comic play

with a quiet plot

–Shuoshi Mizuhara

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

– posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 7, 2010


bubbled water

it wets

an equation

– Keishu Ogawa

from “Gendai Haiku Hyakunin Nijukku” (“Modern Haiku: 20 Haiku per100 Poets”), edited by Kazuo Ibaraki, Kiyoko Uda, Nenten Tsubouchi, Kazuko Nishimura, You-shorin, Nagano, 2004

Fay’s Note:  “sôda-sui” (bubbled/carbonated water) is a summer kigo.

One can write a Japanese haiku without a subject word.   Most of time, the subject is “I,” the poet.   But this one, I am not sure.   I see two people (somehow, a male and female students) studying together.   It is a summer time.

Between them, cans (or glasses) of bubbled water…   But the translation can be

bubbled water

I wet

an equation

– posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 6, 2010

So far I’ve been discussing this genre as a strictly Japanese phenomenon. But the inevitable question is: Are there “gendai haiku” in English?

Richard Gilbert responds:

“I’m not even sure [the term 'gendai'] should be used for any haiku natively-written in English. For instance, I would not say so-and-so a haiku is ‘gendai’ as a matter of style, unless I meant it was similar in style to that of a known gendai poet of Japan … As of yet, we do not have a ‘gendai-like’ movement in English-language haiku poetry, though there are some poets writing innovative works. … It’s my thought that we can learn and appreciate, though innovate with autonomy.”

– Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I’m planning to write a post soon about some English-language haiku poets who are innovating in what seem to me gendai-like ways — including Metz and Gilbert themselves. In the meantime, I’d welcome comments on these poems and this poetic phenomenon: How do you feel about haiku in this style? Do you think there is a similar movement in English? Should I just stick to haiku and leave the dry academic treatises to the experts? Let your opinion be known.