Across the Haikuverse, No. 19: Summer 2011 College Tour Edition

.

Hi all,

Forgive me if this edition is a little light. I’m running around getting ready to drag my son on a week-long two-thousand-mile college tour, because apparently while I wasn’t looking he outgrew his footie pajamas and learned to drive and do calculus and now he’s ready to light out for the territories. But I didn’t want to leave you hanging without any news from the Haikuverse until I get back.

While I’m out and about I’m planning to briefly abandon my family and drop in on the annual Haiku Circle gathering in Northfield, Massachusetts. I’m really excited about this because I’ll get to meet a whole new set of haiku poets than the wonderful Midwestern set I already know. I love being able to put faces and voices and personalities to the names of the poets I read, and I love that the haiku community is so small that it is actually possible to meet and hang out with most of the poets whose poetry makes your heart skip several beats when you read it. Maybe I’ll drop you a line from the action on Saturday.

Okay, let’s get on with it. I still have maps to print out and stuff…although not sure why I bother, I’m gonna get lost anyway.

_______________________________________________________________________

Haikai of Note

What’s everyone been writing lately? Anything good? Is the coming of warmer weather inspiring to you or does it just make you want to go to the beach and read stupid novels and forget about subtle Japanese poetry for a while? Personally, I think I tend to write more in the winter, when it’s dark and cold and there’s nothing else to do. All this bright light is distracting.

There’s still plenty of good poetry appearing every day on the Interwebs, though, so apparently everyone isn’t affected in the same way I am. Here are some of my favorites that have showed up since the last edition.

.

.

Milky Way . . .
the way the cow path
rings a hill

— Michele Harvey, DailyHaiku

.

.

mare’s tail
yeah, sometimes
i still think of you

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

.

.

.

水飲んで天上くらき夏あした  酒井弘司
mizu nonde tenjyõ kuraki natsu ashita
.
drinking water
a dark ceiling
of a summer morning

—  Hiroshi Sakai, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

.

.

.

shooting star –
between dreams
reality

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

.

.

.

white and purple –
the scent of lilacs
is a ladder too

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, scented dust

.

.

.

pear blossoms . . .
which one of these houses
was yours?

— Laura Garrison, DailyHaiku

.

.

.

interlocking tiles
two mockingbirds
share a worm

— Gillena Cox, Lunch Break (This is a wonderful haiga, check it out.)

.

.

.

strip-lit
in the headache
of a high-rise
I poke a gummed nib
into Keats’s Nightingale

— Liam Wilkinson, nearaway

.

.

___________________________________________________________
.

Journaled

Haibun Today just released a really great issue for June, and I swear I am not saying that just because I am in it. Some of my favorite from this issue: Colin Stewart Jones, “Should Rules Be Broken; Steven Carter, “Montana“; Glenn G. Coats, “Expectations“; Katherine Cudney, “This World of Dew“; Bob Lucky, “Butter-Less in Ethiopia.”

 

Mu

There are so many haiku journals now that even people like me who actively seek them out and spend way too much time looking at haiku on the web anyway keep stumbling over journals that have existed, in some cases, for years, but that they (meaning me) never even heard of before. The terrifying thing is that most of these seemingly invisible journals are full of really good haiku, which makes you wonder if there is an alternate dimension that opens up periodically and releases clouds of haiku … or maybe there are just a lot of really good haiku poets in the world.

Anyway, my latest stunned discovery is the online journal Mu, which has its very first issue out, filled with great poetry like this:

 

fence line —
the flowers belong
to themselves

— Jennifer Gomoli Popolis

_______________________________________________________

Web Wide World

Um, so I only have one article to share with you this week, but I think it should count for, like, ten. It’s a more-or-less mind-blowing article by Charlie Trumbull (current editor of Modern Haiku), published in Simply Haiku in 2004, called “An Analysis of Haiku in 12-Dimensional Space.” If the title makes your head hurt you should probably skip the article, but if you think it sounds like the coolest thing ever you should probably read it, because it more or less is. Set aside a little time though. And a little space in your brain. You’ll need it.

Basically, it’s what amounts to a mathematical or scientific analysis of the vast array of definitions of haiku that have been given by various commentators, owing a heavy debt to the work of research-biologist-cum-haiku-poet A.C. Missias, and incorporating several diagrams labeled “Highly Technical Figures.” But don’t let that scare you away. It’s also moving and thoughtful and funny, and I promise you don’t need any advanced scientific degrees to enjoy it, especially if you skip to the end where Charlie describes the relevant “12 dimensions” of haiku. What is your “Haiku ID”? Read and find out.

_____________________________________________________________

Dead Tree News

Just a little word from R.H. Blyth again this week. (I am gonna get through all four volumes of Haiku this summer if it kills me.)

One thing I desperately love about Blyth is that, unlike most commentators on haiku, he is utterly unafraid to compare and contrast haiku with Western poetry or even Western prose. People generally tend to emphasize how different haiku is from most Western writing, and of course in many ways it is quite different, but after all, Basho and Wordsworth (to name two of Blyth’s favorite writers) are members of the same species — it’s not like they have nothing in common. I think it can be too easy to get caught up in the myth that the Mystic East is a whole different world that runs according to alternate laws of nature or something. Blyth (although, yes, he does romanticize haiku in some ways) doesn’t fall prey to this particular myth.

I love this commentary of Blyth’s on a haiku of Issa’s, for instance, which has us all looking at the same sky:

assari to haru wa ki ni keri asagi-zora

Spring has come
In all simplicity:
A light yellow sky.

— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth

.

“We are constantly astounded at the simplicity and complexity of Nature. An infinite number of phenomena, and we call it by a single word, spring. Spring, in all its variety, is contained in a single phenomenon, the thinness of the colour of the yellow sky. This colour is commonly found in the evening sky; it is to be seen in a well-known colour-print by Hiroshige, small billowing clouds on the horizon. This ‘yellow’ is probably the ‘green’ of Coleridge’s verse:

The green light that lingers in the west.”

— R.H. Blyth, Haiku, vol. 2, p. 38

___________________________________________________________________________

.

Okay. The oil’s been changed in the car, we’ve got someone to feed the cats…what am I forgetting? Oh yeah! (Waves frantically) Bye everyone, see you next week!

(another birthday)

.

.

.

Red-tailed hawk in tree.

.

another birthday
a hawk comes to live
in the neighborhood

.

.

.DailyHaiku, 4/23/2011

.

.

._______________________________________________________________________

Incidentally, my haiku are being featured on DailyHaiku all week this week again, starting today. Feel free to hop over there and see what’s going on.

Tanka? Okay, I Can Do That

.

.

.

I check
to see what’s sprouted
we’re separated now
by the life span
of squash and cucumbers

.

on the way
to see the apple blossoms —
I admire how
your story changes
with every streetlight

.

(Ribbons: Tanka Society of America Journal, 7:1, Spring 2011)

.

.

.

Tanka. I keep mentioning tanka in what I know is this extremely skeptical tone of voice. I spent a long time trying not to think about them. I think I was having a hard enough time trying to understand haiku (not that that process is or ever will be over for me) and seeing these tanka things, which looked kind of like haiku but were the wrong length and sounded very different, confused me. And kind of annoyed me, too, because a lot of them (although not, by any means, as high a percentage as I used to think) are flowery and dreamy and romantic and … I’m not. Flowery, dreamy, romantic things usually just make me want to go balance my checkbook or something. Or throw up. (Yes, I am a fun date. Thanks for asking.)

So I was all grouchy about tanka and didn’t even want to learn anything about it, which is unusual for me because generally I want to learn everything about everything, and the sooner the better. I sneered at and winced about and cast aspersions on tanka … and then, at some point this winter, I started writing it. Still without having the slightest idea what it actually was. Don’t ask me what that was all about. I think I was just having one of those days where haiku seemed too short. You know those days. Where you’re like “Seventeen syllables? Max? Give me a break.”

I wrote a bunch of these things and eyed them warily, and then heaved a weary sigh and went crawling humbly around the web to find out what I had done. I was thrilled to find this essay about the origins of tanka by Jane Reichhold, because it’s very funny and made me feel like maybe I didn’t have to worry so much about tanka but could just enjoy it:

“From tanka’s long history – over 1300 years recorded in Japan — the most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers. Arriving home in the morning, after having dallied with a lover all night, it became the custom of well-mannered persons to write an immediate thank-you note for the pleasures of the hospitality. Stylized into a convenient five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji, the little poem expressing one’s feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom. These were delivered to the lover by personal messenger who then was given something to drink along with his chance to flirt with the household staff. During this interval a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note which the messenger would return to his master.

Usually under some pressure – the writer had probably been either awake or engaged in strenuous activities all night – to write a verse that related, in some manner, to the previous note, that expressed (carefully) one’s feelings, and which titillated enough to cause the sender to want to return again was not an easy task. Added to this dilemma was the need to get the personal messenger on his way with a note so written that he couldn’t know exactly what was what but that the beloved would understand and appreciate. Then the giggling servants would get back to work.

“…Looking at tanka history it seems that the only infallible way of writing great tanka is to have an affair. Go ahead! Do it now. But that doesn’t mean that it must be a behind-the-bushes affair in the no-tell motel. Let yourself fall in love with anything or anyone you want to. It can be nature, a scene, a place, an activity, persons; your own kids, grandkids or even – your mate, or just life itself. Whatever feels good and right for you.

Because of their original use as a way of privately expressing emotion and especially between friends and lovers unhappy because they are separated, the feelings expressed in traditional tanka were usually either longing for better time, more faithful lovers, younger years or grief because of old age, lack of lovers, or hard times. You get the picture. When reading a great many tanka you realize you are hearing a lot of bitching. For some writers this is just the outlet for which they have been looking.”

— Jane Reichhold,  “Tanka for the Memory

So that was my first tanka breakthrough. My second happened when I humbly sent a bunch of my lame tanka off to be edited by Aubrie Cox, who graciously refrained from telling me I had no idea what I was doing and with her magical touch lightly and deftly transformed the least lame of them into something that a tanka editor might not be too appalled to see appearing in his or her inbox. The two above are the first I had accepted for publication. It felt pretty weird, I have to tell you. “Wait — I’m not a tanka poet. Am I? Oh God. I guess I am. Can I go throw up now?”

I’ve gotten over it, though. For one thing, I’ve actually read a lot of tanka since then, and a lot of it I like a lot. Also, some of my best friends are wonderful tanka poets, so I’ve really had to force myself to examine my unwarranted prejudices. If you get this issue of Ribbons, for instance (which I highly recommend you do), you will find the following stupendous tanka by my buddy Margaret Dornaus of haiku-doodle gracing the back cover, and being wonderfully and lovingly dissected inside the journal by its editor, Dave Bacharach:

at Toad Suck
I contemplate syllables
and old ponds
like a child puddle-jumping
loudly through soft falling rain

— Margaret Dornaus

And right next to it you will find another stupendous tanka by Jeffrey Woodward (Haibun Today editor extraordinaire), which Bacharach has deliberately placed in counterpoint with Margaret’s:

sweet,
but with a slight tang,
the rejected
and twisted little
apples of Winesburg

— Jeffrey Woodward

Even I have to admit that there is nothing romantic, dreamy, etc. about either of these tanka, and that they are, in fact, quite brilliant and thought-provoking poems that just happen to be two lines longer than your typical haiku and to be attempting something rather different though not entirely unconnected. If you’re looking for a better explanation than I or probably anyone else but R.H. Blyth could provide of what exactly that something is, check out this essay by Don Wentworth over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, which gives us plenty of Blyth for our delectation.

For even more tanka information, Tanka Online and American Tanka are good places to look, and Charlotte Digregorio has recently written an essay on her blog that is a good, brief introduction to the subject. Besides Ribbons, the print journals Moonbathing, Eucalypt, and red lights publish tanka exclusively; bottle rockets publishes it among other Japanese verse forms, and so does the online journal Notes from the Gean. I’m probably forgetting someone. As I so often do. Feel free, as always, to tell me what I’m missing.

*

[Note: If you subscribe to this blog, you are not imagining things. Another version of this essay appeared a few days ago. It was an accident — it wasn’t finished yet — and I promptly deleted it. Sorry about the confusion.]

.

.