(photo: Jay Otto)
white crocuses the first exposed skin
This season. This day. This darkness. This rain. This sky. This unspoken agreement. This repeated pattern. This internal quarrel. This blown litter. This temporary solitude. This empty box. These restless legs. These unwashed hands. This bent twig. This spent coin. This borrowed time. This vague memory. This dry leaf. This discarded assumption. This long pause. This interrupted stillness. This dark house. This hard fall.
to surprise myself
Haiku to Read Again
the sky is navigable –
— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
山を出るときどんぐりはみな捨てる 北 登猛
yama o deru toki donguri wa mina suteru
when I leave the mountain
I throw away
— Tomo Kita, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
things that can wait and a dying wasp ::: autumn darkness
ting der kan vente og en døende hveps ::: efterårsmørke
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger
a sparrow makes –
— Bill Kenney, haiku-usa
our shrinking shadows touch
— Alegria Imperial, jornales
inside my ribs
— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku
With every step into
the lake, the water touches
me in a new place.
— Elissa, The Haiku Diary
the distance between
this moon and that
— sanjuktaa, wild berries
as full as that, harvest
— Angie Werren, feathers
“Haiku as Poetic Spell”
I’m very grateful to Lynne Rees for republishing on her blog an open field this essay by Martin Lucas, which also appeared in evolution: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2010.
It’s a challenging, exciting essay, well worth reading in full, that contrasts what Lucas calls the “Internationally Accepted Formula” for haiku —
then two lines of contrasting
with a haiku aesthetic that he considers “an ideal that is poetic as opposed to prosaic, and secondly, an expression that is more akin to a magical utterance than a mere report of an incident, however consequential or inconsequential.”
Of the “Internationally Accepted Formula,” Lucas points out, “It’s an intriguing mix, but almost all the interest is in this content, and almost none in the expression.” Using many striking examples, he argues for (or rather urges) a greater emphasis in haiku on an effective use of language to create a “poetic spell”:
“Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. … words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard. This is what I want from haiku: something primitive; something rare; something essential; not some tired iteration of patterns so familiar most of us can produce them in our sleep. It’s not the information content that counts, it’s the way that information is formed, cooked and combined.”
— Martin Lucas, “Haiku as Poetic Spell”
the zen zpace, Autumn 2011 Showcase
Marie Marshall, who also has a blog called kvenna ráð, put together this fine collection of haiku by seven poets. She’s calling for submissions for her next edition. A couple of samples:
the last leaf of all
it will be picked up
— David Cobb
the earliest of mornings
Substance presents itself
as an apple
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg
If you have any interest in haibun you should hustle over and read the recently released October issue of cho, especially my favorites: Sonam Chhoki’s “Last Journey“; Susan Diridoni’s “awakening in ‘The City'”; Peter Newton’s “The Goal”; and Carol Pearce-Worthington’s “I Read Everything”.
The Haiku Foundation, with their release of THF Haiku, their haiku app for the iPhone, has recently made waiting in line a task that is no longer fearful to me. I just pull out my phone, punch at the screen a bit to make the soothing THF Haiku backdrop appear, and then spend a relaxing few minutes shaking my phone (really, you just need to tilt it a little, so you won’t look completely insane in public) to see a new haiku with every shake. There’s a wonderful variety — 365 of them so far, with more promised for the future. Some I tilted into recently:
the bonfire luring me back
to my maiden name
the shadow in the folded napkin
— Cor van den Heuvel
Every second, a tree, a bird, a chimney, a woman
— James Kirkup
Dead Tree News
Beyond My View, by Joyce Clement. Endionpress, 2011
My Journey, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 2004
Twenty Views from Mole Hill, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 1999
I am overdue to talk about these books. I bought the three of them this summer, one at each of the communal haiku events I attended. Joyce’s book I picked up at the Haiku Circle in Massachusetts in June, where she gave a wonderful reading and I enjoyed getting to know her. Twenty Views of Mole Hill I bought at Foundry Books in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, when I attended a Haiku Retreat there in June. Lidia was not in attendance there, but she was, as I have mentioned, my roommate at Haiku North America in Seattle in August, where I bought My Journey. So these books have bracketed my summer and followed me through it. I’ve read them each several times, because somehow they make me feel a little bit more like myself every time I read them.
Beyond My View
Joyce does things with language and images that only she can do — the best writers are like that — but that make you feel like what she said was just on the tip of your tongue, because the best writers are like that too.
all the whatchamacallits
in the spring wind
That’s what I was going to say.
rolls over again
the earth, us with it
This one I keep reading over and over again to see if I can see how she did it. The syntax seems awkward and garbled at first and then you see — oh! that’s the point! And then you see that there’s no other way to say it. And you feel like lying down and rolling in some warm mud.
Yes, that’s it. I keep trying to do this kind of thing all the time. It’s not as easy as it looks.
used to think
I’d want a gravestone
I still do want a gravestone, but something about this makes me think that maybe I won’t always.
There are not enough haiku about the way women’s bodies feel — maybe there aren’t enough about the way anyone’s body feels. This one is perfect. Thanks, Joyce.
Twenty Views of Mole Hill
Lidia calls the work she does that combines haibun and sumi-e painting “haibun-ga,” and the title page of Twenty Views … proclaims tongue-in-cheek that it is “The Last Haibun-ga of the Twentieth Century.” What is also is, is a meditation on place, a place seen in every season with the especially careful seeing of someone who is both an exemplary visual artist and a particularly sensitive poet.
Mole Hill is a hill, a small Illinois hill, that can be seen from Lidia’s apartment, and so she sees it.
I turn the lights off —
The seeing continues from December to December. The book takes the form of a series of unbound square cards, on each of which there is a haibun or a solitary haiku, as well as an evocative sumi-e painting. These are not illustrations of Mole Hill; they are minimalist evocations of a state of mind, a shape of thought, a unique vision. Lidia stays in one place; the world turns around her, and her mind travels. It’s as if these cards fall, one by one, into place as the seasons change.
mosquito and I —
same blood type
(This is one, I think, that Issa would have written if he’d known about blood type.)
In contrast to Twenty Views…, My Journey roams all over the world, from Poland and other locales in Eastern Europe, to North America, Western Europe, Japan. It also roams in time, or rather ventures through it, over fifty years of Lidia’s life, beginning with the first memory of a toddler. Again, the form of the book is important: it’s folded like an accordion, and the hinge point — the place where you turn the book over to begin folding through the pages on the reverse side — is Lidia’s immigration to the United States as a young adult.
seeing my fingerprints
for the first time
Like so many of Lidia’s haiku this one says so much more than it says.
This book, too, contains both haibun and standalone haiku, illustrated with small black-and-white photographs — they read more as illustrations than as photos; you can’t see much detail, just enough to evoke a feeling or sense of place, so the overall effect is very similar to that of Lidia’s sumi-e. There is also an ink wash traced through with a wavy ink line that runs continuously along the bottom of the entire book, which of course is all in one uninterrupted piece, like a life. One continuous stretch of time, but paradoxically remembered by us in discrete chunks of episodic memory — pages, if you will.
on one page
the whole world
As usual, Lidia said it better than I could. This is the last haiku in the book. Lidia’s life goes on, though, fortunately for us all.
As for me, I’m standing with my back to the wind these days. It seems to help. I wish I’d thought of it before.
Honorable Mention, Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational 2011
I feel a little guilty receiving an honor for a haiku about cherry blossoms, considering I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever actually seen a cherry blossom in real life.
Lots of pictures of cherry blossoms, of course. They certainly look pretty. But not, as far as I can see anyway, any prettier than apple blossoms, which my life has been full of, entwined with. We had a tiny apple orchard in the backyard of my childhood home, which I mooned around every spring, and now I live a couple of miles from a famous arboretum full of dozens of apple trees that bloom spectacularly every May and attract hordes of visitors, including, always, me. So when I write haiku about cherry blossoms, frankly, I’m usually thinking “apple blossoms.” Seeing apple blossoms, smelling apple blossoms. Wishing it were time for apple blossoms again.
Yeah. I don’t think I’ll write any more haiku about cherry blossoms. It’s not like I’m one of those sticklers who insists that every haiku must be a faithful record of some event the poet has actually experienced. But I don’t usually write haiku about things that I have absolutely no experience of and, really, absolutely no feeling for. And honestly, this one smells fake to me, a plasticky gimmicky haiku I stuck together for contest-entrance purposes out of convenient haiku parts I happened to have to hand. Adorable little baby fingers. Imaginary, unimaginable, legendary blossoms. Some kind of blissful, sentimental Madonna bearing no resemblance to the grouchy, sick pregnant woman that I actually was.
Of course, the great thing about haiku is that what seems meaningless and pointless to one person can seem entirely different to another person with another set of life experiences and another point of view. Maybe you’re one of those people and this haiku speaks to you. I’m very happy to have shared it with you, if that’s the case.
But I still think I’ll be avoiding writing cherry-blossom haiku in the future. Watch this space for apple blossoms next spring.
It’s a tiny motel: four rooms, two tacked on to each end of our house like the spreading wings of a Southern plantation. But we’re the opposite of a plantation, we’re the site of endless uprootings. Poor soil for weak vegetation. The less successful variety of traveling salesman, in cheap suits, bearing leatherette briefcases and expressions of bewilderment at how fruitless their lives have turned out to be. Men who’ve been kicked out of the house by their wives and aren’t quite sure yet whether they can go home tomorrow. Drifters who’ve scrounged up enough money somewhere to settle down in one of our nineteen-dollar beds for the night, often leaving behind them the evidence that they had enough left over for a good-sized bender. Even hippies sometimes, though there aren’t a lot of them in this blue-collar, conservative town; maybe they’re just passing through on their way to someplace more congenial — a commune, a city squat, a rock festival. They arrive, unlike most of our customers, in clumps, too young yet to want or need or have to be alone. Most of these people don’t stay long; the wind blows them to us and then blows them away.
Then there’s Miss Knight. June comes and so does she, in her sky blue VW bus, crammed to the ceiling with everything she owns. All summer it sits in front of the motel, down by Room 4, which is her home for the summer and always has been. (As far as I know, anyway; my “always” isn’t very long.) She fills the room up quickly. She’s not the kind of wanderer who travels lightly, who pares down her possessions. She likes things. Not luxurious things but things that are her own, that make her feel at home. Her room feels like nothing so much as a nest, lined with bits of fluff and feathers and string, trifles that seem worthless on their own but make excellent insulation. She wears layers of clothing too, shapeless skirts and sweaters draped around her tiny thin body, even in the heat of summer. She coddles herself, but she thrives this way. Nothing blows her away; she’s rooted.
We don’t know how old she is. Seventy-five? Eighty-five? Her hair is pure white and scant, her spine bent, and sometimes her mind, to us, seems to travel on illogical paths — but maybe it’s our minds that are at fault, too limited to follow her flights of fancy, her mental travels into the less explored regions of the universe. She’s energetic, her eyes sparkle, she takes good care of herself and her dog, the Chihuahua that goes with her everywhere: so whatever age she is, it isn’t too old. We’re not inclined to be critical anyway; the place seems entirely different with her around, less like a dreary way station for the desperate, more like a bucolic paradise, a fit resting place for any respectable elderly woman who spends the year driving around New England in a VW bus. It never feels like summer until her bus arrives, to remind us that we have an acre of land out back, filled with fruit trees and shade trees and flowering bushes. Miss Knight takes daily constitutionals around it, looking at everything with appreciation and curiosity.
She’s friendly, even ebullient, but guarded. She looks hazy-eyed past questions. We don’t know her story, her past or her future. It’s as if she only exists here and now, in the summer in a small motel in Connecticut. The only indication we have of her life away from us is the one postcard that arrives every spring, in advance of her own arrival, letting us know to be on the lookout for her. It sits propped on the dining room table for weeks, while the weather grows warmer, the school year wears on, our other customers come and go, our own lives mutate and progress inexorably. It’s our surrogate for her; we read it over and over, day by day, until she pulls into the driveway again, and then we put it away in a drawer with the ones from every other year.
The year it doesn’t arrive, we all start wondering whether we’re any more real than she is.
how much of my life story