(morning rain)

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morning
rain
I
descend
in
the
elevator
with

zero

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(first date)

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first date—
he tells me there’s an app
for the moon

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bottle rockets 27

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I’m interested in people’s speculations about what, exactly, this moon app does. Someone asked me and I had to admit I had no idea. For one thing, I just made the whole thing up. (There was no first date either, sadly.) It just seemed to me that there’s an app for everything else, so there had to be one for the moon. Suggestions for a sequel welcome.

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icicle. new moon. cradle.

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icicle —
one clear word
out of all the murmuring

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new moon . . .
the map folded
with home at the center

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“icicle,” Modern Haiku 43.2; “new moon,” Frogpond 35.2

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Yes, well, as I was saying, I, along with all right-thinking people, spent last weekend in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, at the Cradle of American Haiku Festival, being entertained and delighted by my haiku compatriots. Or co-conspirators, or whatever they are. Among them Charles Trumbull and Francine Banwarth, who edit the two journals referenced above and were kind enough, in their most recent issues, to print these works of mine, which seem to have some bearing on our weekend activities. Clarity: I think we’re all seeking that, as we muddle around with this unwieldy language, trying out various combinations of words, trying to find those that will surprise and enlighten us. And home: when we’re not running away from it, we’re traveling towards it, and I think most of us who were in Mineral Point last weekend, even if we had left home to get there, felt that in another sense we had returned home. No one understands poets quite like other poets, and there’s nothing like being understood to make you feel at home.

Other reflections/observations/fond memories from this weekend:

  • Charlie Trumbull gave us a thought-provoking paper on black haiku poets, many of whom were influenced in their work by the rhythms of jazz and blues. Which made me think again that we need to spend more time thinking about the musicality of our work, or at least the lyricism. It’s easy to forget, I think, that words are units of sound as well as meaning.
  • It’s still amazing to think about how relatively young the English-language haiku movement is–our host for the weekend at Foundry Books, as always, was the inimitable Gayle Bull, whose late husband Jim, along with fellow professor Don Eulert, started the first English-language haiku journal, American Haiku, in 1963. That’s less than fifty years ago, for those who are counting. Don was at the conference this weekend too, visiting from California, where he uses haiku in his work training clinical psychologists. It helps teach them about objectivity, he says, which I found fascinating, since I’m crummy at being objective. Maybe I’m better at it than I used to be, though, I don’t know. I’m not objective enough to tell.
  • If I studied sumi-e for the next four hundred years or so I might have a hope of being able to wield an ink brush with a tenth the skill of Lidia Rozmus, who set us up with the beautiful traditional tools of the Japanese ink painter and attempted to show us how to use them. She makes it look so easy, and I think she was sadly baffled by my complete lack of ability to paint something that did not look like a blob of ink. But since she is one of the world’s kindest people, she didn’t say so, just took my hand and tried to make it do something intelligent. I think it may be a lost cause, though–I have yet to discover any evidence that my hands are actually linked to my brain.
  • Overheard at the wine bar where we were giving a reading on Saturday night, during a moment of almost complete silence when we were listening respectfully to the work of a fellow poet: “These haiku people are getting out of hand.”
  • We had a rowdy session on gendai haiku on Sunday morning. It’s always fun to get people riled up about poetry before lunch on a weekend. If anyone wants a copy of my handout from the session, shoot me an email (reddragonflyhaiku AT gmail DOT com). Rest assured, I didn’t write any of it, it’s all quotes from other people, plus a selection of Japanese and English poetry that may or may not be gendai depending on who’s reading it and whether they’re squinting that day. You can let me know what you think. Hecklers, as always, welcome.

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Summer Visitors

a junicho renku

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summer visitors
the children show off
marble-sized pumpkins

ma

careless laughter
filling blue watering cans

ms

at the Picasso exhibit
a shadow
crosses the wall

ac

in the lake shallows
someone has dropped eyeglasses

ma

the moonlight
wanes
on ranked hay bales

ms

a quick spinal adjustment
for the unfinished scarecrow

ac

the last chapter
I trace letters
on your back

ma

crumpling together
on a bed of fallen leaves

ms

not quite dawn
rushing the bin
to the curb

ac

clack! the llama’s teeth
meet in my migraine headache

ma

pasta al dente
golden courgette flowers
at dusk

ms

tiles swept clean
lean on the broom a moment

ac

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Ashley Capes (sabaki), Max Stites, Melissa Allen

A Hundred Gourds 1.3, June 2012

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By the time this renku appeared in print I’d almost forgotten about writing it. The process of composition was slightly dreamlike, taking place as it did in slow motion, across a span of nine months in 2010-2011, in a collaboration between three very busy people living on three different continents. (Ashley is Australian, Max a U.S. native who’s lived in the U.K. for many years.) Looking at it again brought back pleasant memories of all our discussions and revisions and of Ash’s expert guidance through the sometimes-exciting, sometimes-infuriating restrictions and stipulations of renku. (Ash also frequently guides the development of renku over at Issa’s Snail, in case you’re interested in seeing some of his other work.)

It’s interesting to me how renku, which started, really, as a party game, is more likely these days to resemble a leisurely pen-pal correspondence. When I have, so to speak, “played” renku as a party game — Live! In Person! One Night Only! — I’ve found that my interest in it rises dramatically. It’s not that I don’t at all enjoy the slower, more contemplative pace of long-distance renku composition, but to me, much of the point of renku linking is the real-time, in-person sparking between human minds and the way it both facilitates the creation of poetry and acts as a strikingly effective icebreaker to create a warm, relaxed group dynamic. (If you’re doing it right, that is. I’ve heard of people leading renku sessions in such a stern manner that they made participants burst into tears. That’s a sad story. Don’t do it that way.)

Writing renku long-distance can also, of course, be a highly enjoyable social experience–certainly composing this one was–but I think that for me it allows my perfectionist tendencies too much free rein for it to be entirely comfortable. When you’re composing more in real time, perfectionism is a luxury you can’t really allow yourself. The point is to have fun, not to come up with the most perfect link that could ever be conceived. Also, as far as I can tell, most of the time writing renku is about a thousand times more fun than reading it anyway; the elusive, subjective nature of renku linking, which makes it so much fun and gamelike to compose, also often makes it a challenge to enter into as a third-party reader. This means that the number of people who actually read even any published renku is likely to be vanishingly tiny–even tinier than the number who read haiku. So even more than with most forms of art, I think, the process really is more important than the product.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I guess all I’m trying to say is, if you’ve never joined a live renku party? Try to do that sometime. Also, Ash and Max? It was a pleasure getting to know you. If we’re ever all on the same continent, we’ll have to do this again.

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Please stay on the line…

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…your readership is very important to us.

Floating around out in the Interether right now are some interesting fruits of my labor from earlier this year. Since I’m not coming up with a whole lot of new material at the moment, think of this as hold music. Only, you know, better. I hope.

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  1. Issue 1.1 of Multiverses has been released! I picked out all the haibun, so I really like them all. Some other really talented people picked out the haiku, tanka, haiga, and features, so I like all those too. Seriously, it’s a great selection of poetry and I’m pretty sure I’d be impressed by it even if I weren’t on the editorial staff. Go take a look.
  2. Back in March Aubrie Cox featured on her blog Yay Words! the brilliant new subgenre of doodleku–she drew a doodle for every day and invited her readers to write haiku and tanka linking to it. Now she’s put together an awesome PDF called Things With Wings, containing the doodles and her favorites from among the daily submissions. I really enjoyed this collection because the ku cover a wide stylistic range and the link between doodle and poem is often subtle and thought-provoking. Also, the doodles? Adorable.
  3. Also back in March, I had the honor of judging the Robert Spiess Memorial Award Haiku Competition, which is sponsored by Modern Haiku.  I shared this task with Carlos Colon (a.k.a. Haiku Elvis), so I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that I had a blast. It’s a hard job reading hundreds of great haiku and choosing the best ones, but somebody had to do it. Also, it was kind of cool to be judging a contest honoring a fine editor who lived here in Madison, Wisconsin and published Modern Haiku here for 24 years.

Okay, I’m off to go for a walk and hopefully come up with some ideas for things to put on this blog that I worked on more recently than four months ago. Trust me, an operator will be with you shortly…

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