Melissa Allen, haiku; Jay Otto, photography
Dear Fellow Travelers,
Some weeks the Haikuverse seems to stir up a lot of Deep Thoughts in me, but not this week. This week I was too busy for Thinking Deeply. (I can hear you sighing in relief. Stop that.)
So what have I got for you? Well, a lot of really great haiku (other people’s, natch), snatched out of the ether during moments stolen from homework, fiction writing, Thanksgiving dinner, and sleep. For some reason, most of them seem to relate to one of two themes: astronomical phenomena or snow.
(It’s snowing in a lot of places these days, apparently. So interesting, the sense you can get of world weather patterns by following the world’s daily haiku output.)
Anyway. To start off our journey … here are some of my favorite responses to a polite request that The Haiku Foundation’s Facebook page recently made of its followers: “Please share a haiku inspired by the onset of cold weather.” (They frequently make interesting requests like this. You should go over and oblige them occasionally. It’s nice to share.)
premières gelées blanches –
une envie soudaine
de carrot cake
…first white frosts –
…a sudden urge
for a carrot cake
— Vincent Hoarau
she pockets a large carrot
for later use
— Laura Sherman
(Yes, two carrot haiku, right next to each other. It freaked me out too.)
a ring around
— George O Hawkins
listening to myself
on the walk home
— Michael Rehling
Twitter was all cold this week too. And for some reason (okay, maybe my foreign-language fetish), it seemed very polyglot.
First of all, my Twitter friend Polona Oblak, or one cloud, whose username is cirrusdream, overheard me raving in a tweet about how much I liked foreign-language haiku and generously offered to translate some of her haiku into Slovenian, her first language. (Great quotation from Polona: “the problem is, although i’m not a native english speaker, my muse appears to be.”)
There are SO many things I love about this — first of all the fact that Slovenian is a Slavic language, so I can actually semi-follow what’s going on here. (All Slavic languages are alike, but some are more alike than others. [Whoa — Tolstoy/Orwell mashup! Didn’t see that coming.])
Secondly the fact that in Slovenian, this haiku is so highly alliterative and even rhymes a little. English haiku needs more of that. Remind me to do some of that some time soon.
a spider weaves its web
under a neon light
pajek plete mrežo
pod neonsko lučjo
— Polona Oblak (cirrusdream)
Then, I believe the very same day, I had the incredibly thrilling experience of discovering a Twitterer who writes haiku in Esperanto. Not just any haiku. Good haiku. (Excuse me: hajko.) I am still in shock that there is a person like this in the world. I like the world better now.
pelas norda vent’ unuopajn neĝerojn… sonoriladon
north wind drives snowflakes one by one… a bell rings and rings.
— Steven D. Brewer (limako)
David Serjeant, over at distant lightning, had a great snow moment this week too. I caught a whiff of Issa drifting from this haiku. (I’m very sensitive to that scent.)
— David Serjeant
I caught even more of a whiff of Issa, maybe even something more like a deliberate (and extremely successful) tribute, coming from Elissa’s recent snow haiku, “who’s counting,” at the haiku diary:
Watching the first one,
two, three . . . four, five, six . . . seven
snowflakes fall outside.
(And okay … I got a little sidetracked here. I have a huge weakness, for some reason, for haiku with numbers in them. In fact, one of my favorites among my own haiku is still this one that I wrote way back in, like, the first week I ever wrote haiku. I went looking for more information about these number-haiku things and ended up, naturally enough, on Gabi Greve’s territory, reading this amazing essay-full-of-inspiring-examples. I have to read it again, when I can spend more time on it.)
(And another slight detour, this one possibly even verging on Deep Thought. This quotation, from a very famous Japanese haiku poet, got in my face when I read it on someone’s Facebook page this week — I’m sorry, Facebook person, I don’t remember who you are, but thanks for posting this! It reminded me of the essay by Aubrie Cox I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:
“The reader of a haiku is indispensable to the working of ma. This person must notice the ma and sense the kokoro of the poet. A haiku is not completed by the poet. The poet creates half of the haiku, while the remaining half must wait for…the appearance of a superior reader. Haiku is literature created jointly by the poet and the reader. A Western poem is the product of the poet alone, and thus here also the way of thinking about haiku is different.”
— Hasegawa Kai
I must say, I feel very fortunate to have had the occasional “superior reader” show up here to complete my haiku, because God knows they [my haiku, that is] need all the help they can get…)
This haiku from David Marshall, at haiku streak, is an exception to this week’s astronomy-and-snow theme, but it does seem somehow to complement Hasegawa’s words. It’s called Old Friends, and don’t tell me haiku aren’t supposed to have titles. They can if they want to. It’s a free country.
Silence that ripens,
silence that stays green, silence
fallen and sere
— David Marshall
I’ll finish up with the astronomical phenomena, since this is, after all, a voyage across the Haikuverse…
Here’s one from Terri L. French’s recent week as the featured poet on the Daily Haiku blog — I love this image:
long road trip —
Orion’s belt rests
on the dashboard
— Terri L. French
And here’s one I like a lot from the blog of extra special bitter:
November sky —
I used to remember
which planet that was
— extra special bitter
As I recently mentioned to someone, I sometimes have difficulty myself even in recalling exactly which planet we are supposed to be on, so I can relate to this sentiment. You know — keeping track of where you are can get to be a challenge when you spend as much time wandering the Haikuverse as I do …
Have a great week, and don’t get lost in space.
The Haikuverse in the fourth dimension:
(For no. 1 in this series, look here. For no. 2, look here.)
The haikuverse? You want to know what that is? Why, children, it’s a wonderful place, where mostly underappreciated writers toil night and day to produce a body of short poetry that at its best makes you jump out of your shoes, clutch your hair in awe, and possibly weep. Also, where other underappreciated writers explain how these poems work, and talk about the people who’ve written them, and so on and so forth. Where can you find out about some of the most interesting things that happened there this week? Why, right here, of course.
Last week Rick Daddario of 19 Planets was inspired by my link to Marlene Mountain’s “ink writings” to post a similar haiga of his own, rather than save it for Christmastime as he’d been planning. Since Rick lives in Hawaii, his images of the holiday are a little different than ours here in Wisconsin. I found this pleasantly jarring, and also just thought that both the ku and the drawing were a very successful combination. Here’s the haiku, but you really should visit 19 Planets to see the complete haiga.
the grass grows taller
with each note*
Rick also celebrated his blog’s 100th post this week — I’ll let you visit to find out how. Congratulations, Rick!
*This version is slightly different from the one I originally posted here, since Rick called my attention to the fact that he had modified his ku since I had last checked on it. I like this version even better.
Congratulation also to another blog which celebrated its 100th post this week — Alegria Imperial’s “jornales.” In it she recounts the story of her first “ginko walk,” which her haiku group took to obtain inspiration for haiku. In Alegria’s case I’d say the walk was extremely successful — I love the haiku that resulted from it!
the same whispers
the same sighs
I really liked several of the haiku that Steve Mitchell of heednotsteve posted this week. First there was his sequence “always wind,” inspired by his visit to the apparently constantly windswept Norman, Oklahoma. My favorite from that sequence:
always wind –
rush to the south, no,
now rush north
Then there was his humorous but thought-provoking “ku 00000010,” a followup to another robot-inspired haiku he posted earlier this month. This haiku is clever, but for me it works as a genuine haiku, not just a gimmick:
> 1: standby mode
>blossoms as they close
The wonderful online journal “tinywords,” curated by d.f. tweney, features a new haiku or piece of micropoetry every weekday (there are submission guidelines here, if anyone is interested). My favorite this week, by Janice Campbell:
amid fallen leaves
a business card
still doing its job
Aubrie Cox’s personal website is well worth a look for her varied portfolio of haiku and other short-form poetry and critical writings. Since I’ve been thinking so much lately about how this blog is in some ways a collaboration between me and my community of readers, I especially enjoyed reading her essay “Writing with the Reader as a Co-Creator.” An excerpt:
“The inviting audience is ‘like talking to the perfect listener: we feel smart and come up with the ideas we didn’t know we had’ (Elbow 51). More importantly, however, is that the inviting reader can have an active role within the exchange between writer and reader. By doing so, the writer is not relinquishing all power back to the reader, or giving in to the tyranny, but merely developing a partnership. The reader can be the writer’s partner in the writing process if there is a mutual trust and cooperation, if the writer lets the reader become a part of the meaning-making process.”
Aubrie goes on to discuss how she sent one of her haiku to several acquaintances and asked for their reactions; their interpretations of its meaning were for the most part nothing like her own, but she points out that they were no less valid for all that — something I constantly have cause to remember when I’m reading my readers’ comments here.
At Issa’s Untidy Hut this week, the Sunday Service is on hiatus for a week, but Don Wentworth has given us instead an insightful review of Silent Flowers, a short volume of haiku translated by the person who perhaps did more than anyone else to popularize haiku for English speakers: R.H. Blyth. Silent Flowers, published in 1967, was apparently excerpted from Blyth’s legendary 4-volume compilation of translations and critical study of Japanese haiku.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Don’s review — an Issa haiku and Don’s commentary on it:
Just simply alive,
Both of us, I
and the poppy.
“There it is, folks – doesn’t get plainer or simpler or truer or more beautiful than that. After you read a poem like this, time to shut the book and get back to life.”
Somehow I just managed to discover this week the Mann Library’s Daily Haiku site. Each day they republish a previously published haiku by an established haiku poet — each month is dedicated to the works of a different poet. The archives are a treasure for anyone exploring the world of contemporary English-language haiku — name a well-known haiku poet and they’re likely to have some of his or her works represented.
Here’s one of my favorites from this month’s poet, Gary Hotham:
time to go —
the stones we threw
at the bottom of the ocean
Following up on my interest in foreign-language haiku: On the Haiku Foundation’s website, Troutswirl, last week, the regular feature “Periplum” (which is dedicated to haiku from around the world) was devoted to the work of a Bolivian poet, Tito Andres Ramos. Although Ramos’s first language is Spanish, he writes his haiku first in English and then translates them into Spanish. One I especially like:
sunny winter day
my packed suitcase
under the bed
dia soleado de invierno
mi maleta empacada
bojo mi cama
Gene Myers of “The Rattle Bag” blog (and also the administrator of the “Haiku Now” page on Facebook) recently wrote about the chapbook of his haiku and other poetry that he put together on Scribd. (You can download the PDF here.) This looks like it could be a nice way to distribute collections of poetry without killing trees or inflicting boring design on people. I’m thinking about it myself, though I am also still attracted to the idea of the limited-edition dead-tree chapbook on handmade rice paper with custom calligraphy. But this is probably faster. 🙂
One of my favorite from Gene’s collection:
Moth between window and screen
And so am I. It’s exhausting, traversing the Haikuverse. Going to bed now. See you on the flip side …
In which I present for your inspection all the things I found this week while exploring the haikuverse that I thought might interest, entertain, infuriate, intrigue, or otherwise engross you. Or might not. (No. 1 in this series is here, in case you’re interested.)
This week’s theme (because I’ve been rereading Howards End): Only Connect. (Every item connects somehow to the previous item, if only by the skin of its teeth.)
Are you feeling competitive this week? This coming Saturday is the deadline for November’s Shiki Kukai. If you don’t know about Kukai, they are haiku contests in which all the entrants vote on and choose the winners. The Shiki Kukai is a long-running contest with two categories: one that requires a particular kigo (this month: geese), and one that is free format but on a particular theme (this month: weaving). If either of those themes inspire you, check out the rules and give it a try.
And for those who just can’t get enough competition … If you checked out the Haiku Foundation’s Facebook page as I advised you to do last week, you’ll know that they are now running a Facebook haiku contest. Through the end of November, anyone can enter one haiku in the contest by posting it on the page in the comment section following the contest announcement. The top three (as judged by Jim Kacian, Haiku Foundation founder) will get prizes. And glory, of course.
There are lots of entries already. Go check them out even if you’re not sure you want to enter the contest. I’ve found that this is a great forum just to get your haiku looked at by other poets and get a little feedback, so you might want to think of that as your goal rather than winning the contest. I certainly am. 🙂
And more from the wonderful world of Facebook … Last week I shared with you a haiku in French by Vincent Hoarau, which he originally posted on Facebook. This week I will take mercy on the non-French-readers among you. A few days ago Vincent posted the following haiku, which he translated into English:
jour de pluie …
je pense à la mort
elle au berceau
rainy day …
i think about death
she about a cradle
And while I’m on the subject of haiku in French … I recently discovered on Twitter a Belgian haiku poet, Bill Bilquin. He posts new haiku several times a week; here’s my favorite from this week (French original, English translation by Bilquin):
presque trois ans
ses mots de plus en plus précis
nearly three years old
her words more and more precise
And while I’m on the subject of haiku in foreign languages … There’s a haiku translation site called “Versions” that I discovered a few weeks ago and have been very excited about. (Warning: Serious geek territory ahead.) You can enter your own haiku in your language, which will then be available for others to translate into their language(s). You can also translate the haiku of others. It’s searchable by author, so you can go look at the haiku of a poet you like and see all the different translations that have been made on the site of their haiku. It’s a lot of fun (if, as I say, you’re a complete language geek) to compare the different “versions.”
A caveat: although in theory the site is available to writers and translators of any language, for right now most of the haiku seem to be in, and to be translated into, either English or Russian. (It’s a Russian site.) This is great for those of us who know both those languages, but if you are more into, say, German, you won’t find nearly as much on the site to interest you. However, you will be doing us all a great service if you add more haiku and translations in other languages, so give it a try.
Here’s an example of a haiku by Lee Gurga and a couple of (very) different Russian translations of it. Bear with me — even if you don’t know Russian I’ll give you some idea what they’re all about:
Lee’s original haiku:
his side of it
her side of it.
(translation 1, by Versions user Боруко)
(translation 2, by Versions user A.G.)
твоё моё наше
The first translation is quite literal; if I saw it only in the original Russian I would probably render it back into English almost exactly as Lee originally wrote it. The second is very different — it’s more of a free interpretation, I would say, of Lee’s haiku than a translation. I might translate it back into English something like this:
yours mine ours
Which Lee might recognize as his haiku, and might not. Anyway, if you’re interested in translation, and especially if you know Russian (I realize that I am addressing a minuscule, possibly nonexistent, subset of my readership here, but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll geek out if I want to), you will certainly want to check this site out.
And on the subject of versions of things … Bill Kenney has started a new feature on his blog haiku-usa that he calls “afters.” That is, they are haiku “after” haiku of classical haiku poets — not translations per se (Bill doesn’t know Japanese), but loose interpretations, attempts to capture something of the feeling of the original. Here’s his first:
a bit drunkstepping lightlyin the spring windRyokan (1758-1831)
And more on the blog front … Andrew Phillips and I became acquainted with each other on Twitter this week and I’ve been enjoying checking out the haiku on his blog Pied Hill Prawns. An example:
possum’s nightly walk
And yet more bloggy matters … From Matt Holloway of Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a haiku I really enjoyed reading this week:
a tray of stored apples not yet a poem
And while we’re in one-line haiku mode: I’ve been blown away this week by the amazing contents of Marlene Mountain’s website. In case you don’t know about Marlene, she is something of a haiku legend; she’s been writing haiku since the sixties, and she was one of the first poets to work with haiku as one line in English.
Here’s a page showing some of her early 3-line haiku, and then the same haiku later rewritten as one line. Here’s a selection of her one-line haiku. (A wonderful example: off and on i’ve thought of you off and on.) Here are scans of some pages from her notebooks, showing her revisions — I love this kind of thing, getting to see into another writer’s mind as she works. Here are some of her “ink writings,” similar to haiga. Here are some wonderful things called “unaloud haiku,” and here are some really fun things called “visually aloud” haiku. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Marlene’s site is concerned. Enjoy!
And that’s all from the Haikuverse this week. Thanks for visiting.
So here we are again, exhibiting the peculiar human fascination with round numbers by celebrating my 300th blog post. It’s only fair that I should do this by letting some of you get a word in edgewise for a change — after all, without you there wouldn’t be a me. Or rather, there would, of course. I think. Or is it like the tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it?
Anyway. You’re all such great listeners. And responders. The comments on this blog are like food and drink to me, and I say that as a person with more than a passing interest in food and drink. I have a suspicion I might have given up this whole crazy enterprise long ago if it weren’t for all of you, jollying me along, telling me politely what’s what, suggesting I might want to rethink one or two things, and just generally making me feel like I knew something but not too much, which is the right attitude to encourage in a blatant newcomer to any enterprise. There is some kind of charmed atmosphere around this blog which I can only attribute to the kind, thoughtful, and intelligent way all of you have received me, and each other.
These contributions were all so wonderful to read and made me feel luckier than ever. I loved seeing tanka and haiga among the contributions as well as haiku — I can’t do those things, or at least I haven’t tried yet, so it’s nice to have readers who can and are willing to share. I’ve posted all the contributions in the order they arrived in my email inbox. I hope you all enjoy.
Note: There were four haikuists who took up my (tongue-in-cheek) challenge to use the number 300 in their haiku in some way. They earn the promised bonus points, though I’m not quite sure yet what those can be redeemed for. 🙂 Congrats to Alan Summers, Steve Mitchell (tricky, that one), Max Stites, and Rick Daddario.
at the cafe . . .
caught in the firing line
of the poetry slam
(Previously published, Modern Haiku, Vol. XXX, No. 1, Winter-Spring, 1999)
— Charlotte Digregorio, charlottedigregorio.wordpress.com
was played on that New Year’s Eve
that’s all that was needed
to fall in love
from my home to Hull
a renga love verse
goodnight to the needlemouse*
as I check the stars
(Previously published, Presence magazine [September 2010] ISSN 1366-5367)
*Linguistic notes on the word “needlemouse”:
Kanji: 針鼠 or 蝟
Combination Meaning: needle ( ハリ) mouse (ネズミ)
— Alan Summers, area17.blogspot.com/
the last of his regulars
— Stacey Wilson, theoddinkwell.com and inkwellwhispers.com
buried among fall debris–
(unpublished, inspired by the post “acorn time”)
in the bare willows —
the shape of longing
— Alegria Imperial, jornales.wordpress.com
Down this road – alone
silent, solitary, still
watching autumn fall.
(after Basho’s Kono michi ya!)
— Margaret Dornaus, haikudoodle.wordpress.com
when did my father grow
an old man’s neck?
(Previously published, Frogpond, Fall 2006)
sprinkling her ashes
on the rocks at high tide
the long walk back
(From the haibun, In the Air [Planet, The Welsh Internationalist Spring 2007])
— Lynne Rees, www.lynnerees.com
the last but the most vivid
the scent of their soft touch
on my cheek
first serial publication
when I started drinking
(Previously published, bottle rockets #22)
haiku history lecture
(Previously published, tinywords 9.1)
— Aubrie Cox, aubriecox.wordpress.com
Bird told me
— Laz Freedman, lazfreedman.wordpress.com
crow lands on post
carries a grasshopper
can’t talk now
I regard nature, but wait —
I am nature
— Steve Mitchell, heednotsteve.wordpress.com
I want to believe
the earth tugging
at my footsteps
(These two both took first place in the Shiki Kukai for the months in which they were submitted. I regard the first of them as my “signature haiku.”)
— Bill Kenney, haiku-usa.blogspot.com
seagulls gather on the beach
then fly away
(From Poems from Oostburg, Wisconsin: ellenolinger.wordpress.com)
turning the page
of a new book
branch of gold leaves
(From New Poems: Inspired by the Psalms and Nature: elingrace.wordpress.com)
— Ellen Olinger
the photo booth
becomes a grave-marker
how nice to see the sun
— Ashley Capes, ashleycapes.wordpress.com/
three hundred facebook friends when
haiku are three lines
three fluttering notes
drift through the passage to find
the player and score
— Max Stites, outspokenomphaloskeptic.wordpress.com
a solitary bird calls to the space between lightning and thunder
(Previously published, http://tinywords.com/2010/08/11/2175/)
— Angie Werren, triflings.wordpress.com/
— Rick Daddario, www.rickdaddario.com/, 19planets.wordpress.com/, wrick.gather.com, www.cafeshops.com/19planets
eight syllables only
to tap your haiku
across my wall
— Lawrence Congdon, novaheart.wordpress.com
sharing full moon
with all the world’s
inspire each other
— Kerstin Neumann
overcast midday sky-
her shrill voice calling
the ducks home
— Devika Jyothi
(don’t forget my invitation)
I recently read the Japanese modern classic novel Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata, which I recommend without reservation to anyone who likes both novels and haiku. Here’s why:
“Kawabata has been put, I think rightly, in a literary line that can be traced back to seventeenth-century haiku masters. Haiku are tiny seventeen-syllable poems that seek to convey a sudden awareness of beauty by a mating of opposite or incongruous terms. Thus the classical haiku characteristically fuses motion and stillness. Similarly Kawabata relies very heavily on a mingling of the senses. In Snow Country we come upon the roaring silence of a winter night, for instance, or the round softness of the sound of running water, or, in a somewhat more elaborate figure, the sound of a bell, far back in the singing of a teakettle, suddenly becomes a woman’s feet. …
“The haiku manner presents a great challenge to the novelist. The manner is notable for its terseness and austerity, so that his novel must rather be like a series of brief flashes in a void.”
— Edward G. Seidensticker, from the introduction to his translation of Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
I was totally fascinated by the idea of a novel inspired by haiku — two literary forms that on the surface could not possibly be more different. The novel, as it happens, is actually my favorite literary form; I just can’t write them (and believe me I’ve tried) because my attention span is not nearly long enough, which is why I write haiku instead. And much as I love the challenge of trying to recreate an experience and an insight in the few lines of a haiku, I frequently find myself frustrated by the tininess of its canvas — hence all my haiku sequences and narratives.
I love Seidensticker’s definition of haiku (another one to add to the collection on my mantelpiece) as “tiny seventeen-syllable poems that seek to convey a sudden awareness of beauty by a mating of opposite or incongruous terms.”
I was also really interested in Seidensticker’s further description of haiku as a fusion of “motion and stillness.” Something to think about. Does he mean literally motion and stillness, or something more like concrete images, an engagement with the physical world, vs. abstract insight or internal activity? That he then goes to equate this with “a mingling of the senses” confuses the issue further for me — does this imply that mixing senses creates a kind of movement in the poem and in the novel?
There is certainly not much literal movement in the novel; all that happens in it is that a pretentious, self-involved guy from Tokyo goes several times over several years to a mountain resort to visit a particular young geisha with whom he is — not exactly in love, but in fascination. There are only a few other characters who are named or described in any detail, and most of the book consists of conversations between the two main characters, detailed descriptions of their surroundings, and the thoughts of the male protagonist (the viewpoint is third-person limited, so we don’t get to find out what the geisha is thinking).
“Brief flashes in a void” — this is an excellent description of the overall impression the novel gives. There are the mountains, the snow, a fairly incoherent relationship between two people, all these things seeming blank and quiet, a canvas on which appear sudden splatters of awareness much like the condensed expression of awareness of a haiku, powerful, vivid descriptions of sights, sounds, feelings. They seem to be drawing the man from Tokyo forward, toward some kind of decision or personal change — though what kind, we’re not in the end quite sure. Here’s an example:
“From behind the rock, the cedars threw up their trunks in perfectly straight lines, so high that he could see the tops only by arching his back. The dark needles blocked out the sky, and the stillness seemed to be singing quietly. The trunk against which Shimamura leaned was the oldest of all. For some reason all the branches on the north side had withered, and their tips broken and fallen, they looked like stakes driven into the trunk with their sharp ends out, to make a terrible weapon for some god.”
— Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country, p. 30 (Perigee Books edition)
Here are the mixture of senses — sight, sound, touch — that Seidensticker refers to, and also the fusion of motion and stillness — this is a static picture of some trees and yet they are described in terms of active movement — they “threw up their trunks,” the needles “blocked out the sky,” they are ready, most shockingly, to be used as “a terrible weapon for some god.” There is both beauty and harshness and cruelty in this scene, as there is in the relationship between the two main characters.
There are several passages that you can easily imagine a classical haiku poet seizing on as material, like this one:
“Before a white wall, shaded by eaves, a little girl in ‘mountain trousers’ and an orange-red flannel kimono, clearly brand-new, was bouncing a rubber ball. For Shimamura, there was autumn in the little scene.”
— Kawabata, p. 109
in her new red kimono
she bounces a ball
or this one:
“[A building is on fire.] At the edge of the garden, withering chrysanthemums were silhouetted against the light from the inn — or the starlight. For an instant he almost thought it was the light from the fire.”
— Kawabata, p. 163
withering in the light
from the stars
The final pages of the novel, the content of which I won’t discuss here because I hate spoilers, are a tour de force of sense-mixing, of powerful incongruities, of stillness and motion fused in the purest way imaginable. And the final line, just to give you a sense of how haiku-like Kawabata can be, is: “the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar.” There are some modern haiku poets (and I might be one of them) for whom that would be a perfect, complete one-line haiku.
Don’t you want to go read it now instead of reading my long, boring treatise on it? Or did you stop reading my treatise a long time ago and go buy it or score it from the library? Either way, good for you.
Postscript: Via a link to “possibly related posts” at the bottom of this entry I discovered the following closely related essay by an Indian writer — she discusses both Snow Country and another Kawabata novel. Very interesting perspective.
canoe in the shallows
the silence of fish and water
make noise together
(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)
“This is another old-time favorite of the Japanese haiku masters, but one they have used very little and with a great deal of discretion. It is simply to speak of the sensory aspect of a thing and then change to another sensory organ. Usually it involves hearing something one sees or vice versa or to switch between seeing and tasting.
the taste of well-water
– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques
planes dance together
at the door
your bruised face
Yeah, okay, Jane, there’s a reason the “Japanese haiku masters” used this technique “very little and with a great deal of discretion.” It’s impossible, that’s why. Trying to write these made me feel like I understood what it must be like to write poetry in a foreign language. (Hmm…I should try that sometime…) I didn’t really understand what I was doing or why. But I did it. Let it never be said about me that I shirked my homework. Now can I do something else, please?
(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)
“…most of the surprises of life are the contrasts, and therefore this technique is a major one for haiku.
“long hard rain
hanging in the willows
tender new leaves”
— Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques
warning cries of birds
hot clearing in the grass
we lie unspeaking
smell of cut grass —
on the flowerbed
before the storm
white sky turns black
flight of cardinal
rain in the night
another rainy night
rain all night
dreams full of
I wrote ten haiku this morning that all started with the line “rain all night.” (It rained all night.) I didn’t like most of them very much. The one above was the one I liked the most. Here are a few of the others — if you like one of them better (or at all), feel free to let me know. And why.
rain all night
sun in the morning —
rain all night
muffles early birdsong
silence in my dreams
rain all night
dreams fill up
rain all night
is this what
drowning feels like
rain all night
throat so dry
I can’t swallow
The other day I came across a funny (but serious) essay on the subject of rhyme in haiku, with some general discussion of what exactly makes a haiku a haiku: “Can a Haiku Rhyme?“, by Chuck from “Unbecoming Levity.” Chuck’s friend Brian doesn’t like rhyme in haiku, but Chuck (in company with most haiku authorities, if that’s not an oxymoron) doesn’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed:
There’s a reason why Frost chose to say “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep.” instead of “But I’ve got obligations / And a long way to go before I hit the sack.”
I hadn’t thought much about this subject before, which is interesting because unlike some contemporary poets (and like Chuck), I don’t object to rhyme in poetry. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a slight free-verse fear which I can usually only manage to overcome by introducing some element of unfreedom — either meter or rhyme, however loosely construed. (I sometimes express this as, “I can’t decide what word to put here, so I think I’ll pick the one that rhymes with the word at the end of the line before last.” There is a reason I’m not putting these poems up on this blog. Or any other.)
I don’t have these rhyming impulses when I write haiku, though, so I was interested to hear that at least some people do, sometimes. I went looking for more information on the subject, starting with one of the sources Chuck cites: “Rhyming Haiku“, by Charles Trumbull. This is a much dryer consideration of the subject, but it has a lot of nice examples of rhyming haiku, including a comparison of several translations of a Basho haiku with the (I think correct) conclusion that the rhyming translation is the best one:
into the rocks it pierces
(Basho, translated by Harold Henderson)
Then I remembered that Alexey Andreyev had something to say about rhyming haiku in his essay — not surprising, since modern Russian poetry is much more likely than modern English poetry to rhyme:
Some modern poets tend to claim that rhymes (pace, alliteration, etc.) are “unnatural.” I consider such people immature and LAZY*; and usually I reply that correct spelling is also “unnatural,” not even talking about writing “from left-to-right” which is “unnatural” not only for left-handed people and Arabs but also for the very haiku inventors, ancient Japanese, who wrote their texts “from-top-to-bottom”!
So, my point is that poetry is honest with a fluent language; good eyesight plus a good-working tongue. Thus, if you have keen eyes — fine! If you also speak “the higher language” where rhymes appear as naturally and fluently as correct spelling — it won’t make any harm but only some benefit; and rhymed haiku will be “haiku plus something,” not “haiku minus something”: …[Example:]
some lights far away,
some drops on the pane
— Alexey Andreyev
I’ll finish with some thoughtful words from a great essay called “Haiku Rules” by Dr. Gabi Greve. In it Greve considers, and then reconsiders, numerous “rules” about haiku that have been proposed at one time or another. She has mixed feelings about rhyme in haiku:
>Do not use end rhyme.
End rhyme sometimes occurs in English and very often in Japanese haiku. The problem with end rhyme in English is that it has the tendency to ‘close down’ the ku, to finish it off when you really wish to keep the ku open and reverberating in the reader’s mind. Also, our poetry reading habits have conditioned us to grasp the rhyme and think we ‘have’ the poem. Haiku offer so much more, it is a shame to let the rhyme finish the poem.
>Do not use internal rhyme or repeated sounds for their own sake.
Why not? The Japanese do and did it all the time. In fact, they admire poems using this technique skillfully. Why deny the tool for us?
So there you have it. As with so much else in haiku: four poets, four opinions. What’s mine?
a moment in time
*Editorial comment: Check out Andreyev’s use of all-caps throughout his essay. It’s so heartfelt it kills me.