a jumble of flowers: some news

a jumble of
flowers planted —
see, the little garden!

— Masaoka Shiki, translated by Janine Beichman

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I’m very excited/pleased/proud/terrified (circle as many as apply) to share the following announcement with you:

haijinx welcomes Melissa Allen as our newest regular columnist.

Melissa is well-known for her haiku blog Red Dragonfly, where she shares “short-form poetry as well as related commentary and essays and news about developments in the world of haiku.”

a jumble of flowers, Melissa’s column within the quarterly haijinx, will be her own unique overview of what’s happening in the haikai world online and off. The first column will be a part of our spring 2011 issue. If you have news or announcements you would like Melissa to consider, please send email to

jumble -at- haijinx -dot- org

haijinx publishes around the solstices and equinoxes each year. The first 2011 issue will be released on March 20th and the submission deadline for Melissa’s a jumble of flowers is March 8th. All other submissions are due by March 1st. For more information, please visit our submissions page.

Me again: If any of you don’t know about haijinx, it will be well worth your time to go check it out. I mean now — don’t wait until my column appears, for goodness’ sake. It’s a great journal with a focus on humor in haiku, recently revived after a several-year furlough by its founder and editor, Mark Brooks, and staffed by an impressive roster of poets including Mark, Carmen Sterba, Alan Summers, Roberta Beary, Tom Clausen, Richard Krawiec … I’m a little awed and humbled by being included in their company.

Also, that thing about sending me news? Yeah, we mean it. Conferences? Events? Contests? Publications? New (or old) exciting blogs or websites? Anything? Anything? Shoot it to the email address above. Otherwise I’m going to have to comb the Web myself looking for news and you never know, I might miss you. So brag yourself up.

Thanks, everyone.

February 6: You Say It’s Your Birthday

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for my birthday
I suppose
the moon
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For my birthday (yes, it’s today), I gave myself permission to write another haiku about the moon (despite their currency being even more debased than that of haiku about snow). Or rather, to post another haiku about the moon that I wrote a while ago and saved up for my birthday.

I’m giving myself another present, too. I decided to do this last weekend, when I had been sitting at my kitchen table staring at my computer for about nine hours, mostly performing various haiku-related chores delightful activities (no, seriously) like writing the Haikuverse and preparing journal submissions and replying to fascinating blog comments and visiting everybody else’s fascinating blogs and figuring out what tanka were all about anyway. Finally I realized it was going to be dark soon and I quickly stood up on my wobbly legs and put on my running shoes and headed outside.

The air was cold and the light was pure and as I walked the air started flowing more freely to my brain, and within about ten minutes I felt a sense of deep peace and I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “I give you permission not to blog every single day anymore. Because this is getting crazy.”

I know. I know I said I would post a haiku every day for a year, and it’s only been nine months and change. But think about it. Nine months is a long time. In nine months I could have created an entire new human being from scratch. (I’m familiar with the technique involved.) Though I did do this, in a way. I created, or rather re-created, myself.

Okay, melodrama. I know. I hate it too. But in this case I don’t feel that this is too strong a statement. Before I started this blog, I had been wandering around aimlessly through most of my adult life with an unfocused desire to write stuff, but not really sure what that stuff was, or what exactly I had to say. I never finished much of anything I started writing. I lost track of it halfway through; it stopped seeming important or interesting. I was starting to think maybe I wasn’t really a writer after all, except that I had an uncomfortable awareness that the only time I ever felt completely aware and fulfilled and alive was when I was writing something.

And then haiku came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and quietly told me to give it a try, and since I wasn’t doing much of anything else at the time I said, “Okay.” On a whim I wrote a few haiku, on a whim I started a blog. As it turned out, this was kind of like going to a party on a whim and meeting the love of your life. Yeah … we’ve been chatting each other up for the last nine months, haiku and I, finding out all the things we have in common, marveling at the similarity of our personal philosophies, sharing our hopes and dreams for the future … at this point, I have to say, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine living without each other.

Which is to say, the reasons for my promising, back in May, to post a haiku every day for a year have essentially been rendered moot. I wanted to make a commitment to a body of writing and not give up on it for a change. I wanted to heal myself of my perfectionism and my reluctance to put any writing out in the world in case someone saw it and laughed at it. Well, none of these things are problems anymore. In fact, the problem I have now is that I would rather write haiku, and read haiku, and write about reading and writing haiku, and communicate with my fellow haiku enthusiasts, than do pretty much anything else. And I have a lot of other things to do. You know, school, and work, and laundry, and interacting with my family more than five minutes a day.

Also, it was fine for a while for me to just write any old haiku and slap it up on the blog without much thought, because I didn’t really know any better. But if I want to grow as a poet I have to not just write a lot of haiku, I have to take the time to live with them, and think about them, and revise them, and make them not just good-enough, but the best they can be. I’m not talking about perfectionism, I’m talking about craftsmanship; I’m talking about artistic integrity … oh God, is this starting to sound pretentious?

You do know what I mean, don’t you? At some point it’s not respectful to your art, or to your audience, to produce too much. To churn out publications just for the sake of publication. I mean, I still write haiku like there’s no tomorrow, but it’s starting to make me slightly sick to post things here that either I think are not really worth anyone’s time to read, or else that I could make even better if I took the time. It’s not that I’m afraid that you’ll laugh at me and point as I walk by and say, “Look, there goes the mediocre haiku poet!” It’s more just that I’m resentful of the time I spend putting up poems on this site that I don’t respect a whole lot instead of writing better poems.

I’m not going away. And the site certainly isn’t going away, it will be here indefinitely as far as I’m concerned. I’ll probably still be posting two or three times a week — you know, when I have something worth saying. I hope you’ll think it’s worth saying, anyway. I hope you’ll keep dropping by. This blog has transformed my life so profoundly — and just writing haiku wouldn’t have done that on its own. The presence of all you fantastic readers, and correspondents, and supporters, and friends is what has made the biggest difference. Not writing in isolation, wondering if I’m crazy. (I mean of course I am crazy, but most of the time you’re nice enough not to point it out.)

Thanks for once again listening to me as I go on and on interminably. (Admit it — you’re a little relieved that you won’t have to deal with that every single day anymore, aren’t you?) Someday, I promise, I am going to learn to pare my prose down the way I pare down haiku.

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another slice
of birthday cake
and life

 

You Again: The 400th Post Bash

Another anniversary, another celebration. I have to say, these parties keep getting better and better. More people. More poetry. More kinds of poetry! In addition to haiku and haiku sequences and haiku sonnets and tanka and haiga and small stones, we have haibun* this time! (That’s how you know you’ve got a really great party going on — when the haibun shows up.)

And because this is a technology-forward blog (um, right), we’ve got an exciting new party activity this time — I created a Scribd doc to showcase your poetry and embedded it here. This allowed me to format stuff nicely (I mean, as nicely as someone who is completely lacking in graphic design talent and experience can format things) so you aren’t stuck looking at my horrible blog formatting of your brilliant words. And look at all the cool stuff you can do with it! Full-screen it! Download it! Print it! (No, I am not being paid by Scribd. I just really like new toys.)

I’m not going to blather on anymore because I know you’ve already stopped reading this and you’re scrolling through the document looking for your own poetry, or your friends’, or your kid’s. I’m just standing here in front of the mike talking to myself. I’d like to thank all the little people who helped me get this far … no, wait, that’s my Oscar speech. Actually, I would like to thank all the people who helped me get this far, but none of you are little, you all loom impressively gigantic in my mind. (Of course, I’m really short, so most of you probably are gigantic compared to me. What? Were you imagining me as some kind of six-foot Amazon or something?)

They’re making neck-slashing motions backstage now. Okay. Thanks for reading, and commenting, and making me laugh and making me think, and sending me your poetry to read, and giving me the day off* from writing. See you again tomorrow.

*I have to admit I cheated a little bit. I wrote the haiku for my friend Alex’s haibun. But it’s okay, right? Right? Alex doesn’t write haiku, but I love her prose, and we’ve collaborated before and I wanted to do it again. I hope it isn’t too annoying to have to read my haiku on the day you were supposed to get off from me.

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Please note that this doc has been revised a few times since it was first posted, to add in a couple of late submitters and fix some formatting problems. So if you haven’t looked at it since right after I posted or if you downloaded an early version, you might want to take another look. (I apologize to those whose poems’ formatting was off for a while.)

Easy Does It …

I want to write a whole series of posts about Abigail Freedman’s The Haiku Apprentice, which I just finished and found enlightening and thought-provoking in so many ways. But for right now I’ll just submit for your perusal a quotation by Barthes from the book’s foreword (written by Michael Dylan Welch, a wonderful haiku poet and essayist — you should check out his amazing website, Graceguts):

“Haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.”
— Roland Barthes

If this blog had a motto, that would probably be it. I started out (way back in May!) with pretty much utter ignorance of what haiku was, other than “a more-or-less seventeen-syllable, three-line poem that originated in Japan.” I decided to write them because they were short, and I have a short attention span. That’s it. That was my thought process. Yeah…I admit it. I thought it would be easy.

My state of blissful ignorance did not last long, of course. As everyone who writes haiku quickly finds, writing haiku — writing it well — is much, much (much) harder than it looks. I suppose, really, this is true of all writing, probably all artistic endeavor — how many of us have also been convinced that we could write the Great American Novel, if only, you know, we could think of something to write about, and then, um, write it well? Yeah. How’s that working out for you?

I do think, though, that with haiku it’s probably much easier to deceive yourself not only that you could write haiku well, but that you are writing it well. After all, don’t you have some nice images in your haiku? Doesn’t it sound pretty when you read it? Isn’t it kind of, you know, deep and meaningful? And it’s — let’s see — fourteen syllables, which is about the right amount. So why doesn’t anyone seem to like it but you (and maybe a few of your best friends)?

The antidote to this confusion probably lies in reading good haiku — really, really good haiku. Really, really good haiku are not just pretty poems — actually, they may not be (quite frequently aren’t) pretty at all. They don’t just have an interesting image or two, or some memorable phrases, or a nice sentiment. They don’t make you smile for a second and then slip out of your mind, leaving no lasting impression.

Really good haiku are like tiny earthquakes, or miniature bombs that explode in your brain. They change everything, permanently, even if only in some minute way that you may not be able to perceive or describe clearly. They leave you breathless for half a second (sometimes more). They make you realize that you’ve been blind, all your life, to some profound reality. When you read a really, really good haiku, it makes you feel like scraping all the nice-enough haiku that you’ve ever read (which for me includes about one percent of the ones I’ve written, the others not even rising to nice-enough status) straight off the plate into the garbage. Why eat Kraft macaroni and cheese when a three-star chef has lovingly concocted an exquisite dish for you?

It’s hard to know where to tell people to look to find really, really good haiku, because in my experience, even the best haiku poets mostly did/do not write haiku of only, or even mostly, that quality, and even the best journals don’t publish haiku of only, or even mostly, that quality. Of course, I suppose it depends on how picky you are — I am notoriously picky, about just about everything, but especially literature. (Or maybe it’s not pickiness, maybe I’m just not perceptive enough to see the value of the vast majority of haiku that just make me shrug and go, “Eh.”) This is why I’m not going to give any examples of my favorite haiku here — you have to decide for yourself what kind of haiku make your brain explode.

Probably the most important thing is to read lots and lots of haiku, in all the most reputable places you can find — I have lists of links to high-quality journals and classic haiku poets in my sidebar, for starters — and notice your reactions. Which ones bore you, which ones do you think are pretty good, which excite you immeasurably? What do you think is the reason for the difference?

Do you notice some of the same names recurring as the authors of your favorites? Go and read more by those poets, and start sorting out which of their haiku work for you and which don’t. If you determine that they belong to some particular haiku movement or school, read more haiku by other poets in that movement. Are those kind of haiku more likely to speak to you than others? Or does it not matter?

Write down your favorite haiku. Read them over and over. Think about what it is about them that you love. Go ahead, shamelessly imitate them. (You might not want to submit the imitations for publication, but it’s a useful exercise.) Then when you’re done imitating, what you need to do is to start writing like yourself again. Only, you know, better …

In my experience, most of these well-meaning measures serve mostly to convince you that the haiku you’ve been writing are, um, pretty bad. (Apologies to any great haiku writers who are reading this, although I wish you would stop and go write more haiku instead.) They won’t necessarily (although they might, you never know) make the ones you write in the future significantly better. Or not right away. But it’s useful information to have, that your haiku are not all that great. And in a way it’s inspiring, and challenging — when you’re functioning at a pretty low level, there are so very many ways to improve!

Okay, I did it again — started out with the intention to share a sentence with you and ended up writing a whole glob of verbiage that most of you, and justifiably so, won’t read. Run along now, and read something more interesting.

Don’t forget to write.