Category: occupations

Yorick in Moscow

Gravestones behind a hedge

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

The cemetery is full of trees. How do they dig the graves? You couldn’t get a backhoe between the trunks. Are there still gravediggers here, men with shovels making dark jokes about the things they unearth in the course of their work? I think about dying here and what it would be like to lie with my head against one set of roots and my feet against another. With a rock over my chest that told everyone my foreign name. People would walk back and forth over me, murmuring, in a tongue not my own, the first and last years I was alive. For decades I would dream my life, until the gravediggers retrieved me, held me up to the light, let the sun shine through my skull.

last frost
my footprint melted
into the soil

Contemporary Haibun Online, July 2011

The Rainbow Cafe

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We like to visit a co-op cafe in our Moscow neighborhood, one of the new private enterprises that Gorbachev has encouraged; they have more and better food than most of the state restaurants, and are never “Closed for Repairs” when the employees feel like taking a day off, never display “No Vacancy” signs when the place is empty. The staff are solicitous and polite, and apologetic if something on the menu doesn’t happen to be available, instead of incredulous that you might ever have expected it would be.

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winter flea market —
a wind-up doll
that’s already broken

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It drives the staff crazy if I order for myself instead of letting my boyfriend do it for me. For this reason, I make a point of always ordering for myself, and always before he does. They stare ferociously at him while I speak, and only after he gives a slight nod do they write down my order. Even after I’ve been doing this for months, they don’t yield on their principles. No one there ever asks me what I want.

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I eat my chicken Kiev watching them as they bustle from table to table with worried lines in their foreheads, as if they’re calculating profit margins in their heads. Butter drips down my chin. My boyfriend reaches over and wipes it off with a napkin.

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meteor shower
the wishes I make
in another language

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.Haibun Today 5:2, June 2011

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April 20: Punk Rock Haiku (Wildflowers in Progress)

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abandoned building site wildflowers in progress

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Daily Haiku, 4/18/2011

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A couple of months ago, my old friend John, whom I used to hang out with while he played guitar in his parents’ basement when we were still young enough to live with our parents (because, you know, we were still in school), sent me an MP3 file (“a what?” my 1988 self asks) of a song he had recorded in the basement of the house he lives in now with his wife and daughter and makes mortgage payments on. How does time pass like this?

Anyway, if you must know, it was a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s “Arms of Love,” done all Phil Spector-ish and Wall-of-Sound-y, with sleigh bells, no less. It was awesome. But that’s not the point here.

The point is that when I opened this file in iTunes, I noticed that in the “album” field it said “Wildflowers in Progress.” A small firecracker went off in my brain and I emailed him and said, “What is this thing it says for the album name?” and he wrote back and said (I quote), “It’s going to be the eventual title of the solo record I’ve been compiling tunes for for the last couple of years (got the name from an enclosure of flowers I saw on an off-ramp on I-81 on the way to New Jersey a few years back).”

Well, that was all very nice, but I wrote back and informed him that what it really was, was part of a haiku. And the next day I carried out my threat. See above.

Yes, that’s right: this is a six-word poem and I only wrote half of it. The less interesting half, needless to say. I mean, a phrase like “wildflowers in progress” is pretty close to being a haiku on its own — to get it all the way there you just need someone to pull some kind of workmanlike juxtaposition out of the air and tack it on somewhere, and that’s all I did.

I’m extremely grateful to John for tossing his amazing found poetry to me and letting me run away with it. (He still gets to use it as his album title, in case you were wondering.) And I’m even more grateful to him for tossing me, around the same time, this music-geek-worthy aphorism, which I have added to the lengthy file I am amassing of the seemingly infinite definitions of haiku:

“Haiku is kind of the punk rock of poetry. Three chords and the truth.”

Truth. It’s good to see someone identifying this as the key characteristic of haiku, rather than the number of syllables, or the presence of a seasonal reference, or some kind of structural requirement like juxtaposition or kireji, or the presence of a difficult-to-define quality like ma or yugen or karumi.

For the record, I find all those things really interesting to think about and work with, and recognize that in a poem as short as a haiku, the ability to surprise and enlighten the reader is greatly enhanced by the use of these time-honored techniques and concepts, which are vital to understand and master.

But that’s what haiku are, not what they’re about. What they’re about is the truth. If you don’t have some kind of truth to work with to begin with, nothing in your technique will conjure it into existence, and your haiku will be dead on the page.

Now I’m starting to sound all pompous and truthier-than-thou. I think I’ll have to let John save me from myself again. This is what else he says about writing haiku: It’s “deceptively simple. But insanely hard to do well. The difference between The Clash and some run-of-the-mill hardcore band, if you will.”

Well, okay. I have to admit it never occurred to me before to compare, say, Basho’s frogpond haiku to London Calling. But it works for me.

So my revised haiku-writing advice: Be true. But also: be punk. And pay attention the next time you’re driving through New Jersey. You never know what you’ll find.

April 4: Vietnam Era (Haibun)

Vietnam Era

Baby, baby, wash your hair in gravy!
Dry it out with bubble gum and send it to the navy.

We cling to the safety of a thick tree trunk, the three of us, four years old apiece, peering between the branches in satisfaction as our three-year-old victim cries in confusion. She isn’t even sure what we’re talking about—because, of course, what we’re talking about makes no sense—but she can tell we mean her harm. We mean her harm because she’s young and weak and we want to believe that we’re not. Because there are three of us and one of her. Because we have a sturdy tree to hide behind and she doesn’t. We are filled with blinding certainty and superiority until like lightning our tiny, white-haired, ferocious nursery-school teacher descends upon us, the wrath of God coming to punish us for our sins. “Go sit on the porch for the rest of recess!” she shouts. “How dare you make fun of someone like that, someone smaller than you! You should all be ashamed!” And just like that, we all are.

mute button
the last generation’s war
rages on the screen

 

 

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first published in Haibun Today 5:1, March 2011

March 31: Skinny Dipping (Prompted)

skinny dipping
the man in the moon
as shy as I am

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(NaHaiWriMo prompt for March 31st, per Alan Summers: Skin )

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So you all know there was this thing called NaHaiWriMo back in February, right? National Haiku Writing Month? Where the participants were supposed to write a haiku every day in the month of February? And about a zillion people did this, and wrote some fantastic haiku, and a lot of them got their inspiration by following prompts cooked up and posted on Facebook by Michael Dylan Welch, the First Vice-President of the Haiku Society of America and NaHaiWriMo founder?

And everyone had so much fun that they begged and whined until Michael appointed Alan Summers, who is a founding editor of haijinx and the proprietor of Area 17 and does a whole lot of other exciting things with haiku, to continue to provide haiku prompts on the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page for the month of March? And tons of people kept following along and having all kinds of fun and no one really wanted the fun to end?

Well, to my shock and delight, Michael decided to ask me to keep all these NaHaiWriMo groupies happy by providing prompts for the month of April (which happens to be National Poetry Month). So if you have a Facebook account, and you haven’t already “liked” the NaHaiWriMo page (see link above), go do that now, please, and then my prompts will start showing up in your news feed, and if you want you can even write haiku inspired by them (or haiku not inspired by them) and post them on the NaHaiWriMo page and be part of this whole wild movement.

If you don’t have and don’t want a Facebook account, fear not, I will also be posting the prompts here after I post them on Facebook, so you can follow along. If you want, you can post haiku inspired by the prompts on your own blog, if you have one. Or you can post them in my comments, and let me know if you’d like me to post them on Facebook for you. (Just be forewarned that if you post haiku here [or usually on Facebook for that matter], most journals will consider them previously published and therefore ineligible for further publication — haijinx being one notable exception, yay us.)

Now, it’s true that I have not actually been following most of the NaHaiWriMo prompts myself, in the sense of, you know, writing haiku about the topics given. (I’m ornery that way. Also really busy.) But I have been following the results of the NaHaiWriMo prompts, and I find them fascinating and wonderful. All kinds of people who might not ordinarily write haiku regularly have been doing so. They’ve been challenged to write about things they might not ordinarily think to write about. They’ve demonstrated the vast variety of haiku it’s possible to write on a single topic. They’ve developed a camaraderie, started to build a community.

So I am thrilled to have the honor of contributing to this amazing movement. (Also, any idea how much fun it is to brainstorm a long crazy list of haiku prompts? Really fun.)

Look for my prompt for April 1st to appear late tonight. (In seventeen or eighteen hours from the time I posted this, that is, for those of you who are so inconsiderate as to live in drastically different time zones from me.) See you then.

March 23: The Boys Emerge, from haijinx

summer dusk —
the boys emerge
with robots

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(haijinx IV:1, March 2011)

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For a fun time, you should all dial up the latest issue of haijinx. It was just sent out into the ether to seek its fortune yesterday, packed full of juicy and irresistible stuff. And I say this not just as someone who helped write it, but as an avid reader who is deeply impressed with the amazing work of all the contributors and of my fellow editors.

There are something like 36 pages of wonderful haiku, haibun, and haiga, there is phenomenal artwork by Kris Moon, there is a great writeup by Aubrie Cox telling you everything you ever wanted to know about NaHaiWriMo, there are reviews and articles galore. It’s nicely laid out, I love the color scheme, and it’s filled with great vibes because some incredibly nice people put it together.

Mark Brooks, our fearless leader, should get some kind of Herding Cats Award for spending the last couple of weeks chasing down the contributions of recalcitrant editors like, um, me, and forgoing vast quantities of sleep making sure every last detail was perfect and that his news editor didn’t get Newfoundland mixed up with New Zealand. (Look at how similar those names are, just look at them!)

I’m not going to quote anything from the issue here (well, except for my haiku above) because I don’t want anyone to think they can get away with skipping visiting it themselves. Go get a cup of tea, or pomegranate juice or absinthe or whatever it is cool people are drinking these days, and put up your feet for an hour or so and forget about the strange noise your car is making and the way it never seems to stop raining now that spring is finally here. There is poetry in the world. Do yourself a favor and read it.

March 17: Autumn Wind (in Wet Cement)

A haiku reading "autumn wind/blowing life/into haiku"

This looks like it’s from a printed page because it is. It’s from Wet Cement, which is a lovely little conference anthology from the “Cradle of American HaikuHaiku Society of America conference back in September. Mike Montreuil edited it, Aubrie Cox laid it out (check out her beloved Optima typeface) and Lidia Rozmus did some understated, beautiful artwork (in her usual style) for it. It was a delight to get it in the mail last week and be reminded of that wonderful weekend and so many of the wonderful poets I met.

The title comes from a haiku by Gayle Bull, the proprietress of Foundry Books, where part of the conference was held (and where I really need to get back to, soon, to check out the mind-blowing haiku section, because, ha ha, I don’t have enough to read). It is, fittingly, written in concrete on the ledge of a window in her shop. (Also in ink, on page 24 of the anthology.)

wet cement —
kids hide in the bushes
giggling

— Gayle Bull

March 9: What I Lost (Haibun)

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“If you want to see Dad before he dies, come now,” my sister tells me. “You can’t believe the pain he’s in.” I hang up, make the flight reservations and pack. Then, jittery with nervous energy, I note that there’s just time for me to go for a quick run before I need to leave for the airport.

I put my cell phone in my pocket before I set off, in case my sister has anything else to tell me.

childhood summers —
he combs my tangled hair
painlessly

The sidewalks are coated with ice. I try to run carefully. But a cardinal darts from a branch hanging across the walk, a flash of red that pulls my attention into the sky. Suddenly, I’m on my back, pain in every part of me, afraid, for just a minute, to try to move.

But I force myself to my feet and set off running again, even faster now, despite the ice, because of the ice. I’m young, I’m strong, no cancer will ever worm its way into me and break my bones from the inside out. I’m about to get on a plane and rise thirty-five thousand feet in the air and descend, alive, a thousand miles away.

Nothing else can ever hurt me.

deep inside
the snowbank —
a cell phone rings

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First published in Notes from the Gean 2:4, March 2011

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NaHaiWriMo, Week 4: On Being Weird

22    editing an elephant gray seems too vague
23    encoding fairy tales </eastofthesunwestofthemoon>
24    ovulation trying to locate the scent of apple
25    menstruation sinking lower in the waves
26    political protest a deathwatch beetle in the drum circle
27    the mouse in the kitchen does he also hear the owl
28    particles streaming from the sun we wait on this rock to receive them

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Whew. I made it.

I don’t know why this felt so hard. I’ve been writing haiku every day for ten months now. And, you know, sharing them with the reading public. I think it was just that I was trying to do something really different from what I usually do — trying to be weird and experimental, just kind of throw stuff against the wall and see what stuck.

And even though I told myself that this would be freeing and relaxing, I was surprised to find that I actually found it very stressful to try to come up with something Original and Interesting every day that I wasn’t incredibly embarrassed to let you guys see. Well, a lot of it I actually was incredibly embarrassed to let you guys see. This week may have started out the weirdest of all and then by the fifth day I was getting freaked out enough that I actually followed a couple of Michael Dylan Welch’s (excellent) NaHaiWriMo daily writing prompts, which until then I’d pretty much ignored in the spirit of experimental individualism. I just couldn’t take the pressure of marching to such a different drummer any more.

I thought sometimes this month of the title of the physicist Richard Feynman’s autobiography: “Why Do You Care What Other People Think?” This is a question his wife challenged him with when he was very young. Mostly Feynman didn’t care a lot what other people thought, which is part of what made him so brilliant. (The other part was that he was, you know, brilliant.)

So why do I care? I mean … no one scolded me for being too experimental this month, at least not out loud; people said nice things about the haiku they liked and politely kept their mouths shut about the ones that they didn’t. No one is ever mean to me on this blog. My readership didn’t go down, people didn’t unsubscribe. I still felt stupid and incompetent a lot of the time. Apparently I am way more insecure than I thought I was.

This worries me a little, because it must mean that most of the time I am trying to write haiku that I think other people will approve of. Of course this isn’t entirely bad, the point of writing is supposed to be communication after all, so if no one understands or likes what you’re writing … well, you can either carry on in the same vein hoping that future generations will be more enlightened, or you can seriously consider the possibility that there’s something wrong with your writing. But if you’re spending so much time worrying about what other people think that you never actually figure out what you think yourself, that’s a problem too.

Also, I think I freaked out a little at how good everyone else’s NaHaiWriMo stuff seemed to me. A lot of people seemed to take this exercise really seriously and put their best foot forward and come up with superlative work that really blew me away … and then there’s me, sitting in the corner tossing my word spaghetti at the wall, with a slightly village-idiot expression on my face.

Anyway. (She said defensively.) Just so you know, I wrote a lot of other haiku this month that are a lot more, you know, normal. You’ll probably be seeing a fair number of them in the next couple of months. So don’t unsubscribe! The worst is over … and I will be discussing my inferiority complex with my imaginary therapist, so don’t worry about me.

February 17: Numerical Order

“To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test” (New York Times)

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seven or eight
sparrows
count them again

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This haiku appeared on this blog last May, and on Haiku News last week (with the headline above).

For some reason, even though I wrote it in pretty much my first week of writing haiku, it is still one of my favorites of my own poems. Beginner’s luck, I guess.

Why do I like it so much? (You don’t have to ask so incredulously.) Well…first of all, there’s the whole “it’s true” thing. It’s impossible to count birds. (Impossible for me, anyway; maybe you’ve had better luck.) They keep moving. They’re transient, they’re transitory.

So many things in life are. You can’t pin them down. You look one minute and things look one way; the next minute they look entirely different. Don’t even ask about the differences between years.

But for some reason we (and by “we” I mean “I”) keep trying to get some kind of firm fix on the situation, whatever the situation is. Seven or eight sparrows? Well, does it matter? Rationally, no … but so much of life is spent trying to count those damn sparrows.

Also, I like numbers. I like numbers in general; I like arithmetic; I count things and add and subtract and multiply things all the time, just for the hell of it. Give me your phone number and I’ll tell you something interesting about the digits in, like, four seconds. “The sum of the first three digits is the product of the last two digits!” Or something. It’s a little weird. Kind of Junior Rain Man. (I do know the difference between the price of a car and the price of a candy bar, though.  So your longstanding suspicion that I really should be institutionalized has not yet been entirely confirmed.)

I like numbers in poetry because they are so specific. Other things being equal, generally the more specific a poem is the more powerful it is, so numbers to me seem like high-octane gas or something for poetry.

Gabi Greve, on her mindblowingly complete haiku website, has a great page about numbers in haiku. Here are a couple of my favorites of the examples she gives:

咲花をまつ一に梅二は櫻
saku hana o matsu ichi ni umi ni wa sakura

waiting for the cherry blossoms
one is the sea
two is the cherry tree

— Ishihara 石原重方

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ビタミン剤一日二錠瀧凍る
bitamiinzai ichi nichi ni joo taki kooru

vitamin pills
each day two of them –
the waterfall freezes

— Ono Shuka (Oono Shuka) 大野朱香

Also, Issa is great at haiku that feature numbers. (Does this surprise you? I thought not.) A few examples, all translated by David Lanoue (and if you want more you should go over to David’s spectacular database of Issa translations and type your favorite number in the search box):

three raindrops
and three or four
fireflies

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houses here and there
fly kites, three…four…
two

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three or five stars
by the time I fold it…
futon

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rainstorm–
two drops for the rice cake tub
three drops for the winnow

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lightning flash–
suddenly three people
face to face

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mid-river
on three or four stools…
evening cool

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cool air–
out of four gates
entering just one

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on four or five
slender blades of grass
autumn rain

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a five or six inch
red mandarin orange…
winter moon

and one of my favorites of all time —

first snowfall
one, two, three, four
five, six people

Interesting how many of these involve the kind of uncertainty about exact count that my own haiku does. I don’t remember whether I had read any Issa at the time I wrote it. I might have been shamelessly imitating him, or I might just have been trying to count sparrows. You try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

February 14 (Your Kiss)

your kiss
the last chocolate
in the box

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This first appeared on Gillena Cox’s blog Lunch Break a few days ago. It was her birthday, and she very sensibly solicited haiku about chocolate to make her life delicious during the first couple of weeks of February.

Gillena is a lovely person and poet (well, she’s an Aquarius, what do you expect?), go over there and wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and a belated happy birthday.

Haiku North America 2011 – Seattle, Washington

Logo for the Haiku North America Conference

Okay … forget everything else you’ve heard about where and when the Haiku North America conference will be held this summer. Just wipe it from your mind. This is the final, official, ultimate announcement about the conference. Only pay attention to this one. Got it?

Here goes: the official press release from the conference organizers:

Save the date! Haiku North America 2011 will be held August 3 to 7, 2011, in Seattle, Washington.

Members of the Haiku Northwest group have generously offered to host the 2011 conference and they have many exciting plans already in the works, including a harbor cruise. The conference itself will be held at the Seattle Center, at the foot of the Space Needle, providing easy access to haiku writing and walking opportunities such as Pike Place Market (via the monorail), the Olympic Sculpture Park, the Experience Music Project rock-and-roll museum and Science Fiction Museum, and countless other attractions—including fleet week and the Seafair festival, with the Blue Angels performing overhead.

The conference theme will be “Fifty Years of Haiku,” celebrating the past, present, and future of haiku in North America. The deadline for proposals has been extended to February 28, 2011 (http://www.haikunorthamerica.com/pages/2011.html), but sooner is better. Proposals do not have to fit the theme. If you’ve already submitted a proposal, please confirm with Michael Dylan Welch at WelchM@aol.com that you can come to Seattle on the new dates. Speakers already include Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, David Lanoue, Carlos Colón, Fay Aoyagi, Jim Kacian, Emiko Miyashita, George Swede, and many others.

Detailed information on registration, lodging, and the conference schedule will be available in March. For further information as it becomes available, please visit http://www.haikunorthamerica.com. And check out the new HNA blog at http://haikunorthamerica.wordpress.com/.

See you in Seattle!

Garry Gay, Paul Miller, Michael Dylan Welch
Haiku North America

See Me There, redux

Just a quick note to say that you should all go over and look at Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga blog see haiku here right now, because he has once again produced a masterful haiga from one of my haiku, this time one from my LYNX “First Snow” sequence.

This one is a (spectacularly beautiful, in an understated way) photo collage. One thing I find so exciting about Kuniharu-san’s work is the fact that he doesn’t stick to just one medium or one style in producing his haiga. He fits the art to the spirit of the haiku, and he is constantly experimenting and trying new things and pushing forward with his art. To be able to produce such high-quality artworks in such a variety of styles on a daily basis takes an artist who is committed both to playing and to working — the two essential activities an artist must engage in to be really successful.

I continue to be honored and amazed that Kuni-san has chosen my poetry to serve as inspiration for some of his art.

January 20: Different Melodies

New Year’s Eve —
the fiddler tries out
an unfamiliar tune
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birdsong
from the pine branches
evergreen

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mountain snow
trying to sing loud enough
for you to hear me
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These were my entries in Origa Olga Hooper’s recent “Calico Cat” contest, in which she asked haiku writers to use this sumi-e painting of hers as a prompt.

I really enjoy Origa’s sumi-e, but I was primarily attracted to this contest because of its bilingual nature: Origa accepted entries in both English and Russian and translated all of them into the other language. Then all the haiku appeared in both languages on her website for several days for everyone to read and discuss before the contest results were announced.

Russian geek that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some of my haiku translated into Russian by a native speaker. You can see the translations of my entries on this page (they’re entries number 173 to 175). They’re very clear, natural, faithful translations.

The contest produced a lot of great haiku and reading them all in two languages was a fun field trip for my brain. I learned a lot about both Russian and haiku this way.

If you know any other languages, I highly recommend that you try to find haiku written in them. The structure of other languages often makes possible different poetic effects than are available to us in English, or at least different than we normally employ. Forcing your brain out of its well-worn language ruts can help you find new ways to think about and express ideas. And that makes for more exciting poetry.

 

January 18 (A Fly Buzzing)

a fly buzzing
in the room where he died —
did he hear it?

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With apologies, of course, to Emily Dickinson.

The Japanese aren’t shy about including literary references in their haiku; there is a long tradition in Japan of poets carrying on a poetic dialogue with their predecessors, echoing each other’s lines, paying tribute to them or making fun of them, enlarging on them or playing with them. I think it’s much more difficult for Westerners to feel comfortable doing this. We want to be original, we want to come up with our own words. We want to be individuals.

I’ve been trying lately to take poems (not other haiku) that are important to me and use them as source material for haiku — not “found haiku” as I’ve done sometimes in the past, but my own haiku, building on or responding to the original poem. Mostly I haven’t been very successful, maybe because although I believe in this endeavor in theory, I am enough of a Westerner that it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I’m cheating. I feel like I might be trivializing the source material or creating trivial haiku.

I’m still not sure what I think about this one but I like it better than any of my other efforts. You can definitely read and appreciate it without any knowledge of Emily or her fly, but if you do have that knowledge, I think your understanding of it deepens.

And just as an aside, I am pretty sure that the last stanza of Dickinson’s poem might be the best description of what it’s like to die written by someone who hadn’t actually done so yet (but I hope I won’t have any occasion to find out if I’m right anytime soon):

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

– Emily Dickinson

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(Oh — and sorry if this post was a little bit of a downer for you. I am the kind of person who often gets very cheerful when I read sad poems or books or see sad movies, especially when they are amazing works of art. But I know not everyone feels the same way. Maybe you would feel better if I told you about the parody of Emily’s poem that my eleventh-grade English class (American Literature, natch) wrote to entertain one of our classmates who was home ill for a while. It began:

I heard a fly buzz – when I had mono –

Yeah — that was a great class. Thanks, Ms. Bryan, if you’re out there anywhere.)

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(in memoriam bradford allen reynolds 1/18/1964 – 7/1984)

Across the Haikuverse, No. 10: Bleak Midwinter Edition

One of my favorite Christmas songs (I remembered recently, when I was part of a hastily-thrown-together chorus that sang it for a New Year’s Eve celebration) is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. The first verse, in particular, is really a masterpiece of English poetry, full of humble but strong Anglo-Saxon words, not a single one unnecessary and no necessary one left out:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago.

— Christina Rossetti

There are obviously too many words and too much meter and rhyme and too many metaphors in this for it to be a haiku, though it does have the requisite elements of simplicity and clear, evocative images, and I think there’s some wabi-sabi and yugen going on here as well. And I see possibilities in that third line for some kind of avant-garde haiku:

snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow

Really, I think probably someone could rewrite this verse, or part of it, into an effective haiku, though I’ve been trying and not finding it so easy. Any of you like to give it a shot? Let me know what you come up with.

Anyway. It is definitely bleak midwinter here. Snow on snow indeed.  It’s nice that it’s not for so many of you — you dwellers in the tropics and subtropics and summery Southern Hemisphere. I like to imagine your lives, walking outside barefoot, wearing short sleeves, smelling flowers. (Well, those of you who aren’t flooded. I’m sorry about the flooded part. I hope no one has floated away.) I’m not really jealous, it will be our turn soon enough. And though I complain bitterly about the cold and can never seem to get really warm, there is something about this downtime, for both the earth and me, that I grudgingly appreciate. Cycles. The world is full of them, and best just to accept them.

Which reminds me. Aren’t we supposed to be taking a spin around the Haikuverse? Best get started on that before you get bored with my waxing philosophical and wander away, never to return.

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Haiku of the Week

That’s haiku, plural. As in, the haiku I saw on the Internet this week that most struck me as interesting for whatever reason (could be my discerning literary taste, could be the state of my digestion) and that I actually managed to remember to bookmark. (This whole process is an art, not a science.)

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Mark Holloway over at Beachcombing For the Landlocked has been on a roll this week. You should really just go over there and read everything he’s written lately because I had a hard time choosing just one. I settled on this one in the end:

moss growing on the roof tiles      unsuspected      metastasis

Mark Holloway

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This wonderful piece from a handful of stones isn’t a haiku, I suppose. Do I care? Not really.

A mushroom sprouts
from the base of the locust tree,
and it will not be distracted
from its small brown task.

— Tamra Hays

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In this piece Angie Werren from feathers did a nice job responding to the same ku on this prompt that I did this morning:

sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
counting trees

— Angie Werren

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This wonderful offering at Jars of Stars was originally posted on Twitter by @cirrusdream, otherwise known as Polona:

winter thaw
i ignore
his white lie

— Polona (@cirrusdream)

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Another one of Bill Kenney’s “afters” appeared at haiku-usa (maybe I appreciated this one because I’ve been having weird dreams lately myself):

piercing cold
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream

— Soseki 1867-1916

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Also at haiku-usa, Bill points us to a collection of his “urban haiku” recently featured on Gabi Greve’s Haiku Topics and Keywords blog. Gabi also links to works by many other authors of such “urban haiku” (i.e., haiku that reflects the reality of the lives of most modern writers of haiku, who live not in pastoral Japan or pastoral anywhere, but in bustling outposts of the global economy). An example from Alan Summers:

Waterloo sunset
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map

— Alan Summers

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Every week there’s at least one something at Blue Willow Haiku World that I feel like reading over and over — usually several somethings. This week my favorite was this one:

月の汚れやすくてかなしき手   黒田杏子
ichigatsu no yogoreyasukute kanashiki te

January
hands that are easy
to get dirty and sad
— Momoko Kuroda, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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And while we’re on the topic of Fay Aoyagi (I never mind being on the topic of Fay Aoyagi), someone on Facebook (MDW — was that you?) recently reminded me about the wonderful series of essays she wrote several years ago for Frogpond about non-traditional use of kigo in haiku. I could swear I’ve read this entire series on the Interwebs, either on Frogpond’s site or Fay’s own, but I can’t seem to find any of them now except this one: “Haiku Traditions: Flowers and Plants.” But just this one will take you a long way. Fay discusses how traditional Japanese kigo like “cherry blossoms,” which are so evocative in their own culture, have given way in her own poetry to seasonal terms or keywords that are more meaningful to the American culture she now inhabits:

While cherry blossoms symbolize where I came from, roses represent Western culture and where I am now.  I think roses demand a lot of care.  To have a gorgeous, perfect flower, one has to tend them with water, fertilizers and pesticides.  Roses are somewhat the manifestation of my borrowed culture.  “Rose” itself is a summer kigo, but I prefer to use it in a winter setting.  I can put contradictory feelings or images together in this way.

winter roses—
I am tired of reading
between the lines
— Fay Aoyagi

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OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)

Every week I am amazed at how many cool haiku-related sites I have yet to discover. Since I have been thinking about venturing into haiga territory in collaboration with my amateur photographer husband, I went noodling around this week looking for haiga online and discovered … Haigaonline. (Warning: this link will lead you to a page where there are sounds of sparrows twittering and some music, which is sweet and pretty but if you’re in a quiet place or just not in the mood, you may want to hit the “mute” button.)

The December 2010 issue of this online journal features lots of good stuff, including a feature on “family haiga” — lots of husband-and-wife teams, so I appreciated that. What I really loved, though, was an exhibit of “experimental haiga” by Renee Owen — they’re colorful collages with intriguing haiku, such as:

waiting for God
to finish creation
leftover rocks
— Renee Owen

And yes you MUST go look at the picture! That’s the entire point! Click! Click! I think the link will just bring you to a page of thumbnails, all of which are worth looking at, but the one I’ve quoted above can be found if you click on the picture of columns in the bottom center.
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And I’m always looking for good haibun, so I was excited to stumble on Hortensia Anderson’s site The Plenitude of Emptiness. All haibun, all the time! I’m trying to write more haibun so I will be dropping by here often.

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Tanka Corner

I’ve been making some headway lately in my ongoing quest to get over my fear of tanka. I was helped recently in my endeavor by my discovery of this mind-blower over at Michele Harvey’s site. This is not only one of my favorite tanka I’ve ever read, it’s some of the best poetry I’ve read lately, period.

a fall cricket
sings alone on the porch
I too, wonder
about being born too late
or too soon

— Michele Harvey

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Alegria Imperial also published some wonderful trilingual tanka (English, Spanish, and the native Philippine language Iluko) over at qarrtsiluni this week. I have long been a fan of Alegria’s multilingual poetry, it is so amazingly dense with meaning and emotional resonance. And as usual at qarrtsiluni, there is an audio file so you can hear Alegria reading her beautiful words. Please check it out!

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Renku Everywhere

With the new year, the thoughts of many seem to be turning to starting new renku. Over at Issa’s Snail, Ashley Capes has done a nice site redesign and, after a long hiatus, has started up a couple of new junicho, with a third possibly in the works. I think most of these have filled up with participants already but it’s still fun to watch the process of a renku in the making, which you can do by reading the comments on the site. The “sabaki” or renku leader guides the group in choosing subject matter and making sure the poem flows and doesn’t repeat itself in theme or language, which is no easy task, but Ashley (I know from personal experience) is great at doing this. Plus he is just an all-around nice guy who is easy and fun to work with.

The same can be said of Willie Sorlien, who is currently guiding the development of a shisan renku at Green Tea and Bird Song. Again, don’t think they’re looking for new participants, but it might be worthwhile watching how it’s done by the pros before you leap in on your own.

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Haiku in the News

Haiku made an appearance in the mass media this week in the form of a lengthy radio interview on NPR’s “On Point” show with haiku venerables George Swede and Dylan Tweney and an economist named Stephen Ziliak, who wrote an article making a fascinating connection between economic models and haiku. An excerpt from Ziliak’s article:

The typical haiku budget constraint is limited by three lines of seventeen syllables. Basho himself understood well the joyful paradox of haiku economics: less is more, and more is better!

Stephen Ziliak

This was a fun interview to listen to — I especially enjoyed George Swede’s anecdote about his son, who as a fifth-grader took up a position as a conscientious objector by refusing to do as he was instructed by his teacher and write a haiku in 5-7-5. He wrote some twelve-syllable haiku instead and got them published in Modern Haiku (which at the time accepted haiku from students). Then his teacher was all impressed and wanted to put them in the school yearbook, but the young Swede told her (I’m sure in very well-mannered language) where she could put her yearbook. Go ahead and stream this one while you’re making dinner or something tonight, you won’t be sorry.

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The News in Haiku


Is everyone getting psyched up for NaHaiWriMo (remember, that’s the thing where you can sign up to write a haiku a day in the month of February)? Michael Dylan Welch has put together a website for the event so now you don’t need to be on Facebook to sign up (although go ahead and like the Facebook page too if you want). Think about it.

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A call for submissions for a new issue of haijinx has gone out (deadline: March 1), along with the exciting news that Roberta Beary will be their new haibun editor. Roberta is one of the best writers of haibun around so I can’t wait to see what she picks out. Also new on the haijinx website: Richard Krawiec’s latest installment of his column “Shooting My Poetry Mouth Off.” This month he implores us haiku poets not to try to publish everything we write but to be selective and try to recognize our best work, which will not only benefit us personally (since our poetic reputations will not be sullied by inferior work), but also haiku as a genre, since the journals will not be flooded with mediocre work. Worth reading and thinking about.

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Dead Tree News

Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694. The first great master of haikai/haiku. Where on earth did he come from?

It’s a little like asking where Shakespeare (1564-1616) came from, in my opinion. I mean you can see how before and all around Shakespeare, English writers were producing supple, lively, image-rich poems and plays, much of it in a natural and flexible blank verse — really, nobody could do English like the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, at the moment when modern English was brand new and no one had gotten around to inventing rules for it yet so writers had no compunction about bending the language to their will. That was the glorious and fortunate tradition Shakespeare was working in, but nobody else was Shakespeare, before or after.

So pity poor Donald Keene, who in chapters four and five of World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 has the unenviable job of explaining how the often-pleasant-and-skillful, but usually not much more, haikai of the haijin that preceded Basho produced the unparalleled haikai genius that is Basho. In the end, about all he can do is trace the literary movements that Basho’s work responded to and grew out of, and then throw up his hands and say, “The rest — that’s just Basho.”

As I discussed in Haikuverse No. 8, Basho was influenced by both the careful craftsmanship of the Teitoku school of haikai and the iconoclasm and experimentation of the Danrin school, as well as by his intensive study of Chinese verse and by his interest in Zen Buddhism. But he didn’t just sit around studying and writing poetry; he spent much of his life traveling around Japan, living at various times both in the city and in the country, meeting people, seeing things, gathering material. As Keene points out, “Haikai shared the literary spirit of the great Chinese and Japanese masters, and the Zen quality of … poet … Han Shan, but it had its own domain too, in the familiar and even vulgar activities of contemporary life.”

It’s when Keene discusses Basho’s masterpieces that his efforts to relate Basho’s genius to his poetic predecessors break down. Basho was just Basho; his vision was unique. In his most famous poem, the frog pond haiku furuike ya, Keene points out, “The ancient pond is eternal, but in order for us to become aware of its eternity there must be some momentary disruption…This verse is about stillness, yet only by sound can we know silence.” He contrasts Basho’s first line here (“old pond”) with the well-meaning and not unskillful suggestion of one of his disciples, “the yellow roses”:

[A]lthough the picture of yellow flowers surrounding the frog … is visually appealing, it lacks the eternity of ‘ancient pond.’ … Only by suggesting the age of the pond, its unchanging nature, is the momentary life of the frog evoked. This was the kind of understanding Basho demanded. He believed that the smallest flower or insect if properly seen and understood could suggest all of creation, and each had its reason for existence.

— Donald Keene, World Within Walls

By the end of his life Basho’s poetic ideal was karumi, or “lightness,” “a word used in contrast to technical finish or decorative effects.” Basho was seeing ever deeper into the hearts of things, in a way no haikai poet had done before and few if any have done since. He was going past the words into the essence.

What Keene’s discussion made me want to do more than ever was just sit down with Basho himself and engage with him, rather than the ideas about him. So that’s what’s on the agenda for this week. Feel free to join me.

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And thanks again for letting me ramble on at length; special thanks to those of you who actually made it to the end of this post. Love, love, love making these trips with you. It may seem like I’m the guide but I assure you I’m learning the territory as I go. There is still so much more of the Haikuverse left to explore, hope you’ll keep me company as I wander.

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.)

Someone Else: Rick Daddario

So the other day I pasted three haiku from my blog comments into a document on my computer and noted with satisfaction that yet another round number had been achieved: Rick Daddario had just left his 100th haiku as a comment on this blog. And I know I am going to be celebrating all my amazing commenters in just a couple of days, but I had long planned to feature Rick in a post of his own as soon as he hit 100 haiku (which I had no doubt he would), and this is when it happened, so here goes.

Rick has been commenting here prolifically, entertainingly, thoughtfully, helpfully, philosophically, supportively, and … oh, let’s not forget ramblingly … since back in June, which is almost as long as this blog has been around. There is no such thing as a pointless or boring comment from Rick. (Well, okay, maybe a little pointless. But in a good way. You know, the way surrealism is pointless. But definitely not boring.) It is so much fun having him around. Also, he writes some very cool haiku. (“Cool” is one of Rick’s favorite words.)

I’ve scattered just a sampling of my favorites of Rick’s ku down below, rambling all over the page in a way I hope Rick can relate to. Also, I’ve tried to link whenever possible to the original post that Rick was referring to, because a lot of the connections he makes between my ku and ideas and his are really interesting.

I hope you go check out Rick’s own blog, 19 Planets, where he mostly features his fascinating art (which I appreciate but can’t say much intelligent about because I am woefully ignorant about visual art), lots of which has words on it (I really appreciate that part). He also has some cool audience-participation activities on his site, including the great ku-me and the brand-new ku-on.

(By the way, there are several other people who have left me tons of ku in my comments. Rest assured, their turns are coming.)

Okay. Without further ado, heeeeeeeeeere’s Rick.

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breath count
slowing the wings
of a butterfly

one Buddha
a perfect circle
on the road

 

muddy hand
against the wall
a street poet

 

wet feet
in the water
a dance

 

butterfly breeze
the flapping of lace
curtains

 

the shadow
around this keyhole
a locked door

 

the rain stops
outside my window
the crickets

 

 

wild life
the dance floor
a beehive

 

 

ku-me your ku
across a red dragonfly
splattering mud

 

carving the damp soil
taking away the spatter
yellow mud dauber

 

 

wet ink
on her shoulder
red dragonfly

 

crickets tonight
the passing rain clouds
have left music

 

fireflies
above the creek
a roadway

 

summer tea
the temperature
of moonlight

 

bed bound
in the tree house
a nestling

 

dandelion fluff
the last mouthful
of summer wine

 

 

lost ticket
the journey begins
now

 

big moon
the sky has become small
in my old age

 

a crash
of fallen leaves
red

 

 

 

groggy mind ~
this mountain veil
of volcanic haze

 

white birch
hidden in the snow
exclamation point

 

 

around in a circle
voices back and forth
a round in a circle

 

midnight
the stars so sharp
my eyes ache

 

 

upside down can
the garbage truck moves on
life

 

back eddy
this slow current
of childhood

 

 

the light tink
of rain in the gutter
storm break

 

 

constellations ~
each snowflake
in perfect place

 

the Milky way
a sprinkle of salt
in ink

 

the milky way
laughing so hard tonight
it comes out my nose

 

night blossom
beyond this dark tunnel
the moon

 

frog blossom
ripples in the pond
leave a moon

 

more moon
through avocado leaves
a soft glow

December 29: Moon Marathon

nearly full moon not nearly enough

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I went too far again a slice off the moon

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and again I apologize for the moon

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dead broke but there’s the moon

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with or without you the moon

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I fail again at trying the moon

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all the time I’ve spent being someone else the moon

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don’t kid yourself you’ll never be the moon

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so we were driving out to the East Coast for Christmas (which takes eighteen hours) and as usual I just sat in the car and looked out the window and napped and daydreamed and didn’t read or write or talk or do much of anything else, until suddenly around 10:00 p.m. I decided it would be a good idea to haul out my little all-purpose notebook (it’s a score pad! it’s a grocery list! it’s a sketchbook! it’s a haiku repository!) and write haiku in the dark and hope they would be legible in the morning.

and the moon was incredibly cool, just off full and shooting around in and out of the clouds, so most of what I wrote was about the moon, like fifty-something haiku in just over an hour, and you know what that means? most of them were crap. but that’s okay, it was fun, and a few of them were pretty good, and several were not bad, and a reasonable number were all right in a sort of a limited way for an off night (apologies to Paul Simon), which is mostly the kind I have posted here because the ones that were better I am still trying to make even better and the ones that were worse I wouldn’t inflict on you.

anyway, as you can see, the moon makes me happy even when I am slightly depressed, so I guess it’s good that I’m a haiku poet because then no one blinks twice if I write about the moon constantly and they even patiently read all my tedious little moon poems, or if they don’t they’re too nice to tell me about it.

that’s my story. and I’m sticking to it.

December 25: Nativity

Nativity scene
every year we think we’ve lost
the baby

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Nativity scene
the shepherds are guarding
flocking

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Nativity scene
the light in the stable
burned out

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Nativity scene
folding a crane to replace
the broken angel

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Nativity scene
the Wise Men never let go
of their gifts

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Nativity scene
Joseph stares out
of the window
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Nativity scene
the animals eye the manger
hungrily

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Nativity scene
Mary hides
from the visitors

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Nativity scene
packing away the miracle
for next year

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A very Merry Christmas to all my readers who are celebrating the holiday today. Thanks for all your well-wishes this season and all your support this year. Much joy to you and your families.