January 5 (Dirty Snow)

dirty snow
my neighbor’s
cigarette
smoke
drifting

______________

Two tanka in one week? What is this? Am I losing my knack for brevity?

Actually, as with the last one I wrote, this is plenty brief enough to be a haiku — twelve syllables. It just seems to work better as a five-liner, because of what it says and what it alludes to. I’m actually still not sure what to call things like this, haiku or tanka or gogyoghka or micropoems … but it probably doesn’t matter, except to obsessive-compulsive types like me.

December 28 (Evergreen)

evergreen
he never
believed
he’d run out
of time

___________________

yeah, I know, five lines. so I guess that makes this a tanka, or a gogyoghka, or something. or else a really incompetent haiku.

I really need to research tanka and gogyoghka. I have been trying not to pay attention to them because haiku are time-consuming enough, and also usually when I read tanka I have this feeling like, “This would be a really great haiku if you cut out two lines.” But so many people seem to swear by them, so maybe I should get with the program.


November 19 (Refusing to believe)

refusing
to believe
a word of it
ducks quacking

____________________

I keep writing these haiku lately that want to be four lines. That’s new. What’s the deal with that? There must be something wrong with me. Can’t I do anything right? What kind of sorry future do I have ahead of me?

(Oops, sorry, existential crisis overflowing onto haiku blog. Will go clean up the mess and be back later.)

Across the Haikuverse, No. 2: Only Connect Edition

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.)

1.

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.


2.

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. 🙂

3.

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

4.

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
premières mandarines

nearly three years old
her words more and more precise
first mandarins

5.

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.
winter silence

 

(translation 1, by Versions user Боруко)

его сторона…
её сторона…
зимняя тишина

(translation 2, by Versions user A.G.)

твоё моё наше
холод молчание

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
cold, silence

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.

6.

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 drunk
stepping lightly
in the spring wind
Ryokan (1758-1831)

7.

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:

telephone wires
connecting –
possum’s nightly walk

8.

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

9.

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.

October 27: 1-5 (Listening Wind)

1.

spending time
the way the wind
spends breath

2.
this catalog of breezes
making a distinction
between the air

3.
don’t stop blowing
wind
keep turning my pages

4.
my lips chafed
by the wind
I stop trying to explain myself

5.
inside the cyclone
my soul free to repeat itself
indefinitely

 

 

or

 

1.

spending time the way the wind spends breath

2.

this catalog of breezes making a distinction between the air

3.

don’t stop blowing wind keep turning my pages

4.

my lips chafed by the wind I stop trying to explain myself

5.

inside the cyclone my soul free to repeat itself indefinitely

 

 

_______________________________

 

The world here has been trying to turn itself inside out the last couple of days. It’s a little frightening and a little beautiful. Everything, including the people, is torn between resisting the wind and yielding to it. This is me, yielding.

I’m not sure what these want to be, or how much space they want to occupy. They’re mutable, it seems. They could be haiku. They could be some kind of meditation. They could stay with me, or they could take the next gust out of town.

The sun and the leaves and the wind are almost enough to live on today. But I ate breakfast anyway. I believe in eating a good breakfast, even when the world is blowing away.

 

October 3 (Changing winds): What should haiku look like?

changing winds — your frozen apples
slush beneath my feet

______________________

I’m trying to decide why this seems so satisfying to me as two lines, rather than three or one, both of which I tried and rejected. And why I like it broken up after “apples” instead of “winds,” or for that matter “slush.”

I tend to be really inarticulate about these things and to have instinctive preferences rather than intellectualized ones. Which worries me sometimes, maybe because I irrationally think that if I could figure out some systematic theory of poetics to justify my seemingly random choices, haiku writing would become a simple matter of following a foolproof poetic recipe and I would begin constantly spouting brilliant ku and writing lengthy, brilliant essays about why they were so brilliant and all the world would admire me and give me some kind of catchy haiku-poet nickname, like Banana Leaf. (Which in case you didn’t know, is what Basho means — apparently there was a banana tree in front of his house. All I have in front of mine, in case you are already trying to come up with a good nickname, is a lilac bush in desperate need of pruning and a bunch of flower beds that I absolutely never weed because I can never figure out which things are weeds and which things are flowers, so basically at this point the weeds have won and the beds are weed beds, and I might as well start over from scratch and pull everything out and plant new flowers.)

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about this line thing a bit lately, in my inarticulate non-thinking kind of thinking way, if only because of an interesting passage in The Haiku Apprentice. Abigail Freedman is having a conversation with her Japanese haiku master, Momoko, about haiku structure. Momoko starts out by explaining the conventional structure of Japanese haiku, good old seventeen syllables, three sections of 5-7-5 — then acknowledges that even in Japanese not everyone thinks this structure is an essential requirement of haiku:

“Writing haiku where the first phrase is six sounds, or ji-amari, it turned out, was common. Some haiku broke more naturally into two phrases, of seven and ten or ten and seven sounds. These were referred to as ‘two phrases, one haiku.’ Other haiku read best as a single phrase, not broken up at all. These were called ‘one phrase, one haiku.’ ”

(Abigail Freedman, The Haiku Apprentice, p. 86)

I would have loved to see more discussion of this, or some examples, just so I could get a grasp on what to the Japanese mind constitutes a “natural” two-line or one-line ku. Not that it necessarily matters. I’m writing in English, I don’t know Japanese; even if every single Japanese haiku poet insisted that every haiku had to break naturally into three sections or it wasn’t a haiku, it wouldn’t mean that my English-language haiku had to follow their dictates.

Freedman says,

“I asked Momoko whether I ought to use a seventeen-syllable structure in haiku in English. She replied almost with indifference, Oh, in other languages, other rhythmic patterns might be more appropriate. … I said I had read haiku in English that were written all in one line, and other haiku written in two lines. She nodded and … simply stated, You should ask an English-language linguist or poet what form is best in English. The important point is to seek a natural rhythm in your language, and work your haiku from there.”

(Abigail Freedman, The Haiku Apprentice, p. 87)


To seek a natural rhythm in your language. This sounds so simple and sensible, but what is natural in English? The Japanese seem to have a very clear idea of what kinds of sound patterns are natural in their language — they’ve been writing poetry broken into sections of five and seven syllables for well over a thousand years now and they seem very happy with it.

I don’t know much about modern poetry trends in Japanese, if there is a strong movement like the prevailing English movement of free verse that doesn’t follow any particular prescribed pattern of rhythm or rhyme. Even if there is one, still, there is such a strong tradition of syllabic poetry in Japanese that the free-verse poets must have a clear idea of what it is they are not doing, which I sometimes think is what many English-language free verse poets are lacking. Are we not-writing iambic pentameter, which did dominate English poetry for some centuries and which some people think more closely approximates natural English speech rhythms than other kinds of verse? Are we not-writing sprung rhythm? Are we not-writing sing-songy rhyming couplets of the greeting-card variety?

And are haiku poets in English closer to free-verse poets, or to poets like Robert Frost who considered the constraints of meter vital to the creation of effective poetry? What is it we’re doing, exactly, when we write a haiku? If we’re not slavishly counting syllables — and most of us don’t think we are — and we’re not rhyming, and we’re not muttering “da-dum, da-dum” under our breaths, what the heck are we doing? Just kind of looking at what we write uncertainly, and going, “Well, that sounds okay to me”?

Some people get all antsy about having the middle line longer than the other two, or about having a certain number of beats in each line. I think there’s value in experimenting with doing those things and seeing if you can make them work and when. And maybe, as some people think, you should only call what you write a haiku when it conforms to some such rule or expectation; if all you’re doing is writing a nice little poem of no particular form, maybe it’s just a “micropoem” and you can forget about the Japanese entirely, because what do they have to do with anything?

I do think it’s possible that English-language haiku may never come fully into its own as a poetic form, because it is just too borrowed and we are too uncertain about what we’re doing with it to make it entirely ours. I go back and forth between thinking that we should just forget about the Japanese when we’re writing haiku, and thinking that we should look to them more — not for considerations of form, but for a certain kind of confidence in the possibilities of haiku for emotional and artistic expression, which I think that English haiku poets who worry excessively about form can be lacking.

I read so many haiku that seem so “haiku-ish,” so perfectly reflective of the theoretical haiku form and structure, that they are actually completely devoid of emotional resonance. I don’t believe them. I don’t care about them. And yes, I place most of my own ku in this category. (I mean, not that they’re technically perfect, but that I don’t believe them.) I need to delve down deeper and be less afraid of somehow “breaking” my haiku or not “doing it right.” What difference does it make if I do it right, if “it” isn’t worth doing in the first place? I think the Japanese are so comfortable with the form of haiku, which is so natural to them, that they are able to focus on the content, and it ends up being so much richer and riskier than ours.

So that’s where I’m trying to go now — in the direction of more risk. It’s possible that this is not remotely apparent from the blog. 🙂 That’s okay. It’s just a blog, I’m just learning, they’re just words. (That’s my mantra for the month: repeat as needed.)

September 27, 1-3: What are these things, anyway?

1.

nothing in my mind that was not there before the moon

2.

he tells the story without remembering it        longingly

3.

no longer afraid of mice I look to see what you’re afraid of

______________

Not haiku, not really American Sentences … I think what I’m calling them is “the things I write when my brain hurts too much to write haiku but I feel guilty if I don’t write anything.”

August 6: Hiroshima Day

looking at mushrooms and saying they are clouds

the sixth of August        waiting for all this to detonate

those memories       shadows burned into the pavement

*

Hiroshima Day is a summer kigo that is, obviously, very significant to the Japanese. As you’d expect, most haiku on this subject are quite somber and serious, and are much more likely to refer to history, politics, and social issues than your typical haiku.

I didn’t want to write something light and frivolous for Hiroshima Day, but I also didn’t want to write haiku that were specifically about the bombing — I wanted to write haiku that used images of nuclear bomb attacks to comment on more personal matters. It’s hard to know whether this approach is respectful of the suffering of the bombing victims or whether it’s cluelessly callous — after all, it was my country that dropped those bombs, albeit a generation before I was born.

I will say that I spent a large part of my later childhood and adolescent years, which coincided with the heightening of and then the end of the Cold War, very, very fearful of nuclear war, and so these images for me do have a personal significance that goes beyond the history of Hiroshima. I think there is an almost universal fear of nuclear war now in the human psyche, which has arisen from what we know of the horrors of those Japanese bombings. So it’s not really that I’m trying to appropriate someone else’s experience here for the purpose of making poetry, more that I’m trying to express what has become universal about that experience.

Man, sorry to be such a bummer on what is, here at least, a really beautiful summer day. I promise to have something more fun to read tomorrow …

August 4: 1-5: Times two

I do lots of three-liners, I frequently do one-liners. But for some reason today, when I sat down to write haiku, feeling tired and hot and grumpy, the ku all split into two lines and refused to consider any other configuration. Feel free to psychoanalyze this turn of events.

*

yellow warbler —
clothes line full of black clothes

the funeral —
his dog walking proudly down the street

watermelon —
in the kitchen discussing their options

new potatoes —
a boy and girl trade shy compliments

river currents —
swimming with her glasses on

August 1: 1-3: Three of one

1.

I can’t remember where I got this scar, or that one, or that one.

2.

streetlights switch on        the child runs away from his mother

3.

Cassiopeia     she refuses to stand next to her lover

*

Over at Troutswirl right now there is a great discussion about one-line haiku.

There are links to several other discussions of the subject, and several enlightening comments. Among other interesting points:

  • The late, great Bill Higginson seemed to think that if there were spaces in your one-line haiku, it wasn’t really a one-line haiku (because you were indicating, apparently, where a line break could go, and so why not write it in more than one line). To me, this seems to ignore the visual advantage to displaying a ku all in one line — it can be scanned more rapidly by the reader so gives more of a sense of wholeness or urgency, yet sometimes you still want to give a visual cue as to where a pause should occur.
  • Marlene Mountain has a page where a number of her ku are displayed both as three lines and as one, so you can decide which way you think works better.
  • Jim Kacian categorizes several of the effects that can be achieved by English one-line haiku (“one line–one thought,” “speedrush” and “multi- stops”). (Click on the big X:2 on the linked page to download the issue of “Roadrunner” this essay appears in.)
  • Charles Trumbull, in a July 29 comment, makes the sensible observation (I say it’s sensible because it’s what I think myself) that “[b]ecause of the internal rhythm of the material, sometimes one line works best. Period.” (He is slightly cranky about people imitating Japanese poetry or referring to historical precedent to justify their one-liners.)

I keep finding more and more that if I am having a great deal of trouble with a ku, transforming it to one line frequently instantly solves my problem. This is when I say that the ku “wanted” to be one line.

Also, I think I am still treating American sentences and one-line haiku as more or less interchangeable, though they’re not, really. I mean, number 1 above seems clearly to be an American sentence to me; the other 2 one-line haiku. Must think more about this …

June 4: 4-7: The Technique of Narrowing Focus

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

“This is something Buson used a lot because he, being an artist, was a very visual person. Basically what you do is to start with a wide-angle lens on the world in the first line, switch to a normal lens for the second line and zoom in for a close-up in the end.


“the whole sky

in a wide field of flowers

one tulip”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques


Me:

ten thousand runners
I stand alone
and look at my feet

on the horizon a freighter
with a box
with a man inside

reading Anna Karenina
once again
finding that sentence

forest full of
maple saplings
guessing which one will live