Category: prose

character study

She wakes up sometimes, thinking about her dilemma. It always takes a minute to remember what the dilemma is because it’s always a different dilemma than the last time she woke up. It’s that kind of story. The solution to her dilemma is often obvious to her, as it is to every reader of that kind of story, but she knows her own judgment makes no difference to the resolution of the dilemma. She’s made efforts in the past–to leave the man, to save the child, to cross the street, to pursue her ambition–but whether she succeeds or not is entirely up to the storyteller. He might be trying to write a cautionary tale, or make his readers cry, or make the heroine of the story look good in contrast to her, in which case she will surely make the wrong choice, do the foolish thing, die in poverty, be shunned by the townsfolk. By now she’s used to failure. By now she’s used to contempt. By now she’s used to losing things that seemed impossible to lose. It’s almost exhilarating to her now, that kind of loss. She knows it doesn’t really matter. The next time she wakes up, she’ll be a character in a new story. There’s always the possibility that this time, she’ll have magical powers, or a mighty army, or an uncanny ability to bend people to her will. There’s always the possibility that by the end of the story, she’ll be ruling the world.

these damn cicadas
with their confessional tone
I promise myself
I’ll admit everything
when nothing’s left to admit

(Prose: here, now. Tanka: Eucalypt, November 2011.)

Across the Haikuverse, No. 28: The On Beyond Zebra Edition

On Beyond Zebra

Sometimes 26 letters are not enough. Dr. Seuss fans will know what I’m talking about.

Anyone who writes seriously at all, I’m guessing, is frequently frustrated by the inadequacy of language to express the full range of things there are to express in the world. There aren’t words for everything. There aren’t even combinations of words for everything, although one of the things that great writers (and sometimes even we lesser writers) do is find new combinations of words to express things that haven’t been expressed before, or that have been expressed before but are in need of refreshing.

On my journeys around the Haikuverse that’s chiefly, I believe, what I’m looking for — people saying things in ways that are new, or new to me. I read a lot, I always have, so it’s not that easy for me to find words I haven’t found before. But it happens, still, many times each month. It’s one reason to keep going. There are others, but I keep coming back to words. I think language, for me, might occupy roughly the same space in my brain that religious awe occupies in the minds of many. We are endlessly finding new things to describe and inventing new ways of describing old things, as individuals, as a species; this seems like reason enough to believe in some form of eternity. Thanks to everyone who’s given me some reason to believe this month.

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Haiku

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just
kidding

you’re
not

alive –

morning rain

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driller
kun

du
lever

ikke –

morgenregn

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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Dear Malvina,
It’s been a long time since we It’s already autumn here . . .
lonely evening

— Rafael Zabratynski, DailyHaiku, 12/21/11

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うごけば、  寒い     橋本夢道

ugokeba,        samui

if I move,                  cold

—  Mudo Hashimoto, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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Slime trail—
glancing back at
the glinting

—Don Wentworth, Tinywords

(Also, you should read this lengthy interview with Don from Christien Gholson’s blog.)

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crow watching –
the unseen tree branch suddenly
seen

— Angie Werren, feathers

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dusk at the beach
a stone and I
touch each other

Dietmar Tauchner, International Second Prize, The 15th Mainichi Haiku Contest

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冬蜂の死にどころなく歩きけり  村上鬼城

fuyu-bachi no shini-dokoro naku arukikeri

a winter bee
continues to walk
without a place to die

— Kijo Murakami, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

John Stevenson, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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cave mouth
a scream beyond my range
of hearing

— George Swede, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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first
snowflakes

like me
made to last

till
they’re

gone

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 3ournals and frags

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Tanka

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hour upon hour
a veil of simple snow
falling without reason
I feel an urgency
to risk everything I know

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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trailing my hand
through the water
for a moment
more river
than man

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Haibun

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Another grey day has fallen as a pall on the new calendar as if what makes a difference really doesn’t. Only the ticking clock and the distant squawking of a crow or better yet, complaint, as well as the deep sigh of engines passing by tell the trudge goes on. I look on the cypress with a creeping sense of sorrow. The deep cold has darkened its twigs.  Gifts piled beside it now holiday debris. A black garbage bag rests folded in the bin. I gather the cards. The wishes slide off my fingers. A bag of pebbles waits to be planted on the vase. Like wishes that might take root, I would have to water them each day. But for now

blue notes waver under the lamp

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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No, It’s Not Japanese Short-Form Poetry, But It’s My Blog And I Can Do Whatever I Want

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Almost Ready

five forty five a.m.

very cold

I move
close to a heater

night like wind

forming

itself

By god
I hear
a rooster

Crow

I had
only heard
a rooster

Crow

In the movies
before

this

To think
of the beautiful things

Your memory
has led me
into

And this poem

Almost ready!

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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Essayed

Gene Myers, the blogger over at The Haiku Foundation, asked a bunch of poets in December what their hopes were for English-language haiku in 2012. One of my favorite answers to this question, part of which I’ve quoted below, came from Scott Metz:

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“One of my hopes is that the aesthetics and techniques—the poetics—that have become traditional (classical?), and entrenched, in English-language haiku (with all its wonderful and creative misreadings, limitations, misinterpretations and ahistorical stances) continue to flourish and intensify, and deepen. With an emphasis on transparency (and directness) of language, simplicity, plainness, literalism, direct experience, season words, and ‘ordinary reality,’ a remarkable, timeless foundation has been created.

“Another one of my hopes for English-language haiku is that it will continue to diversify and evolve; that poets will continue to play (the hai in haiku) artistically (with language, modi operandi, imagery, structure, culture, media, history, literature), go where they need to go—go where they must go—and continue to question and resist. …

“I look forward to the craft and artistry and invitations in everyone’s poems: all the doors and windows left open and/or cracked, all the lights on in the attics, all the latches and locks left undone. I hope for more of all of it and thank everyone for sharing it.”

— Scott Metz, Hopes for English-Language Haiku in the New Year

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Linked

Alan Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver, the team behind the haiku-podcast goodness of Haiku Chronicles, have once again teamed up with the astounding Anita Virgil to produce something amazing: a video exploration of the many dimensions of modern English-language haiga, narrated by Anita and set to music. You need to spend half an hour watching this: Haiga Gallery.

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Journaled

ant ant ant ant ant 12

Contact Chris Gordon at mrcr3w@yahoo.com for a copy of the most recent issue of his intermittently-published and mind-altering journal, featuring the poetry of the great Jack Galmitz. [Apologies to Jack for leaving his credit off the original version of this post. All I can say is, I need new glasses.] I highly recommend the ant ant ant ant ant blog too.

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Haiku from ant ant ant ant ant 12

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The Heron’s Nest

just how
to hold you
paper kite

— Dan Schwerin, The Heron’s Nest, Dec. 2011

Amongst the usual THN goodness in the most recent issue was this haiku? senryu? which was discussed at length at the most recent meeting of (one of) the real-life haiku groups I attend, during a session on senryu led by the great Bill Pauly. The author, Dan, a wonderful person and poet, is a member of our group — he drives two hours each way to join us every month, which makes us all feel very lucky. This poem of his is so light and deft and well-constructed that it reminds me of a paper kite; I keep expecting it to lift into the air any minute.

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bottle rockets #26

pinwheel —
as if a second thought
starts to turn it

— Satoru Kanematsu

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Booked

One day in December when I was feeling very gloomy Peter Newton’s new book showed up in my mail, with a cover illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu and an interior designed (oh, and written, of course) by Peter, with the kind of attention to detail that one normally associates with the finer still-lifes of the Flemish Old Masters. Or, you know, something like that. What I’m trying to say, in my usual pretentious way, is that this book is a lot of fun to hold. And page through. And look at. And read. Plus, there aren’t enough orange books in the world.

Cover of What We Find

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standing in the middle of now here

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on my ceiling
the untraceable wanderings
of an ant
someone’s words carved deep
on a tree in my mind

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 27: Okay, So I Lied Edition

I know, I know. I said I wasn’t going to do this again for a while. But I’m so used to it! I keep reading haiku I love! And then I cut and paste them to a document and then I paste them into WordPress and then I fiddle with the formatting a little and then I press “Publish” and you get to read them. It’s not really that hard. No, really! It’s not! I totally can do it… at least one more time. Right? Please?

…Thanks!

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Haiku

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brittle moonlight
self-immolations
drawn on a map

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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hiding their faces well snowflakes
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de skjuler deres ansigter godt snefuggene

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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change of seasons
I catch myself talking
to the wind

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-doodle

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a break
in the clouds
how small we are

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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in the second-hand book shop, the purr of the three-legged cat

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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千の矢の描く千の弧師走空  青柳 飛

sen no ya no egaku sen no ko shiwazu-zora
.
one thousand trajectories
of one thousand arrows—
December sky

Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World  (her blog’s 1000th post)

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目をつむりセーター脱げば剥製です   渡部陽子

me o tsumuri seitaa nugeba hakusei desu
.
taking off a sweater
with eyes closed
I am a stuffed specimen

— Yoko Watabe, tr. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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platelets—
the trip we were planning
to plan

— Roberta Beary, Tinywords

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itallcomestogether in the darkness for the owl

— Johnny Baranski, Monostich

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longue recherche
des lunettes pour mieux voir
le brouillard

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a long search
for glasses, the better to see
the fog

— Vincent Hoarau, La Calebasse (dubious translation by me)

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Haibun

she envies her her boyfriend that never fools around and her cherry-red convertible that never needs repairs and her outfits (complete with shoes and accessories) that can be had for less than ten dollars and the perpetually-shining plastic sun outside her practically-immaculate plastic house but most of all she envies her her god-damn nearly-perfect never-faltering ability-to-smile . . .

she says
“we can’t help who we love”
to no one
in particular
“all guys are assholes”

— Eric L. Houck Jr., haiku

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Haiga

Kindly click on the links to see the haiga that are not posted here.

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mouth of the cave
we enter as eagles
exit as sparrows

— an’ya, DailyHaiga

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opening emergency door,
head-on spring moon

— Kikko Yokoyama, with haiga by Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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Wildfire in Winter

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words! (Click on the image [or the link to Aubrie’s blog] for a larger, more legible version)

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Essayed

Chen-ou Liu posted a great essay recently on his blog Poetry in the Moment (originally published in A Hundred Gourds 1.1) about the phenomenon of “deja-ku”: “Read It Slowly, Repeatedly, and Communally.” Here’s a sample, but please go read the whole thing, it’s fascinating and there are lots of great examples.

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Today, high poetic value placed upon originality remains ingrained in the Western literary culture. This fear of unknowingly writing similar haiku or the reluctance or disuse of allusion proves that Thomas Mallon’s remark still holds true: the poets live under the “fearful legacy of the Romantics.” Could those poets or editors who are constantly worried about “not being original or fresh” imagine that a poet deliberately using a direct quote as the first two lines of his haiku can achieve a great poem?

— Chen-ou Liu, “Read It Slowly, Repeatedly, and Communally”

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Hey, thanks for indulging me. I feel better now.

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bitter night
I keep reminding myself
I’m a poet

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The Lives of Poets, No. 3: Christopher Patchel

Having, in previous installments of this series, sought wisdom from poets on the East Coast and the West Coast, I decided it was time to hang around my own neck of the woods and spend some listening to a Midwestern poet. Chris Patchel lives in northern Illinois, not too far from me, and I’ve enjoyed talking to him at a few Haiku Society of America events. Before I ever met him, though, I’d admired his haiku, having noticed that his were likely to be among the few that lingered in my mind long after I’d finished reading a journal. I figured he’d have something to say worth listening to, and I was right, not to mention that he brought some much-needed graphic design expertise to this blog (needless to say, any remaining graphic design crappiness is my responsibility, not Chris’s).

(By the way, has anyone else noticed how many haiku poets are also visual artists or graphic designers? Somebody write something about that, will you?)

.Christopher Patchel

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Christopher Patchel: The Interview

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Name/pen name:

Christopher Patchel.

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Day job/occupation:

Freelance graphic designer

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Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):

Limiting my time online is enough of a challenge as it is.

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Family, pets, non-poetry hobbies, etc.:

I’m single, and presently living in Mettawa, Illinois. Besides my interests in the arts and sciences I’m into biking, walking, pounding on an old Gibson guitar, dancing West Coast Swing, and fretting about things.

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How long you’ve been writing haiku and what gave you the idea to do such a crazy thing in the first place:

Writing was about the last thing I expected to get involved in. Nevertheless, I enrolled in a poetry class, and tried my hand at composing free verse. Shortly after that (as the millennium turned) I happened upon haiku for the first time. What struck me was the evocative power of so few words. That more-with-less aesthetic matched my graphic design approach, and I also appreciated the quiet perceptions, unassuming language, grounding in nature, and temporal/eternal resonance. It added up to a rare eureka experience. I read everything I could about the genre and took up the challenges of learning to write it.

One of those challenges was, and still is, working bottom up instead of top down, starting with concrete images (show don’t tell) and gut instincts, so that abstract thinking (my default mode) doesn’t dominate.

As time goes on I’m becoming increasingly involved in other haiku-related forms as well: haiga (haiku and art), haibun (haiku and prose), rengay and renku (collaborative haiku sequences).

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the skip of my heart / a shooting star

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Do you have a personal philosophy of haiku or a particular vision of haiku poetics? What do you think haiku are, or should be, in English? What do you think they should look like? What do you think their purpose is?

The world of literary haiku in English should look like it does, in all its diversity of aims and approaches, from scenic shasei to experimental gendai, with lots of arguing between and among the various schools of thought (as has always been the case with haiku in Japan). Otherwise the genre would become static.

As an artist I’m open to all forms of accomplished haiku. But what most interests me are slice-of-life moments of perception (whether trivial, profound, or impossible to categorize) which become memoir-like over time as one’s body of work takes shape as a whole.

I like the idea that what is most personal is most universal, and would prefer my work be accessible on some level to everyone, though I accept that haiku is an acquired taste for many.

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midlife…
my car radio
on scan
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What does your haiku writing practice look like? Do you write daily or regularly? Do you have special times or places you like to write? Do you write longhand or on a computer? Do you revise extensively? Is there anything in particular you do to put yourself in “haiku mode”?

Creative process is fascinating to me. Perhaps because my methods (or lack of methods) leave much to be desired, I never tire of hearing gifted creators describe how and why they do what they do. I’ve come to picture it in three main stages—inspiration, perspiration, and appraisal—which also operate in unison at any given time.

Is it ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration? In my estimation, though Edison’s emphasis on the work ethic is well taken, inspiration is not only just as essential, it’s the life-breath of art and literature. And whether it comes by way of brainstorming, hard work, or out of the blue, it comes as a gift.

Such gifts of the Muse are sporadic for me, but more frequent during bike rides and walks (and car trips, with the downside of missed exits). Reading and research can often lead to serendipitous ideas. And specific challenges, such as rengay linking, tend to get my neurons firing, so I would like to find ways to incorporate that kind of motivation into my process.

The writing phase—getting syntax, sound, rhythm, juxtaposition, images, and what have you, to give rise to an experience—is the perspiration part. In spite of (or because of) the brevity of haiku the degree of difficulty involved in the word-craft is ridiculous. And my word-by-word, piece-by-piece adding, subtracting, arranging and rearranging (even articles and prepositions keep me up at night) is more like assemblage than the flow of words I tend to associate with the craft of writing. Rolling up sheet of paper after sheet of paper and tossing them at the wastebasket is sometimes the closest I come to feeling writerly.

When a poem does come together I transfer it to computer. Any initial sense of euphoria will likely turn to dismay the next time I read it afresh and notice the problems. With luck and further revising I may eventually reach a point of contentment. Rewriting is a perpetual in any case, even with poems published years ago.

In addition to time’s role in the appraisal of work, feedback from others is invaluable (and quicker). I was tickled to learn how Nick Virgilio would solicit perfect strangers to get their reactions to his work. I feel pesky enough asking friends what they think.

An editor’s acceptance or rejection of a haiku for publication, though not the final word on its worth, is also part of my evaluation process.

And needless to say, whenever a poem connects with one other person, or many, the creative process finds its completion.

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writer’s block
I clean out
the refrigerator

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last night’s
brilliant effort
in daylight

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What does your haiku reading practice look like? Are there poets you particularly appreciate? Journals you find especially inspiring? Do you read haiku daily? Do you read mostly English-language haiku or do you read a great deal of Japanese haiku (in translation or not) or haiku in other languages? Are there books you would recommend, either of haiku or about haiku?

My reading list of journals and anthologies is typical, albeit limited by my low saturation point. Scholarly volumes mostly sit unfinished. Translated poetry requires more effort for less return, given the divide, so I don’t read a whole lot beyond what the journals publish (shame on me). What’s most lacking on my bookshelves are haiku collections, which I purchase whenever the budget allows.

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Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing haiku? Or about how annoying these questions are?

“Why do you write haiku?” is a question Curtis Dunlap asks on his blog, and I can easily identify with most of the answers given: heightened awareness; living in the now; connection with oneself, others, creation; To participate. (Peggy Lyles); To preserve, share, and savor… (Curtis Dunlap); …because I can… (Charles Trumbull); god only knows (Jim Kacian).

Widening the question: Why engage in any form of art or literature, given the labor involved in such labors of love? In my case it’s apparently part of a larger obsession with meaning, which is apparently as necessary as air.

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Any final haiku you would like to share with my readers?

Thanks for the invitation to process these questions, Melissa.

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catching a maple leaf
just before the ground—
Indian summer

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nameless longings
a floating seed
eludes my hand

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Credits: the skip of my heart—unpublished; midlife—Heron’s Nest v10.2, 2008; White Lies: Red Moon Anthology 2009; writer’s block—RawNervz 9.1, 2003; last night’s—Modern Haiku 41:2, 2010; catching a maple leaf—Frogpond 25:1, 2002; A New Resonance 3, 2001; Haiku Calendar Competition 2007 (November runner up); nameless longings—Heron’s Nest 10:1, 2008; Seed Packets (Flower Anthology) 2010

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 24: Autumnal Equinox Edition

Hand holding compassThis season. This day. This darkness. This rain. This sky. This unspoken agreement. This repeated pattern. This internal quarrel. This blown litter. This temporary solitude. This empty box. These restless legs. These unwashed hands. This bent twig. This spent coin. This borrowed time. This vague memory. This dry leaf. This discarded assumption. This long pause. This interrupted stillness. This dark house. This hard fall.

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tilted axis
I continue
to surprise myself

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Haiku to Read Again

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just because
the sky is navigable –
thistledown

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

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山を出るときどんぐりはみな捨てる 北 登猛
yama o deru toki donguri wa mina suteru

when I leave the mountain
I throw away
all acorns

— Tomo Kita, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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things that can wait and a dying wasp ::: autumn darkness

ting der kan vente og en døende hveps ::: efterårsmørke

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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the difference
a sparrow makes –
bare branches

— Bill Kenney, haiku-usa
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somehow
our shrinking shadows touch
harvest moon

— Alegria Imperial, jornales
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banging about
inside my ribs
cherry blossom

— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

With every step into
the lake, the water touches
me in a new place.

— Elissa, The Haiku Diary

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These next two both originally appeared at the September Moon Viewing Party at Haiku Bandit Society and were then turned into spectacular haiga by their authors, which you can see at their blogs.
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matchpoint…
the distance between
this moon and that

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

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this pumpkin
as full as that, harvest
moon

— Angie Werren, feathers

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Essayed

“Haiku as Poetic Spell”

I’m very grateful to Lynne Rees for republishing on her blog an open field this essay by Martin Lucas, which also appeared in evolution: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2010.

It’s a challenging, exciting essay, well worth reading in full, that contrasts what Lucas calls the “Internationally Accepted Formula” for haiku —

seasonal ref’rence—
then two lines of contrasting
foreground imagery

with a haiku aesthetic that he considers “an ideal that is poetic as opposed to prosaic, and secondly, an expression that is more akin to a magical utterance than a mere report of an incident, however consequential or inconsequential.”

Of the “Internationally Accepted Formula,” Lucas points out, “It’s an intriguing mix, but almost all the interest is in this content, and almost none in the expression.” Using many striking examples, he argues for (or rather urges) a greater emphasis in haiku on an effective use of language to create a “poetic spell”:

“Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. … words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard. This is what I want from haiku: something primitive; something rare; something essential; not some tired iteration of patterns so familiar most of us can produce them in our sleep. It’s not the information content that counts, it’s the way that information is formed, cooked and combined.”

— Martin Lucas, “Haiku as Poetic Spell”

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Journaled

the zen zpace, Autumn 2011 Showcase

Marie Marshall, who also has a blog called kvenna ráð, put together this fine collection of haiku by seven poets. She’s calling for submissions for her next edition. A couple of samples:

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the last leaf of all
it will be picked up
by hand

— David Cobb

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the earliest of mornings
Substance presents itself
as an apple

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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Contemporary Haibun Online

If you have any interest in haibun you should hustle over and read the recently released October issue of cho, especially my favorites: Sonam Chhoki’s “Last Journey“; Susan Diridoni’s “awakening in ‘The City'”; Peter Newton’s “The Goal”; and Carol Pearce-Worthington’s “I Read Everything”.

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Applied

The Haiku Foundation, with their release of THF Haiku, their haiku app for the iPhone, has recently made waiting in line a task that is no longer fearful to me. I just pull out my phone, punch at the screen a bit to make the soothing THF Haiku backdrop appear, and then spend a relaxing few minutes shaking my phone (really, you just need to tilt it a little, so you won’t look completely insane in public) to see a new haiku with every shake. There’s a wonderful variety — 365 of them so far, with more promised for the future. Some I tilted into recently:

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midsummer solstice
the bonfire luring me back
to my maiden name

— an’ya
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the shadow in the folded napkin

— Cor van den Heuvel
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Every second, a tree, a bird, a chimney, a woman

— James Kirkup

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Dead Tree News

Beyond My View, by Joyce Clement. Endionpress, 2011

My Journey, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 2004

Twenty Views from Mole Hill, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 1999

Beyond My View, by Joyce ClementMy Journey, by Lidia Rozmus

20 Views from Mole Hill, by Lidia RozmusI am overdue to talk about these books. I bought the three of them this summer, one at each of the communal haiku events I attended. Joyce’s book I picked up at the Haiku Circle in Massachusetts in June, where she gave a wonderful reading and I enjoyed getting to know her. Twenty Views of Mole Hill I bought at Foundry Books in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, when I attended a Haiku Retreat there in June. Lidia was not in attendance there, but she was, as I have mentioned, my roommate at Haiku North America in Seattle in August, where I bought My Journey. So these books have bracketed my summer and followed me through it. I’ve read them each several times, because somehow they make me feel a little bit more like myself every time I read them.

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Beyond My View

Joyce does things with language and images that only she can do — the best writers are like that — but that make you feel like what she said was just on the tip of your tongue, because the best writers are like that too.

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age 88
all the whatchamacallits
in the spring wind

That’s what I was going to say.

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rolls over again
the earth, us with it
spring mud

This one I keep reading over and over again to see if I can see how she did it. The syntax seems awkward and garbled at first and then you see — oh! that’s the point! And then you see that there’s no other way to say it. And you feel like lying down and rolling in some warm mud.

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the
pine
grove
when
I
exhale

Yes, that’s it. I keep trying to do this kind of thing all the time. It’s not as easy as it looks.

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used to think
I’d want a gravestone
falling leaves

I still do want a gravestone, but something about this makes me think that maybe I won’t always.

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deep winter
their weight
milkless breasts

There are not enough haiku about the way women’s bodies feel — maybe there aren’t enough about the way anyone’s body feels. This one is perfect. Thanks, Joyce.

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Twenty Views of Mole Hill

first snow / I turn the lights off / to seeLidia calls the work she does that combines haibun and sumi-e painting “haibun-ga,” and the title page of Twenty Views … proclaims tongue-in-cheek that it is “The Last Haibun-ga of the Twentieth Century.” What is also is, is a meditation on place, a place seen in every season with the especially careful seeing of someone who is both an exemplary visual artist and a particularly sensitive poet.

Mole Hill is a hill, a small Illinois hill, that can be seen from Lidia’s apartment, and so she sees it.

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first snow
I turn the lights off —
……………..to see

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Haibun-gaThe seeing continues from December to December. The book takes the form of a series of unbound square cards, on each of which there is a haibun or a solitary haiku, as well as an evocative sumi-e painting. These are not illustrations of Mole Hill; they are minimalist evocations of a state of mind, a shape of thought, a unique vision. Lidia stays in one place; the world turns around her, and her mind travels. It’s as if these cards fall, one by one, into place as the seasons change.

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late afternoon
mosquito and I —
same blood type

(This is one, I think, that Issa would have written if he’d known about blood type.)

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.My Journey

In contrast to Twenty Views…, My Journey roams all over the world, from Poland and other locales in Eastern Europe, to North America, Western Europe, Japan. It also roams in time, or rather ventures through it, over fifty years of Lidia’s life, beginning with the first memory of a toddler. Again, the form of the book is important: it’s folded like an accordion, and the hinge point — the place where you turn the book over to begin folding through the pages on the reverse side — is Lidia’s immigration to the United States as a young adult.

immigration office / seeing my fingerprints / for the first time.

immigration office
seeing my fingerprints
for the first time

Like so many of Lidia’s haiku this one says so much more than it says.

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This book, too, contains both haibun and standalone haiku, illustrated with small black-and-white photographs — they read more as illustrations than as photos; you can’t see much detail, just enough to evoke a feeling or sense of place, so the overall effect is very similar to that of Lidia’s sumi-e. There is also an ink wash traced through with a wavy ink line that runs continuously along the bottom of the entire book, which of course is all in one uninterrupted piece, like a life. One continuous stretch of time, but paradoxically remembered by us in discrete chunks of episodic memory — pages, if you will.

geographical atlas / on one page / the whole world

geographical atlas
on one page
the whole world

As usual, Lidia said it better than I could. This is the last haiku in the book. Lidia’s life goes on, though, fortunately for us all.

___________________________________________

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As for me, I’m standing with my back to the wind these days. It seems to help. I wish I’d thought of it before.

.

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autumn wind / another / incorrect / assessment.

Where We Live

It’s a tiny motel: four rooms, two tacked on to each end of our house like the spreading wings of a Southern plantation. But we’re the opposite of a plantation, we’re the site of endless uprootings. Poor soil for weak vegetation. The less successful variety of traveling salesman, in cheap suits, bearing leatherette briefcases and expressions of bewilderment at how fruitless their lives have turned out to be. Men who’ve been kicked out of the house by their wives and aren’t quite sure yet whether they can go home tomorrow. Drifters who’ve scrounged up enough money somewhere to settle down in one of our nineteen-dollar beds for the night, often leaving behind them the evidence that they had enough left over for a good-sized bender. Even hippies sometimes, though there aren’t a lot of them in this blue-collar, conservative town; maybe they’re just passing through on their way to someplace more congenial — a commune, a city squat, a rock festival. They arrive, unlike most of our customers, in clumps, too young yet to want or need or have to be alone. Most of these people don’t stay long; the wind blows them to us and then blows them away.

Then there’s Miss Knight. June comes and so does she, in her sky blue VW bus, crammed to the ceiling with everything she owns. All summer it sits in front of the motel, down by Room 4, which is her home for the summer and always has been. (As far as I know, anyway; my “always” isn’t very long.) She fills the room up quickly. She’s not the kind of wanderer who travels lightly, who pares down her possessions. She likes things. Not luxurious things but things that are her own, that make her feel at home. Her room feels like nothing so much as a nest, lined with bits of fluff and feathers and string, trifles that seem worthless on their own but make excellent insulation. She wears layers of clothing too, shapeless skirts and sweaters draped around her tiny thin body, even in the heat of summer. She coddles herself, but she thrives this way. Nothing blows her away; she’s rooted.

We don’t know how old she is. Seventy-five? Eighty-five? Her hair is pure white and scant, her spine bent, and sometimes her mind, to us, seems to travel on illogical paths — but maybe it’s our minds that are at fault, too limited to follow her flights of fancy, her mental travels into the less explored regions of the universe. She’s energetic, her eyes sparkle, she takes good care of herself and her dog, the Chihuahua that goes with her everywhere: so whatever age she is, it isn’t too old. We’re not inclined to be critical anyway; the place seems entirely different with her around, less like a dreary way station for the desperate, more like a bucolic paradise, a fit resting place for any respectable elderly woman who spends the year driving around New England in a VW bus. It never feels like summer until her bus arrives, to remind us that we have an acre of land out back, filled with fruit trees and shade trees and flowering bushes. Miss Knight takes daily constitutionals around it, looking at everything with appreciation and curiosity.

She’s friendly, even ebullient, but guarded. She looks hazy-eyed past questions. We don’t know her story, her past or her future. It’s as if she only exists here and now, in the summer in a small motel in Connecticut. The only indication we have of her life away from us is the one postcard that arrives every spring, in advance of her own arrival, letting us know to be on the lookout for her. It sits propped on the dining room table for weeks, while the weather grows warmer, the school year wears on, our other customers come and go, our own lives mutate and progress inexorably. It’s our surrogate for her; we read it over and over, day by day, until she pulls into the driveway again, and then we put it away in a drawer with the ones from every other year.

The year it doesn’t arrive, we all start wondering whether we’re any more real than she is.

summer solstice
how much of my life story
is invented

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Haibun Today 5:3, September 2011

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Little girl waving goodbye on the first day of school

Across the Haikuverse, No. 23: Back to School Edition

My kindergarten teacher was worried about me because I liked to read. In those days kindergarteners were supposed to occupy themselves only with playing, and socializing, and coloring in the letters of the alphabet on worksheets just to familiarize themselves with the shapes that they would be introduced to more thoroughly in first grade. But I could already read and I was tantalized by the books on the shelves behind the teacher’s desk, which she read aloud to us before naptime. When the teacher’s back was turned I scrambled up on a stepstool and grabbed books and ran off with them to a corner to devour them before she could find me and take the books away and scold me for reading and send me back to play with dolls or something else I had no interest in. I felt like a criminal. I felt like a rebel. I felt like a five-year-old who was sick with love for stories and kept having her heart broken, day after day, by never being able to find out what the ending was.

Sometimes I dreamed the endings. Sometimes I wonder whether my own endings or the real ones were more satisfying.

first day of school —
out of time to decipher
the cicada’s drone

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Haiku, Tanka, Haiga From All Over

I broke one of my own unwritten rules this edition. I usually try not to feature more than one poem per poet per edition, but I nearly went mad deciding which of the below three haiku by Johannes S.H. Bjerg I should include, so in the end I said the hell with it and decided to inflict them all on you. Please address any complaints to my alter ego, Ms. I.N. DeCision.

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still air –
will a dead butterfly
become a butterfly?

stille luft –
vil en død sommerfugl
blive til en sommerfugl?

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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swallows leaving youshouldhavesaidsomething

svalerne forsvinder duskullehavesagtnoget

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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yoshino cherry tree—
it was never a question
of if

— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Tinywords

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high heat index–
my mosquito bite
the size of a fat raindrop

— Kathy Nguyen, Origami Lotus Stones

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off key crooning
in the darkness:
a neighbor braces for fall

— Gene Myers, genemyers.com

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All I can do
most days
is point and say
this
this

— Kris Lindbeck, haiku etc.

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pale moon—
sugar crystals travelling
south

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

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eastern daylight time
she leaves
another voicemail

(this is a wonderful haiga; please go check it out)

— Angie Werren, feathers

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from the beginning —
the moon &
love note after love note

— Patricia Nelson, Moon Viewing Party, Haiku Bandit Society

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広島や卵食ふとき口ひらく   西東三鬼

hiroshima ya tamago kû toki kuchi hiraku

Hiroshima—
to eat an egg
I open my mouth

— Sanki Saito, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

Fay’s Note:  This haiku does not have a kigo, but it is one of 8 haiku titled ‘Famous City’ by Sanki Saito (1900-1962).  Soon after an atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Sanki visited the city. When he started to eat a boiled egg for lunch, he noticed that was the first time he opened his mouth that day. He had been speechless with what he saw.

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wet rain . . .
you keep telling me things
i already know

[Modern Haiku 40.1]

— David Caruso, DavidHaiku.com

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Web Wide World

I’m just going to snap a bunch of links at you real quick like a bunny with a minimum of commentary because, you know, school’s starting soon and I should be doing stuff like buying textbooks and notebooks and sharpening my pencils and polishing shiny red apples to put on the desks of all my professors on the first day so they will be favorably disposed toward me and hopefully forgive me for scribbling haiku in the margins of all my notebooks around my notes on Electronic Resource Management. Ready? Here we go.

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A Brief Survey of Senryu by Women, by Hiroaki Sato

This essay, published in Modern Haiku 34.1 in spring 2003, first makes a quick stab at trying to define how senryu differs from haiku, with a note that “the senryû is expected to deal with matters of human and social nature, often in a playful, satirical, or knowing manner” but also acknowledging that the line between haiku and senryu these days can be blurry in the extreme. Most of the piece, however, is taken up by samples of modern (mainly twentieth century) senryu by Japanese women, which are absolutely fascinating — not least because many of them make no attempt to be funny at all, in fact can be quite serious, and I suspect would not be considered senryu by most American haiku poets. They are powerful, compelling poetry, however, and I keep coming back to read them over and over. They seem to me to painfully and eloquently express the difficulties and limitations of many women’s lives.

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The moment it blooms with full force it’s cut

— Inoue Noboku

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The snow’s falling the snow’s falling these two breasts

— Kuwano Akiko

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He leaves and I put away the lonesome sound

— Saigo Kanojo

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Okay, so here’s something that’s genuinely funny. One workshop I was sorry I had to miss at Haiku North America was Jessica Tremblay’s session about her well-known “Old Pond” comics based on haiku. The next best thing, though, was discovering that Jessica had drawn a series of strips about her experiences at HNA. I laughed and laughed with recognition at so many of these and if you were there, or have read my reports from the conference, I guarantee you will get at least a chuckle out of them as well.

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Another HNA connection: After I saw Eve Luckring’s amazing presentation on video renku at HNA I came home and Googled her straight off because I had to know more about her work, and discovered her astounding website, filled with her photography, short films, art, and poetry, which are often combined in wildly imaginative and original ways. Please go explore, you’ll be happy you did.

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A funny and fascinating article by Marlene Mountain on English haiku poetics vis-a-vis Japanese haiku poetics made the rounds of Facebook a couple of weeks ago, provoking lots of interesting discussion: The Japanese Haiku and So On, first published at Paul Conneally’s haikumania (which is worth a look around) in 2004.

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re zen.  whatever.

— Marlene Mountain

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If you haven’t discovered the “Montage” archive at The Haiku Foundation website, you need to run right over there and check it out…for about nine months in 2009 Allan Burns put together this fascinating weekly gallery of haiku, each week featuring haiku by three different poets on a different theme. The whole thing has been turned into a book now which can be yours for a $50 donation to The Haiku Foundation, but while you’re saving up for that, you can download each week’s gallery as a PDF and enjoy yourself mightily reading some amazing poetry.

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Charlotte DiGregorio is the Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America, which is my region and so I get to benefit from her energy and organizational ability as she organizes so many enjoyable and successful events for us here in flyover land. She also has a blog on which she posts many interesting musings about haiku. Quite often she invites audience participation and recently she sent out an email soliciting answers to the question, “Why do you write haiku?” The answers she got back were thoughtful, often funny, usually thought-provoking, and all over the map: well worth reading. Check them out.

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Roadrunner published a new issue a couple of weeks ago, which besides being, as usual, one of the most thought-provoking reads in the Haikuverse, is also graphically appealing this time around. Every ku is enclosed in a box with a background of a different color and with a different typeface, and with the author’s name left off — only to appear at the end of the issue in a box matching the color and typeface of his or her contribution(s). (Full disclosure: I have a ku in this issue, in a highly appropriate color, but I’m not gonna tell you what it is.)

I don’t usually think of myself as someone who is overly influenced by the famous “fourth line” in haiku, but I was amazed at how different an experience it was to read these poems without knowing who had written them. I had to force myself not to keep scrolling to the end to read those names. But I ended up wishing that more journals would do something similar. See how you feel.

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And finally, here’s an announcement for what promises to be an exciting new online journal, A Hundred Gourds:

The editorial team of ‘A Hundred Gourds’ welcomes your submissions to our first issue, which will be published online in December, 2011. 

’A Hundred Gourds’ is a new journal featuring haiku, haibun, haiga, tanka, resources (articles, commentaries, reviews and interviews) and special artwork. 

’A Hundred Gourds’ is managed by its editorial team: Lorin Ford, Melinda Hipple, John MacManus, Gene Murtha and Ray Rasmussen. Ron Moss will continue to support us in his valuable role of contributing and consulting artist. 

We are dedicated to producing a high quality journal, and look forward to your submissions. 

Books for review (hard copy only) may be sent to John McManus or the haiku, tanka, haiga or haibun editor respectively.

Submissions for the first issue of ‘A Hundred Gourds’ close on September 15th, 2011. Submissions and enquires may be addressed to : 

Lorin Ford, Haiku Editor: haikugourds@gmail.com 

; Melinda Hipple, Haiga Editor: haigagourds@gmail.com 

; John McManus, Resources Editor: jmac.ahgjournal@gmail.com 

; Gene Murtha, Tanka Editor: tankagourds@gmail.com 

; Ray Rasmussen, Haibun Editor: haibungourds@gmail.com, ray@raysweb.net

________________________________________________________________________________

Dead Tree News

Once again, lots of print, little time.

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Journals: Bottle Rockets, Ribbons

I love both these journals and you should too and here are some examples of why:

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From Bottle Rockets 25:

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was it the dark
we shared
or the candle

— Susan Marie La Vallee
.

wet bike seat
not everything
must be a poem

— Lucas Stensland

.
here with me distant train

— John Hawk

.
a low stone wall
neatly topped with snow
this happiness

— Bruce Ross

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sitting out
on the concrete path
that summer

very still    with ants crawling
over my skin       I did feel loved

— Joey Jenkins

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And also in this issue of Bottle Rockets, you must read the wonderful anthology/essay by Michael Fessler, Remarkable Haiku, a collection of the author’s favorite haiku with trenchant commentary on what makes them so memorable for him.

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From Ribbons 7:2, Summer 2011:

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outside, the crickets
continue to sing,
though they would
never think of it
as singing

— Rosemary Wahtola Trommer

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oh the places
we’ll go
rather than go
straight to the place
we’re all going

— John Stevenson

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snow melt —
watching the world
shrink back
to its
usual proportions

— Paul Smith

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Books: Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks (Fay Aoyagi); Where I Leave Off/Waar Ik Ophoud (Jim Kacian); Penguins/Pingviner (Johannes S.H. Bjerg)

I’m slowly working my way through the stacks of haiku books I bought this summer: first at Gayle Bull’s amazing bookshop in Mineral Point, Wis., The Foundry Books, which may have the best haiku book selection in the United States and is, terrifyingly, located only an hour from my house; second at Haiku North America. I’ll start with a couple of little books (little only in the physical sense) because somehow that makes them seem less intimidating, although on the inside they are as big as any haiku book ever written.

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Fay Aoyagi’s third collection of poetry, Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks, is as thrilling as her first two, Chrysanthemum Love (2003) and In Borrowed Shoes (2006), and is even more thrilling for the fact that it includes extensive excerpts from both these books as well as a large selection of new poetry. Fay manages to employ fairly traditional haiku aesthetics — kigo, kire — in the service of extremely striking and original images and ideas, often funny and subversive.

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cauliflower —
another day without
an adventure

forced hyacinth
a congresswoman
steals my pen

July Fourth
he criticizes my graceless use
of chopsticks

in the pool
she sheds everything
she wants to shed

soft rain
a plum tree
in its third trimester

— Fay Aoyagi

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Jim Kacian’s Where I Leave Off  is both a collection of one-line haiku and an examination of the poetics of one-line haiku: When and why do they work? He briefly describes various one-line techniques (these were also the subject of the talk by Jim I attended at HNA) and gives numerous striking examples from his own work.

1. “One-line one-thought”: “Rather than a piling up of images upon the imagination, a single image is extended or elaborated into a second context, stated or implied.”

reading the time-travel novel into the next day

— Jim Kacian

2. “Sheer speed”: “The rushing of image past the imagination results in a breathless taking in of the whole…”

in this way coming to love that one

— Jim Kacian

3. “Multiple kire”: “The advantage of one-line poems is that any of several stops can be made by the reader, and a different stop each time.”

where the smoke from a chimney ends infinity

— Jim Kacian

4. And then there’s “one-bun”: “a haibun where the prose element must be contained in a single line.”

the second week

traveling by myself i cross the continental divide, and everything that once ran in one way now runs in another, down and down

on the surface of dark water my face

— Jim Kacian

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When Johannes S.H. Bjerg’s (yes, him again) new chapbook, Penguins/Pingviner, appeared in our mailbox last week, there was much rejoicing in our household, since we are all both rabid penguin fans (no, not fans of rabid penguins, for goodness’ sake) and also staunch Johannes fans. So we sat around the kitchen table reading and laughing and musing philosophically. Go ahead, try it.

.

on the backside
of the moon
lurking penguins
.

penguins walking
the need for bridges
of chrome and sugar

.
penguins —
no respect for
top brands
.

sleeping
in softdrink vending machines
guerilla penguins
.

hole in the sky
penguins knead a blue scarf
into a human

.
penguins
believe willingly
in all things flying

.

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

_________________________________________________________________________________

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And on that note… I think I’m going to drift off to sleep now, off to the far reaches of the Haikuverse, where the penguins fly and no one ever makes you stop reading just when you get to the good part. You’re welcome to join me, that is, when you’ve finished reading everything I tell you to. What, you thought you were gonna get out of doing your homework? Think again, kids.

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 22: Not Dead Yet Edition

I’ve been sick with a few different things over the last few weeks. Spent a lot of time lollygagging around in bed. Seem to be getting better now. Still don’t feel much like writing.

Somebody want to comment and let me know what you’re writing these days? It might make me feel better to know that someone in the world is not experiencing a creative slump.

Of course, there are all those people I quote down below. They seem to be doing just fine. Terrific, in fact. There are some spectacular images here. Some precise and lovely language. Some mind-altering revelations.

All of these poems are ones that made me step back when I saw them and go, “Whoa.” And then just breathe for a while, and read the poem again a few times, and feel really thankful I’d seen it.

In case you were wondering what my criteria were for choosing poems for this feature…that’s pretty much it. If a poem seems to me to be saying something that no one else in the world ever had or could say better…it’s going in.

It’s interesting to me, now that I’ve been reading haiku for a while, and have become familiar with the work of so many poets, how even in a form as short and relatively prescribed in form and content as the haiku (or tanka), there is such a wild and woolly assortment of styles possible and extant.

Reading the poems of people whose work you know and love is a little bit like looking at the faces of people you know and love: so familiar, and utterly unique, and the uniqueness makes you love them even more. You smile when you see them and say, “Oh, yes, that couldn’t possibly be anyone but [for instance] John Martone.”

Yes, I’m feeling much better now. Thanks.

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Poetry To Which Attention Must Be Paid

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yes, this one,
gently close the humidor
– the smell of cedar
both dogs whining in the hall
eager to join me outside

—Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

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sun between clouds
the flies on a dead bird
flash blue

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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grandma’s well
the water tasted like iron
and cold—
that darkness
from which I’m made

— Charles Easter, Tinywords

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物容るゝ壜も物言ふ壜も夏   中村安伸
mono iruru bin mo mono iu bin mo natsu

.
a jar to keep things
and a jar which speaks
summer

— Yasunobu Nakamura, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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wishing on the first star for the last time … mockingbird’s song

— Terri L. French, The Mulling Muse (Please go check out Terri’s wonderful haiga associated with this poem)

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white sky –
the absent wind
with a girl’s name

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hvid himmel –
den fraværende vind
med et pigenavn

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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feeling it
not feeling it
the grasshopper
between my hands

— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

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wind
thru

pines
thru

sleep 

— John Martone, originally published in Lilliput Review and quoted on Don Wentworth’s Issa’s Untidy Hut

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everything I see
I am…
autumn moon

— Paul Smith, winner of the 2011 Haiku Pen Contest sponsored by Lyrical Passion E-Zine

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Delicious Bloggy Goodness

Since I am giving this talk next week about blogging I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good blog and which blogs I am devoutly grateful for (there are a lot of them). I mentioned a few in the last Haikuverse and here are a few more.

1. Kuniharu Shimizu, whose haiga on see haiku here are a marvel of nature most of the time anyway, has been posting some mind-blowing “linked haiga” lately. They’re like haiku sequences, except…they’re haiga sequences, and they are linked not only thematically but graphically. I’m just gonna stop trying to describe them now and order you to go look at them. My favorites are:

Haiku by A.C. Missias, Joann Klontz, and paul m.

Haiku by Cor van den Heuvel and Taneda Santoka

Haiku by Michael McClintock and Taneda Santoka

2. The fascinating people over at Icebox recently took a poll about which characteristics participants considered essential to haiku. Of a long list of possibilities, you were allowed to choose three. Now they have revealed and analyzed the results of some 104 responses, and it’s a fascinating read, especially if like me you find numbers a welcome break at times from all those words we’re always bandying about.

Full disclosure: I participated in this poll, and I am (I guess?) relieved to find out that my top three choices are identical to the top three vote-getters in the poll. Either I have a vague idea what I’m doing, or I just like to be exactly like everyone else. I haven’t decided yet.

3. Over at Morden Haiku, Matt Morden’s long haibun about his cycling tour of Scotland with his 18-year-old daughter (it was a school-leaving present) had me captivated every step of the way, which surprised me because I normally have very little interest in travelogue haibun. But Matt is so good at painting images in both prose and poetry. And he managed to capture the nature of the bond between him and his daughter without any overt description of it or any sentimentality.

at the end of a day
when I could not ask for more
wild orchids

— Matt Morden, Morden Haiku

4. At La Calebasse, Vincent Hoarau has written a moving and perceptive essay about the work of Svetlana Marisova, an excellent haiku poet from New Zealand. Unfortunately for many of you, it’s in French; fortunately for those same people, he quotes Svetlana’s haiku in English (as well as in his own French translation), so at least you can read those, and Svetlana’s haiku are must-reads.

I can’t really translate French so I wouldn’t inflict my garbled version of Vincent’s essay on you, but I will briefly quote one of his descriptions of Svetlana’s characteristic style, which “depends on the juxtaposition of images, on allusion, suggestion, and concision.” This might be a description of all or most good haiku, but it is true that there is more of a sense of mystery and a deeper resonance to Svetlana’s haiku than to most.

This makes it all the more painful to have to report that Svetlana has an aggressive form of brain cancer, for which she is currently being treated in Russia. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who knows Svetlana and her work is keeping her in their thoughts these days.

wintry sky …
these dark tumours
draining light

.
ciel hivernal … / ces tumeurs noires / drainant la lumière

— Svetlana Marisova, French translation by Vincent Hoarau

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Essaying: Words, Words, Words

The last few weeks I kept stumbling across, or getting pointed toward, thought-provoking essays about haiku, many of which I kept constantly open as tabs in my browser so I could reread them or bits of them at stray moments when, say, Facebook was failing to completely capture my attention. After a while (sometimes I’m slow) I started to notice a common theme between several of these essays: Words.

No, I don’t mean that they all contain words. I mean that they all deal in one way or another with the inadequacy of mere words to convey the meaning of haiku, with the fact that in haiku it is just as often what is not said that is important. That space, wordlessness, ma … there are so many ways people have tried to explain this notion of the open-endedness of haiku, the sense of possibility it offers the reader. But these three essays have a lot to contribute to this conversation.

Ian Marshall and Megan Simpson, in an often dense discussion of the literary theory of deconstructionism as it pertains (or doesn’t pertain) to haiku, spend a lot of time trying to decide whether the words in haiku can be trusted: whether they are revealing some kind of absolute truth or faithful depiction of the world, or whether they are saying more about the mind of their author than about any objective reality.

“What I’m getting at, what I’ve been getting at, is that the supposed ideal of ‘wordlessness’ of haiku, meaning that its language can represent the natural world in such a way that it becomes fully present in language, in seventeen syllables or less, is a fiction. But the best haiku are aware of the fiction and of the difficulty or impossibility of using words to achieve no-mind, or selflessness, or wordlessness. Bringing deconstruction to bear on haiku reveals that even haiku to some extent concern themselves with the problematics of representation, and recognizing this enriches our readings of haiku.”

— Ian Marshall and Megan Simpson, “Deconstructing Haiku: A Dialogue

Randy Brooks, in a long and rich interview with Robert Wilson in the most recent issue of the journal Simply Haiku, elaborates on his vision of haiku poetics, which considers the reader to be “co-creator” with the writer of the meaning of the haiku.

“Haiku is not a closed form of verse with three lines of five-seven-five syllables, self-contained and finished by the author. Haiku is an open form of poetry in which the silences before, within and after the haiku resonate with surplus meaning. Basho called this surplus of meaning ‘yojô.’ These unfinished silences are deliberately left open to the reader, so that the reader can enter into the imagined space of the haiku as a co-creator with the author to discover the feelings, thoughts, insights, and overall significance of the haiku. This surplus meaning is shared by the writer and reader, with a playful variety of unpredictable responses. In my opinion, this is the primary joy of haiku—the writer has crafted a haiku as a creative response to nature, reality, dreams, art, imagination, or to other haiku, and the reader gets to enter into that playful haiku with his or her own creative response and imagination.”

— Randy Brooks, interviewed by Robert Wilson in Simply Haiku

And Fay Aoyagi, in a fascinating essay about the history of the moon in haiku, talks about the necessity for subtlety and ambiguity in haiku, the need to leave things out. (The first paragraph of her essay is not specifically about this idea, but it was too wonderful not to quote here.)

“If somebody asked me to choose between the sun and the moon as a place to live, I would choose the moon. In my mind, there are highways with 10 lanes on the sun, but the moon has alleys and narrow streets I can explore on foot. For me, the sun is a destination, but the moon is a gateway and a peep-hole to an unknown world. …
“One of my Japanese friends told me that she did not understand how people write haiku in English. According to her, Japanese culture, including haiku, is very subtle. She said Japanese is a more ambiguous language than English; it is a more suitable language to express feelings. Writing in Japanese, a poet can avoid too much explicitness. I am not sure I totally agree. I think English haiku can be very suggestive, as well. … Haiku is a poetry form which requires reading between the lines. I strongly believe that we can achieve subtlety in English.”

— Fay Aoyagi, “Moon in the Haiku Tradition

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Well. I think in this edition I’ve had more of a sense than most of actually going somewhere, of making some kind of journey.

I can’t help thinking back to when I first started this blog, with a light-hearted, innocent notion that I would be spending a few minutes every day composing these charming little poems. And then…the deluge.

After just a few days of surfing erratically around the Interwebs, I began to realize that the well I had fallen into was deeper and had far more at the bottom of it than I had dreamed.

I was stunned by the richness of so much of the haiku I had found, by how different it was than the haiku I had previously seen or imagined.

I was amazed by the amount and variety of writing about haiku that I discovered, and by the amount of disagreement that existed about what exactly haiku was anyway, and by the quality and profundity of thought that so many poets and scholars poured into these tiny poems.

I had a sense of having found another country. And I knew almost immediately that it was one I wanted to emigrate to permanently, and spend a lifetime exploring.

Well, why not? The scenery is astounding, the population is warm and welcoming, the cultural traditions … well, I need say no more. But sometimes I just kind of look around and think, Wow. I am so lucky to be here.

Thank you for being here too.

Babushkas


Broom
..

Old women everywhere, like crones out of fairy tales, sweep dirt from and onto the streets with bundles of twigs. I think about stopping one of them to ask for three wishes. But they stare at me suspiciously from under their kerchiefs and mutter when they hear me speak. “She doesn’t even know Russian. Her coat isn’t warm enough. What is going to become of all of us?” All I really want, I think, is one of those brooms.

new moon
the once upon a time
of my life

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.Contemporary Haibun Online 7:2, July 2011

illustration: Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

Tendrils of Ivy (Yotsumono)

tendrils of ivy
I think I’ll paint
my mailbox blue

she moves the snake away
from the garden hose

an uninvited guest
is knocking
at the door

one last question
before the storm begins

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verse credits: willie, melissa, willie, melissa


Willie Sorlien suggested that he and I write some renku together and I said okay, even though I was a little scared because Willie has done way, way, WAY more renku than I have and has even won prizes and stuff (the triparshva linked to here, of which he was sabaki, won the 2010 Journal of Renga and Renku Renku Contest). But he was very kind and picked out a nice short form called the yotsumono that was invented by the great John Carley as a renku exercise. Believe me, I need plenty of exercise.

We wrote four of these. (The others will be showing up soon.) I did notice my linking-and-shifting muscles limbering up after a while. I think.

Here’s a couple more yotsumono written by John Carley, Lorin Ford, and John Merryfield, where you can watch their progress in the comments and read a way more intelligent discussion of the form than I could provide at this point.

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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Tanka? Okay, I Can Do That

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I check
to see what’s sprouted
we’re separated now
by the life span
of squash and cucumbers

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on the way
to see the apple blossoms —
I admire how
your story changes
with every streetlight

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(Ribbons: Tanka Society of America Journal, 7:1, Spring 2011)

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Tanka. I keep mentioning tanka in what I know is this extremely skeptical tone of voice. I spent a long time trying not to think about them. I think I was having a hard enough time trying to understand haiku (not that that process is or ever will be over for me) and seeing these tanka things, which looked kind of like haiku but were the wrong length and sounded very different, confused me. And kind of annoyed me, too, because a lot of them (although not, by any means, as high a percentage as I used to think) are flowery and dreamy and romantic and … I’m not. Flowery, dreamy, romantic things usually just make me want to go balance my checkbook or something. Or throw up. (Yes, I am a fun date. Thanks for asking.)

So I was all grouchy about tanka and didn’t even want to learn anything about it, which is unusual for me because generally I want to learn everything about everything, and the sooner the better. I sneered at and winced about and cast aspersions on tanka … and then, at some point this winter, I started writing it. Still without having the slightest idea what it actually was. Don’t ask me what that was all about. I think I was just having one of those days where haiku seemed too short. You know those days. Where you’re like “Seventeen syllables? Max? Give me a break.”

I wrote a bunch of these things and eyed them warily, and then heaved a weary sigh and went crawling humbly around the web to find out what I had done. I was thrilled to find this essay about the origins of tanka by Jane Reichhold, because it’s very funny and made me feel like maybe I didn’t have to worry so much about tanka but could just enjoy it:

“From tanka’s long history – over 1300 years recorded in Japan — the most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers. Arriving home in the morning, after having dallied with a lover all night, it became the custom of well-mannered persons to write an immediate thank-you note for the pleasures of the hospitality. Stylized into a convenient five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji, the little poem expressing one’s feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom. These were delivered to the lover by personal messenger who then was given something to drink along with his chance to flirt with the household staff. During this interval a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note which the messenger would return to his master.

Usually under some pressure – the writer had probably been either awake or engaged in strenuous activities all night – to write a verse that related, in some manner, to the previous note, that expressed (carefully) one’s feelings, and which titillated enough to cause the sender to want to return again was not an easy task. Added to this dilemma was the need to get the personal messenger on his way with a note so written that he couldn’t know exactly what was what but that the beloved would understand and appreciate. Then the giggling servants would get back to work.

“…Looking at tanka history it seems that the only infallible way of writing great tanka is to have an affair. Go ahead! Do it now. But that doesn’t mean that it must be a behind-the-bushes affair in the no-tell motel. Let yourself fall in love with anything or anyone you want to. It can be nature, a scene, a place, an activity, persons; your own kids, grandkids or even – your mate, or just life itself. Whatever feels good and right for you.

Because of their original use as a way of privately expressing emotion and especially between friends and lovers unhappy because they are separated, the feelings expressed in traditional tanka were usually either longing for better time, more faithful lovers, younger years or grief because of old age, lack of lovers, or hard times. You get the picture. When reading a great many tanka you realize you are hearing a lot of bitching. For some writers this is just the outlet for which they have been looking.”

— Jane Reichhold,  “Tanka for the Memory

So that was my first tanka breakthrough. My second happened when I humbly sent a bunch of my lame tanka off to be edited by Aubrie Cox, who graciously refrained from telling me I had no idea what I was doing and with her magical touch lightly and deftly transformed the least lame of them into something that a tanka editor might not be too appalled to see appearing in his or her inbox. The two above are the first I had accepted for publication. It felt pretty weird, I have to tell you. “Wait — I’m not a tanka poet. Am I? Oh God. I guess I am. Can I go throw up now?”

I’ve gotten over it, though. For one thing, I’ve actually read a lot of tanka since then, and a lot of it I like a lot. Also, some of my best friends are wonderful tanka poets, so I’ve really had to force myself to examine my unwarranted prejudices. If you get this issue of Ribbons, for instance (which I highly recommend you do), you will find the following stupendous tanka by my buddy Margaret Dornaus of haiku-doodle gracing the back cover, and being wonderfully and lovingly dissected inside the journal by its editor, Dave Bacharach:

at Toad Suck
I contemplate syllables
and old ponds
like a child puddle-jumping
loudly through soft falling rain

— Margaret Dornaus

And right next to it you will find another stupendous tanka by Jeffrey Woodward (Haibun Today editor extraordinaire), which Bacharach has deliberately placed in counterpoint with Margaret’s:

sweet,
but with a slight tang,
the rejected
and twisted little
apples of Winesburg

— Jeffrey Woodward

Even I have to admit that there is nothing romantic, dreamy, etc. about either of these tanka, and that they are, in fact, quite brilliant and thought-provoking poems that just happen to be two lines longer than your typical haiku and to be attempting something rather different though not entirely unconnected. If you’re looking for a better explanation than I or probably anyone else but R.H. Blyth could provide of what exactly that something is, check out this essay by Don Wentworth over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, which gives us plenty of Blyth for our delectation.

For even more tanka information, Tanka Online and American Tanka are good places to look, and Charlotte Digregorio has recently written an essay on her blog that is a good, brief introduction to the subject. Besides Ribbons, the print journals Moonbathing, Eucalypt, and red lights publish tanka exclusively; bottle rockets publishes it among other Japanese verse forms, and so does the online journal Notes from the Gean. I’m probably forgetting someone. As I so often do. Feel free, as always, to tell me what I’m missing.

*

[Note: If you subscribe to this blog, you are not imagining things. Another version of this essay appeared a few days ago. It was an accident — it wasn’t finished yet — and I promptly deleted it. Sorry about the confusion.]

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 18: Here Comes the Sun Edition

So. It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. (That’s a line from some song we sang at our third-grade choral concert. Amazing that I still remember it.)

This is how long it was: Have you ever had one of those dreams where the whole time you knew something really great was about to happen, something really fantastic you could hardly wait for, and the dream went on and on and all kinds of other humdrum, boring things happened, and you were thinking, “Okay, isn’t it about time the really great thing happened now?”, and then it was just about to happen, oh man, and … you woke up. And it never happened.

Yeah. I was seriously afraid this winter was going to turn out to be like one of those dreams. There was the cold. And the snow. And the more cold. And the unrelenting brownness and grayness. … Did I mention the cold? All through March. All through April. Into May. May!

Everyone else in the world (it seemed) was writing these cheerful blossom haiku and I kept looking out my window wondering if this was one of those dreams after all. Cold rain. Bare branches. Me shivering in my sweaters and occasionally even long underwear still, the grass like straw, the cold! so painful it felt like some kind of bone disease! (Should I go to the doctor?)

Well. So okay, it was still only about fifty degrees today with a stiff breeze. But there was sun! There’s supposed to be sun all week. And there are flowers everywhere. There are blossoms! There are lilacs! The grass is green, the leaves are green. …It finally happened!

Not only that, but I handed in my last assignments of the semester last week. Another thing I thought would never happen. And my son finally got his driver’s license, which means I don’t have to drive him everywhere anymore. [Though he will kill me if I don’t mention that he’s been getting himself practically everywhere on his bike since he was like ten, so it’s not like I’ve been a slave to his transportation.]

And my husband finally got over whatever microbial infestation had him in its death grip for the last month, so he can do something besides sit around making exploding-lung noises. Like take me to the Arboretum to look at apple blossoms. And wait patiently while I scribble illegible things about them in a notebook. Cold and lonely no more. So glad that dream is over.

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falling in love with a memory apple blossoms

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Haiku of the Month: All Spring and Summer, All the Time

I’ve mentioned before how you can follow the world’s weather patterns by observing the haiku that is posted on the Internet. Well, I was looking through all the haiku I had collected over the last three weeks and noticed that not a single one referred to autumn or winter. (I must not have been hanging out on enough southern hemisphere blogs or something. I apologize to that half of the globe.)

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river sunrise
a girl’s shadow
swims from my ankles

— Lorin Ford, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku

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as it lands
the mallard shatters the house
in the river

— Polona Oblak, Crows & Daisies

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migrating geese
the shapes of chins
in a crowd

— an’ya, DailyHaiga

(Please go visit this very lovely haiga.)

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spring dusk –
the river pauses
for a moment
to take the weight
of a swan

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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twilight
settling on all
the unfound eggs

— Pearl Nelson, Pearl Nelson

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Palm Sunday
a card game called
‘doubt’

— Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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summer rain I’m still a fool around gravity

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, scented dust

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a careless butterfly:
lost among thousands
of heavy raindrops

— Vladimir Devide/haiga by Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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“The typhoon rain seems to have stopped this morning here, but the clouds are still pretty heavy. People walking on the street are taking umbrella along. Small insects, however, are sometimes careless and venture into the pouring rain only to be slapped down on the ground.

I heard that when the tsunami was approaching, quite a few people actually went out to the pier or seaside to watch the wave. How careless I thought, but I guess that is what happens when one underestimates the real power of the nature. Being curious and being careful are both the working of the mind. It makes a big difference which working one chooses in time of danger. I certainly choose not to be a careless butterfly.”

— Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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春寒の山のひとつがはぐれけり   齋藤愼爾
harusamu no yama no hitotsu ga hagurekeri

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spring chill
one of the mountains
goes astray

— Shinji Saito, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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it has to end:
the wind
to cherry blossoms

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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in tranquility
cherry petals are falling
abyssal fish

— Taro Kunugi, from Donna Fleischer’s Word Pond


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secretly
still expecting
the living
that life owes me
– lupins !

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

(I had a hard time choosing between this tanka and several others Mark posted this week that were equally wonderful. You should really go over there and decide for yourself which is your favorite.)

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between tour groups
the garden
just the garden

— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

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open scissors beside a vase of water

— Eve Luckring, from A New Resonance [6]: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, Red Moon Press, 2009, quoted on Basho’s Road

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This is the toy theatre room. You’ll notice the wooden Lawyer. Took forty-two hours to get his jaw right. We’re staging Visions on Wednesday. You should come.

— Ben Pullar, a handful of stones

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(You’re right, this is not a haiku. It’s a small stone, which is sometimes the same thing and sometimes not. You should let Fiona Robyn tell you about them if you don’t already know. And this reminds me — Fiona and her fiance Kaspalita, who are getting married on June 18, are asking for a wedding present of small stones written on their wedding day. They are lovely people and if you write them a poem I promise you’ll get some good karma. Shhhh. Don’t tell them I told you.)

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Web Wide World


So much fun stuff to read this month, so little time…

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Understanding Modern English-Language Haiku” from Winning Writers, April 2010

This is a fascinating essay that features the editors of five haiku journals speaking about the process they go through when writing haiku in general and one specific haiku in particular. The introductory remarks feature a discussion of one of my pet peeves, how profoundly haiku is marginalized in the wider world of poetry and the serious ignorance and misunderstanding of what haiku is among mainstream poets.

It’s encouraging that this essay appears on a mainstream poetry website. I hope that the remarks of Jane Reichhold, John Stevenson, George Swede, Linda Papanicolau, and Colin Stewart Jones do something to enlighten at least a few writers about the real nature and potential of haiku.

cold night
the dashboard lights
of another car

— John Stevenson

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Serendipiku

Speaking of Colin Stewart Jones…I got the link to that last essay off his blog, serendipiku, which is very interesting, as is his static website, also, slightly confusingly, called serendipiku. (It’s called branding, I guess. I must get with the times. Nice work, Col.)

Colin is a wonderful poet and artist. His one-word bird haiga are really fun, and I especially like his graphic haibun, which are unlike any other haibun you’ve ever seen. I recommend in particular “Menu” and “Burberry” and “Midsummer Moon.” The last, about insomnia, contains one of my favorite poetic lines of the month: “Can’t even conjure up a pathetic fallacy.”A possibly crippling ailment for some writers of haiku, probably including me.

secret promise…
almost thirty years now
since I was
the twelve-year-old boy
looking over a high wall

— Colin Stewart Jones (originally published in Muse India 37, May/June 2011)

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Insect Haiku From the Shiki-School

You can download this unpublished manuscript from 1959, by Harold J. Isaacson and Helen Shigeko Isaacson, from the Internet Archive (an amazing collection of online texts, images, and audio which if you aren’t careful will suck you into its orbit and never let you go).

It’s an excellent collection of classical haiku about insects, with commentary. What makes it really interesting, though (to me, anyway, big geek that I am), is that the translations incorporate (untranslated, because they have no real translation) the kireji or cutting words (ya, kana, and keri) that the Japanese employ in many of their haiku for emphasis and/or as a way of marking a pause between the two parts of the poem.

Here are a couple of examples:

Ownerless
the helmet on which sleeps
a butterfly kana

— Choi, tr. Isaacson
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Golden flies ya
Where on the ground has spilled
a melon’s entrails

— Chikuba, tr. Isaacson

At first I thought this manner of translation was very strange and awkward and disliked it. But now I kind of like the rhythm it gives and feel that in some ways it helps me understand better what these poems must be like in the original. I wouldn’t want these to be the only translations I read of these haiku, but I think there’s definitely a place for them in the world. That’s my final answer.

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Women Poets of Japan from The Green Leaf

“The Green Leaf”  has a lot on it, from mainstream poems by contemporary authors to classical haiku in translation to vast quantities of photo haiga to contemporary haiku to…the works of women poets of Japan, which is what I feel like featuring today because I just do, okay? The whole site, though, is well worth rummaging around in, though it feels incomplete and uneven (but who am I to talk) and also it does something which drives me completely out of my mind, which is fail to credit the translator of translated poems.

I hate this because it’s inconsiderate not only to the translator, who has done a very difficult job that deserves to be acknowledged, but to readers who might like to know where they can seek out (or, ahem, avoid) other translations by a particular translator or compare translations between translators. So I was feeling a strange mixture of annoyance and delight as I browsed around here. But then I came upon this tanka and forgave everything.

Gazing across the fields,
at Taketa I hear the cranes
ceaselessly crying:
not a space not a moment
of pause in my longing.

Lady Otomo-no-Sakanoue (8th century)

(There’s a haiga of this poem, too, if you follow the link from the poet’s name above.)

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Bare Bones Haiku

So Jane Reichhold has done it again. Last year when I was just getting started writing haiku I used Jane’s list of 24 haiku-writing techniques to help me understand what haiku were all about and all the different ways they can be written. You can find her list here on the web and also in her excellent book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku.

Jane is great at explaining how haiku work and breaking down the process of writing them in a way even a more-or-less clueless newbie can understand, as I can attest. She does have her own particular understanding of what haiku are, which is not necessarily everyone’s understanding, but hey, who doesn’t.

Anyway, what she’s done now is create this series of fourteen quite brief lessons that take a beginner through the process of learning what a haiku is, what the various parts of a haiku are, what a good haiku looks and feels and sounds like. You could do way worse as a beginner than start with these lessons and their exercises. I really like this one, for instance:

“Find a haiku that you really admire and write it [down]. It would be kind to the author to record his or her name and where you found the poem.

Then begin to rewrite the poem. Maybe start by just changing one word. Or changing one line. Or take a phrase of image you greatly admire and see how many ways you can make it work with other images.”

— Jane Reichhold, “Bare Bones Haiku, Lesson Two: Before Writing Your Own Haiku

(Disclaimer: Obviously, this is just an exercise for your own poetic development — you wouldn’t want to try to publish the results of this exercise or pass them off as your own poetry unless they ended up really, really, really different from the originals.)

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The Haiku Foundation Contest Archive

Once again The Haiku Foundation has created a very cool resource for readers and writers of haiku, which is this archive of past winners of most of the major haiku contests. If you are looking for an online collection of excellent contemporary haiku, needless to say this would be a good place to start.

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“Repetition in Haiku

This is an older (2001) essay by Florence Vilen, discussing when and how repetition makes haiku more effective. Most of the essay is taken up by examples, which really is my favorite kind of essay. And haiku with repetition are some of my favorite kind of haiku, so this made me very happy.

the sound they make
the sound I make
autumn leaves

— Gary Hotham

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Dead Tree News

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tea’s aftertaste,
by Aubrie Cox,
graphic design and illustrations by Katie Baird,
published by Bronze Man Books ($12)
(ordering information)

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So you wanna see the most adorable haiku book ever published? Do you? Do you? You do? Yay! Okay…here’s the cover:

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Cover of the haiku chapbook "tea's aftertaste"

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Yes…that is a hand-sewn Japanese binding in red thread, thanks for asking. And that is a tiny little sketch of the moon reflected in a teacup. I did say it was adorable, didn’t I?

… Not sold yet? Looking for some more substance? Okay, here are a couple of the inside pages:

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distant galaxies / all the things / I could have been

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… I know, right? All the pages are like that.  Aubrie’s haiku are amazing, and Katie’s illustrations are awesome, and you just keep looking through the book going, “Why don’t more people write more haiku that so movingly combine the personal and the universal, that are filled with such astute and original observations of the concrete world, that are simultaneously mercilessly honest and lovingly generous?… And then why don’t they have an artist with the same rare sensibility draw touching little illustrations to go with their haiku… And then why don’t they put the whole thing together in a lovingly designed package and sew it up with red thread?”

It’s a mystery, really. But I wouldn’t spend too long agonizing over it. Just get the book and enjoy it. You’re welcome.

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Sigh. No matter how much I write it always feels like I’m forgetting something. If you figure out what it is, let me know, okay? I’m getting old, I need help with these things.

what I meant to say
still folded into
unopened blossoms

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Blossoms (and Blossoms, and Blossoms, and Blossoms)

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ki no moto wa shiru mo namasu mo sakura kana

— Basho (1654-1694)
1690
Season: Spring
Kigo: Cherry blossoms

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Under the cherry-trees,
On soup, and fish-salad and all,
Flower-petals

— R.H. Blyth, 1950
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Under the trees
Soup, fish salad, and everywhere
Cherry blossoms.

— Makoto Ueda, 1970

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Under the cherry–
blossom soup,
blossom salad.

— Lucien Stryk, 1985

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From all these trees,
in the salads, the soup, everywhere,
cherry blossoms fall.

— Robert Hass, 1994

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I spent part of this semester completing a class assignment by developing a structure for a database of classical haiku, using XML and related markup tools. Don’t get too impressed. It’s pretty primitive. And at the moment it contains fourteen haiku. And I don’t have any real enthusiasm for spending the hundreds of hours that would be required to expand and refine it enough to make it at all useful.

But I do think it would be really, really cool if such a thing existed. As you can see from my example above, there’s the Japanese (romaji) version of the haiku, accompanied by numerous translations (love, love, love comparative translation), and information about the season and kigo associated with the haiku, which can easily be indexed using markup tools. I can’t even imagine how useful and fun that kind of database would be, if it had enough haiku in it.

But barring some really bored person coming along with a fondness for both haiku and data entry (do such people exist?), this dream will probably not come to fruition any time soon. But I felt like I had to get some kind of real-world satisfaction out of this project, so here’s one of Basho’s more delightful spring haiku for you to enjoy, in all its delightful versions. (I’m kind of fond of Lucien Stryk’s translation. You?)

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first apples
sniffing for the lost scent
of blossoms

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May Day: One Year

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May Day
every nest
has a voice

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anniversary new cells in my writing hand

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Beltane
in the rear-view mirror
a faraway fire

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A year ago today I started this blog. I’d written a few haiku over the previous few days — something I’d practically never done before — and for some reason felt that they needed to be inflicted on the world. And that I needed to write more — every day, in fact — and inflict all those on the world as well.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe it was something to do with it being May Day, which has always seemed like one of the year’s pivotal days to me. Well, it is, of course. In the Japanese conception of the seasons, this is approximately the day that summer begins. (It ends, of course, in early August, when you first begin to sense that melancholy in the air. You know that melancholy? The Japanese love that. They call it autumn and get all weepy and happy. Me too.)

This was also true of European cultures until fairly recent times, which is why we call the summer solstice midsummer. The first of May went by a variety of names for the pre-modern Europeans: Beltane, Walpurgisnacht. It was about purification, fertility, all that useful stuff. There were bonfires to symbolically cleanse things, and dancing to get sexy. The harvest was going in, the thaw was finally complete, the layers of clothes were coming off…time for a party.

Here in southern Wisconsin, and also in southern New England, where I was raised, May is the month when you finally feel like you can breathe easy, because now there’s practically no chance that there will be any more significant snowfall or lengthy cold spells until November. (Practically no chance, I said. This year, I wouldn’t put it past May to dump a blizzard on us or something.)

So for those of us around here who spend most of the winter weeping quietly in a corner, the beginning of May is the time when we creep out of our corners and put away the boxes of Kleenex and admit that, just possibly, life might be worth living. New projects start to seem as enticing as new clothes.

Hence, I suspect, my more or less insane undertaking of last May 1. I remember feeling a sense of great satisfaction at seeing my first post go up, with that big “1 May” on it. It made the whole thing seem much more real than all the previous times I’d started blogs, on whatever forgettable days I started them on. And right from the beginning, this blog felt different than all those other blogs, which lasted only until I figured out that I didn’t actually have anything to say, typically after three or four days.

Writing haiku, I found, especially once I started to figure out what haiku actually were, made me feel like I did in fact have something to say, that there was actually an infinite universe of things to say, because, of course, there is an infinite universe — and if you keep your eyes open you will always be able to observe something worth observing, and worth telling someone else about.

I still feel like that. I sometimes go crazy, in fact, from the number of things there are to say about the world in haiku. Not that I have really figured out how to say them well most of the time, but that challenge is always there. Those possibilities delight me. The whole world, passing by in a predictable but novel-seeming cycle year after year, trip after trip around the sun — how could that ever not be enough for anyone to write about?

Haiku can be thought of as time-tellers or time-markers — a large part of their original function was to announce the season that a particular string of linked verse was beginning in — and now that I have spent an entire year with haiku, have written all the obligatory leaf-falling and snow-falling and blossom-falling verses, have marked all the changes of the moon, and come back around to the beginning, that aspect of their nature is beginning to intrigue me more than ever.

The year is a cycle; it’s good to know when you are in it. It’s also good to know when you are in your life. When was before this? When’s after it? Most importantly — when is now? Writing haiku — I won’t say always, because I never say always, and I reserve the right to change my mind about everything — is a way of saying: I was here, then. That was now. And since time keeps flowing, there is always another now to write about. I feel very lucky about that.

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Thanks for hanging around with me this past year and listening politely while I wandered around babbling incoherently. I appreciate it immensely. I mean, no matter how great I thought haiku were, I doubt I would have kept writing a blog that no one ever read or commented on. Or one of those blogs where people are always arguing and yelling at each other.

Fortunately, instead of one of those sad, dysfunctional-family kinds of blogs, I have the kind of happy-family blog that is constantly filled with the pleasant voices of many kind visitors. It never feels like work to hang out here. Practically everything else feels like work, but not this. (She says, staring gloomily at the pile of end-of-term projects that she’s way, way behind on.)

I have some vague thoughts for fun things we can do together this summer. But right now, I’m a little too busy and sleep-deprived to form these thoughts into coherent ideas, let alone coherent words. Give me a couple of weeks, okay?

Happy May Day. Go build a fire. And do a little dance. Come on, you know you want to.

April 28: Post Office

The main post office on Gorky Street in Moscow. A line of squat beige phones —  a line of people in thick coats to their ankles standing beside them. Staring at them like half-boiled pots, waiting for them to ring. Waiting to hear the voice of someone from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

You’ve filled in the required forms. When do you want to talk? Whom do you want to talk to? For how long would you like this conversation to continue? Be careful: they’ll give you exactly the amount of time you ask for, no more and no less. But the phones are ringing, your mind is buzzing, you can only make awkward, half-thought-through calculations.

Not long after our phones ring and we lift the receivers to our ears like stones, we realize we answered all the questions wrong. The conversations should have been earlier or later, longer or shorter. The people we are talking to are not people we really know. We’ve forgotten the languages they’re speaking. We live in different countries for what we now know is forever, though we meant it to be temporary. “Wait —” we say. “It’s about to end —”

The phone makes a noise that means my life has returned to me. Everything goes silent until it’s the next person’s turn. Down the line, feet shuffle, stirring the hems of coats.

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melting snow —
letting go
of what I meant to say

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(Chrysanthemum 9, April 2011)

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 6 (The Firebird)

sunrise…
the firebird flies past
my window

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What do you mean, what’s the firebird?

(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Fairy tales)

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Moving on: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 7th

Machines

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See this post for an explanation of what this is.

See the NaHaiWriMo website.

See the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page, and contribute haiku there if you want. (It doesn’t have to have anything to do with this prompt. It’s just a suggestion.)