April 19 (West Wind)

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west wind
the rain arrives
without you

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(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Wind)
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Moving on: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 20th:

Walls

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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.)

April 18: History

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spring planting
the history book open
to the last page

.(NaHaiWriMo topic: History)

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When I gave this prompt, I suspected it might cause a little angst for some people who saw it as overly abstract or intellectual for haiku. And in fact, one person (whom I respect enormously as a person and a poet) did wonder whether haiku on this topic weren’t “desk haiku,” haiku based more on ideas than images. I understand why people might feel that way — the word “history” sounds so abstract, so theoretical. It might seem as if I’m asking for a term paper instead of a poem.

But the classical haiku poets didn’t shy away from historical topics — perhaps the most famous example being Basho’s haiku written after his visit to the site of a famous historic battle:

summer grass …
those mighty warriors’
dream tracks

— Basho, translated by William H. Higginson

There’s also Buson’s deathbed verse:

Winter warbler —
long ago in Wang Wei’s
hedge also

— Buson, translated by Robert Hass

I think maybe for some people history is a very textbook kind of thing; it doesn’t seem real to them, not in the same way that the events of their own daily life do. But as soon as these events happen — they pass into the realm of history. History isn’t all politics, philosophy, sociology — it’s the clothes people wore when you were a child, it’s the squat, homely horse Abe Lincoln rode to review the troops during the Civil War, it’s the birds that were singing right before the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, it’s what your mother gave you for breakfast the morning JFK was shot. It’s the world, the whole concrete world of concrete details, the one that haiku poets cherish, only in the past.

This is how I responded on the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page when this prompt was called into question:

“Maybe I’m weird — history for me is about images a lot more than ideas, but then I tend to think in pictures a lot. For instance, when someone says ‘the battles of Lexington and Concord’ to me, I don’t start thinking about battle strategy or the philosophical underpinnings of the Revolution, I start thinking about the field in Concord where the battle was, which I’ve visited; there’s a great wooden bridge there and the grass is very green in the summer, and it’s not far from Walden Pond, where there’s a stone cairn in the woods on the site of Thoreau’s cabin…


the battle site
children run back and forth
across the bridge
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the cries of swimmers
we add one more stone
to his grave”

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Anyway: Moving on:

NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 19th

Wind


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.)

April 18: Idle Thoughts in Spring

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1.
I keep
so many
of your secrets.

2.
Rain blurs
the lines
between us.

3.
Some day the moon
will be fully
explored.

4.
The birds
are talking
incessantly
in an effort
to get lucky.

5.
Last night,
nothing happened
again.

6.
I have no idea what happens
anywhere else
on the planet.

7.
I mean it about the moon:
everything will be known
in the end.

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April 14 (Spilled Moon)

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the heat —
spilled moon poaching
in the river

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(NaHaiWriMo topic: Rivers and streams)
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Moving on: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 14th:

Boxes and other containers

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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.)

April 7 (Fading Rainbow)

fading rainbow —
the coin counter rejects
my lucky penny

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(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Machines)

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Moving on: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 8th

Herbs and spices

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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.)

April 6 (Anniversary)

anniversary
we argue about which way
the snow is falling

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First published in The Mainichi Daily News, Feb. 22, 2011

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(Special thanks to Aubrie Cox for letting me know this poem had appeared in print — after six weeks I still hadn’t noticed. Now go look at Aubrie’s doodle haiga.)

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Husband: But our anniversary is in August. And why would we argue about anything so stupid?

Me: No, no, dear, I meant the other guy I’ve been married to for twenty years.

Husband: Oh.


April 4 (Cirrus Sky)

cirrus sky
the patch of window
I forgot to wash

(NaHaiWriMo prompt: Cleaning)

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Moving along: NaHaiWriMo prompt for April 5th

Planets

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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.)

March 17: Autumn Wind (in Wet Cement)

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

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

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

wet cement —
kids hide in the bushes
giggling

— Gayle Bull

March 11: Family Haiku

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I didn’t have anything today. I wanted to post but I just was … empty. I was sick of my voice. Didn’t feel like talking anymore.

Then I looked around at my family and suddenly thought, These are the voices I want to hear instead. So we went out for pizza and I took a notebook and I solicited phrases from them. Phrases about what had happened to them this week and about the first signs of spring. We talked about stuff and I kept writing things down. Lots of scribbling and dead ends.

We got home and I looked at the scribbles and I put some things together and read everyone a haiku I had assembled from the pieces they gave me. I made sure they approved of them. And here they are.

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My mom (visiting from New England, where are stone walls all over the place, including her back yard):


snow melting
my stone wall
reappears

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My husband (spent last weekend cleaning frantically to prepare for my mom’s visit; has terrible teeth):


spring cleaning
the last tooth
capped

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My son (claims he told me a long time ago that he needs new boots):


slush
new holes
in my old boots

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So what’s your family up to these days? Anything worth writing home about?

March 9: What I Lost (Haibun)

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

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

childhood summers —
he combs my tangled hair
painlessly

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

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

Nothing else can ever hurt me.

deep inside
the snowbank —
a cell phone rings

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

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March 8: This Is Not a Haiku

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Forward

March: It’s not just about the wind.
Light from the sun reaches us
and keeps going.
Raindrops flow like glass on glass.
My son is tracing circuit diagrams
on the back of a page from Hamlet.
We all dream that way sometimes.

When you climb a mountain
it divides the day.
Spring at the bottom and
winter at the top.
I pick up the phone, put it down again.
It’s not the right season to go backward.
I wish some year I’d remember
to write down the date
I hear the first bird sing.

Once a red-tailed hawk
moved into our neighborhood
and surveyed the chipmunks for days
before deciding to move on.
Don’t tell me you’ve never been tempted
to stay too long.
I’m sure there’s a song about that.

The equinox is coming:
are you equal to it?
This is when we realize
that snow is water.
That ice is light.
That every day the sun reaches us
at a slightly different angle:
March.

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So I’m really busy this week. Really. Insanely. Busy. Right now I should be doing six other things. Going to bed being one of them. Every minute for the last week I should have been doing six other things. A lot of those minutes I spent writing poetry instead. I’m hopeless that way.

At one point I guess I decided that it wasn’t enough to jot down a haiku or two in my off minutes, I needed to write a longer poem instead, one that would require some concentrated effort and allow me to put off my much more boring tasks for as long as possible. So I wrote this.  Sorry.

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NaHaiWriMo, Week 4: On Being Weird

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

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Whew. I made it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Haikuverse, No. 14: Abridged Edition

Everyone have a nice Valentine’s Day? Looking forward to warmer weather? (Or cooler, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere?) Great. Glad to hear it.

Okay, got the chitchat out of the way. No time. Must be fast. Short. Abbreviated. Abridged. Yes, that’s it. This is the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books of haiku columns. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s just my boring words that are abridged, not the haiku.

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Haiku (Etc.) of the Week

(Poems I found and liked the last couple of weeks.)

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I am giving pride of place this week to Amy Claire Rose Smith, the 13-year-old winner of the youth haiku contest at The Secret Lives of Poets. This haiku is not just “good for a thirteen-year-old.” I would be proud of having written it. Amy is the co-proprietor of The Spider Tribe Blog and Skimming the Water along with her mother, Claire Everett, also a fine haiku and tanka poet (I mean, she’s okay for a grownup, you know?) who has been featured in this space previously.

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listening
to the brook’s riddles
a moorhen and I
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— Amy Claire Rose Smith

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From Haiku Bandit Society:

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pearl diver
a full breath,
a full moon

— el coyote

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From Crows & Daisies:

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sleet shower
plum blossoms
on flickr

— Polona Oblak

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From Via Negativa:

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moon in eclipse
I remember every place
I’ve seen that ember

— Dave Bonta

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(The first line links to a spectacular photo by Dave, take a look.)

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From Morden Haiku:

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stretching out
the peloton
a hint of spring

— Matt Morden

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From scented dust:

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still winter –
a heavy book about
nutritional supplements

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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(Johannes has also been writing a lengthy series of haiku about penguins that are delighting my son and me. A few of them are at his blog, linked above, and he’s also been tweeting a lot of them (@jshb32). Both in English and in Danish, because I asked nicely. 🙂 Thanks, Johannes.)

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the auld fushwife
sits steekin –
her siller needle dertin
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the old fishwife
sits sewing –
her silver needle darting
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— John McDonald

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From Yay words! :

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late winter cold
I suckle
a honey drop

— Aubrie Cox

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From The Haiku Diary:

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Ripeness Is All

In the produce section:
A very pregnant woman,
smelling a grapefruit.

— Elissa

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From a handful of stones:

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Joyfulness Keeps Pushing Through

I’m reading
T. S. Eliot

Goethe
and the Old Testament

But I can’t help it

— Carl-Henrik Björck

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From haiku-usa:

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returning spring
in the dawn light she looks like
my first love

— Bill Kenney

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(Bill’s comment: “Line 1 may be a bit optimistic, but it is warming up, and, in my personal saijiki, spring begins on Valentine’s Day, regardless of the weather.”)
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have you thought
of your effect on us?
full moon
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— Stella Pierides
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(Stella’s note about the genesis of this haiku: “I wrote this haiku trying to understand aspects of (by skirting close to) Issa’s poem, posted as an epigraph on the Red Dragonfly blog.” I found this interesting because I, too, have been thinking about my epigraph lately, after having kind of pushed it to the back of my mind for some time. And loving moon haiku as I do, I really liked Stella’s take on it.)
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a bit of parade
from the sparrow …
first flakes, last snow
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— Ricky Barnes
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まどろむの活用形に春の雪   小川楓子
madoromu no katsuyôkei ni haru no yuki
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conjugation
of ‘doze’
spring snow
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— Fuko Ogawa, translated by Fay Aoyagi
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how many haiku
must I write…
waiting for you
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— Miriam Sagan
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(The person Miriam was waiting for in this haiku was the great Natalie Goldberg — check out the link for a wonderful story by Natalie about an evening she and Miriam spent together.)
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my gate–
just six radishes
remain in supply
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four, five, nine years
always the first to bloom…
cherry tree
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— Issa, translated by David Lanoue
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(Does everyone know that you can get one of Issa’s haiku emailed to you daily if you ask nicely? These are a couple that landed in my inbox this week, and of course after confessing my love of number haiku I had to include them here.)
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“Class Warfare in Wisconsin: 10 Things You Should Know” (Tikkun Daily)

a long day…
field laborers
fasten stars
to the under belly of
a snail shaped moon
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— Robert D. Wilson
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(Normally I try to keep this blog a politics-free zone, but can I help it if Robert wrote a great tanka and Haiku News connected it to a headline about the protests in my state against the governor’s budget bill? I’m all for art for art’s sake, but if art happens to intersect with politics in an artistically pleasing way, I’m all for that too.)

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A Story, A Story

At jornales, Alegria Imperial recently recounted a wonderful story (originally written for the Vancouver Haiku Group) about meeting a Japanese woman who critiqued her haiku in a way that seems to me very reminiscent of the way that Momoko critiques Abigail Freedman’s haiku in The Haiku Apprentice, something I wrote about not so long ago. The point of both Momoko and Mutsumi, Alegria’s mentor, is that haiku must come from the heart, must not just be a linguistic or intellectual exercise but must express something fundamental about what the poet is feeling.
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I think you should really go over and read the whole story yourself, but I’ll quote a few choice passages to give you an idea of what it’s all about.
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The white gold moon: A Japanese haiku experience
Or how a hole in the sky turned into a pair of wings in my heart

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Mutsumi and I did meet over spare egg sandwiches and coconut muffins at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria. … I laid the printed sheets out on the table, two pages of ten haiku. I had noticed her wince as she read them and then, she pushed the pages away.

… She pointed to one of them and asked me, or to my mind, accused me, “Where is your heart?”

The haiku she had her forefinger on is this:

hole in dark sky?
but
the white moon

… “When you wrote this how did you feel?”

“Well, in the dark night sky on a full moon, I looked up and there was the moon like a white hole in the sky.”

“So…”

“Seeing a hole although it was bright sort of scared me but it also delighted me because I realized it is but the moon.”

“And so…”

“That’s it.”

“That’s why, it can’t be a haiku. It cannot stop there. It has to stop right here,” she tapped her chest with her hand and to mine, finally a gesture which uplifted me, “in the heart, your heart.”

We plumbed the idea deeper. She focused on my delight to see the moon. What did I want to do about it? And how would I have wanted to reach the moon. I said the only I could would be “to fly”. She began to smile and latched on to the image, to the idea of flying. She asked how I would have wanted to fly. And I said with wings, of course.

“But you can’t have wings. Still you can fly with your thoughts, your thoughts of happiness,” she said. “Think of where these come from,” she urged me on.

“In my heart, of course!”

“There you are! There is your haiku!”

She took the piece of paper from my hand and began writing in Japanese, translating the characters into this:

gin-iro* tsuki no hikari*
kurai yoru watashi no kokoro
tsubasa

I asked what each word meant and the haiku flowed:

white gold moon
on a dark night in my heart
a pair of wings

— Alegria Imperial


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Dead Tree News: Journaled

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Frogpond, the venerable journal of the Haiku Society of America, edited by George Swede, came in the mail last week. First I clasped it to my heart and carried it around with me everywhere for a few days. Then I started making the difficult decisions about which tiny portion of the contents I could share with you guys. Here’s what I came up with:

First of all, I’ll mention right off the bat that there was an essay by Randy Brooks called “Where Do Haiku Come From?” that I am going to have to write a separate post about because I can’t do it justice here. So remind me about that if I haven’t come through in, say, a couple of months.

There were also a couple of interesting and related essays by Ruth Yarrow and David Grayson about bringing current events and economic realities into the writing of haiku. Ruth wrote about the recent/current financial crisis and David about homelessness. Both discussed the importance of not neglecting this aspect of our reality when we look for haiku material; David also discussed how to avoid the pitfalls of sentimentality and cliche when dealing with topics that start out with such strong emotional associations. I tend to think that the reality of the urban environment and the modern political and economic climate are seriously neglected in haiku (and I am as guilty as anyone else of neglecting them), so I was happy to see these essays here.

Second of all, here are the titles of some haibun you might want to take a look at if a copy of Frogpond falls into your path (which it will do if you join the Haiku Society of America, hint hint):

Little Changes, by Peter Newton; The First Cold Nights, by Theresa Williams; Not Amused, by Ray Rasmussen; Marry Me, by Genie Nakano; Gail, by Lynn Edge; This Strange Summer, by Aurora Antonovic; Home, by John Stevenson; Looking Back, by Roberta Beary; Koln, by David Grayson.

And lastly … the haiku. Those that particularly struck me for whatever reason:

sunset
warmth from within
the egg

— Johnette Downing

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high beams visit
a small bedroom
my thin cotton life

— Dan Schwerin

 

coffee house babble
among all the voices
my conscience

— Robert Moyer

 

pruning
the bonsai…
my knotty life

— Charlotte DiGregorio

 

if only she had been buried wild crimson cyclamen

— Clare McCotter

 

Christmas tree
wrong from every angle
trial separation

— Marsh Muirhead

 

morning obituaries …
there i am
between the lines

— Don Korobkin

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full moon —
all night the howling
of snowmobiles

— John Soules

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the cumulonimbus
full of faces
hiroshima day

— Sheila Windsor

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leaves changing…
the river
………….lets me be who I am

— Francine Banwarth

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Done! Okay, for me, that really wasn’t bad.

Just wanted to say that I will probably not have another Haikuverse update for at least 3 weeks, possibly 4, since in March I will be contending vigorously with midterms, family visits, a new job, and oh, yeah, this haijinx column gig. (Send me news!) I’ll miss droning endlessly on at you guys but at least this will give you a chance to catch up with all the old columns.

February 17: Numerical Order

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

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seven or eight
sparrows
count them again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ishihara 石原重方

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

vitamin pills
each day two of them –
the waterfall freezes

— Ono Shuka (Oono Shuka) 大野朱香

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

three raindrops
and three or four
fireflies

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

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

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

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lightning flash–
suddenly three people
face to face

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mid-river
on three or four stools…
evening cool

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cool air–
out of four gates
entering just one

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on four or five
slender blades of grass
autumn rain

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a five or six inch
red mandarin orange…
winter moon

and one of my favorites of all time —

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

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

NaHaiWriMo, Week 2

8    winter shadows the color of winter hats
9    spinning in circles trying to reason with the galaxy
10    cold archive room Abe Lincoln’s ordinary horse
11    chocolate sauce dipping a toe in a sun-warmed puddle
12    lark silver bullet entering my airspace
13    clouds of the world checking their immigration status
14    oil slick nebula in embryo

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I seem to be doing very weird things with these. I guess that’s kind of the point of this endeavor. Well, I kind of see it as the point. Experimenting, risking seeming stupid or incompetent in hopes that you’ll occasionally hit upon something interesting or worthwhile. I’ve had to force myself to be very brave and non-self-censoring this month. I keep imagining people thinking to themselves, “God, she’s gone off the deep end, hasn’t she?” Wandering away shaking their heads. Wondering if they really want to come back.

It’s interesting, though, because whenever I start to feel guilty about inflicting some trite gobbledygook on you people, it will turn out that people actually like the stuff I thought was trite gobbledygook. I mean, people with good taste, better taste than I have. I’m starting to wonder if I actually have the slightest idea what I’m doing here … Stop nodding your heads so vigorously.

Halfway through. I guess I’ll make it.

February 11 (Its Depth)

first snow
I no longer have a child
to measure its depth

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World Haiku Review, January 2011

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I enjoyed a lot of things about World Haiku Review this time around but I can’t say I enjoyed the essay “Haiku as a World Phenomenon” by editor Susumu Takiguchi. My appreciation for it went way, way deeper than enjoyment. If I were feeling more flippant about it I’d say it rocked my world but really, that’s entirely the wrong tone for this essay. I learned so much from it and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of those essays — there have been so many since last May [hey, remind me to create a list of links to them in my sidebar] — that both gives voice to some things I had been incoherently thinking about and also gives me entirely new and exciting ideas and information to work with. I feel like a different poet after reading it. Probably I’m not really a different poet but I’m trying to be. That counts, right?

I know you’re busy and you don’t really feel like reading the whole thing. So let me tell you about it. First of all, it’s not a new essay, it was written in 2000. That doesn’t matter, it could have been written last week. And Susumu starts out by referencing what is now a twenty-five-year-old question but also seems last-weekish: “… After about twenty-five years of English language haiku do we know what haiku is?” (Cor van den Heuvel, from the preface to the Second Edition, The Haiku Anthology, Haiku and Senryu in English, Simon & Schuster, 1986)

Lamenting the endless quarrels over the definition of haiku, Susumu refers to the “dialectic poetics” of Basho as a way of beginning to settle the matter. He outlines some of the fundamental principles of Basho’s haiku aesthetic, none of which, in my profound ignorance, I had ever heard of, but all of which make so much sense. Here’s the outline:

  1. Fueki ryuko“: “Fueki … can represent unchanging tradition while ryuko can represent changing fashion. Since the two are contradictory there should be a kind of creative tension generated between them … [which] should keep haiku fresh, creative and interesting. If people cling to tradition and neglect newness (or atarashimi) inherent in fashion, then haiku could become stale, imitative and boring. If, on the other hand, people indulge in newness without tradition, haiku could become gimmicky, incomprehensible and nonsensical.”
  2. Kogo kizoku”: ” ‘[O]btaining high enlightenment but coming back to the populace.’ There has been a tendency to polarise these two essential factors … Some people have become ‘elitists,’ armed with their own creed and are negligent of kizoku, or addressing plebeian needs. Others have gone the opposite way and vulgarised haiku by neglecting kogo. Again, we need both of these factors interacting and forming creative tension.”
  3. “The third answer may be found in the teaching of Basho, ‘Don’t follow ancient masters, seek what they tried to seek.’ We see people blindly following not only ancient masters but also modern masters without knowing what they tried to seek.”

(This last point is fascinating to me. I try to read and write haiku now asking myself these questions: “What was this poet trying to seek? Is it something I’m seeking too, or want to seek? What am I trying to seek?”)

Susumu isn’t outlining these principles as a way of creating a new, narrow definition of haiku that will further factionalize haiku poets; he sees them as very broad principles which can usefully describe a wide range of styles of haiku. He makes a very interesting analogy with schools of art:

“Avant-garde haiku poets cannot possibly be speaking the same language as fundamentalists of the traditional haiku school. In paintings, we accept the co-existence of the Old Masters, religious paintings, landscapes, still lifes, seascapes, figurative, abstract, surrealism, conceptual art, pop art, minimalist, Japanese paintings, African art, or whatever. There is no point in denying somebody else’s haiku as being not haiku, when we have such varieties of haiku poems in [so many] different languages.”

But in the end Susumu leaves behind all of these principles and details and tells it like it is: “Ultimately, we are after truths. … [T]he essence of poetry must be truths, and universal truths at that.”

Back to Basho:

“When Basho talks about fuga no makoto, this is normally interpreted as poetic sincerity. However, makoto also means truths, or true words, or true things. … In terms of poets, makoto is that which springs from their magokoro (true heart, or soul). Haiku is certainly capable of (local, particular) truths. Sometimes it is capable of universal truths and that is when great haiku poems are born.

“Poetic truths, then, must be a criterion against which inferior and dubious haiku poems can be weeded out. Haiku is part of the haiku poet’s way of life. Haiku is partly what he or she is. If he or she is not truthful his or her haiku cannot be good poetry. In today’s climate where haiku values are confused, it is important for us to go back to such stringent criterion as poetic truths.” [italics mine]

Telling the truth. I’m working on it really hard now. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

It’s not, of course, about the facts. Sometimes the facts interfere with it, actually. (There’s nothing factual about the haiku that starts this post, but I’m hoping it’s at least a little bit true.)

So you kind of have to stumble around, trying to figure out what the truth is, exactly. But I think it’s worth it, in the end.

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