Protagonist

Although it’s about giants—actually, one giant in particular—this is a small story. There are only a few lives in it and it doesn’t travel very far in time or space. It’s not an epic or an adventure—or at least not a very adventuresome adventure. Perhaps I should mention here that giants, as opposed to unusually large human beings, are not real, so I suppose you could call this a fantasy—but again, not a very fantastical fantasy. Sometimes I worry that the story is more about me than her. Sometimes I then remember that she’s not real so maybe it’s a sign of mental health that I’d rather write about me than about an imaginary entity. This is the kind of thing writers spend all day thinking about instead of writing.

spring again
always the flower
and never the pollen

Begin at the beginning: She was born. I don’t know how big giant babies are. I would like to see one but I never will because she’s the last one. How do you know? Well, that was what she told me, and anyway don’t you think we would know somehow, we would feel it, if there were more somewhere? I have to say that it feels more and more, to me, like giants have pretty much gone out of the world.

the last egg saved for target practice

When she was born I was much younger, of course, and not in any mood to believe in giants. I wonder sometimes what I would have done if she had come stomping down my road then. I wonder what I would have done about a lot of things then. Why is it, do you think, that we’re so convinced we’re the same people from day to day, from year to year, when we’re so changeable, so fickle?

inhaling the sparrow’s warble

Here’s one day she told me about, from when she was very small: maybe the first day she remembered. A fall day, full of warm colors that contradicted the chill in the air. A year when the harvest, the hunt, had gone well and they ate, and drank, and ate, and sang, and ate, and danced, and ate, and played games, showing off: tossing boulders, lifting fallen trees. She was beside herself with excitement and finally fell asleep in the early evening, and woke again sometime later in the night, but before the adults had gone to sleep. They were all gathered around a fire, leaning against each other comfortably, frank with drink and telling all the most scandalous and outrageous stories they knew, and she listened with increasing understanding for hours. In the morning she felt shy with her new knowledge and maturity, not realizing yet that no one could see inside her head and know her thoughts. Stories only change you on the inside.

first day of Advent I write the end

back to the root

6111227634_53b661f526_b copyWhen I was three my grandmother gave me a fancy baby doll with a wooden chest full of lovely clothes. It had staring, startled, cold eyes and arms and legs permanently thrown out as if to stop itself from falling. I cut its hair back to the root, colored in its face with crayons, and hanged it by the neck from the stair railing with a spare piece of string that I can only assume I was saving for just such an occasion. Eventually I hauled the thing up and let it live, but I don’t think I went so far as to name it or give it any motherly care, such as wrapping it in a blanket, carrying it around tenderly, or conscientiously taking it for a walk in a baby carriage. No one bothered giving me any more dolls for the remainder of my childhood, which was fine with me because I had a lot of reading to do.

a clutch of duck eggs
the corner of the backyard
where we bury things

Pregnant with my flesh-and-blood child a couple of decades later, I explained to my husband, repeatedly, in increasingly panicked tones, that I had absolutely no idea how to care for an infant and was terrified by the very idea. I asked him if we could go to the kind of parenting class where they give you a fake baby—okay, a doll—to practice carrying around and burping and diapering and so on. He told me I didn’t need a class, it was easy and I would get the hang of it in no time, and this turned out to be true. Which was a relief, because even the word “doll” still gives me the creeps.

spring snow
the chill of
ultrasound jelly


prose: here, now
“a clutch”: A Hundred Gourds 1.1
“spring snow”: Modern Haiku 42.2

June 2: 1-3: The Technique of Sense-switching

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

Jane:

“This is another old-time favorite of the Japanese haiku masters, but one they have used very little and with a great deal of discretion. It is simply to speak of the sensory aspect of a thing and then change to another sensory organ. Usually it involves hearing something one sees or vice versa or to switch between seeing and tasting.


“home-grown lettuce

the taste of well-water

green”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques


*

me:

planes dance together
silently
sonic boom

the baby’s
soft cheek
strawberry jam

pounding
at the door
your bruised face

*

Yeah, okay, Jane, there’s a reason the “Japanese haiku masters” used this technique “very little and with a great deal of discretion.” It’s impossible, that’s why. Trying to write these made me feel like I understood what it must be like to write poetry in a foreign language. (Hmm…I should try that sometime…) I didn’t really understand what I was doing or why. But I did it. Let it never be said about me that I shirked my homework. Now can I do something else, please?

Pushing Ahead: Haiku Technique

So I’ve reached the point in this project, inevitable whenever I start learning about something new, when I realize that I know. absolutely. nothing. about what I’m doing. Three weeks ago when I decided suddenly to start this blog, having previously only infrequently written haiku, or really any poetry (you begin to see the depth of my naivete here), I thought (if I thought anything, which I very much doubt), “Haiku! How charming they are! And short! So very short! I could write one of those every day!” Really, I just wanted something to blog about daily, and since I have the attention span of [insert annoying, buzzing insect of your choice here], a three-line poem seemed pretty much perfect for my purposes.

So I blithely started writing the damn things, rapidly became addicted to both seeing and writing in this new compressed way, and started sensing that there might be more to this charming little poetic form than I had suspected. And then, and only then, did I start reading other people’s haiku, and reading about the form, trying to figure out what it was really about.

It didn’t seem too complicated at first. Sure, there were all those competing definitions, but really, they had a lot in common — the general idea being that haiku should express in a handful of syllables some brief but complete moment of passing enlightenment. I was totally down with that. I need more enlightenment anyway. I ran around looking for it and sat with my laptop for hours permutating (sometimes mutilating) words to try to express it. Those first efforts seemed pretty satisfying to me, sort of the way their first few drunken lurches on their own two feet seem pretty satisfying to babies. Haiku! Like walking! Nothing to it!

But just as babies are no longer content to wobble when they observe the rapid and graceful locomotion of their elders, the more I read the haiku of others, the humbler I became. Not just the classical greats, your Basho, your Issa: just scrolling through the latest issue of one of the modern haiku journals or visiting one of my favorite haiku blogs can leave me gaping: How do they do that? How do they contrive to crank the moon roof open and reveal the stars of a newly expanded universe with so few and such elegant motions? Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually writing in the same language as these people, or if they have discovered some kind of sleek, turbocharged English that can perform technical feats undreamt of by those of us who are still running version 1.0.

Clearly I needed some kind of instruction, or inspiration, or possibly a reboot of my brain — was there some kind of drug that would do that, perhaps? Just as I was beginning to consider entering a Zen monastery or selling my soul to the ghost of William Carlos Williams, I discovered a great essay by Jane Reichhold that not only pretty much blew the top of my head off but gave me renewed hope that someday, perhaps around the time I undergo my third hip replacement, I will write a haiku that seems like it actually has something to offer the world.

In this essay, entitled “Haiku Techniques,” Jane, who is one of the great American haiku poets/guides/instructors of the last fifty years, and whose writing on the subject of haiku is almost without exception brave, exciting, enlightening, and reassuring in equal measure, describes the haiku scene of the seventies and eighties, when a lot of emphasis was placed on authenticity and not so much on literary skill:

“[T]here seemed a disinterest in others wanting to study these aspects which I call techniques. Perhaps this is because in the haiku scene there continues to be such a reverence for the haiku moment and such a dislike for what are called ‘desk haiku.’ The definition of a desk haiku is one written from an idea or from simply playing around with words. If you don’t experience an event with all your senses it is not valid haiku material. A ku from your mind was half-dead and unreal. An experienced writer could only smile at such naiveté, but the label of ‘desk haiku’ was the death-knell for a ku declared as such. This fear kept people new to the scene afraid to work with techniques or even the idea that techniques were needed when it came time to write down the elusive haiku moment.”

Jane then goes on to list and describe no less than 23 different techniques she has discovered for writing haiku, the names of some of which seem like they could themselves be lines in haiku — The Technique of Sense-Switching, The Technique of Mixing It Up, The Above As Below Technique. I advise you to go read about them now if you harbor any ambitions at all in the haiku-writing line yourself and have the slightest degree of dissatisfaction with your efforts to date.

I plan to try them all. Maybe one a day, or maybe not. This is a project ideally suited to a completist, perfectionist, basically uptight academician who likes to analyze things to death but who nevertheless harbors a secret desire to write the kind of poetry that makes people gasp and pant a little, hands to their heart, when they read it. I don’t mean that I think that just working my way through Jane’s techniques will enable me to attain that goal, I just mean that I think that this project is a way of declaring, to myself as much as anybody else, that the goal is worthy.