Across the Haikuverse, No. 29: The Not-Haiku Edition

It is not strictly true that there is no haiku here. There’s a bunch of haiku. There’s just a lot of other stuff too. It’s all poetry, though. Short poetry. Relatively short. It all makes me happy, okay?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how haiku is different from other kinds of poetry and wondering how different it is, exactly, and whether and what writers of haiku can learn from other kinds of poetry about how to write haiku. I know there’s a school of thought that haiku is haiku and Western poetry is Western poetry and ne’er the twain shall meet. That Western poems employ all kinds of tricky, slippery literary devices so their meanings are hidden in a miasma of metaphor, whereas haiku are clear as water and they mean just what they say they mean.

I wonder, I wonder. I’m not sure I believe any more that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely necessary to haiku, except extreme brevity, or that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely foreign to it. I think the salient feature of haiku is an almost painfully heightened awareness of some feature of the universe. I could say something about connections, too, and about concreteness, and perhaps about some sort of sense of the existence of time.

But basically, if I don’t feel, when I read haiku, as if my chin has been grabbed and my attention insistently focused on something outside my own skull, then I don’t feel as if the poem has done its job. And you can achieve that effect with very plain and unmetaphorical language or you can achieve it with metaphor or personification or literary allusions or surrealism or wordplay or pretty much anything else in the bag of tricks that Westerners use, that anybody in the world uses, to direct the attention of the poetry-reading public.

So if you’re going to write haiku — and we are — it seems wise to be aware, to stay always aware, of the full range of options available to poets to describe the universe they experience. Even if you choose not to use many, or most, of those options, at least you know what you’re not using, and hopefully why. You also might realize that something you need to say needs to be said in not-haiku. It’s been known to happen.

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Poetry. It’s All Good.

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again missing light...

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

Lately Johannes has been on a roll with these parallel poems of his: two poems running side by side, intertwined but able to stand independently. If you find this one interesting I recommend you dig around over at 3ournals and frags to see what else you can find, it’s a bit of a treasure chest over there.

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暮れそめてにはかに暮れぬ梅林   日野草城

kuresomete niwakani kurenu umebayashi

sun starts to set…
a plum grove suddenly
grows dark

—Sojo Hino, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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OCDC – mixing hard rock aesthetics with an anxiety disorder*

riff 
spliff 

dry ice 
precise

Not to mention three lines of lemon sherbet, each exactly 294 millimetres long, on a mirror, and a bowl of red M&Ms

[*by special request]

— Marie Marshall, kvenna rad

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I found a lion’s mane in our old shed
made of string and raffia
when we were young we used to chase antelope
I have scars on my knees*

— Kaspalita, a handful of stones

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the bride posin
bi the watterside  –  a swan
gaes intil the derk burn

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the bride posing
on the riverbank  –  a swan
enters the dark stream

–John McDonald, zen speug

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⅔ written
damn
my life
doesn’t really work
in the 1st person

–Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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signs of spring
one day rhyming
with the next

–William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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today in the city

–Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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a red apple
a green apple
on top of the table

— Shiki, translated by Burton Watson, R’r Blog

Over on the R’r [Roadrunner] Blog, Scott Metz put together a whole applepalooza of haiku about apples, which I highly recommend you take a look at.

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all the way
around the oak tree
no squirrel

— John Hawk, DailyHaiku 3/30/2012

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spring night / I give up explaining / the hippo constellation

— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Scented Dust

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rick of new-mown hay
someone left the gate open
a little horse flew
the wildest urgent creature
between the vault of my ribs

–Alan Segal (“old pajamas”), old pajamas: from the dirt hut

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Blogged

Some more words of wisdom from the R’r Blog… about cooking and haiku.

“Tradition is everything. . . . The press . . . they love to separate avant-garde from tradition. At the end they are not two things. They are the same thing. . . . There’s only two kinds of cooking: the bad cooking and the good cooking. What happens is if we forget our traditions, if we don’t keep looking to the past, it’s very difficult to understand who you are, and even more difficult to be looking to the future.”

— José Andrés, chef and owner of minibarZaytinya & é & teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University

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To expand a little on what I wrote up top about the relationship between haiku and “regular” poetry… Ron Silliman, over on his blog about contemporary poetry, has written a very interesting consideration of contemporary haiku as seen in the pages of three books — the anthology Haiku 21 (which I’m going to review soon, I swear), John Martone’s ksana (ditto), and Jim Kacian’s long after (tritto).

Silliman is not a haiku poet — he writes long, very long poetry, as a matter of fact — but he is sympathetic to haiku, or more or less sympathetic; he eyes it a bit skeptically, but lovingly. (Entertainingly, he is very bemused that none of the poems in Haiku 21 have titles. Um, really? That’s the oddest thing about haiku for you? That ten-word poems don’t have titles? I don’t know, maybe we do have some kind of giant blind spot there and haiku could rock titles just fine, but they just seem kind of … unnecessary.)

Anyway. I feel indulgent toward Silliman because he loves John Martone and so do I — I could say more about that and I will, I will. His review is thoughtful and helpful, check it out.

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David Marshall wrote a haiku every day for a while and that made me really happy, and now he’s writing weekly (or so) essays and they make me really happy too.

“When I was writing a haiku a day, I hit upon an idea I could never express properly in that form. What if every haiku about a bird, a tree, a swinging backhoe, or a boulder blocking a path set that thing aflame—what if observing it made it burn with eternal fire? What would the world look like, blazing with attention? What might be left cool and untouched?”

— David Marshall, “One Essay With Separate Titles” from Signals to Attend

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Journaled

Oh, Modern Haiku, how I love you…

Some meditations on light and dark from issue 43.1.

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one bird sings inside another autumn dusk

— Francine Banwarth

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on the edge of a forest though I tried to avoid it

— David Boyer

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a Coleman lantern
lighting the compromise
quarter moon

— Cherie Hunter Day

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all that dark matter        white peony

— Billie Dee

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deep fall–
sparrows adding
color to the trees

— Bill Pauly

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trying to switch on a light that already is late October

— Alison Williams

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one road in,
one road out–
late winter

— Jeffrey Woodward

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Ribbons 7.4. Tanka. Yes.

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I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple
wondering
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness

— hortensia anderson

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it is taking
all my life
to understand
what is real —
spring begins

— Marilyn Hazelton

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hidden
by the maples’ red curtain
six kids
two dogs and a pending
foreclosure

— Christina Nguyen

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awake
during the procedure–
a tender light
wends its way
through my intestines

— Sheila Sondik

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Lilliput Review #184. If you haven’t seen Lillie before, please go over and visit Don Wentworth and order a copy or two, or ten. They cost a buck, unless you buy five or more, in which case they cost even less. There is no possible way you will ever find a lower cost-to-value ratio for poetry.

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white flesh peaches

— Renee Albert

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Prairie Dog Spoken Here

When speaking of things
you might desire but hesitate to do,
change all your “but”s to “and”s and
all your “asteroid”s to “VW van”s.

— Wayne Hogan

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into
my
nightly
coffin
of bone

— George Swede

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What If This Poem Didn’t Have a Title?

moonrise 
the wind stops

at the window
the face of
a disappointed man

not enough
time now—

for all his
belief systems
to catch on

fire

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Haiku North America, Day 5 (The End)

What do you do at a haiku conference when you’re done conferring? When all the books and handouts and PowerPoint slides have been packed away, when all the lecturers have had their last sips of water, when half the conferees have departed by plane or train or automobile…but you can’t. quite. stop.

You go for a boat ride, of course.

Katharine Hawkinson and Argosy Cruises

The last official activity of HNA was a tour on Argosy Cruises out to Blake Island in Puget Sound and back. (That’s Katharine Hawkinson up there. She’s a haiku poet and a tour boat captain. She didn’t captain us, though, because she was too busy making sure none of us got lost. She’s very good at doing that.)

It’s Seattle, so it was foggy in the morning. My photos all turned out very…wabi-sabi. Yes. That’s what I’m calling it.

Seattle in fog

View of Seattle in fog

However, we kept our spirits up, some of us by pretending to be frogs…

Billie Dee in frog hat

Emiko Miyashita, Fay Aoyagi, Lidia Rozmus

(Top to bottom, left to right: Billie Dee, Emiko Miyashita, Fay Aoyagi, Lidia Rozmus)

… and some of us by listening to our great tour guide, Jim, telling stories about Chief Seattle and his tribe and the way they assisted the generally hapless European settlers. The old American story.

Jim the tour guide

Blake Island is, in fact, where Chief Sealth (later Seattle) was born. It’s a state park now with campgrounds and hiking trails and so on, and also something called “Tillicum Village” where the heritage of the native peoples of the area is celebrated.

Blake Island

Tillicum Village

Totem pole

Half a dozen of us got the idea to circumnavigate the island on the 3-mile-or-so trail that skirts the water’s edge. We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to be at Tillicum Village for a smoked salmon lunch and Native dance performance, so this seemed like plenty of time. We started out at an extremely leisurely place, stopping to ooh and aah over the fauna and flora, trade the names of things in Japanese and English (did you know the Japanese also call forget-me-nots forget-me-nots? I mean, you know, in Japanese), and take notes either mentally or on paper for possible future haiku.

Billie Dee and deer

(In case you can’t tell, that’s Billie Dee in the background watching the deer.)

Forget-me-notsFerns and tree trunk

Foxglove

Cedar

Tree trunksPoets look for pens

sound of waves
the haiku poets all reach
for their pens

(Terry Ann Carter, Emiko Miyashita, Lidia Rozmus — reaching)

Forty-five minutes from Seattle by boat, and sometimes it felt like we were lost in the wilderness.

Charlie Trumbull, Fay Aoyagi

We kind of liked it that way.

Emiko Miyashita, Terry Ann Carter

(Wow…I just noticed those bright flashes of red in this landscape.)

Fay Aoyagi and Lidia Rozmus

(Top to bottom, left to right: Charlie Trumbull, Fay Aoyagi, Emiko Miyashita, Terry Ann Carter, Fay Aoyagi again, Lidia Rozmus)

At some point in this lovely idyll we realized that our poet’s pace was not going to cut it if we wanted to make it back to Tillicum Village in time to eat our smoked salmon, so we had to start panting instead of poetizing. But we managed to hit the front porch of the lodge just as the steamed clams were being served. And as they were finishing up smoking our salmon in the traditional manner in the front hall.

Salmon smoking

Men smoking salmon

One thing our tour guide Jim mentioned on the boat was the fact that although in early times Native Americans in most other parts of the continent had to spend up to ninety percent of their time hunting or gathering food in order to survive, the incredible abundance of salmon on the coast meant that in this area, the Native Americans had plenty of leisure time to create complicated, sophisticated, large-scale works of art, such as totem poles and paintings and elaborate costumes for elaborate dances.

Totem poleCat paintingNative dance costume

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It reminded me that the development of art in all times and in all places has depended on a certain degree of wealth that facilitates a certain degree of leisure. Leisure to sit around reading and writing poetry, leisure to travel halfway across the country to meet other people who like to do these things. We’re lucky people, in other words. I try to remember that.

The salmon was delicious, the storytelling and dancing was fascinating, and I was thrilled to get a chance to chat over lunch with Abigail Friedman, the author of The Haiku Apprentice, which I have discussed here several times and is still one of my favorite books about haiku. And with Fay Aoyagi, who has long been one of my favorite haiku poets.

The whole week was like that. Meeting so many people who have shaped my haiku and my thinking about haiku in such important ways. And meeting new people who I can tell will be shaping it in the future. Talking constantly, about haiku, about poetry in general, about words, about our lives with words and our lives in general. It was very different from my “normal” life, which is quite solitary, really, and very quiet. I need a lot of space around me as a rule, but I was happy to be crowded this week. To fill my brain with other people’s sparkly exciting ideas instead of just bouncing my own around the echo chamber of my skull.

Not that there wasn’t some time for solitary reflection this week. Sometimes you just have to slip away and stare out to sea.

Abigail Friedman, Lidia Rozmus

Lidia Rozmus looks out to sea

(That’s Abigail Friedman and Lidia Rozmus talking up on top, and then Lidia looking out at Puget Sound.)

For the amazing job they all did preparing and executing this conference, shepherding and entertaining us, dealing gracefully and cleverly with the inevitable snafus … huge thanks to the HNA planning committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry; to key volunteers Dianne Garcia, Katharine Hawkinson, and Tracy Koretsky; and to a whole host of other volunteers and supporters way too long to list.

Here’s Tanya, walking and thinking at her usual speedy pace late in the day on Sunday. That’s half of Michael in the background, in his trademark “Watch out, Michael has the camera out” pose. (And Emiko Miyashita between them, determinedly leading us around Pike Place Market on a mission to inspect the fish…

Tanya McDonald and Michael Dylan Welch

… and score some smoked salmon samples for us. She is a force of nature.)

Emiko Miyashita at fish market

My day, my conference, ended with a slightly drunken, more than slightly exhausted dinner at a seafood restaurant with those three, Katharine Hawkinson and her husband Kevin, Fay Aoyagi, and Makoto Nakanishi,  a Japanese haijin.

Fay Aoyagi, Makoto Nakanishi

And then a sleepy ride back to the hotel on the monorail. Feeling sated in so many ways. Thanks, everyone.

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(I would especially like to say thank you to my mother, Sheila Allen, for substantially underwriting this trip despite not really understanding what this haiku stuff is all about. Mothers are like that. Love you, Mom.)

Haiku North America, Day 3

Long day. Long post. I’ll see what I can do but my usual sparkling repartee may be a little off. Feel free to insert wisecracks and trenchant observations of your own wherever you feel they’re appropriate.

Okay. (Deep breath.) Got up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday morning and ran off to a presentation by Wanda Cook on Erotic Haiku. (Actually, Wanda prefers to call them “sensual.”) In case you were wondering how many haiku poets actually write erotic/sensual haiku, Wanda’s unscientific survey of 30 haiku poets revealed that 28 of them do and the other 2 were offended by the very suggestion that they would do such a thing. Also, about the same percentages of men and women publish erotic haiku as publish haiku in general. (55% men, 45% women, more or less.) Here she is telling us all these things.

Wanda Cook

Wanda herself has been writing sensual haiku for a while (but her grown son doesn’t want to know about it, so shhh) and has collaborated quite a bit with Larry Kimmel on erotic haiku sequences.

frosted windows
holding him
deep inside

— Wanda Cook

She broke us up into small groups and gave us some sensual haiku to look at and try to decide whether it was written by a man or a woman and, I don’t know, how sensual it was exactly. Our group had a lively discussion about a haiku involving blackberries and lips (as Billie Dee asked, “Which lips?”). We mostly all thought it was written by a woman. It turned out to have been written by Michael Dylan Welch. So we were wrong.

Here are my fellow group members (Billie Dee, Garry Gay, Penny Harter) pondering it.

Billie DeeGarry Gay

Penny Harter

And below are a few of the other attendees at the presentation, doing likewise with their own assigned poems. (Dejah Leger, Johnny Baranski, Lidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie Trumbull, Tina Grabenhorst)

Dejah Leger, Johnny BaranskiLidia Rozmus, Carolyn Hall, Charlie TrumbullTina Grabenhorst

The mood turned a little more somber in the next hour as Marjorie Buettner presented a tribute to all the haiku poets that had died in the two years since the last HNA. It was meticulously researched and prepared and extremely moving.

Marjorie Buettner presentation

Then we were herded like cats by Michael Dylan Welch down a flight of steps to have our group picture taken. I took a picture of the photographers, because I always feel that zoo animals should be given cameras to record our crazy antics.

Photographers

Set free, I went to eat Indian food for lunch with Don Wentworth and Susan Diridoni. We ate too much and talked nonstop about poetry. Here is a dark and mysterious picture of Don.

Don Wentworth

Don has a great new chapbook out called Past All Traps which you should buy and read.

mistake after mistake
after mistake, adding up
to just the right thing
— Don Wentworth

(This is my new motto for life.)

Past All Traps

We rushed back after lunch so as not to miss Carlos Colon‘s presentation on concrete poetry. (Do a Google search for “concrete poetry” and click on “images.” Your mind will be blown.) It was a blast. Here are some examples from Carlos’s handout.

Concrete poetry

Then moving right along, to a great lecture by David Lanoue on the portrayal of frogs in the poetry of Issa – specifically, the way Issa attributes human qualities to frogs (and sometimes vice versa), which David attributes to Issa’s Pureland Buddhist beliefs about the essential equality of the souls of all creatures.

karisome no yomeri tsuki yo ya naku kawazu

a fleeting moonlit
wedding night…
frogs singing

— Issa, translated by David Lanoue

Here’s David, being thoughtful.

David Lanoue
… And zooming over to another room, for an open mic “Poetry Continuum” reading of the longer poetry of us haiku poets. I couldn’t believe the percentage of haiku poets who write non-haiku poetry. There was some great, great stuff. It was unanimously agreed that this should be a feature of all future incarnations of Haiku North America.

Here’s an assortment of poets who have taken off their haiku hats for the evening. (Cherie Hunter Day, Tracy Koretsky, Johnny Baranski, Ernesto Epistola, Margaret Chula, Kathy Munro, Terry Ann Carter, Tanya McDonald [waving the edition of A New Resonance her poetry appears in), and Ruth Yarrow)

Cherie Hunter DayTracy KoretskyJohnny BaranskiErnesto EpistolaMargaret ChulaKathy (kj) Munro

Tracy Ann CarterTanya McDonaldRuth Yarrow

After a lively dinner with Susan Diridoni, Tracy Koretsky, and Kathy Munro (can you imagine, there was more conversation about poetry), we headed back to hear yet another open mic, this one by poets who had recently published books (including Don). Didn’t get any pictures, sorry, I was too busy listening and admiring…

Then it was time for Richard Gilbert to give the William Higginson Memorial Lecture (this is the first time that one has been given). His topic was “Social Consciousness and the Poet’s Stance in 21st Century Haiku: From Kaneko Tohta to the Present.”

Richard Gilbert

Richard lives in Japan, is one of the world’s experts on gendai haiku, and is both extremely erudite and extremely passionate about his subject. He presented us with some dense, abstruse, but thought-provoking scholarship on modernist and post-modernist literature, including this passage from Charles Bernstein’s essay “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” which I may have to hang over my desk:

Words so often fail us. They do so little and they are so disappointing, leading us down blind alleys and up in smoke. But they are what we have, what we are given, and we can make them do what we want. Every poem is a model of some other world, a practice of some other reality; but it always leads back to this one, for if words give a way to envision possible worlds they don’t provide the way to inhabit them. …There is no place words cannot take us if we don’t take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, or as trampolines to hurl ourselves, inward and outward, upward and downward, aslant and agog, round and unrounded.

— Charles Bernstein, from “Revenge of the Poet-Critic” in My Way

Then, in support of his contention that literature and in particular haiku should move away from strict realism towards more challenging and inventive uses of language, he presented us with numerous examples of avant-garde haiku from the most recent (February) issue of Roadrunner. A, shall we say, lively discussion ensued. Traditionalists muttered while gendai enthusiasts raved. The lecture went far past its scheduled expiration date and the discussion ended up moving to a pub where twenty or so of us stayed until closing time, ranting about poetry (just so you know, I mean this in the very nicest way) and causing endless trouble for the extremely patient waitstaff.

Pub crowd 1Richard Gilbert, Eve Luckring, Fay AoyagiCor van den Heuvel et al.Kaz, Sue Antolin, Susan Diridoni

I wish I’d gotten a picture of Richard Gilbert and Cor van den Heuvel leaning intently over the table toward each other, each nursing a scotch and cordially discussing their very different points of view on poetry (and their opinions on scotch). The theme of this year’s HNA is “Fifty Years of Haiku,” and it was amazing to see Cor, who’s been writing haiku for all of those fifty years and more, exchanging ideas with Richard, whose ideas may be pointing the way toward what much haiku will look like in another fifty years. It’s not too often you feel like you can see as far back into the past as you can see forward into the future. It was a privilege.

Haiku North America, Day 1

I’m back in the garden of the Inn at Queen Anne. Taking a break. Writing to you. My brain is too full not to dump a little of it out onto the page. So here’s the story of yesterday.

On my way to register for HNA at the Seattle Center, I met Susan Diridoni in the courtyard…

Susan Diridoni

We talked one-line haiku and infuriating politicians. Two of our favorite subjects.

monomania the cure for wildflowers

First on the agenda after registration was a walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park down by the harbor. Michael Dylan Welch had a camera permanently attached to his face so the only picture of him I was able to get was one I took while he was taking a picture of me.

Michael Dylan Welch

Debbie Kolodji and I found ourselves reflected in one of the sculptures….

Reflections in sculpture

I’m not sure if our reflections count as “touching” in the eyes of those who wrote this warning sign. I also find it interesting to ponder the difference between visual art, which can indeed be harmed by indiscriminate touching, and haiku, which haiku poets encourage our readers to put their grubby little hands all over, knowing that will only make it more interesting.

Please Do Not Touch, Touching Can Harm the Art

It’s Fleet Week in Seattle, so there were ominous-looking ships mulling around the harbor. On the plus side, they interacted well with the sculpture.

Ships viewed past sculpture

These flowers were everywhere, growing low all over the ground. I love them. Somebody tell me what they are.

Pink flowers

This was my favorite sculpture. Anyone under the age of 35 who knows what it is gets a prize.

Sculpture

Debbie Kolodji and Carlos Colon were hard to keep up with sometimes. Especially when they were trying to avoid having their pictures taken.

Debbie Kolodji and Carlos Colon

We went in the Viviarium, where they keep a big dead tree trunk that has living stuff growing all over it (very symbolic) and where they have mushroom tiles on the walls, which made me happy.

Mushroom tile

This metal-plated tree enchanted me, if only because I don’t like to let well enough alone where nature is concerned.

Metal-plated tree

Back at the Seattle Center, Michael showed us this stone with a haiku of Basho’s engraved on it. (Rhyming couplet, awesome.)


Rock with Basho haiku engraved on it

Went out for a late lunch/early dinner with a few people, then back to the hotel, where Charlie Trumbull and Jim Kacian were scheming in the courtyard. (All their schemes were legal and ethical. I checked.)

Charlie Trumbull and Jim Kacian

Then to a dessert reception and open mic reading at the Seattle Center, where I met people at a ferocious rate.

… Wonderful people.

Lidia Rozmus, Wanda Cook, and Carlos ColonDon Wentworth and Marjorie Buettner

Marilyn Hazelton

(Lidia Rozmus [my wonderful roommate], Wanda Cook, Carlos Colon, Don Wentworth, Marjorie Buettner, Sarah and Gene Myers, Marilyn Hazelton)

David LanoueRichard Gilbert, Carolyn Hall, Jim KacianCarlos Colon, Carmen SterbaPenny Harter reading(David Lanoue, Susan Diridoni, Richard Gilbert, Carolyn Hall, Jim Kacian, Carlos Colon, Carmen Sterba, Penny Harter)

I talked until my throat got sore, and then I went off to a gendai haiku writing workshop and talked a whole bunch more.

Here we all (okay, about half of us) are listening to Emiko Miyashita telling us about gendai haiku in Japanese. (That’s Charlie Trumbull, Garry Gay, Kathy Munro, Billie Dee, Sheila Sondik, Jim Westenhaver, Emiko Miyashita)

Attendees at gendai haiku workshop

At the end we all tried our hand at writing more gendai, and I finally managed to get a picture of Michael without a camera in front of his face.

Michael Dylan Welch

It was past eleven by the time we finished. Wild and crazy haiku poets, that’s us.

A few of us had a late-night snack, and by the time I got to bed it was about three in the morning in Wisconsin. Which is the time that counts, after all.

I’ll write about today tomorrow. See how that works?

Hope you’re all having a great time whether you’re in Seattle or not.