m’aidez

I started this blog five years ago today. For those of you who don’t know, I actually started the blog at the same moment that I began to learn to write haiku, and both endeavors had the same cause: I needed to write regularly, and I needed to find something to write, and somewhere to write it.

These were things I’d been trying to figure out literally my entire life (okay, maybe literally my entire life minus about the first four years), and within about two weeks of starting this blog I knew I’d finally got it. It wasn’t just haiku the literary genre that made me feel at home, it was haiku the literary community. Instant friends! Constant support! Artistic fulfillment! No wonder I’ve stuck this out about ten times longer than I’ve stuck out any other writing project of my life. 

This is also actually my one thousandth blog post (and please don’t ask me anything about the complicated calculations that went into making sure the two events would coincide because I’m already embarrassed enough about my OCD). Over the course of a thousand posts the blog has evolved a lot–I’ve discovered not just haiku but haibun, haiga, and tanka, and experimented with a lot of random weird stuff that might not have made sense to anyone but me but made me happy at the time.

Through it all, to my amazement, you people have kept coming back and saying nice things. I would just like to state here for the record that I have NEVER received a mean comment on this blog, which considering that we’re talking about the Internet is probably worthy of a mention in a history book somewhere. Basically, you’re all saints and I’m incredibly lucky, and I would like to thank you one thousand times for the welcome you’ve given me and the sense of purpose and excitement about art and existence you’ve all helped inject into my life, by being out there, by reading, by responding, by reaching out.

I’d like to get more eloquent and profound than this, but I find myself kind of mute with gratitude and awe and also I don’t think it would be fair to reward you for your faithful support by boring you to death. Happy May Day, is about all I have left to say at this point. Happy

everything
I forgot to say
in one flower

Haiku North America, Day 4

In the last installment of this thrilling diary, as you may recall, we left our heroes at a bar in the small hours of the morning. After the small hours of the morning, I’m sure you’re aware, come the large hours of the morning, and if you haven’t slept very much in between the small hours and the large hours, the large hours can be very painful.

All this is by way of excuse for my missing the first event of Saturday morning, a panel discussion by Maggie Chula, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball, and Garry Gay called, “Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades.” I heard from reliable reporters that it was a fascinating discussion, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it while holding my head and moaning. To distract you from the fact that I have nothing to report from this session, I will now present some placeholding Pretty Pictures from Around the Conference.

Ikebana 1Ikebana 2Seattle Center courtyard

Great ikebana, eh? Beautiful courtyard sculpture. Now what were we talking about?

… Oh yes. The second session of the morning. Of many tempting options I chose to attend Paul Miller‘s talk on “Stretching Western Haiku (Gendai Haiku in the West).” The question Paul posed to us was, “How far can you stretch haiku and still consider it haiku?”

I’m not sure he or any of us came to a definitive conclusion on this, but Paul did an excellent job of analyzing Japanese gendai haiku and dividing it into some broad categories, including: Haiku that are metaphors or similes; Haiku that are “fantastic transformations” (in the “fantasy” or surreal sense of the word) where one object turns into another in a way that is impossible in real life; Haiku that are “fantastic metaphors”; Haiku that are “just fantastic”; Haiku that directly tell; Haiku that are “private discourse,” depending on associations known only to the author; and Haiku that contain abstract language. In Paul’s estimation, only the second, third, and fourth categories are really effective as haiku. Here’s one from category two that most of us really liked:

After a heated argument
I go out to the street
and become a motorcycle.

— Kaneko Tota

I might not place all Paul’s examples into the same categories he did, I might not have the same categories, and I might not have the same opinions about which haiku and which categories are effective. But as he said, this is just a place to begin thinking and talking about gendai and how it works. There will certainly continue to be endless discussion in the years to come.

…And oh yeah. Charlie Trumbull didn’t announce this until later in the day on Saturday, but here would probably be a good place to report that Paul will be the next editor of Modern Haiku, starting in the spring of 2013. Congratulations to him. Here he is (he’s not this blurry in real life):

Paul Miller

Shortly after this session ended we were all shooed in the direction of the Space Needle (a few blocks from our convention center) for the HNA banquet. You know how banquets work, right? You have them in landmark buildings in rooms with spectacular views … no, wait. Usually you have them in dark, dull hotel banquet rooms with no windows. Thanks to the HNA planning committee for making ours more interesting.

View from Space Needle

We did have some more normal banquet features, such as banquet tables that everyone takes an endless time to get settled at because they’re all busy talking to each other.

HNA BanquetEve Luckring and KazJim Kacian, Marilyn Hazelton, Billie Dee, Richard GilbertAlso, a charity auction with a highly entertaining auctioneer who is also a haiku poet, named David Ash. It was called an Unsilent Auction because mostly it was a silent auction except for the part where David was talking. If you see what I mean.

Silently, I won (by cleverly bidding four dollars over the cover price) a copy of John Martone’s Ksana, which I have wanted since the moment I first heard it existed. No, you can’t borrow it.

… Oh yes. And what haiku conference would be complete without a visit from Elvis?

David Ash

Elvis with Katharine Hawkinson

Not HNA, that’s for sure. That’s Carlos Colon all dressed up there (with HNA volunteer and organizer extraordinaire Katharine Hawkinson). Without video or audio I cannot fully convey to you the brilliance of Carlos’s performance as Haiku Poet Elvis. There were many hardened poets laughing so hard that tears came to their eyes and they nearly needed to be resuscitated. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard myself I would have written down Elvis’s entire haiku repertoire, which amounted to several dozen poems, but here are a couple I managed to control myself long enough to record. These were all interspersed with appropriate Elvis-like patter. Again, it had to be seen to be believed.

Lily…
out of the water
out of her suit

jailhouse rock
it bounces off the head
of a heckler

— Carlos Colon (“Elvis”)

Carlos was a tough act to follow but unfortunately I had to follow him. Not just me, of course — me, Fay Aoyagi, Gene Myers, and Don Wentworth, who had to hustle down from the Space Needle and get back to the conference center for our presentation on Haiku Blogging. We were delayed a bit waiting for the audience members who were still in the elevator trying to get off the top of the Needle. Still, we had a fairly entertaining discussion and not a bad crowd at all considering most of them were still trying to digest banquet food and the amazing spectacle of Carlos Colon as Elvis. I don’t have any pictures, sorry, I forgot to give my phone to anyone to record me for posterity. (There are some pictures floating around Facebook, though, if you hang out there in haiku circles. I look like a tired, short woman sitting at a table.)

Far more interesting was the next presentation, by Eve Luckring, on “Video Renku: Link and Shift in Visual Language.” Eve is a photographer and filmmaker as well as a highly original haiku poet. She began by discussing the film technique of Sergei Eisenstein, including his theory of “montage” and the different visual effects that could be used by filmmakers to evoke different emotional responses. We saw numerous clips from Eisenstein films such as “Battleship Potemkin.”

Then, brilliantly, Eve drew parallels with these montage techniques and the linking techniques used in renku, such as word association and the elusive concept of “scent.” When our minds had been sufficiently blown by this comparison, she introduced an exercise: Giving us all prints of photographs, she asked us to write a renku link to them, concentrating primarily not on the subject matter of the photograph but on its visual elements (see below for Eve’s slide describing these).

It’s difficult to explain without presenting these photographs exactly how this exercise worked or how brilliantly compelling it was, but when I get home I am going to do some more of this. I found it really worked to knock loose unusual images and unexpected comparisons from my mind. This was one of my favorite presentations at the conference.

Eve Luckring
Visual language in photography

After this, I found myself once again compelled by exhaustion to miss a couple of events I would have loved to have seen and heard excellent reports of later — the folk music of La Famille Leger (Dejah Leger and her husband), and Terry Ann Carter‘s presentation on the history of haiku in Canada.

Instead, I went off and had a bite in the hotel courtyard and breathed for a while, and then came back to hear Charlie Trumbull‘s fascinating, comprehensive talk on the history of haiku in English. Can you say “forty-eleven well-designed PowerPoint slides accompanied by a well-structured, erudite, but eminently listenable speech that all must have taken Charlie the better part of forever to put together”? I thought so.

Here’s one of his slides pointing out the effect that the writings of Thoreau and Emerson had on early haiku poets in English. Obviously. Duh. I knew that.

Emerson and Thoreau

I was especially grateful for Charlie’s presentation during the next event of the evening. It was a “Haiku Bowl,” created and moderated by Charlie and Jim Kacian, and featuring two teams facing off, striving to win glory and honor by answering questions about haiku history. The Frog team featured contestants Eve Luckring, Michael Dylan Welch, David Lanoue, and Fay Aoyagi and the clacking alligators they used to signal when they knew the answer to a question. The Bird team featured contestants Emiko Miyashita, Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, me, and our bird whistles. (I would just like to state for the record that it takes longer to produce a sound with a bird whistle than an alligator clacker.)

Rooster whistle

Mostly I sat back in amazement while the other Birds and the Frogs brought forth all kinds of obscure haiku knowledge from the depths of their powerful brains. When I knew the answer to something, it was usually because everyone did. We were all greatly helped, though, by having just attended Charlie’s lecture. Our team was further assisted by having one of the questions be “What was the title of Cor van den Heuvel’s first published book?”

It was a fun, light-hearted contest and the two teams took turns being in the lead, ending with an elegantly arranged near-tie. Okay, technically the Frogs won, but only because they had a better idea of what the population of Livermore, California is. Don’t ask. But we all had a great time, and we also all got prizes. The Frogs got a box of flies and the Birds got a box of worms.

See?

Worm box

This rip-roaring pseudo-entertainment was followed by some real entertainment by talented people — La Famille Leger once again, providing the music for a square dance. It looked the kind of thing that would be great fun if you weren’t ready to topple over with exhaustion. So I stuck around to take a few pictures and then went back to the hotel. Where I stayed up too late blogging. But hey! At least I hadn’t had any fun square dancing!

La Famille Leger

Square dancing

Square dancing circle

… And that was the end to the official conference-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Coming tomorrow: The official tourist-type activities of Haiku North America 2011. Featuring fog, panting hikers, totem poles, and salmon. Don’t miss it.

We interrupt this broadcast…

… for some brief self-promotion. You can do like I always do and just hit mute while the commercial is running if you want, though. I won’t be offended.

Okay: Tomorrow (July 16) is the last day to get your registration in to Haiku North America in order to be eligible for reduced rate registration. (You can still register after this, it will just cost a little more.) HNA is a huge haiku bash that will be happening in Seattle from August 3rd to 7th. All kinds of fun things will be happening there, as you can see from this schedule.

One of the fun things is a panel discussion on haiku blogging, which will be conducted by Fay Aoyagi (Blue Willow Haiku World), Gene Myers (genemyers.com), Don Wentworth (Issa’s Untidy Hut), and me. What are we going to say? You know, I don’t have the faintest idea. It’s a surprise. You’ll have to show up to find out. (Evil laugh.)

I will say that those other three people are kind of, like, blogger superheroes. If you’ve spent any time around here at all you’ve heard me quote Fay and Don over and over again. I am not quite sure what the world of haiku blogging would be like without them but I don’t want to find out. And although Gene’s blog focuses less exclusively on haiku and thus has gotten less air time here, it is also fascinating and extremely rewarding. So I’m very flattered to be included in their company.

I hope to see a bunch of you there. I think what I’m most looking forward to about this conference is being able to meet people in the flesh who have previously been only disembodied names. Make sure to say hi if you see me, if I don’t say it first.

.

One more quick public service announcement: Tomorrow is also the last day to get your haiku/tanka/haiga about mushrooms to me if you want them included in my super-mega mushroom blowout post next week. Saturday midnight. Don’t forget.

1000: Thanks!

Hey, I just noticed in my blog stats that as of right now I have had exactly 1000 page views. Thanks, everyone! The support and friendship my blog visitors have generously poured out to me over the last month and a bit has amazed and touched me. This is a kind, generous, intelligent — and often very funny — community. 🙂

Be sure to stop by again soon. It’s nice to be your neighbor.

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.