December, summarized

IMG_6841In between decorating my Christmas tree and then staring at it adoringly every night, binge-watching TV shows as if they were about to discontinue TV, making perfect Yorkshire pudding for the first time in my life (#goals), oh, and working, I have sometimes found time this month to do things that pertain to poetry, such as writing it and reading it. In particular I’ve been reading a lot of haibun, because it’s my turn again to edit the next issue of Haibun Today. Which reminds me, you should send me some haibun. [And please don’t tell me you didn’t know the deadlines or the guidelines or, I don’t know, the fault lines, they’re all right there in the link.]

Uh, what do you mean you don’t write haibun? Don’t you think it’s time to try? I mean, read some first, maybe some of Harriot West’s or Peter Newton’s or Bob Lucky’s or Carol Pearce-Worthington’s, you know, the really great ones, and then lie around indolently thinking about the stories you have known, and then tap into that story-filled indolence and write, because spending hours lying around doing nothing before you start writing is how the real pros do it, trust me on this. Read, then stare into space, then write. It’s a time-honored formula.

Okay, I have to finish up an episode of “Broadchurch” and then get into bed and scribble while lying sideways with my eyes half closed. Now you know why my haiku so often make no sense whatsoever.

deep winter
the only moving thing
the eye of the poet

every Christmas

every Christmas.

everyChristmas everyChristmasisthesame lights strung to evade the unavoidable dark, pine sap coating your fingers and the angels and the spun glass balls, paper keeps piling up on the floor and you begin to worry that something is lost beneath it but no matter how hard you look you can’t find anything but boxes with nothing in them and dry pine needles and the day moves toward dark no matter how many lights you light or how many fires you feed with paper and pine needles, thin dissatisfied fires with thin music circling them, and no matter how little you get you can never give away enough to make you feel better about it, and then you remember that something was born.

the morning after
you get what you want 
empty stocking

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 10: Bleak Midwinter Edition

One of my favorite Christmas songs (I remembered recently, when I was part of a hastily-thrown-together chorus that sang it for a New Year’s Eve celebration) is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. The first verse, in particular, is really a masterpiece of English poetry, full of humble but strong Anglo-Saxon words, not a single one unnecessary and no necessary one left out:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago.

— Christina Rossetti

There are obviously too many words and too much meter and rhyme and too many metaphors in this for it to be a haiku, though it does have the requisite elements of simplicity and clear, evocative images, and I think there’s some wabi-sabi and yugen going on here as well. And I see possibilities in that third line for some kind of avant-garde haiku:

snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow

Really, I think probably someone could rewrite this verse, or part of it, into an effective haiku, though I’ve been trying and not finding it so easy. Any of you like to give it a shot? Let me know what you come up with.

Anyway. It is definitely bleak midwinter here. Snow on snow indeed.  It’s nice that it’s not for so many of you — you dwellers in the tropics and subtropics and summery Southern Hemisphere. I like to imagine your lives, walking outside barefoot, wearing short sleeves, smelling flowers. (Well, those of you who aren’t flooded. I’m sorry about the flooded part. I hope no one has floated away.) I’m not really jealous, it will be our turn soon enough. And though I complain bitterly about the cold and can never seem to get really warm, there is something about this downtime, for both the earth and me, that I grudgingly appreciate. Cycles. The world is full of them, and best just to accept them.

Which reminds me. Aren’t we supposed to be taking a spin around the Haikuverse? Best get started on that before you get bored with my waxing philosophical and wander away, never to return.

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Haiku of the Week

That’s haiku, plural. As in, the haiku I saw on the Internet this week that most struck me as interesting for whatever reason (could be my discerning literary taste, could be the state of my digestion) and that I actually managed to remember to bookmark. (This whole process is an art, not a science.)

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Mark Holloway over at Beachcombing For the Landlocked has been on a roll this week. You should really just go over there and read everything he’s written lately because I had a hard time choosing just one. I settled on this one in the end:

moss growing on the roof tiles      unsuspected      metastasis

Mark Holloway

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This wonderful piece from a handful of stones isn’t a haiku, I suppose. Do I care? Not really.

A mushroom sprouts
from the base of the locust tree,
and it will not be distracted
from its small brown task.

— Tamra Hays

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In this piece Angie Werren from feathers did a nice job responding to the same ku on this prompt that I did this morning:

sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
counting trees

— Angie Werren

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This wonderful offering at Jars of Stars was originally posted on Twitter by @cirrusdream, otherwise known as Polona:

winter thaw
i ignore
his white lie

— Polona (@cirrusdream)

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Another one of Bill Kenney’s “afters” appeared at haiku-usa (maybe I appreciated this one because I’ve been having weird dreams lately myself):

piercing cold
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream

— Soseki 1867-1916

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Also at haiku-usa, Bill points us to a collection of his “urban haiku” recently featured on Gabi Greve’s Haiku Topics and Keywords blog. Gabi also links to works by many other authors of such “urban haiku” (i.e., haiku that reflects the reality of the lives of most modern writers of haiku, who live not in pastoral Japan or pastoral anywhere, but in bustling outposts of the global economy). An example from Alan Summers:

Waterloo sunset
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map

— Alan Summers

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Every week there’s at least one something at Blue Willow Haiku World that I feel like reading over and over — usually several somethings. This week my favorite was this one:

月の汚れやすくてかなしき手   黒田杏子
ichigatsu no yogoreyasukute kanashiki te

January
hands that are easy
to get dirty and sad
— Momoko Kuroda, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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And while we’re on the topic of Fay Aoyagi (I never mind being on the topic of Fay Aoyagi), someone on Facebook (MDW — was that you?) recently reminded me about the wonderful series of essays she wrote several years ago for Frogpond about non-traditional use of kigo in haiku. I could swear I’ve read this entire series on the Interwebs, either on Frogpond’s site or Fay’s own, but I can’t seem to find any of them now except this one: “Haiku Traditions: Flowers and Plants.” But just this one will take you a long way. Fay discusses how traditional Japanese kigo like “cherry blossoms,” which are so evocative in their own culture, have given way in her own poetry to seasonal terms or keywords that are more meaningful to the American culture she now inhabits:

While cherry blossoms symbolize where I came from, roses represent Western culture and where I am now.  I think roses demand a lot of care.  To have a gorgeous, perfect flower, one has to tend them with water, fertilizers and pesticides.  Roses are somewhat the manifestation of my borrowed culture.  “Rose” itself is a summer kigo, but I prefer to use it in a winter setting.  I can put contradictory feelings or images together in this way.

winter roses—
I am tired of reading
between the lines
— Fay Aoyagi

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OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)

Every week I am amazed at how many cool haiku-related sites I have yet to discover. Since I have been thinking about venturing into haiga territory in collaboration with my amateur photographer husband, I went noodling around this week looking for haiga online and discovered … Haigaonline. (Warning: this link will lead you to a page where there are sounds of sparrows twittering and some music, which is sweet and pretty but if you’re in a quiet place or just not in the mood, you may want to hit the “mute” button.)

The December 2010 issue of this online journal features lots of good stuff, including a feature on “family haiga” — lots of husband-and-wife teams, so I appreciated that. What I really loved, though, was an exhibit of “experimental haiga” by Renee Owen — they’re colorful collages with intriguing haiku, such as:

waiting for God
to finish creation
leftover rocks
— Renee Owen

And yes you MUST go look at the picture! That’s the entire point! Click! Click! I think the link will just bring you to a page of thumbnails, all of which are worth looking at, but the one I’ve quoted above can be found if you click on the picture of columns in the bottom center.
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And I’m always looking for good haibun, so I was excited to stumble on Hortensia Anderson’s site The Plenitude of Emptiness. All haibun, all the time! I’m trying to write more haibun so I will be dropping by here often.

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Tanka Corner

I’ve been making some headway lately in my ongoing quest to get over my fear of tanka. I was helped recently in my endeavor by my discovery of this mind-blower over at Michele Harvey’s site. This is not only one of my favorite tanka I’ve ever read, it’s some of the best poetry I’ve read lately, period.

a fall cricket
sings alone on the porch
I too, wonder
about being born too late
or too soon

— Michele Harvey

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Alegria Imperial also published some wonderful trilingual tanka (English, Spanish, and the native Philippine language Iluko) over at qarrtsiluni this week. I have long been a fan of Alegria’s multilingual poetry, it is so amazingly dense with meaning and emotional resonance. And as usual at qarrtsiluni, there is an audio file so you can hear Alegria reading her beautiful words. Please check it out!

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Renku Everywhere

With the new year, the thoughts of many seem to be turning to starting new renku. Over at Issa’s Snail, Ashley Capes has done a nice site redesign and, after a long hiatus, has started up a couple of new junicho, with a third possibly in the works. I think most of these have filled up with participants already but it’s still fun to watch the process of a renku in the making, which you can do by reading the comments on the site. The “sabaki” or renku leader guides the group in choosing subject matter and making sure the poem flows and doesn’t repeat itself in theme or language, which is no easy task, but Ashley (I know from personal experience) is great at doing this. Plus he is just an all-around nice guy who is easy and fun to work with.

The same can be said of Willie Sorlien, who is currently guiding the development of a shisan renku at Green Tea and Bird Song. Again, don’t think they’re looking for new participants, but it might be worthwhile watching how it’s done by the pros before you leap in on your own.

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Haiku in the News

Haiku made an appearance in the mass media this week in the form of a lengthy radio interview on NPR’s “On Point” show with haiku venerables George Swede and Dylan Tweney and an economist named Stephen Ziliak, who wrote an article making a fascinating connection between economic models and haiku. An excerpt from Ziliak’s article:

The typical haiku budget constraint is limited by three lines of seventeen syllables. Basho himself understood well the joyful paradox of haiku economics: less is more, and more is better!

Stephen Ziliak

This was a fun interview to listen to — I especially enjoyed George Swede’s anecdote about his son, who as a fifth-grader took up a position as a conscientious objector by refusing to do as he was instructed by his teacher and write a haiku in 5-7-5. He wrote some twelve-syllable haiku instead and got them published in Modern Haiku (which at the time accepted haiku from students). Then his teacher was all impressed and wanted to put them in the school yearbook, but the young Swede told her (I’m sure in very well-mannered language) where she could put her yearbook. Go ahead and stream this one while you’re making dinner or something tonight, you won’t be sorry.

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The News in Haiku


Is everyone getting psyched up for NaHaiWriMo (remember, that’s the thing where you can sign up to write a haiku a day in the month of February)? Michael Dylan Welch has put together a website for the event so now you don’t need to be on Facebook to sign up (although go ahead and like the Facebook page too if you want). Think about it.

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A call for submissions for a new issue of haijinx has gone out (deadline: March 1), along with the exciting news that Roberta Beary will be their new haibun editor. Roberta is one of the best writers of haibun around so I can’t wait to see what she picks out. Also new on the haijinx website: Richard Krawiec’s latest installment of his column “Shooting My Poetry Mouth Off.” This month he implores us haiku poets not to try to publish everything we write but to be selective and try to recognize our best work, which will not only benefit us personally (since our poetic reputations will not be sullied by inferior work), but also haiku as a genre, since the journals will not be flooded with mediocre work. Worth reading and thinking about.

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Dead Tree News

Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694. The first great master of haikai/haiku. Where on earth did he come from?

It’s a little like asking where Shakespeare (1564-1616) came from, in my opinion. I mean you can see how before and all around Shakespeare, English writers were producing supple, lively, image-rich poems and plays, much of it in a natural and flexible blank verse — really, nobody could do English like the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, at the moment when modern English was brand new and no one had gotten around to inventing rules for it yet so writers had no compunction about bending the language to their will. That was the glorious and fortunate tradition Shakespeare was working in, but nobody else was Shakespeare, before or after.

So pity poor Donald Keene, who in chapters four and five of World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 has the unenviable job of explaining how the often-pleasant-and-skillful, but usually not much more, haikai of the haijin that preceded Basho produced the unparalleled haikai genius that is Basho. In the end, about all he can do is trace the literary movements that Basho’s work responded to and grew out of, and then throw up his hands and say, “The rest — that’s just Basho.”

As I discussed in Haikuverse No. 8, Basho was influenced by both the careful craftsmanship of the Teitoku school of haikai and the iconoclasm and experimentation of the Danrin school, as well as by his intensive study of Chinese verse and by his interest in Zen Buddhism. But he didn’t just sit around studying and writing poetry; he spent much of his life traveling around Japan, living at various times both in the city and in the country, meeting people, seeing things, gathering material. As Keene points out, “Haikai shared the literary spirit of the great Chinese and Japanese masters, and the Zen quality of … poet … Han Shan, but it had its own domain too, in the familiar and even vulgar activities of contemporary life.”

It’s when Keene discusses Basho’s masterpieces that his efforts to relate Basho’s genius to his poetic predecessors break down. Basho was just Basho; his vision was unique. In his most famous poem, the frog pond haiku furuike ya, Keene points out, “The ancient pond is eternal, but in order for us to become aware of its eternity there must be some momentary disruption…This verse is about stillness, yet only by sound can we know silence.” He contrasts Basho’s first line here (“old pond”) with the well-meaning and not unskillful suggestion of one of his disciples, “the yellow roses”:

[A]lthough the picture of yellow flowers surrounding the frog … is visually appealing, it lacks the eternity of ‘ancient pond.’ … Only by suggesting the age of the pond, its unchanging nature, is the momentary life of the frog evoked. This was the kind of understanding Basho demanded. He believed that the smallest flower or insect if properly seen and understood could suggest all of creation, and each had its reason for existence.

— Donald Keene, World Within Walls

By the end of his life Basho’s poetic ideal was karumi, or “lightness,” “a word used in contrast to technical finish or decorative effects.” Basho was seeing ever deeper into the hearts of things, in a way no haikai poet had done before and few if any have done since. He was going past the words into the essence.

What Keene’s discussion made me want to do more than ever was just sit down with Basho himself and engage with him, rather than the ideas about him. So that’s what’s on the agenda for this week. Feel free to join me.

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And thanks again for letting me ramble on at length; special thanks to those of you who actually made it to the end of this post. Love, love, love making these trips with you. It may seem like I’m the guide but I assure you I’m learning the territory as I go. There is still so much more of the Haikuverse left to explore, hope you’ll keep me company as I wander.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 8: The Aftermath Edition

So. Christmas is over. Did everyone make it through okay? I’m always interested to hear how other people celebrate Christmas, or don’t celebrate it as the case may be, so if you want to leave me a comment about that or write me a descriptive haiku or something, that would be awesome. No pressure, though.

(Although you do know I am giving away a book to a random commenter this week, though, right? And not even a book by me, but a good book. So you might want to rethink your “nah, who has time to comment?” philosophy just for this week.)

We visited my sister on the East Coast for Christmas. This involved a lot of driving — I mean, a LOT — which I kind of hate, but it was all worthwhile because my sister basically spoiled us rotten. My husband and I slept in till eleven on Christmas Day — I know, I know, but we don’t have little kids jumping on us any more to force us to get up. (Although around ten-thirty my sister and my son started playing Christmas music really loudly to encourage us to keep them company.)

My sister, who is an amazing cook, refused all offers of assistance in making Christmas dinner, so instead of slaving in the kitchen my son and I went for a run around my sister’s insanely beautiful neighborhood and then we all watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Hulu and then it was time to eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (which turned out really well, unlike every Yorkshire pudding I have ever made) and red velvet cake with peppermint frosting. Red. Velvet. Cake. With. Peppermint. Frosting. Um, YEAH.

Then we played “Clue” and my son won and gave his evil overlord laugh, which I totally love, and then we all sat down and started cozily reading (my husband) and memorizing lines for a play (my son) and knitting (my sister) and writing haiku (me). And drinking lots of tea and eating red and green M&Ms and cookies with red and green M&Ms in them, trying to stay awake until midnight when my mother arrived in town on a Greyhound bus, bearing in a plastic bag a large ham and five small apple pies. We are still not sure why. But it all tasted really good.

So that was my Christmas. I don’t know why I think you care, but I like to tell long pointless stories like that and it’s my blog, so that’s how it’s going down.

Now on to why you’re actually here, which is to find out what went down in the Haikuverse this week. I am writing this while wearing the dragonfly earrings my mother gave me for Christmas, so I am totally in the Red Dragonfly spirit and am ready to fill your life with haiku-y goodness. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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So a week or so ago Google introduced its famous/infamous “Ngram viewer,” which is a database of, like, a jillion or so words culled from the gazillions of books it has been scanning for the last several years, which allows you to create graphs showing how the use of word has changed over the years. Best. Thing. Ever. I mean, if you have pet words, you can have so much fun seeing what they have been doing over the centuries.

Here’s the graph I made showing how “haiku,” “tanka,” and “senryu” have fluctuated between 1900 and 2000 (I discovered that all of these words were sufficiently rare in English before 1900 that it was hardly worth graphing them). And here’s the Basho/Issa/Buson/Shiki smackdown, once again 1900-2000. Mostly Basho has been winning, but it looks like Issa has been on the upswing lately, which I am feeling smug about.

Play around with it. And if you come up with interesting haiku-related graphs, feel free to share.

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On Twitter last week, M. Kei (kujakupoet), who is compiling an apparently voluminous tanka bibliography in his spare time, started entertaining and educating us with tweets recounting the history of English-language tanka. Well worth checking out if you are interested in tanka at all.

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I’ve been spending a lot more time lately over at see haiku here, which features amazing haiga of amazing haiku by Kuniharu Shimizu. Recently Shimizu wrote a very interesting commentary on “focus” in both painting and haiku, featuring Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting “Christina.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“There is a painting of a snow covered forest. Everything, trees, snow on leaves, ground, is skillfully painted. I like the quietness emanating from the whole canvas. Then I notice. Something is lacking. Something that enhances the mood already present there, is missing. I tentatively name that something a focal point.

Haiku is a very small poetry, yet it is powerful. The reason resides in its structure, juxtaposition of two things. Basho called it “Toriawase”. Placement of two unexpected but somehow related things seems to evoke new awareness, pleasant surprise, and the switch of your imagination goes on, enabling you to appreciate it to a great extent.”

— Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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Here’s a haiku from Blue Willow Haiku World that I am including as a little late Christmas gift to my son, who is a robot fan:

robotto ga robotto tsukuru fuyu-mayonaka
robots manufacture
robots
winter midnight
— Noburo Yasui, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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I was very impressed by a piece in Haiku News last week that references the headline “Child bride horrors last a lifetime”:

torn kite
in the red sea
her pieces
— Maya Idriss

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I have not even come close to examining a tiny fraction of what is in the archive of David Giacalone’s defunct blog f/k/a, but it’s a big one, and one of the things in it was that amazing long dissection of haiku by Jim Kacian that I discussed in the last Haikuverse edition, so I’m suspecting there is a lot of other great stuff in there too. Report back to me on what you find.

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You knew I was going to post this entry from Fiona Robyn’s wonderful little online semi-journal a handful of stones last week, didn’t you? If you didn’t, you should have.

(And for some reason I just now noticed that the author is one Christina Nguyen, whom I follow on Twitter under the name of TinaNguyen, and who writes a lot of wonderful haiku and gogyoghka — just Google it if you don’t know what that is, I don’t have time to explain right now. Her blog is linked below.)

ragged hip-hop
still
I read Issa

— Christina Nguyen

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This haiga by George O. Hawkins blew me away when he posted it on Facebook last week. If you can’t see the picture, basically it’s a fancy picture of a butterfly, but the haiku … I rarely read any haiku that so perfectly and delicately combines the spirit (and content) of classical Japanese haiku with the spirit (and content) of contemporary American life. Nice work, George.

winter morning
I retouch
a butterfly
— George O. Hawkins

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And Vincent Hoarau continues to stun me with so many of the French haiku he posts on Facebook, like this one from last week’s astronomical event:

solstice d’hiver –
il allume la lumière
de sa mappemonde

— vincent hoarau

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Gillena Cox is having a “12 Days of Christmas” celebration at her blog Lunch Break, to which anyone can contribute haiku either by emailing them to Gillena or by posting comments on one of the 12 days. She’s up to Day Four today (theme: Four Calling Birds, or the four gospels). The first three days featured haiku by yours truly. (Never before seen! Act now!) Why don’t you head over there and see what you can come up with?

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This will be the last Haikuverse of 2010, so naturally I need to discuss the last “Issa’s Sunday Service” of 2010 from last Sunday’s Issa’s Untidy Hut. The featured song is “Turn, Turn, Turn,” that sixties folk-rock standby on which I have a guilty crush. There are links to versions by both the Byrds and Judy Collins and Pete Seeger. There is also a great, thematically appropriate Issa haiku, which I would cut my right arm off with a dull penknife to have written:

a new year–
the same nonsense
piled on nonsense
— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

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Dead Tree News: I left you with a cliffhanger last time when I discussed the first two of six chapters about the development of haikai poetry in Donald Keene’s World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600-1867. I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that I have just finished chapter 3 and so you can find out what happened to haikai after it was given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by Matsunaga Teitoku in the seventeenth century.

Well, naturally what happened is that haikai became divided into competing schools, because that is what human beings do as soon as they invent something cool — they start to argue about what it really is and who should be in charge of it. On the plus side, this led to a lot more creative haikai as poets tried to carve out their own little niches in the haikai world:

Look at that! and that!
Is all I can say of the blossoms
At Yoshino Mountain.
— Teishitsu

Hey there, wait a moment!
Before you strike the temple bell
At the cherry blossoms.
— Shigeyori (This one references a No play, which his school of haikai did a lot)

Thanks to my gazing
I got a pain from the blossoms
In the bone of my neck.
— Nishiyama Soin, founder of the Danrin school of haikai. (This one is making fun of an old waka that waxes sentimental about cherry blossoms.)

There are some amazing stories about how fast these guys could compose haikai — Saikaku wrote a thousand in a day once, which everyone was impressed by until he wrote 1600 in a day and a night, which seemed amazing until he dictated 4000 in the same amount of time, which no one thought he could top until he composed 23,500 verses in a day and a night — “too fast for the scribes to do more than tally,” says Keene. Naturally, most of them weren’t much good, but that apparently wasn’t his goal: “His poetry delighted in the present, in the rapidly shifting patterns of the ‘floating world’ where the waves formed only to break.”

Despite all the quarrels between the competing schools, Soin wrote a really interesting statement of his haikai philosophy, which I can get completely behind:

Whether in the old style, the current style, or the in-between style, a good poet is a good poet, and a bad one a bad one; there is no such thing as distinguishing which style is the correct one; the best thing is to amuse oneself by writing what one likes; it is a joke within a fantasy.

Soin did not hesitate to express this philosophy with irreverent and humorous poems that took aim at the pieties of other schools and past generations, such as:

At Toribeno
The smoke never ceases
Over the funeral pyre.

Doesn’t it make the kites and
Crows sneeze?
— Soin

And that brings us almost to Basho, who was indebted to both schools of haikai for his masterpieces. Keene says, “From Teitoku he learned the importance of craftsmanship, from Soin the importance of spontaneity and of describing the present moment. Both elements were to be essential in developing the mature haikai.”

I’m feeling inspired already. On to the next chapter! Oh, and to the writing of more haiku. I hope your own work is going well in this week between holidays. It’s been a pleasure circulating the Haikuverse with you. I’ll see you again after the earth begins another trip around the sun.

December 25: Nativity

Nativity scene
every year we think we’ve lost
the baby

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Nativity scene
the shepherds are guarding
flocking

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Nativity scene
the light in the stable
burned out

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Nativity scene
folding a crane to replace
the broken angel

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Nativity scene
the Wise Men never let go
of their gifts

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Nativity scene
Joseph stares out
of the window
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Nativity scene
the animals eye the manger
hungrily

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Nativity scene
Mary hides
from the visitors

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Nativity scene
packing away the miracle
for next year

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A very Merry Christmas to all my readers who are celebrating the holiday today. Thanks for all your well-wishes this season and all your support this year. Much joy to you and your families.