Dragonfly Dreams

Assorted dragonflies

Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into when I announced this topic? No, I did not. I had no idea that so many people would send me so much varied and amazing poetry about dragonflies. Just as I had no idea there were so many kinds of dragonflies until I started doing a little (okay, a lot) of research…

I’ll launch into the poetry in a minute, but first off, for those among you who like me have to know every. single. thing. there is to know. about something before you can possibly just enjoy reading about it (yes, we are annoying)… here is the Wikipedia article on dragonflies (which fascinatingly contains an entire section on the role dragonflies play in Japanese culture and even references haiku) and here is the page on dragonfly kigo from Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database.

Okay, I’ll shut up now and let you enjoy this dream of dragonflies.

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Red dragonfly perched on grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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aki no ki no akatombo ni sadamarinu

The beginning of autumn,
Decided
By the red dragon-fly.

— Shirao, translated by R.H. Blyth
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toogarashi hane o tsukereba akatonbo

red pepper
put wings on it
red dragonfly

— Basho, translated by Patricia Donegan

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Origami dragonfly

(Photo by Jay Otto)

a dragonfly lands
on a stranded paper boat…
summer’s end

— Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies

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within his armful
of raked leaves
this lifeless dragonfly

— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

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Red dragonfly over landscape

(Artwork and poetry by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

dragonflies
the soft blur of time
in another land

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Dragonfly on ferns

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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out of myself just briefly dragonfly

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adding a touch
of blue to the breeze –
dragonfly
(Magnapoets Issue 4 July 2009)

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fading light –
everything the dragonfly
has to say

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Common darter dragonfly

(Artwork by Amy Smith, The Spider Tribe’s Blog)

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a crimson darter
skims the mirror-lake…
your lips on mine
tomorrow
may never come
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twisting and turning
a dragonfly splits
a ray of light …
he says he loves me
in his own way

(Simply Haiku Winter 2011)
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catching
the blue eye of the breeze
dragonfly

(Simply Haiku Spring 2011)

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— Claire Everett, At the Edge of Dreams

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Dragonfly on reeds

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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on the water lily
remains of a dragonfly
morning stillness

(Evergreen English Haiku, 1995)
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from sedge
to sedge to sedge
dragonfly
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with a few brushstrokes the dragonfly comes alive
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autumn dragonfly
waning
like the moon
a few scarlet leaves
silently fall
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— Pamela A. Babusci

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Golden dragonfly

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

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Dragonfly rising
everything shining
in the wind
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Gold dragonflies
crisscross the air in silence:
summer sunset
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A cirrus sky
one hundred dark dragonflies
with golden wings

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— Kris Lindbeck, Haiku Etc.

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Dragonfly on grass blade

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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The dragon-fly,
It tried in vain to settle
On a blade of grass.

— Basho, translated by R.H. Blyth
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The dragon-fly
Perches on the stick
That strikes at him.

— Kohyo, translated by R.H. Blyth
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the instant it flies up
a dragonfly
loses its shadow

— Inahata Teiko (1931-), translated by Makoto Ueda

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Red dragonfly haiga

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

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red dragonfly
on my shoulder, what
rank do I have?
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spiderweb down,
a damselfly touches
my lips

— Michael Nickels-Wisdom
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born in the year
of the dragon-
fly!

— Mary Ahearn

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Red dragonfly in grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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sunset
from the tip of my shoe
the red dragonfly

(South by Southeast 18:2)

 

dew on grasses
the dragonflies
are gone
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in a wrinkle
of light
dragonfly
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— Donna Fleischer, word pond

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Typewriter

(Poetry by Melissa Allen; illustration clip art)

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through and through the gate dragonfly

— Melissa Allen

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Red Hot Dragonfly

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coupling dragonflies
at break-neck speed—
HOT!

(Modern Haiku 35.1)

— Susan Diridoni

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Dragonfly close-up

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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on the dried husk
that was an iris blossom
black dragonfly
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we came here
seeking solitude
the loon
the dragonfly
and the speedboat

— Christina Nguyen, A wish for the sky…

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Dragonfly and Grasshopper(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro: “Red Dragonfly and Locust [Aka tonbo and Inago]”, from Picture Book of Selected Insects with Crazy Poems [Ehon Mushi Erabi]). From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.)

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this brief life a dragonfly
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dragonfly
where there is water
a path
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— angie werren, feathers

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tombô ya ni shaku tonde wa mata ni shaku

dragonfly–
flying two feet
then two feet more

— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

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Dragonfly on rock

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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a break in the rain…
the stillness
of the dragonfly

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

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dragonfly—
how much of me
do you see?

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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noonday heat
dragonflies slice
the still air

(South by Southeast Vol. 12 #1)

— T.D. Ingram, @haikujots (on twitter)

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Red dragonfly drawing.

evening breeze
teetering on its perch
a red dragonfly



(Haiku Pix Review, summer 2011)

.— G.R. LeBlanc, Berry Blue Haiku

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high notes
a red dragonfly skims
across the sound

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

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Blue dragonfly

(Haiga by Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies)

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the heat
between downpours
blue dragonflies

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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Steel blue flash
flies wing
drifts
— Robert Mullen

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Yellow dragonfly

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dragonfly dreams
the hospital intercom
repeats her name
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with the password
to her sanity
darting dragonfly
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iridescent dragonfly
hard to see
how her Ph.D. matters
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tell me the old stories
one last time
convalescent dragonfly
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discharge papers
the dragonfly returns home
on new meds
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letting go of her walker
she lifts into the night sky
dragonfly
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— Susan Antolin, Artichoke Season

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Multimedia Interlude:

Sick of everything around here being flat and quiet?  I found some moving stuff that makes noise for you too.

  • First, there’s this amazing (very) short film by Paul Kroeker of the last moments of a dragonfly’s life, which I discovered via Donna Fleischer at word pond. It’s set to music and is incredibly compelling:

http://www.petapixel.com/2011/08/11/spontaneous-and-creative-short-film-of-a-dying-dragonfly-shot-with-a-canon-7d/

  • Second, there are several versions of the well-known Japanese folk song (I mean, well-known to the Japanese) Aka Tombo, which means “Red Dragonfly.” This is apparently an indispensable part of every Japanese child’s upbringing. There are an almost infinite number of variations of this on YouTube so if these four aren’t enough for you, feel free to go noodling around over there looking for more.

Female vocalists

Male vocalists

Instrumental

With upbeat dance backing track added

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and on this general theme…

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perched on bamboo grass
the low notes
of a dragonfly

(Haiku inspired by Tif Holmes’s Photo-Haiku Project:  http://tifholmesphotography.com/cphp/2011/07/july-2011-series-entry-11/)

— Kathy Nguyen (A~Lotus), Poetry by Lotus

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for when even
the music stops—
dragonfly wings

— Aubrie Cox, Yay words!

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Dragonfly tiles

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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mid-morning
a dragonfly and I
bound for Mississippi
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in and out of view
the computer-drawn dragonfly
on the web page

— Tzetzka Ilieva
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dragonfly
at 60 miles per hour
those giant eyes

— Johnny Baranski

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Dragonfly on stalk

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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first impressions
a dragonfly hovers
before landing

— Cara Holman, Prose Posies

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Dragonfly zip haiku

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— Linda Papanicolaou, Haiga Online

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In this forest glade
The snail gone, a dragonfly lights
On the mushroom cap

— P. Allen

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Owl catching dragonfly

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‘Oh!  Catch it!’

‘I heard they eat their own tails’

When I was a child, living on an Air Force base in Okinawa, it was a common belief, among the elementary school set, a dragonfly would eat itself if you caught it and fed it its own tail.  I looked online and didn’t find any references to this notion so maybe we were all sniffing the good Japanese glue.

Anyhow, even though we constantly snagged lizards and grasshoppers and cicadas, I never saw any one ever catch a dragonfly, as common as they were.

dragonfly
we play in the puddles
afraid to get close

— Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

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Dragonfly on bark

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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dragonfly—
wings vibrating
on the rock face
(From the sequence “Ten Haiku: For the Dodge Tenth Anniversary Hike” in The Monkey’s Face)

dragonfly
on my fingernail
looks at me
(From Wind in the Long Grass, edited by William J. Higginson [Simon & Schuster, Books for Young Readers, 1991])

— Penny Harter, Penny Harter homepageA Poet’s Alphabestiary, Etc.

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An old tree
No bud and no leaf
full of dragonflies.

— @vonguyenphong22 (on Twitter)

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Dragonfly illustration.

neti neti
a dragonfly hums
raga Megh
(raga Megh(a)=a raga for the monsoon season. Neti neti= a key expression from the Upanishads: “not this nor this” or “not this nor that” alluding to the essence of things.)
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”the sky’s gone out”
on the radio – and then
a dragonfly
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dragonfly –
I mark an unpaid bill
“later”

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger

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Orange dragonfly

(Photo by Melissa Allen)

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in and out the reeds
a blue dragonfly
mother keeps sewing
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stitching
water and sky together
–       damselflies

— Paganini Jones, http://www.pathetic.org/library/5644

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boys playing games
stones miss the darning needle

— Jim Sullivan, haiku and commentary and tales
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dragonfly heading to the lemon hanging in the sun

— Gene Myers, genemyers.com, @myersgene (on Twitter)

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Dragonfly and poppies

(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro, “Dragonfly and Butterfly,” from A Selection of Insects)

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bluetail damselfly
escapes the empty cottage
where children once played
(1st place Kiyoshi Tokutomi Memorial Haiku Contest 2009)
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on the bus
to the children’s museum
first dragonfly

— Roberta Beary, Roberta Beary

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flitting idly
from flower to flower
a blue damsel
lights upon the lotus
unfolding iridescence

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

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Dragonfly with water lilies

(Photo by Jay Otto)

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dark waters
a dragonfly dreaming
its reflection
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iridescent wings
the flying parts of
the dragon

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
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silhouetted dragonfly
reeds pierce the moon
(The Mainichi Daily News, May 30, 2009)

— Martin Gottlieb Cohen

Across the Haikuverse, No. 7: Please Don’t Make Me Go Christmas Shopping Edition

Yes, it’s that time again — time to check your booster rockets, lay in a supply of freeze-dried sushi, and climb into the shuttle for a whirlwind tour of the Haikuverse.

I am going to try to make this snappy since, in anticipation of the Holiday of Boundless Capitalist Delight, I’m planning to swing back by Earth later this afternoon in an attempt to observe this planet’s December ritual of purchasing an overabundance of material goods to honor the birth of someone who spent a lot of time talking about how stupid money was. If you joined me, we could amuse ourselves by trading senryu about the foibles of our holiday-crazed fellow human beings and then repairing to a tea shop to eat cookies and regain a Zenlike state of tranquility. Wouldn’t that be fun? Oh, well, maybe next year.

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If you’re as stressed out by Chrismukkwanzaa as I am, you should go check out The Haiku Foundation’s new user forums. They have kind and helpful moderators, interesting discussion topics, opportunities to get feedback on your haiku from wiser and more experienced poets, and a generally happy, relaxed atmosphere, which we can all use this time of year.

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Chris Gordon from ant ant ant ant ant stopped by here this week and left a brilliant comment that made me very happy, which reminded me that I hadn’t visited his wonderful blog in a while. Lots of great poetry there, including this lovely one-liner of Chris’s from his 2007 book Echoes:

the rain warmer than the air around it I find your scar

— Chris Gordon

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Fiona Robyn, who posts her own lovely writing at a small stone and other peoples’ at a handful of stones, has gotten on the “write a whole bunch of stuff in a month in the company of other people” bandwagon (see: NaNoWriMo, NaHaiWriMo).

Her version is called “International Small Stones Writing Month,” and it’s headquartered at a river of stones. In a nutshell, the idea is to sign up to write one of the tiny poems Fiona calls “small stones” every day in the month of January. This seems like it would be a lot of fun for someone who, unlike me, had some extra time on his or her hands in the month of January. So if you’re one of those people, go make Fiona happy and hop on her bandwagon.

And speaking of a handful of stones, here’s one of my favorite posts from last week:

the fog finally
lifted, revealing distant
condominiums

— @HaikuDiem

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I’ve really been enjoying the haiku that George O. Hawkins has been posting lately on Facebook and Twitter. Like this one, for instance:

open water
the icy countenance
of a swan

— George O. Hawkins

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Speaking of Twitter, CoyoteSings has created a blog featuring some of the best Twitter haiku and tanka, so if you’re wondering what’s going on over there on Twitter but you don’t want to actually get an account, you could check out Jars of Stars. Here’s a ku you might like, for instance:

such heat
then snow

our lives

— @PerlyGates

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I liked this Daily Haiku entry last week:

first raindrops
an inaudible voice
on the answering machine
— Robert Epstein

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I am so glad to see that Alan Segal, who had been on hiatus from his blog for a while, is back to posting fairly regularly at old pajamas: from the dirt hut. Alan’s poetry is surreal and challenging but I like the interesting things his images do to my brain. Example:

my horse dreams
of tracing the pattern
between stars…
and, ironhooved, shape,
sew his wooden kimono

— Alan Segal

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I don’t pay nearly enough attention to haiga (there are only so many hours in the day) but every once in a while one really grabs me, like this illustration of a Ban’ya Natsuishi ku by Kuniharu Shimizu from see haiku here. (Go look at it. It’s a picture, see?)

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“Issa’s Sunday Service,” over at Issa’s Untidy Hut keeps on making me happy. Last week there was a Grateful Dead song (“Althea”) that so, so geekily references both “Hamlet” and a 17th-century poem by Richard Lovelace (and, interesting to nobody but me, I just noticed that the version of the song linked to here was recorded in 1981, when I was twelve, at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, CT, about fifty miles from where I was living at the time).

Then there were several poems and ku on the subject of temple bells, including:

the praying mantis
hangs by one hand…
temple bell

— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Really, what’s not to like?

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At Haiku Bandit Society the monthly Full Moon Viewing Party is coming right up on the 21st. Go on over there and share your ku on the subject of the full moon. All the cool kids are doing it.

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On Michael Dylan Welch’s website, Graceguts, there is a great Lee Gurga interview, from 1991 but still well worth reading. (Michael reminded us of it on Facebook this week.) Here’s an excerpt:

My personal destiny is somehow intertwined with haiku, and has been since the dawning of consciousness in adolescence. I don’t feel this with any other kind of writing, nor with any other activity with the exception of planting trees and wildflowers. But please don’t misunderstand me: this is not to say that I suppose there is anything “special” about my work, or that it is better than the writing of those differently related to haiku. But then, of course, the aim of haiku is “nothing special”—that special “nothing special” that somehow touches us at the core of our being.

— Lee Gurga


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Over at extra special bitter, Paul David Mena blew me away with this one this week:

December rain —
the long night
longer

— Paul David Mena

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At Tobacco Road Poet, the “Three Questions” this week were answered by Jim Kacian, who is the founder and president of The Haiku Foundation and also one of my favorite living haiku poets. He wrote this, for example (and I had a really hard time choosing this one from among many other favorites), so you see what I mean:

just now
as my life turns crazy
forsythia

— Jim Kacian

It’s worth reading Jim’s answers to the Three Questions and also worth reading much of the copious other material by and about him that is available out there on the Interwebs. There is this index that can get you started. I love the first essay it links to, “Haiku as Anti-Story”, which starts out this way:

Haiku are not really difficult, once you are willing to take the words at their own valuation. … So why is it so hard? Why does it need explanation? Because the mother, friend, reader is looking for story. “Yes, it’s a lily, but what is it really?” Your audience is looking for story, but you’re giving them — anti-story.

— Jim Kacian, “Haiku as Anti-Story”

Oh — so hard for those of us who love stories so passionately to let go of that narrative pull. This makes me wonder if I am guilty of wanting haiku to do too much — if I want them, too often, to be tiny stories. It also makes me wonder if it’s really impossible for haiku ever to be tiny stories. So much to think about…
But if you really want to be blown away by the comprehensiveness of Jim’s thoughts about and understanding of haiku, you’ll have to set aside a little time to read his magnum opus: First Thoughts: A Haiku Primer. This covers everything about haiku, from history to form to content to technique to language, in exhaustive, sometimes exhausting, but exhilarating detail. (If for some reason you’re a little short on time this week and want to read a short excerpt to get an idea of what the Primer is all about, you could just read “How to Write Haiku.”) Try it, you’ll like it.

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Dead Tree News: During the same used-bookstore visit in which I picked up the Johan Huizinga book on play I wrote about the other day, I found a thick tome by Donald Keene entitled World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. It covers poetry, fiction, and drama. I am making my way through it slowly. Very, very slowly. Okay, so I’ve only read two chapters. But they were great chapters!

These were two of six chapters on the early development of “haikai,” which are what we know today as haiku (in case you weren’t aware, no one called them that until Shiki coined the term in the nineteenth century). Keene doesn’t even get around to Basho until chapter 5, so this is the really early development of haikai.

Some of this story was familiar to me — I knew that haikai originally were the first verses of renga, a linked verse form which at the time was primarily a kind of parlor game or a form of court entertainment, often employing crude humor or at best clever word play. But I didn’t know that no one took them seriously as an independent art form until a guy named Matsunaga Teitoku came along. He wasn’t a great poet or anything and he seems to have been a little OCD-ish in insisting that everyone follow the Official Rules of Haikai, which he kind of made up himself. (Some things never change.)

However, Teitoku did haikai the great favor of saying that it was just as valid a poetic form as renga or the fancier poetry known as waka, and also of saying that it was all right to use a simpler, more ordinary vocabulary — “haigon” — in haikai, compared to the more elevated, literary vocabulary that writers of waka usually employed. Here’s what Keene says about this development:

[Teitoku’s] insistence on haigon not only enriched the vocabulary of poetry but opened up large areas of experience that could not be described except with such words. Haikai was especially popular with the merchant class which, though it retained a lingering admiration for the cherry blossoms and maple leaves of the old poetry, welcomed a variety of poetry that could describe their pleasures in an age of peace and prosperity. … [W]ithout his formal guidance haikai poetry might have remained forever on the level of the limerick.

— Donald Keene, “Matsunaga Teitoku and the Creation of Haikai Poetry” from World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867

So there you have it … the next time you are writing a haiku and striving to keep it simple, stupid, you can thank Teitoku.

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Okay, off to brave retail hell in the name of peace on earth. As ever, it was a joy circumnavigating the Haikuverse with you this week. I wish you many silent nights in which to read, and write, haiku, unless you are the kind of person who prefers the company of merry gentlemen this time of year, in which case, by all means, go for it.

Innovators in English-language haiku: Gendai or not gendai…

Yesterday’s post on gendai haiku is now already my most popular post of all time, which kind of blows me away because I assumed a total of about three people would ever read it and at least two of them would hate it. This makes me think I should strike while the iron is hot and write my promised post on innovators in English-language haiku. Once again, try not to be put off by the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m a newcomer to the haiku world, a rank amateur, probably nothing more than a poseur, but no one, at least, can accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm, which you will just have to accept in place of expertise.

A good place to start, I think, would be with a comment Scott Metz posted on troutswirl quite recently in response to the essay of Richard Gilbert’s I mentioned in another post the other day: The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century. Be forewarned, these are some pretty polemical remarks (as remarks by poets go). If you are not entirely sold on the whole gendai/avant-garde haiku scene, try not to be offended by them but to take them in the spirit of sincere love for haiku and the English language with which I believe Scott offers them:

“…Japanese haiku are indeed, very much so, a word-based poetry, not the enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra so many continue to espouse and cling to. … [English language haiku] are … for the most part, still, ‘slavish imitations’ of translations of what westerners *think* Japanese haiku are. Creative oversimplifications, most of which lack internal energy/dynamics. creative misreadings are cool. but i think they’ve lost their virginal glow in this case. …

“One direction i find interesting for [English language haiku] is that of symbolism and literary allusions/references being used within them, either in a mythological way, or in a more canonically literary way. knowingly or unknowingly. …

“Japanese haiku, at their root, are not simply, or only, about images at all, or moments, or ‘real/true’ experiences … but about language and culture and literature: an intricately woven rug of all these elements. …

“What also strikes me … is how strangely satisfied those writing [English language haiku] are with their nature imagery. Considering how radical Basho and his followers were about always trying to do something new and fresh with kigo, it seems a shame, and kind of mortifying, that so many writing [English language haiku] don’t try to experiment more with nature/environmental imagery. To try to turn them on their heads. To twist them. Play with them. …

“I think folks writing [English language haiku] need to play more: with images, words and techniques. and that not just western poetry/poetics should be considered and sampled, but anything and everything we can get our hands on. which is why it’s exciting to see things like ‘kire’ and ‘ma’ and vampires and sufism and gendai popping up. what can we do with these things?”

— Scott Metz, comments on troutswirl

Well…I think I should let what Scott said stand as most of the commentary here, and dedicate my efforts to displaying haiku by sundry poets that I think meet at least some of his criteria for “playing” with the haiku form, doing something “new and fresh” instead of, in Scott’s immortal words, remaining content with the “enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra.”

Whether we use the word “gendai” to refer to these poets or whether we should stick to some term more familiar to us in English like avant-garde, experimental, non-traditional, I think we can all agree that most of them are attempting something different than is espoused by the mainstream haiku movement in the English-speaking world, and closer to what gendai haiku poets in Japan are doing with the genre.

It seems logical to start with Scott himself. On his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott republishes those of his haiku that have been printed in journals. References to pop culture, politics, and current events are par for the course; so is a fresh (if sometimes somewhat obscure) use of language.  A couple of examples:

5/21/2010:

the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
Pac-Man strategies

4/17/2010:

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

— Scott Metz

The next obvious place to go would be Roadrunner, the haiku journal Scott edits in accordance with his preferred haiku aesthetics. Here are some examples from issue IX: 4:

second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing

— John Barlow

A candle is a sweet machine

to fly across the crow-

shaped night

—  Grant Hackett

A couple of other journals frequently feature non-traditional haiku, such as Modern Haiku. Here are a couple of examples from the Autumn 2009 issue (vol. 40:3):

reading a poem
of urbane intelligence
how dead it is

— William M. Ramsey

O what the hell
haiku poet finally
kills the fly

— Le Wild


Here are some examples from the journal Notes From the Gean (vol. 2 issue 1, June 2010).


waiting
for something to happen —
The Evening Standard

— Ruth Holzer – USA

the echo of fireworksthe echo ofthe echo

not speaking the boiled egg clings to its shell

— Bob Lucky – Ethiopia

Richard Gilbert, the gendai haiku scholar I referred to extensively in my essay on that topic, also is a haiku poet himself, some of whose recent, innovative haiku appear on the website Word Riot:

dedicated to the moon

I rise

without a decent alibi


a drowning man

pulled into violet worlds

grasping hydrangea

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)

blood orange:

the curving radius

of sunset

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 6, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: Summer, 2008.)

— Richard Gilbert

Fay Aoyagi is another poet doing innovative work with haiku. In my gendai haiku essay I mentioned her website Blue Willow Haiku World, on which she presents many of her English translations of Japanese gendai haiku. Her own haiku are described by David Lanoue, in his Modern Haiku essay, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape, as “avant-garde” and “new-style.” Following are a couple of Fay’s haiku with enlightening commentary by David from his essay:

pre-surgery dinner

tiny ocean

in the oyster shell

[Lanoue’s commentary on this haiku:]

“I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested. When Aoyagi brings us with her to the table for her pre-surgery dinner, we suspect that she has no a priori idea that the journey will take us to a tiny ocean in an oyster shell. We arrive there with her, sharing the ‘ah!-moment’ of the vision and sensing its nonlinear, non-logical connection to the poet’s (and our) interior life. Thoughts of mortality, the fear of the surgeon’s knife, a vague feeling of dread and lament … so many emotions ebb and flow in the tiny ocean in the shell. The shell on the plate is itself a post-op carcass that on closer inspection becomes a gleaming continental shelf enclosing a tiny, salty sea. Aoyagi doesn’t say what she feels about her vision, whether it comforts or terrifies her; she invites us into the intimacy of the moment to contemplate for ourselves what it might mean.”


ants out of a hole —

when did I stop playing

the red toy piano?

[David’s general commentary on Fay’s technique:]

“Her decision to probe her inner life is not new in haiku tradition, though few do it as well or as interestingly. The contemporary Japanese poet Hasegawa Kai (whose work Aoyagi has translated) describes the shift from outer to inner focus within a haiku as a sort of kire or “cutting.” In a interview with Richard Gilbert, Hasegawa defines zengo no kire as “The cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live — from the literal place / environment / atmosphere (‘ba’) of literal existence.” Such cutting, according to Hasegawa, entails a shift of focus from outward scenes to the “realm of the mind” — exactly Fay Aoyagi’s method.”

— Fay Aoyagi/David Lanoue, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape

There are a number of haiku bloggers I’ve discovered (many of whom also publish in journals, but I know their work mainly through their blogs) who, consciously or unconsciously, play with the traditional Western haiku form with interesting results. For example, John Sandbach of Crystal Dragon says, “I am deeply enamoured of the modern haiku of Japan, which, like modern art, is of many styles and energies, and which is constantly recreating itself as it unfolds. Unfortunately, the West is still primarily focused on traditional haiku and has not yet tuned in to the wonders of modern Japanese experimental artisans of this form.” Below is one of his haiku sequences:

Lettuce’s Bliss: 5 Haiku

1

To die
in a hippo’s jaws —
the lettuce’s bliss

2

Remorseful
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it

3

On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog —
spring in Kansas City

4

In spring
a stone mason —
servant of the endless wall

5

Skin
smooth and white —
the pyramid’s youth

— John Sandbach


Nicole Hyde of the blog “noodle,” who commented on my gendai haiku post, “I’ve bought a ticket on the Gendai Haiku train too,” has some interesting examples of nontraditional haiku on her site. Since she is also a painter, her haiku often refer to art.

English Bay Lune

unbound, the English

Bay in fog —

not seen: some weird duck


Art Tiny Poem

soundless

in the night museum

Wyeth’s boots


Prairie Town

prairie town

from end to end —

one haiku

— Nicole Hyde


Alan Segal, or “Old Pajamas,” from the blog “old pajamas: from the dirt hut,” innovates in many ways, often describing what are clearly imaginary or fantasy scenes.

mourner’s kaddish
does the fly, too,
wear a yamulke?

6/2/2010

unwrapping an impossibly blue bird, flown from a castle keep

— Alan Segal


Brian Pike of paiku describes his poetry as “Haiku. More or less.” In the Q&A for his site he explains:

But aren’t haiku meant to be exactly 17 syllables long?

You’re right. They’re also meant to include a seasonal reference (kigo) and a structural break (kireji). But I’ve never been good at following rules.

If your poems don’t meet the criteria for haiku, why confuse the issue?

I like haiku. I think these are similar in mood and intention. And I quite enjoy confusion.

A few of Brian’s “paiku” follow:

10 May 2010

Blackbird waiting
For idea of cat
To go away

21 March 2010

There’s a big field
Where you can dig up
Everything you ever lost

— Brian Pike


Yi Ching-Lin of the blog y writes primarily short free verse but occasionally writes haiku, and they are generally nontraditional, as in this recent example (the link on the second line connects to Yi’s photography):

it happens daily (6 June 2010)

it happens daily
with a wounded twist
— Yi Ching-Lin

Anne Lessing, the teenage writer of the blog “Phantasma,” who is just beginning to write haiku (and intends to start a project of writing haiku daily in January 2011), has produced some very interesting haiku about zombies based on the video game “Call of Duty,” one of which I’ve reproduced below:

6/4/2010

that flower looked so pretty

so I choked it

with my child’s blood

— Anne Lessing

Finally, Elissa of The Haiku Diary writes daily haiku describing events in her life, some of which are simply quotidian or jokelike, but many of which seem to transcend the category of mere diary-entry and evoke deeper feelings and meanings.

The second of the two haiku of Elissa’s I’ve quoted below is especially interesting in light of Scott Metz’s and Richard Gilbert’s discussions of the way haiku has always been in a dialogue with the past, constantly referring back to previous poetry and other literature and history. In a way this haiku of Elissa’s, referring as it does to a famous haiku of Basho’s (“The bee emerging/from deep within the peony/departs reluctantly”), is both modern and completely classical — so it seems like an appropriate place to bring this post to an end. Hope it was a fun ride.

Front and Center, June 8, 2010

Closing my eyes and

swaying with the music makes

me that girl, but so what?


I literally

watched a bumble bee stumble

out of a peony!

— Elissa of The Haiku Diary

What is a haiku anyway?

So: I’m done with my term paper. My prose style spent weeks marinating in the foul brew of obfuscation and verbosity that generally characterizes academic writing, and was kept from being permanently pickled only by the judicious application of haiku. I’m hoping there is no lingering stench. (Like the sentence before last.)

One possible ill effect of my academic excursion may be my continuing pedantic worrying at the notion of finding a good definition of haiku. The problem here is not that there are no good definitions out there. The problem is that there are way too many good definitions, and no two of them are the same. So I’ve started a collection of them, to display on my mantelpiece. Care for a peek?

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We should probably start with the definition given by the Haiku Society of America, if only because their name sounds so authoritative. Who should know what a haiku is if not a Haiku Society? They have bylaws and everything!

(If you’re wondering about the “America” part — hey, aren’t haiku Japanese? — I should point out that my quest here is for a definition of haiku as they are written in English. Japanese haiku are much better defined, but as I’ve mentioned before, much of the definition depends on language and cultural elements that don’t translate to English.)

Like all of us, the Haiku Society have changed their mind about some things over the years, and one of those things is what, exactly, a haiku is. In 1973, they defined “haiku” this way:

“a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. Usually a haiku in English is written in three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables.”

These days, however, the Society places less emphasis on the syllable count, more emphasis on the nature/seasonal part:

“A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”

Okay…seems like a good start. But kind of vague and dry, really. Hard to really imagine what they’re talking about. How about some Jack Kerouac to counteract the academic effect?

“The American Haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again…bursting to pop. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.”

Much better. Makes me feel like I’m bursting to pop, in fact, and must start writing haiku immediately. Thanks, Jack!

Refreshed now and ready to consider something a little more academic again? Haruo Shirane, in his amazing, haiku-myth-debunking essay “Beyond the Haiku Moment” (about which I have much more to say in another post) considers the history of Japanese haiku, the origins of haiku in English, and the current state of English haiku writing, and concludes, somewhat in the same vein as the Haiku Society but, to me, more completely and inspirationally:

“I would say, echoing the spirit of Basho’s own poetry, that haiku in English is a short poem, usually written in one to three lines, that seeks out new and revealing perspectives on the human and physical condition, focusing on the immediate physical world around us, particularly that of nature, and on the workings of the human imagination, memory, literature and history.”

That’s a great description of what haiku is about, but what about the technicalities of the form? Gabi Greve devotes a whole page to haiku definitions on her blog Haiku Topics — but my favorite is her own description, which she puts in the form of a poem:

“The simple definition of
three short lines,
one season word and
a cut marker
and
write from personal experience …
this is where everyone should begin.”

(N.B.: If you’re confused by some of the terms Gabi uses, I have essays in me about the Japanese notions of the season word (kigo) and cut marker (kireji) — watch this space for them. Also, Haruo Shirane (above) has some tart things to say about the idea of writing only from personal experience. You can read his essay yourself, or I’ll share later.)

I’ve mentioned before one of my all-time favorite haiku definitions, the bare-bones one offered by David G. Lanoue:

“Haiku: a one-breath poem that discovers connection.”

David actually has a lot more to say about what haiku are all about, but his elaboration is as clear and incisive (and decisive) as his initial statement:

“Haiku in English usually appears as an unrhymed three-line verse. Its use of intense, fragmentary imagery and its stress on rhythm and sound place it in the poetry side of the language spectrum. … Though it can be presented on the page in three lines, a traditional Japanese haiku of Issa’s era structurally consists of two parts with a pause in between. Its power as poetry often derives from juxtaposition of the two images and the sense of surprise or revelation that the second image produces. A good haiku is like a good joke: the set-up (image 1), then the punch line (image 2).”

That emphasis on juxtaposition in haiku is key for me. I’m always trying to create that effect of “surprise or revelation,” trying both to see something I’ve never seen before in some fairly common sight, and to convey that vision to the reader. For me, if haiku doesn’t startle you into awareness at least a little, it hasn’t really done its job.

But in case you were thinking I would insist on all my readers agreeing with me, I’ll let Jane Reichhold (the subject of another upcoming essay) have the final word:

I am bothered by the several times it is asked, “Is this a haiku?” I think the better question is, “Do I want to accept this poem as an example of haiku for myself?” … The necessity of our asking ourselves this question becomes weightier when we each realize that we are responsible for what haiku IS; and what it is becoming. By our writing, we are defining the form. By our changes in the form it is being changed. If the style of current haiku seems to be going in a direction which is not compatible with yours, then you have an even greater load of responsibility to make sure people see the finest work you can do in your style.

Okay, I get it, Jane. I’ll let the whole definition thing rest and get back to work. I have 345 days to go, after all…

Why Red Dragonfly? Ask Issa

The name of this blog, as you will see if you look under “Epigraph” in the right-hand column, comes from a translation of one of Kobayashi Issa’s haiku by David G. Lanoue. The red dragonfly of this haiku is a stand-in for all the small sights that startle and move us enough to get our haiku juices flowing.

If you are interested in reading (translations of) some of the most famous Japanese haiku, a fantastic place to start is David’s archive of his translations of thousands of Issa’s haiku. (I’ve linked to it above, and under “More Haiku” to the right.) It’s searchable and the results are beautifully laid out and organized, making it a joy to browse through. Pick a word, any word — how about “tea” or “rain”? — and spend a pleasant half hour scrolling down through the results, smiling at Issa’s images and at David’s elegant translations and many helpful and entertaining comments. If you’re shorter on time, you can choose to see a random haiku. You can also sign up to have one haiku a day emailed to you, which for me is like having Issa place a friendly hand on my shoulder and remind me to get writing.

Issa (along with Basho, Buson, and Shiki) is considered one of the four greatest Japanese haiku writers. He straddled the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and brought to haiku writing a sense of earthy humor and humanism. His haiku tend to appeal to those of us who find haiku that are entirely focused on nature a little too abstract to handle, and who prefer the surprising and moving connections between human concerns and impersonal nature that Issa so frequently discovers.

David’s site also contains a general introduction to haiku, featuring one of my all-time favorite (and one of the briefest I’ve seen) definitions of the form: “Haiku: a one-breath poem that discovers connection.” When I feel like I’m getting lost in the tangle of competing, complicated haiku definitions that are floating around out there, I come back to David’s definition and breathe a little easier. That really is the essence of haiku for me.

The site also has lots of great links to Issa sites and haiku sites. I am extremely honored that David links to this site, and extremely grateful to him for giving me permission to reprint his translation here — and to Issa for seeing the red dragonfly in the first place.