Across the Haikuverse, No. 28: The On Beyond Zebra Edition

On Beyond Zebra

Sometimes 26 letters are not enough. Dr. Seuss fans will know what I’m talking about.

Anyone who writes seriously at all, I’m guessing, is frequently frustrated by the inadequacy of language to express the full range of things there are to express in the world. There aren’t words for everything. There aren’t even combinations of words for everything, although one of the things that great writers (and sometimes even we lesser writers) do is find new combinations of words to express things that haven’t been expressed before, or that have been expressed before but are in need of refreshing.

On my journeys around the Haikuverse that’s chiefly, I believe, what I’m looking for — people saying things in ways that are new, or new to me. I read a lot, I always have, so it’s not that easy for me to find words I haven’t found before. But it happens, still, many times each month. It’s one reason to keep going. There are others, but I keep coming back to words. I think language, for me, might occupy roughly the same space in my brain that religious awe occupies in the minds of many. We are endlessly finding new things to describe and inventing new ways of describing old things, as individuals, as a species; this seems like reason enough to believe in some form of eternity. Thanks to everyone who’s given me some reason to believe this month.

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Haiku

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just
kidding

you’re
not

alive –

morning rain

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driller
kun

du
lever

ikke –

morgenregn

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

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Dear Malvina,
It’s been a long time since we It’s already autumn here . . .
lonely evening

— Rafael Zabratynski, DailyHaiku, 12/21/11

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うごけば、  寒い     橋本夢道

ugokeba,        samui

if I move,                  cold

—  Mudo Hashimoto, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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Slime trail—
glancing back at
the glinting

—Don Wentworth, Tinywords

(Also, you should read this lengthy interview with Don from Christien Gholson’s blog.)

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crow watching –
the unseen tree branch suddenly
seen

— Angie Werren, feathers

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dusk at the beach
a stone and I
touch each other

Dietmar Tauchner, International Second Prize, The 15th Mainichi Haiku Contest

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冬蜂の死にどころなく歩きけり  村上鬼城

fuyu-bachi no shini-dokoro naku arukikeri

a winter bee
continues to walk
without a place to die

— Kijo Murakami, trans. Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

John Stevenson, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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cave mouth
a scream beyond my range
of hearing

— George Swede, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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first
snowflakes

like me
made to last

till
they’re

gone

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

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Tanka

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hour upon hour
a veil of simple snow
falling without reason
I feel an urgency
to risk everything I know

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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trailing my hand
through the water
for a moment
more river
than man

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Haibun

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Another grey day has fallen as a pall on the new calendar as if what makes a difference really doesn’t. Only the ticking clock and the distant squawking of a crow or better yet, complaint, as well as the deep sigh of engines passing by tell the trudge goes on. I look on the cypress with a creeping sense of sorrow. The deep cold has darkened its twigs.  Gifts piled beside it now holiday debris. A black garbage bag rests folded in the bin. I gather the cards. The wishes slide off my fingers. A bag of pebbles waits to be planted on the vase. Like wishes that might take root, I would have to water them each day. But for now

blue notes waver under the lamp

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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No, It’s Not Japanese Short-Form Poetry, But It’s My Blog And I Can Do Whatever I Want

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Almost Ready

five forty five a.m.

very cold

I move
close to a heater

night like wind

forming

itself

By god
I hear
a rooster

Crow

I had
only heard
a rooster

Crow

In the movies
before

this

To think
of the beautiful things

Your memory
has led me
into

And this poem

Almost ready!

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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Essayed

Gene Myers, the blogger over at The Haiku Foundation, asked a bunch of poets in December what their hopes were for English-language haiku in 2012. One of my favorite answers to this question, part of which I’ve quoted below, came from Scott Metz:

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“One of my hopes is that the aesthetics and techniques—the poetics—that have become traditional (classical?), and entrenched, in English-language haiku (with all its wonderful and creative misreadings, limitations, misinterpretations and ahistorical stances) continue to flourish and intensify, and deepen. With an emphasis on transparency (and directness) of language, simplicity, plainness, literalism, direct experience, season words, and ‘ordinary reality,’ a remarkable, timeless foundation has been created.

“Another one of my hopes for English-language haiku is that it will continue to diversify and evolve; that poets will continue to play (the hai in haiku) artistically (with language, modi operandi, imagery, structure, culture, media, history, literature), go where they need to go—go where they must go—and continue to question and resist. …

“I look forward to the craft and artistry and invitations in everyone’s poems: all the doors and windows left open and/or cracked, all the lights on in the attics, all the latches and locks left undone. I hope for more of all of it and thank everyone for sharing it.”

— Scott Metz, Hopes for English-Language Haiku in the New Year

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Linked

Alan Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver, the team behind the haiku-podcast goodness of Haiku Chronicles, have once again teamed up with the astounding Anita Virgil to produce something amazing: a video exploration of the many dimensions of modern English-language haiga, narrated by Anita and set to music. You need to spend half an hour watching this: Haiga Gallery.

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Journaled

ant ant ant ant ant 12

Contact Chris Gordon at mrcr3w@yahoo.com for a copy of the most recent issue of his intermittently-published and mind-altering journal, featuring the poetry of the great Jack Galmitz. [Apologies to Jack for leaving his credit off the original version of this post. All I can say is, I need new glasses.] I highly recommend the ant ant ant ant ant blog too.

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Haiku from ant ant ant ant ant 12

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The Heron’s Nest

just how
to hold you
paper kite

— Dan Schwerin, The Heron’s Nest, Dec. 2011

Amongst the usual THN goodness in the most recent issue was this haiku? senryu? which was discussed at length at the most recent meeting of (one of) the real-life haiku groups I attend, during a session on senryu led by the great Bill Pauly. The author, Dan, a wonderful person and poet, is a member of our group — he drives two hours each way to join us every month, which makes us all feel very lucky. This poem of his is so light and deft and well-constructed that it reminds me of a paper kite; I keep expecting it to lift into the air any minute.

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bottle rockets #26

pinwheel —
as if a second thought
starts to turn it

— Satoru Kanematsu

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Booked

One day in December when I was feeling very gloomy Peter Newton’s new book showed up in my mail, with a cover illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu and an interior designed (oh, and written, of course) by Peter, with the kind of attention to detail that one normally associates with the finer still-lifes of the Flemish Old Masters. Or, you know, something like that. What I’m trying to say, in my usual pretentious way, is that this book is a lot of fun to hold. And page through. And look at. And read. Plus, there aren’t enough orange books in the world.

Cover of What We Find

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standing in the middle of now here

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on my ceiling
the untraceable wanderings
of an ant
someone’s words carved deep
on a tree in my mind

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 25: The Necessarily Brief Edition

It’s getting to be that time of the semester. The time when you start muttering, “Oh, that’s good enough.” Not that I don’t have unwaveringly high standards of excellence. (Did you hear that, professors? Unwavering!) It’s just that… life is a matter of priorities. A balancing act. Term papers, haiku, term papers, haiku… okay, haiku, but just this once.

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poems

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however the planets align a stack of pumpkins

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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A spring evening I ride a car with an ordinary man

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Having got used to the depth of war I love a dog

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A spring evening is wound down toward the apple skin

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— Fujiki Kiyoko, translated by Hiroaki Sato on antantantantant’s blog

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針金と針金からみ秋の暮    奥坂まや
harigane to harigane karami aki no kure

a wire and a wire
twining—
autumn dusk

— Maya Okusaka, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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the morning glories
gain the second floor
half a million dead in Iraq

— Ellis Avery, on antantantantant’s blog

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poems and pictures (please visit the links to see the pictures)

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Hear the sough of rain
I whisper a secret
so that I can get in

— Tomas Tranströmer, most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu at see haiku here
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blossoming witch hazel
I pound a stuck storm window
with a Chinese dictionary

— Dave Bonta, Woodrat Photoblog

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winter sun
I think twice about
destroying this web

— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

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night rain –
he tells me
he slept well

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

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ʈɧɛ ųɳįѵɛŗʂɛ
ą ɖįƒƒɛŗɛɳʈ čȏɳѵɛŗʂąʈįȏɳ
įɳ ʈɧɛ ɳįǥɧʈ

— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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divorce finalized—
a monarch floats
among falling leaves

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

(Also, written anything about tea and/or monsters lately? You might want to think about contributing to Aubrie’s Monster Mash. Deadline Oct. 29.)

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interviewed

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Not long ago Johannes S.H. Bjerg gave a wonderful interview to an Indian magazine, okiedoks. Read it here.

Excerpt:

I like to “stretch” the language, I want to take it where it almost loses sense because of its inadequacy to express exactly what is inexpressible. This sounds cryptic, and it is. Language can go only so far … but how far before it becomes sheer nonsense … It’s a bit like pricking a hole in “reality” to find another “reality.” And this is where it makes no sense talking about anymore. Only the poem can do that.

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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essayed

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This passage by Randy Brooks from his Modern Haiku review of Richard Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness has been some of my favorite food for thought recently.

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It has always been my contention that the haiku community needs to get past the beginner’s mind of definitions and rules and get on with the celebration of the diversity of the genre that is rich and strong only to the extent that there is a wide range of practice, a surprising freshness of voices and perspectives. We need to embrace and celebrate haiku writers who relish dense language and the naming function of words, haiku writers who live in the woods and tap into the biodiversity of ecosystems there, haiku writers who protest injustice and go to jail, haiku writers who resist the male ego dominance of English, haiku writers who meditate and seek the quiet voice within, haiku writers who celebrate being social and the significance of being in community, haiku writers who are religious within a variety of spiritual traditions, haiku writers who are all about people, haiku writers who write senryu and don’t care about the distinction, haiku writers who are international citizens of the world using haiku to bridge cultures, haiku writers who are so local nobody but friends at the local pub understand them. This diversity of writers and approaches to haiku is the strength and rich surprise of elasticity found in this literary genre.

— Randy Brooks, Modern Haiku 40:1, Winter 2009

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Dead Tree News

I generally hate to quote and run but this time I think I’ll just toss a few of my favorites from the most recent issues of two of my favorite journals at you.

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From Frogpond 34:3

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after the argument
separating
lights and darks

— Kristen B. Deming

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after she leaves
the weight
of hanging apples

— Marsh Muirhead

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lightning strike
the mean streak in me
deepens

— Aubrie Cox

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From Modern Haiku 42:3 —

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as if each promise
carried a different weight
breaking waves

— Angela Terry

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Halbmond
die Baukräne
in Berlin
.
half moon
the construction cranes
of Berlin

— Dietmar Tauchner

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summer afternoon
the salamander basking
in inattention

— Ernest Wit

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table talk
the knife resting
on the spoon

— Francine Banwarth

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imaginary mouse
i feed him
fear

— Tyrone McDonald

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the need to formulate an archival appraisal policy for born-digital materials … what was that? Oh, sorry, I opened the wrong window on my desktop again… well, while I’m here at this window I guess I’ll look at the sky for a while.

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into the fog the stars are no exception

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April 12 (Satellite Dish/Satellitenschussel)

satellite dish
sunflowers lean
the same way

Satellitenschüssel
Sonnenblumen im gleichen
Neigungswinkel

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Chrysanthemum 9, April 2011

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I was very happy to be published in the Austrian journal Chrysanthemum, not only because it’s a wonderful journal but because all the haiku and tanka in it are translated by the editor, Dietmar Tauchner, and his staff into either English or German depending on how they started out. All those long German compound words make me so happy, I can’t even tell you. “Neigungswinkel,” I’ll have you know, means “angle of inclination.” (I looked it up. I don’t really know German.)

Anyway, you should go to the link above and download the current issue and check it out, because there’s a lot of great stuff in it.

 

 

 

Across the Haikuverse, No. 12: The Imperative Mood Edition

I’m feeling a little bossy this week, maybe because I’ve spent so much of it being bossed around now that I’m back at school and work after my long winter break. “Read this! Write that! Discuss! Answer these questions! Learn this XML syntax! Go to this meeting! Hand in the proper forms! Scan these photos!” Yes, yes, I know it’s the way of the world. And of course, all these things I’m being commanded to do are tons of fun and highly educational. It’s for my own good, really. But it does get a bit wearying. And I start to think, “So why can’t I give people orders to do things that are entertaining and edifying?”

So as your tour guide this week I will be issuing firm commands rather than making quiet observations or gentle suggestions. Obviously, you’re always free to ignore me and wander away to find a cup of coffee and a slightly more soft-spoken guide. But try to just go with it, okay? Pretend you’re taking, I don’t know, Haiku 101, and if you don’t do your assignments, a door will be opened and a man-eating tiger will be released … no, wait, that’s a Monty Python skit. Well, whatever. Humor me, is all I’m saying. I’m tired.

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Read These

That is, the haiku (and tanka) I stumbled on this week that made me stop and go, “Wait…what? That was cool. Say it again!”

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From Morden Haiku:

winter rain
sometimes it’s hard to know
if it’s ending or beginning

— Matt Morden

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From Daily Haiku:

twilight
the silver statue of a man
i don’t know

— Dietmar Tauchner

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From scented dust:

biting an apple
the silent sky
of midwinter
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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Two tanka from jars of stars:

Who is to say
that the restlessness
will end

after I tear a few pages
and break a few things?

@sunilgivesup

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I love you
she’d said until
the words were hieroglyphs
faded, in need
of interpretation

@myearthgirl

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From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:

monarch
folding and unfolding
its shadow

– Christopher Herold

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From Blue Willow Haiku World:

毛糸編はじまり妻の黙(もだ)はじまる            加藤楸邨

keito-ami hajimari tsuma no moda hajimaru

knitting starts
my wife’s silence
starts

— Shuson Kato, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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From The Outspoken Omphaloskeptic:

the past
lives
where lightning bugs flash

— Max Stites

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From Beachcombing for the Landlocked:

old obsessions
fall away, and yet …
pine needles

— Mark Holloway

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From Yay words!:

raspberry jam
grandma asks
if I’m still
doing that
poetry thing

— Aubrie Cox

A note about this one: As with all good poetry, you can easily understand and appreciate this piece without having any additional knowledge of the backstory. But in this case, the backstory happens to be really fun. And there is actually a long tradition in Japan of publishing haiku with explanatory commentary (according, anyway, to Abigail Freedman’s The Haiku Apprentice, a book I’ll talk about more in “Dead Tree News” today). I’ll let Aubrie do the explaining, since it’s her story:

 

“My grandmother has never understood much of anything I do. On several occasions when she asked what classes I was taking I’d say something like, ‘Haiku writing roundtable,’ being exceptionally vague. I’ve always been apprehensive about showing her anything, because I know she’d take everything at face value. A couple times she picked up one of the collections I’d made of my work and opened to a random page, only to grill me for answers as to what the micropoems meant. So when I published my first haiku:

confessional
alcohol breath
from his side of the grate
(bottle rockets #21)

I wrote a senryu that reflected how I thought she’d react:

first serial publication
grandma asks
when I started drinking
(bottle rockets #22)

“One day she said she had Googled me and found my haiku. For a moment, my brain just shut down. It’s not that I don’t love my grandmother, but I had a really hard time trying to think where to begin when she started asking what this and that meant. Even more so when she asked, ‘So how do you write a haiku?’ She noted on her own that all of them seemed to have two images, but couldn’t figure out the significance. Mum and I tried to explain it to her, but I felt hard pressed where to start. That was probably about a year (or more) ago.

“This last Friday, I went over to my grandparents’ to pick up some dishes my mother had left at Christmas. While handing me the dishes (saying there was a surprise for me inside), my grandmother asked about school. I glossed over my tanka and renga courses by calling them, ‘Writing classes.’ That’s when she asked, ‘So are you still doing that poetry thing… sudoku?’ Immediately, she caught herself when I started to crack up and I told her the word she was looking for. I told her yes and left it at that. When I got into the car, I peeked inside the bag to find a homemade jar of raspberry jam. And thus a kyoka was created.”

— Aubrie Cox

Me again: I think from now on whenever anyone asks me what kind of poetry I write I will say “sudoku” and see how many of them register any kind of confusion.

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Check It Out

The journals published recently, that is. First, Contemporary Haibun Online. This is one of my favorite places for haibun, always worth perusing for an hour or three. Most haibun are really too long to post here in their entirety (I mean, you already think this column is way too long, don’t you?), but my favorites in this issue by author’s last name were these: Baker, Coats, delValle, Felton, Harvey, Kessler, Lucky, Myers, Rohrig, Rowe.

Oh, okay, you talked me into it, I’ll just throw in one here because it’s really short.

Mindfulness

Nothing lasts. Closet doors, light bulbs, refrigerators, paint, jeans – they break, burn out, quit, fade, fray. Even the breath dies. In my fifth decade, I try to pay attention, but mostly, my lungs go unnoticed.

crescent
waxing moon disappears
in a wisp of cloud

— Deb Baker

*

LYNX also published this week — you may have noticed. This is the journal edited by Jane and Werner Reichhold, and I am thrilled to be published by them since Jane was so instrumental in inspiring me to write haiku and helping me get started learning about it.

LYNX focuses on collaborative and linking forms of poetry, as well as sequences by individual poets, but it also publishes some stand-alone poems. I’ll start with some excerpts from the collaborations — although they are well worth reading in their entirety, again, they’re a little too long to post here. Consider this an amuse-bouche. (I had dinner at a fancy restaurant last night, can you tell?)

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From “Four Elements Cycle: Cleaved Wind” by Claudia Brefeld, Heike Gewi, and Walter Mathois:

Traffic jam
at the lilac bush
breathing deeply

— Heike Gewi

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From “Doors” by June Moreau and Giselle Maya:

the name
I was trying to remember
came to me
just as I put my hand
on the doorknob

— June Moreau

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From “Making Soup” by Alex Pieroni and Jane Reichhold:

only the best tea
is drunk
from an empty bowl

— Alex Pieroni

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And some verses from solo efforts:

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From the sequence “The Woods Road“:

the woods road
never going
to the end of it

— Jenny Ward Angyal

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And a couple of untitled tanka and haiku:

my mother and I
in fading summer light—
stand still, she says
adding a pin
to the jagged hem

— Lisa Alexander Baron

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first frost—
the last of the roses
have lost their names

— Alegria Imperial

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Be There

In the Chicago area, that is. So close to where I live! Charlotte DiGregorio, the Midwest Regional Coordinator of the Haiku Society of America, has announced a couple of fun events to take place there in the next few months. In all likelihood I will be at both of them. Come see me! Really. I’m not scary at all, except sometimes when I’m really tired and first I start bossing people around and then I cry. But I probably won’t be doing that at these events.

Here’s the scoop, from Charlotte’s press releases:

Jan. 12 event:

 

“You can learn to appreciate and write haiku in English from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.,  Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Winnetka Public Library, 768 Oak St., Winnetka. The program is free and open to the public. …Pre-registration is required.

“Three haiku poets will speak on topics for both beginning and experienced haikuists. …[The presentation ] ‘Learning The Fun Art of Haiku’ [will be given by] Charlotte Digregorio. The second presentation will be ‘Hey, Sparrow! The Poetry of Issa,’ given by poet Heather Jagman. … Haiku poet Michael Nickels-Wisdom will speak on ‘Beneath The Waterflower: Currents of Haiku in Lorine Niedecker’s Poetry.’ … After the presentations, participants may read some of their haiku to be critiqued by the group.

“For more information and to pre-register, contact Charlotte Digregorio, 847-881-2664.”

 

May 7 event: Haikufest

 

“Beginning and advanced poets will learn to appreciate, write, and enhance their haiku skills, from 1 to 5:30 p.m., Saturday, May 7 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., Evanston, IL. The event with lecture, discussion, and exhibition of poetry and art, is free and open to the public. … [P]re-registration is required.

“The first presentation, [by diGregorio], ‘Haiku: A Path Leading to Conservation Thought,’ will integrate a lecture on haiku style, form, and history with a discussion of the underlying thought of reverence for nature. … ‘A Writing Life in Seventeen Syllables or Less,’ will follow, by award-winning Iowa poet Francine Banwarth. She will discuss what inspires her to write haiku, and her methods of writing with multi-layers of meaning. … Subsequently, Randy Brooks … will speak on ‘The Role of Kukai in The Haiku Tradition.’ … Preceding Haikufest, attendees may submit from three to five haiku by April 23 to Brooks at brooksbooks@sbcglobal.net. These haiku will be exhibited at Haikufest and judged. … The last presentation will be ‘Haiga: History and Technique.’ Poet and artist Lidia Rozmus  will  reveal the art of haiku accompanied by an ink painting. She will exhibit and discuss her work.

“For more information on Haikufest, and to pre-register, contact Charlotte Digregorio, 847-881-2664 or the Evanston Public Library, 847-448-8600.”

 

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Enter Here

Just a reminder … The Haiku Foundation‘s HaikuNow contest is still going on, deadline March 31st, and you want to enter because if you win you could get money for nothing and if you don’t, all you’ll be out is the three minutes of your time it will take to paste your best haiku into the submission form. Don’t be lame, enter.

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Listen Up…

… to this brand-new podcast from The Haiku Chronicles about (YES!) Issa! I don’t think I should really even have to say any more than that, unless this is the very first time you’ve read this blog, in which case you should click on the picture of the dragonfly off there to the right and get the scoop on my relationship with Issa. (We’re very close.)

This edition was written and read by legendary haiku poet Anita Virgil (it was originally published in the Red Moon Anthology in 1998 and is available at the Haiku Chronicles site as a PDF download). It is both scholarly and profoundly moving, in the details it reveals about Issa’s life and in Virgil’s response to his poetry. While deeply admiring of much of Issa’s work, Virgil feels that the extreme difficulty of Issa’s life (wicked stepmother; lifelong poverty; the early deaths of his wife and children) and the fact that he tended to use his writing as an emotional catharsis as often as an artistic outlet means that many of his haiku are either second-rate or can’t be properly considered haiku at all:

“Issa’s sheer volume speaks more of catharsis than of craftsmanship. Of the variety of Issa’s poems available to Western readers, it appears to me he wrote three very different kinds of poetry. Unfortunately, it is all presented under the umbrella of haiku. One kind manifests the aesthetic constraint which does belong to the special province of haiku. Another whose primary focus is clearly on human nature (whether treated humorously or not, containing so-called season words or not) is senryu. And the third which, no doubt, is responsible for Issa’s broad appeal as a vulnerable human being to whom all can relate, is a pure cri de coeur that cannot seriously be considered as haiku when characterized by unrestrained emotionalism, intellectualization, and a failure to stand alone without explanations. These run counter to Bashô’s advice: ‘But always leave your old Self behind, otherwise it will get between you and the object.’ Too often, Issa cannot.”

— Anita Virgil

I can’t say I really disagree with Virgil on these points — I am one of Issa’s biggest fans, and I too think that the vast majority of his 20,000 haiku are not really worth reading. But I guess I tend to think that the same is true of most poets. Maybe the effect is magnified with Issa, because he wrote so much and has had so much popular appeal, but really, poets tend to get judged by their greatest hits, and get forgiven (thank God) for the bulk of their work, which is usually not nearly to the same standard. Most of us aren’t “on” most of the time. Most of us, to one extent or another, use our poetry to help us work through what’s going on in our hearts and minds. Most of us probably feel, in retrospect, that the majority of our work would better not have seen the light of day. (Or is that just me?)

Still, this is an amazing listen and read and I highly recommend it.

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Think About It

Okay, here we are back at The Haiku Foundation again. This time for Essence #6, the latest installment of a column that “explores the roots of the ‘haiku movement’ in North America.” And, wow, is this amazing stuff: Carmen Sterba interviewing Canadian haiku poet Rod Willmot. I must humbly admit that I’d never heard of Willmot before but he appears to have lived a fascinating life and he certainly has plenty of fascinating things to say, some of which you may find controversial. I’m just going to quote a whole bunch of it and make you think about it. Discuss. Optional: Three to five page essay, properly cited, due next week.

“Let me emphasize that I never had any interest in things Japanese, that romantic enchantment that infects haiku circles across North America. Discovering haiku, for me, was like coming across an old tin can at a time of need. I need a drum—there’s my drum!  I need a scoop—there’s my scoop!  I need a knife, an amulet—there they are!  I’ve got no need for an old tin can from Japan, to be preserved and worshipped and imitated.

“The best readers know how to let themselves fall apart as if they knew nothing.

“Haiku takes the four dimensions (including time) and smashes them into a point; well, it may not always seem that way, but when it does, it can make you feel as if you’re trying to spend your life standing on one foot. This is when poets bust out of the box and start stringing haiku together, whether alone or with others, to create a kind of living-space. In the early days we didn’t need that, were incapable of it. We had to start by getting to the point. But gradually a need evolved that was not mere imitation of Japanese renga, but rather a sign of maturity: an insistence on taking the point and extending it, giving it context, connecting points and connecting poets. In this vein, I consider the haiku sequence to be an American invention, from the hand of Marlene Mountain.

“Canadians have always had a more individualistic, experience-based approach to haiku. Americans have a tendency to be dogmatic, traditionalist, rule-oriented. I first saw this when [Bill] Higginson came to Toronto in the late sixties, making himself out as an authority because he could read Japanese. Fast-forward to the bunk about season-words, and the proliferation of Japanese terminology in writing about haiku. I’m talking about the overall picture; the brightest lights in haiku have been American, but they are an infinitesimal minority, swamped and drowned out by the noisy religiosity of dead-tradition preachers. Unfortunately, the fog has drifted into Canada. The amount of publishing activity is incredible, but for quality and originality—will any of it be remembered?

black dog
snatches a tulip bulb
and tears off down the street

“This is my version of Blake’s ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright.’ It is the seething energy at the heart of existence, the source of everything, death as well as life. It’s the wild joy I live for. And looking over my work, I see something emerging in my haiku that gives me hope, what I think I’ll call a nexus of narrative. This is different from haiku as distillation, experience imploded to a point. A nexus of narrative is the intersecting shafts of multiple dimensions, not just the four of physical experience but our countless human dimensions and others besides. Narrative, because in each shaft you sense a ‘comes from,’ a ‘oes to,’ the possibility of an entire person, a story, a mystery. This gives me hope, knowing that where I am in life now, I can write haiku as a witness, seeing with all my eyes, attentive to haiku that do not implode, do not stand still, but extend in rich and unpredictable ways . . . the ways of this reality.”

— Rod Willmot

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Save the Trees. But Wait, Aren’t Books Printed on Pieces of Dead Tree? And Aren’t We Supposed to Revere Books? Oh, God, The Moral Conundrums of Modern Life Make Me Crazy.

I didn’t get around to reading any more of Donald Keene on the development of haikai this week, because I was too busy reading textbooks and stuff, but I do have some stuff from Abigail Freedman’s The Haiku Apprentice I’ve been meaning to discuss with you all for a while, so I will seize this opportunity to do so.

I’ve mentioned Freedman’s book several times before, but apparently not for a long time. This seems strange to me, because I’m constantly thinking about it and rereading parts of it and, you know, planning to write about it, but I guess I always get overwhelmed by how much I have to say. I need to stick to one topic at a time. And the topic that feels closest to my heart right now is what Freedman (or really her Japanese mentors in the art of haiku) have to say about making sure that haiku are “the vessel into which you pour your feelings.”

That phrase comes from Momoko Kuroda, Freedman’s haiku master, who critiques one of Freedman’s haiku about cooking noodles for a family dinner by pointing out, “It isn’t just the noodles, but what they evoked for you that is worth pointing out, in this case a feeling of family harmony.” She also refers to haiku as “a piece of one’s soul.” These things are clearly even more important to her than the technical details of writing haiku — the syllables, the kigo, the kireji — though she also takes these very seriously. For her, a haiku can meet all these technical requirements and be highly proficient, and still fail at the deepest level if it does not express something that is meaningful to the writer.

Another haiku poet friend of Freedman’s, whose haiku name is Traveling Man Tree, tells her that “if you write a haiku about your personal experience, it’s impossible to express the whole experience. So you have to think about what is the most deeply impressive part — the true essence of the thing or the event — and write about that.”

And later, yet another poet friend called Professor Kotani, in trying to decide why one of her haiku had been judged a failure by Momoko, finally realizes, “Perhaps I have put too much intellectual rumination into this poem. … It lacks the sensibility of a really good haiku.”

Various other people Freedman meets tell her about the experiences and, most importantly, feelings that led them to write some of their best haiku. They don’t talk about how they chose the kigo, or made the syllables come out right, or used the kireji to good effect. They talk about a profound emotional experience — love, loneliness, severe illness — and how a profound haiku grew out of it.

So. Here’s where I abandon my humorous, carefree air and admit that I have been feeling, for quite a while, that haiku have become too much of an intellectual exercise for me, something I was using to display verbal virtuosity (insofar as I possess such a thing, which is not very far) and superficial cleverness, rather than digging down inside me to get to the really good stuff that makes poems living things instead of dead artifacts. I really need to change that, both because I have a lot of other outlets for intellectual achievement and relatively few emotional outlets, and also because haiku means too much to me for me to treat it with so little respect.

There will probably be a few changes around here in the near future, is what I’m saying. In fact, one change that I am going to announce right now is that this column will be posted less frequently — it’s been every seven to ten days, and I’d like to make it fortnightly. (You know I just really needed an excuse to say “fortnightly.”) So the next edition will be Feb. 13. Don’t worry, it will still be insanely long. Probably even longer. More stuff to write about. But this will hopefully give me a little more time to, you know, write haiku itself, rather than writing about it.

Then I’ll need to be thinking about how else to adjust my life to make more room for the writing of non-trivial haiku. I don’t have much time to think, but I’ll try to get back to you soon with my plans. I’m sure you’ll be waiting with bated breath.

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Okay, class, that’s about it for this week. I really enjoyed our little time together — the sharing, the learning, the giving out of onerous assignments, the stern warnings about academic honesty and citation procedure…I think we’re going to have a wonderful semester. But the tour’s over, so get back on the shuttle and go home. Shoo. That’s an order.