prose: here, now
haiku: A Hundred Gourds 3.3
thanks to Shan Thomas.
as always, click to enlarge.
Hi fellow travelers,
It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, at least in the form of tour guide. A lot has happened. The earth has shaken. It isn’t tilted quite the same way anymore. I think I can feel it. I’m a little off kilter these days. Not that I can complain, seeing as how I don’t live in Japan.
It’s strange — last year at this time I didn’t even know anyone who lived in Japan, and now I know many people there, whose welfare I am deeply concerned about. They mostly all seem to be mostly okay, at least physically. But their sense of security has been pretty much shattered; they’re living with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I am so admiring of the way they are keeping themselves centered despite this.
I think haiku helps. Maybe any art helps. It’s a way to take the broken pieces and make something whole out of them.
And on that note…here are a few places you might want to drop by for earthquake news and art:
1. Gabi Greve’s earthquake blog, Japan — After the Big Earthquake. It’s very Gabi-like, meaning insanely comprehensive and completely fascinating. Mostly it’s full of Japanese news reports about all the details of the earthquake/tsunami aftermath and aaathe ongoing nuclear disaster saga, but there are also lots of Gabi-style notes about Japanese earthquake folklore and plenty of earthquake haiku from all over the world. A couple of examples:
A giant catfish (namazu) lived in mud beneath the earth. The catfish liked to play pranks and could only be restrained by Kashima, a deity who protected the Japanese people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty rock with magical powers over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed his guard, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.
— Gabi Greve
the third wave
— Svetlana Marisova
2. Scott Watson’s amazing, moving earthquake journal from Sendai, being published serially at Issa’s Untidy Hut. The prose is mostly spare and economical and to the point, which makes his picture of the deprivations they are suffering in Sendai all the more effective. Here’s a typical passage, from Part 6:
On the way back meet an elderly neighbor walking his Akita dog. The dog is up in years too. We talk a while about how we canʼt ﬂush our toilets. Such an inconvenience. When will gas service resume. When will we have water. Some American friends, I tell him, strongly urge me and my family to ﬂee Japanʼs nuclear disaster. But how would you get out of Sendai, he asks. Thatʼs exactly what I tell them. They donʼt understand that we canʼt go anywhere even if we want to.
— Scott Watson
Sometimes Scott waxes a little more lyrical, as in this passage from Part 5 — the last sentence is one of my favorite statements about poetry, ever:
Nukes in Japan. Earthquake land. They are safe, they are necessary, the people are told. Experts are telling the people. Government ofﬁcials are telling the people. Electric power companies are telling the people. Eventually the people come around. The people repeat what they are told.
Poets tell people nothing. People donʼt repeat poems. They sing them in the here and now, which is when, exactly.
— Scott Watson
3. Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site, see haiku here, where the haiga are all about the earthquake these days, and are heartwrenching and beautiful. Speaking of Sendai, he illustrated a wonderful Basho haiku that follows a Sendai episode in Narrow Road to the Deep North:
I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet –
straps for my sandals
and followed it up with “after” pictures of Sendai, which, unfortunately, are not nearly as pretty as iris sandals.
One of my favorite of Kuni’s own haiku about the earthquake is this one, also a stunning haiga:
how I wish
I were a bird
— Kuniharu Shimizu
4. Miriam Sagan’s Miriam’s Well, where she has been posting many earthquake haiku submitted to her — I believe she’s still accepting submissions. Here’s one of my favorites:
pieces of future days
— Mark Brooks
5. This haiku of Bill Kenney’s from haiku-usa:
all the names
I’m learning to pronounce –
— Bill Kenney
6. We Are All Japan, the brainchild of Sasa Vazic and Robert Wilson (who edit the journal Simply Haiku). It’s a very active Facebook group that is open to all comers and is a sort of clearinghouse for earthquake news, support, and poetry. Sasa and Robert are also putting together an anthology of earthquake-related poetry (all forms, not just haiku or other Japanese poetry) whose proceeds will benefit earthquake victims. They’ll accept (previously unpublished) submissions until May 15 at email@example.com. If you’re not Facebook-y, their website is http://wearealljapan.blogspot.com.
Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch
People have also been known to write haiku (and tanka) that aren’t about the earthquake these days. Those are fun to read too.
From Miso Soup:
From Haiku Etc.:
I am not here
but these red peppers are
so I buy one
— Kris Lindbeck
From Heed Not Steve (there is also a great illustration so go visit):
oh I see you
in the scrawl and scribble
— Steve Mitchell
leaving my lover alone for a minute my tongue hunts a lost cloud
— Alan Segal
crocus and frogs after rain
kestrels and hyacinths
telling you secrets non-stop
oh, poet for you, no rest
— Alegria Imperial
From a lousy mirror:
of words burrowed in
spring darkness . . .
a mole eating his way
through the may or may not
— Robert D. Wilson
From Stay Drunk on Writing:
to the Zen Garden —
— Chen-ou Liu
From Yay Words!, the hokku of a great kasen renku in progress between Aubrie Cox and Wayne Chou — go read the other verses:
on the atlas
— Aubrie Cox
From Blue Willow Haiku World, two entries, because there is no way I could choose just one out of four whole weeks of daily entries:
ボブ・ディラン掛けよ蛙の夜なれば 榮 猿丸
bobu diran kakeyo kaeru no yoru nareba
play Bob Dylan
it is a night
— Sarumaru Sakae, translated by Fay Aoyagi
haru nare ya mizu no atsumi no naka ni uo
the water’s thickness
— Yumi Iwata, translated by Fay Aoyagi
From Crows & Daisies, see note above about impossibility of choosing, etc.:
the white mare’s whinny
lifts a cloud
i always was
the odd one out
— Polona Oblak
once more the moon
— Tom Painting
From a handful of stones, the haiku that wins the Most Makes Me Want to Read It Aloud Award for this edition:
sick train the night heron shifts silt for all of us
— Alan Summers
From rolling stones:
more to the moon
than this sliver
From Jars of Stars:
to those around me
I watch blossoms
a thousand years from now
— Paul Smith (@monkeywillow)
From Daily Haiku:
crows in a pine
moving the dark
from limb to limb
— Carolyne Rohrig
From Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a great haiga — go look:
what winter has taken
what winter has spared
— Mark Holloway
In case you’re wondering, “Isn’t there someone who collects great haiku from all the haiku poets on Facebook and puts it somewhere where we poor Facebook-less souls can take it in? And maybe sometimes translates it into French or English depending on which language it started out in?”, the answer is yes, yes there is. He is Vincent Hoarau and his blog is La Calebasse. From a set of fantastic spring haiku he shared recently, here’s one of his own that I love (I am presuming this was probably written first in French and then translated into English, but this was the order it appeared in on the blog):
sun ! sun ! sun !
the daffodils don’t know
where to look
le soleil ! le soleil !les jonquilles ne savent plusoù donner d’la tête
— haiku and translation by Vincent Hoarau
Anyone who hasn’t discovered Contemporary Haibun Online (cho) yet? They released a new edition a couple of weeks ago (dated April 2011 — now that’s efficiency). Please go check it out now so I don’t have to hunt you down and stand over you while you read it. Here’s one of my favorites from the issue to get you started.
Into the garden
take a small square of Kozo paper.
Fold, crease, fold and fold again.
Now place upon an upturned mirror:
crossing a dark sea
of reflected galaxies
this empty boat
The Wild, Wild Web
A roundup of amazing haiku websites I’ve stumbled upon since the last time I rapped at you.
How to explain Basho’s Road? The posts there are infrequent but worth waiting for. The site is beautifully designed and all the posts contain both poetry (usually Japanese short-form, but sometimes not — the most recent post as of this writing contains a quotation from Montaigne) and art, wonderful art. It’s a quiet and thoughtful place and I can feel my breathing slowing down and my brain speeding up whenever I stop by. The proprietor is Norbert Blei, stop by and thank him (I guess now that I’ve said that, I should do it too…).
…………….today haiku come as easy
as picking them off a small fruit tree
— Ronald Baatz, from White Tulips
Since I discovered John Martone’s poetry a few months ago (via Issa’s Untidy Hut), I’ve been noticing it — and hungrily seeking out more of it — everywhere I go. Then recently I got this brainstorm to use this amazing new “Google” thing the kids are all talking about and what do you know, it chewed up my search request and spat me right out at a web page called “john martone’s poetry projects,” which contains links to about a zillion pdf’s of collections of John’s work, and now I’m locking myself in the bathroom and not coming out until I’ve read them all.
Most of these collections are best read as collections — they contain variations on one or several themes and have much the same effect, on me at least, as a turning kaleidoscope, a really well-made one that you just can’t tear away from your eye. Here’s one verse, though, that I think works well on its own.
— John Martone, from box turtle (2008)
Ray Rasmussen, a Canadian poet well-known for his haiku and haibun, has just recently put together a couple of very striking and well-edited sites that you’ll want at least to go take a look at, and possibly to contribute to.
The first one is Day’s End, which looks at various aspects of aging through (mostly previously published) haiku, senryu, tanka and haibun. It was put together by Ray and guest editor Anita Virgil. Here’s a sample:
first time together
kissing a grandmother
— Charles Trumbull
The second site, which is still a work in progress, is Romance under a Waning Moon, a website of haiku, tanka, haibun and images about the ups and downs of later-in-life romance. Ray’s still accepting submissions for this one (he prefers them previously published) — check out the details at the site.
The website of the British haiku journal Presence contains numerous fascinating essays, including several meditations on that perennially fascinating topic: what, exactly, is a haiku?
The one that made me think the most, although I did wish the author would stop shouting, was this one by David Cobb. I’ve italicized the passages I found the most thought-provoking.
My mind is kind of spinning in circles, now, actually — I have to try to integrate these ideas (which I find compelling and convincing) into my mental conception of haiku.
Two Differing Views of Time and Nature in Haiku
1. A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of A MOMENT keenly perceived, IN WHICH NATURE IS LINKED TO HUMAN NATURE. (From A Haiku Path, recording the official definition adopted by the Haiku Society of America and used in Frogpond magazine.) [My (meaning Mr. Cobb’s) capitals.]
2. In the first place, Japanese haiku are NOT NATURE POEMS AT ALL. Japanese poems are concerned with the four seasons of the year, so they are SEASON-POEMS. Haiku are TIME-POEMS; where content is concerned, haiku deal with the passage of time, with things that have passed away, with the present and the future. And the poet illustrates this process of becoming and passing away within a short or long period of time by referring to things in the natural world, both alive and dead. (tr. from an article by Thomas Hemstege in Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, Vol.16, No.60, March 2003.) [My (yes, Mr. Cobb’s) capitals again.]
This definition argues that references to Nature are incidental or instrumental to the poet’s impressions of the passage of time. The nub of the action is something that poets do with Nature. The case is made for a haiku continuum rather than a haiku moment.
— David Cobb
[Editorial note to Mr. Cobb: I love your — well, Mr. Hemstege’s, I suppose — ideas, but there are these things called italics which are used by most authors to provide emphasis, and which are MUCH LESS UNNERVING to the reader than ALL CAPS.]
Dead Tree News
Recently I was reminded again that I really needed and wanted to read R.H. Blyth’s seminal four-volume work Haiku, first published in the late forties, which was one of the main instruments for introducing haiku to the general public in the Western world. Blyth introduced a lot of misconceptions about haiku too — the idea that it was somehow fundamentally attached to Zen Buddhism, perhaps, being the main one. But he also passionately loved and was intimately familiar with the body of classical Japanese haiku (not to mention having an encyclopedic knowledge of Western poetry), and did translations of thousands of them that, although they sometimes are more poetic than accurate, are really, really lovely. So as long as you take him with several pounds of salt, he is still well worth reading.
The problem is, Haiku is out of print and commands an impressive price on the used-book market. And though I had no problem borrowing the volumes from my university’s library (libraries, people! wonderful things! use them!</librarian sales pitch>), I realized almost as soon as I started reading them that I needed to own them myself. So one night I was noodling around on Amazon looking at the ridiculous prices that some dealers were asking for these volumes ($700 just for the “Spring” volume?!), when I found what seemed like a very reasonable deal. And almost quicker than I could ask my husband, “Honey, would I be crazy if I paid this much money for four books?”, I’d ordered the things, and a few days later they arrived at my house all nicely wrapped in gloriously old-fashioned layers of brown paper. And lo, when I had removed all the wrapping paper, I discovered they were beautiful, and I was very happy.
I haven’t read them all yet. I suspect it will take months, if not years. But I am in love. The first volume is all about Eastern culture and haiku in general (and contains lots of very authoritative-sounding, incredibly well-written and inspiring, and dubious theories), and the remaining three volumes contain haiku translations and (highly subjective) commentary, in seasonal order starting with Spring and grouping the haiku by kigo. Pretty much any page you open to you’ll find something you love. I just opened the “Summer-Autumn” volume at random and look what I found:
Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.
— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth
I swear, I will never hit a fly again.
I’ll be back with more about Blyth someday soon, I promise.
(Note: Don Wentworth, over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, has been writing some thoughts about Blyth lately too — you’re well advised to take them in.)
Long day. (Although the days have gotten a bit shorter due to the earthquake, did you know?) Long month. All kinds of things shifting and spinning. That catfish still restless underground.
But haiku is still there. The haikuverse is still full, still worth exploring. It’s some comfort to me, how about you?
Yes, this is the thirteenth edition of the Haikuverse and it is appearing on the thirteenth of February. But don’t worry, nothing can possibly go wrong! I’m a very experienced tour guide and I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Just don’t touch that red button over there on the control panel marked “Eject.” Got that? Okay, I’m gonna count you all at the end to make sure one of you didn’t give in to your curiosity. (Haiku poets, like cats, are notorious for their curiosity.)
I’m feeling a little bumptious tonight because I just got back from a great meeting of the Midwest Regional Chapter of the Haiku Society of America. It was wonderful seeing other haiku poets in person, which I very rarely do, although of course I adore interacting with all you people on the blog and via email and Facebook and Twitter … man, I love living in a time when such things are possible. But real live human beings are impossible to resist, even when you have to drive three hours one way to go see them.
Sadly, I overslept (up too late writing haiku again) and got slightly lost a couple of times on the way there, so I missed Charlotte DiGregorio‘s presentation on haiku for beginners, which I would have liked to hear because I am always trying to figure out good ways to explain haiku to beginners myself. But I did catch superlative presentations by Heather Jagman on Issa (you may think I already know a bit about Issa, but believe me, Heather knows more) and by Michael Nickels-Wisdom on the highly original Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker, whose collected works I have made a note to buy very soon. (I should write more about these talks later when I don’t have three thousand other words to write.)
And, of course, I saw a lot of the fantastic people I met at the “Cradle of American Haiku” conference last September (Charlotte and Heather among them), and met a lot of new fantastic people. A bunch of us had lunch together afterwards. It was weird to be at a whole long table full of haiku poets, but fun. I guess I should get out more.
Anyway. You would really rather read good poetry than my incoherent ramblings about my inadequate social life, wouldn’t you? Fine. The tour will now commence. Don’t touch the red button.
Haiku (Haibun, Haiga, Etc.) Of the Week
The usual disclaimers apply. A random and eccentric sampling of haiku that gave me the shivers in the last couple of weeks.
Note: It was really hard these last couple of weeks because NaHaiWriMo has increased everyone’s output so considerably, and so much of that output is so good. Tons of it is on Facebook, tons of it is on Twitter. Some people (I love these people, even though I’m not one of them) are keeping it on their blogs. I made the executive decision not to feature any of the NaHaiku that exist only on social media sites, because there would be no end to it if I started to copy-paste every single haiku I’ve “liked” on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter in the last two weeks. I would have a nervous breakdown, and you don’t want to see what that looks like.
Another note: I know it seems like I feature the same people here over and over again. That’s because I kind of do. Please don’t think I don’t know that there are about ten thousand more fantastic haiku poets in the world than the ones that keep showing up on this blog. But these are mostly the ones who keep blogs themselves, blogs that a) I’ve managed to discover (feel free to send me URLs of any haiku blogs you love that you don’t think I’ve discovered); b) I love to pieces, so I really can’t help wanting everyone else to love them too.
I do try to honor and pass around the work of poets who don’t keep blogs in various other ways — by, as I mentioned, showing my appreciation on Facebook and Twitter, and by singling out in this column my favorite haiku published in journals. (See this week’s “Dead Tree News,” for instance.) Again, let me know about any journals or other publications I’ve missed. Keeping up with the frantic and increasing activity in every corner of the Haikuverse would be a full-time job if I let it be. I welcome reports from correspondents in areas I may not have traveled heavily.
From The Spider Tribe’s Blog (an excerpt from a “tanka sonnet”):
the first splash
of ewe’s milk…
— Claire Everett
geese ignore the sound
of my phone
— Angie Werren
From Haiku Bandit Society:
an empty screen;
a crow’s broad wings
disappear into glass
— William Sorlien
(And while you’re over there, make sure you check out this great haibun of Willie’s.)
Speaking of haibun, there was one I loved at Heed Not Steve recently. Here’s the haiku:
an icy breeze
whistling through bare limbs
— Steve Mitchell
An “after” from Bill Kenney at haiku-usa:
having looked at it
I wash my face
— Etsujin 1656-1739
From scented dust:
stacking pills too round
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg
From season creep:
the sound of rain
— Comrade Harps
I cradle a bowl
of steamed rice
— Aubrie Cox
From zen speug:
on the snowdrops
— John McDonald
the children’s laughter
rise in the air
— Alegria Imperial
(By the way, lately Alegria has been writing some really fascinating meditations on her own haiku and the writing of haiku in general. Wander around over there and take a look at some of them.)
exactement les mêmes
qu’à ma naissance
exactly the same
as the day i was born
(By the way, a lot of people wrote me great haiku for my birthday, many of them on this very blog. They were amazing gifts. Thanks, Bill and Rick and Alegria.)
From Blue Willow Haiku World:
春浅し旧姓で待つ上野駅 森 裕子
haru asashi kyûsei de matsu ueno-eki
with my maiden name
I wait at Ueno Station
— Yuko Mori, translated by Fay Aoyagi
From The Perpetual Bird:
stars coming back
that were never gone
— Joseph Hutchinson
From A Lousy Mirror, a fascinating online publication by Robert D. Wilson:
dry wheat grass . . .the whiteness ofa child dying— Robert D. Wilson
From see haiku here: a wonderful haiga based on this haiku —
a cuckoo’s flight —
the emperor’s city of Heian
Kuniharu wrote the following fascinating commentary about this haiga, which will make no sense to you if you don’t go look at the haiga, people.
“Hototogisu, or cuckoo, is the kigo of summer, so this haiku is about the season. But what interests me is the word ‘diagonally.’
The city of Heian is a planned city, modeled after old Chinese capital city; the streets are just like in the haiga, in rigid lattice. And this lattice shape corrisponds to the ritual manner also. Many formal ceremonies took place at the emperor’s palace. One basic rule of human movements in the formal ritual is that you never move diagonally, they should be always right-angled. …
Knowing all these, our appreciation of the word ‘diagonally’ deepens more. Cuckoo is so free, free from all the rigidness and restraints in human world, which culminates at the emperor’s city.”
— Kuniharu Shimizu
I can’t reproduce this here, but you absolutely have to go take a look at it. Scott Metz put together an interactive graphic that reveals some “found haiku” in poetry of Whitman and Thoreau. It’s stunning.
This isn’t directly about haiku, but if you like haiku I’m pretty sure you’ll like this. (Your money back if not completely satisfied.)
A while back I mentioned in this column my sadness at the fact that David Marshall was giving up his five-year-old haiku streak. Well, I’ve been finding my grief easier to bear since starting to follow his prose blog, Signals to Attend. David’s writing itself is beautiful — clear and concrete and at the same time lyrical and original — but even more important, what he writes about is in my view urgently worth writing about (I’m talking about a big-picture kind of urgency, not a news-at-ten kind of urgency).
One of his recent essays, “Making Scenes,” seems especially valuable for haiku writers (and other human beings, but this is at least theoretically a haiku blog). He starts out by saying simply, “I like to think about what people are doing right now,” and gives a list of examples — “a seventh-grade girlfriend talking to her new son-in-law,” “a former student hanging a print in a narrow apartment powder room.” People he knows, people he doesn’t know, mostly all doing the kind of mundane things we do all day that make up the vital texture of our lives. “[A] sort of peace,” David writes, “settles in me when I imagine everyone okay.” On News at Ten, after all, something terrible is always happening to someone. But something terrible is not happening to most of us most of the time. If you take the time to look around the world at what people are doing, you’ll mostly find them at a myriad of ordinary activities.
Then David jumps straight from the daily routines of humanity into poetry — in particular, Walt Whitman. “Little moments,” David says, “populate [Whitman’s] poems,” moments that are “companionable, reaffirming people flow in one river that, at least in our daily lives, moves in similar ways to the same sea.” He quotes Whitman on the universality of human experience across time and space:
“I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; …
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d; …”
This amazing verse of Whitman’s ramps up the reader’s expectations, and David doesn’t let them down in the final paragraph of his essay. He wonders if technology is really helping us to empathize with each other or is further emphasizing our tendencies toward individuality and solipsism. After all, he reminds us, “we have imagination. Why can’t we see how closely other lives parallel our own, how, at any instant, we are all acting in the same scenes?”
To me, this is what poets do, or at least should do. They use the power of a sympathetic imagination to place themselves in the situation of another human being, to see the world from another person’s point of view, to figure out what makes other people tick. Maybe this is part of why, when people talk about the necessity of haiku faithfully reflecting our personal experience, it troubles me slightly. Obviously there isn’t anything wrong with reporting our own experience in poetry — sharing our experiences is one of the things that helps other people imagine what it’s like to be us. But we have to return the favor. We have to remember that we’re part of the wide river of humanity, and try to place ourselves in context in that stream by looking around us and thinking about what’s going on in the lives and hearts of other people.
Dead Tree News
A couple more print journals came in the mail for me this week. One was the venerable Modern Haiku, which has been around for several decades now and is going stronger than ever under the editorship of Charles Trumbull. The other was the very-recently-started, but already well-established, tanka journal Moonbathing, which features exclusively tanka by women and is edited by Pamela A. Babusci. (I wrote more about Moonbathing in Haikuverse no. 11, with information about how to contact Pamela for submission and subscription information.)
Modern Haiku 42:1, featuring the stunning Eagle Nebula on the cover (I know what it is because my physics-major husband told me, not because I have a nebula-classifying hobby — not that there’s anything wrong with that!), is full of so many things — haiku and senryu, haibun, haiga, essays, book reviews, news — that getting through it all has eaten up much of my free-reading time for the last week or so. I cannot possibly tell you all the things that impressed me in here. I will say that I thought the haibun selection was outstanding, and I am very picky about haibun. Then there were the haiku … okay, you’ve been patient, here’s a ridiculously small selection of the juicy stuff:
— Joyce Clement
nothing more to say —
of an axe at sundown
I read aloud
the part about the rabbit hole …
— Sari Grandstaff
How can one write
This ceaseless rain
Makes everything inseparable
— M Hasan
— Mark F. Harris
father’s day —
an airplane flies us over
the fault line
— Michael Meyerhofer
as if I should be happy
to hear from her
— Christopher Patchel
back from the war
all his doors
— Bill Pauly
in an urn
if only she knew
its pear shape
— George Swede
Wisst ihr wie bald wir
do you know how soon
we will die?
— Dietmar Tauchner
I am still trying to figure out tanka. I’m getting there, I think. But I still have a reflexive feeling much of the time when I read tanka that they are overgrown haiku that need to be pruned. Tanka aren’t just long haiku, of course, they have different aims than haiku — they’re much more personal, much more about feelings — so it’s not fair to judge them by haiku standards. And I did enjoy a great deal of what I read in Moonbathing. For instance(s):
scatter fallen leaves
— Marilyn Humbert
the illegitimate child —
I imagine turning up
on their doorstep
in a bright red beret
— Angela Leuck
a gray cloud
through the window
when I close my eyes
a single cry of migrating birds
— Sasa Vazic
Ready to cry uncle yet? (So often that’s people’s response to my helpful attempts to educate and reform them. Baffling.) Okay, I’ll open the hatch in just a moment, but first I want to know … did anyone press the red button? Anyone? Anyone?
No one? Okay, I guess my perfect record stands intact. No one yet has died of reading too much haiku. Not on my watch, anyway. And I have just scientifically proven that there is nothing unlucky about the number thirteen. Relax. Go write a nice little poem.
1 hailstones dreaming of semiautomatic weapons
2 blizzard so many ways to fly
3 lunar new year stamps so that’s what persimmons look like
4 stone wall the gaps in what you tell me about yourself
5 honeybee sting the desperation of the search for sweetness
6 environmentally conscious recycling your love letters
7 fiddleheads the family I never see anymore
I wasn’t going to do NaHaiWriMo, because I figured, I already write a haiku (or two, or ten, or thirty) every day, why should I make a special event of it?
But then I got carried away by all the fun everyone else seemed to be having doing it (man, over on Facebook people are partying it up), and then I thought of a theme, or a gimmick, or something, that got me more interested in it. I decided to write only one-liners. So many of my ku already start out as one-liners (and then get rewritten into whatever number of lines seems to work best for them) that I thought this couldn’t be too painful.
I also decided not to put too much pressure on myself to make these brilliant, and I also also decided not to post them on the blog or Facebook every day. I’ve been tweeting them instead (@myyozh, in case you’re interested). For some reason I am more laid-back on Twitter. It’s a pretty laid-back place. Not that this blog is exactly known for its uptight vibe, but, you know. I don’t like to let you guys down.
I don’t completely hate the way all of these are turning out, though. So I decided to put them up one week at a time. That way the effect of the really mediocre ones is mitigated somewhat. Also I kind of like the juxtaposition of the varied subjects I’m coming up with.
A couple notes:
Tune in next week, same time, same place, for seven more of these.
dusting my son’s
I posted this on Facebook last week after George O. Hawkins posted a haiku mentioning penguins, and then I commented that the world needed more penguin haiku, and then thinking about it later I decided that if I really believed that I should write them. So I did.
Here’s George’s original ku —
letting the dog out
she might as well be
— George O. Hawkins
Anyway. My son has been a penguin fan from a very young age and his room is filled with penguins. Stuffed penguins, glass penguins, ceramic penguins, penguin pillows, penguin paintings …
I don’t really dust them, though. Who has time to dust? I’m too busy writing haiku about penguins.
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.
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!”
From Morden Haiku:
sometimes it’s hard to know
if it’s ending or beginning
— Matt Morden
From Daily Haiku:
the silver statue of a man
i don’t know
From scented dust:
biting an applethe silent skyof midwinter— Johannes S.H. Bjerg
Who is to say
that the restlessness
after I tear a few pages
and break a few things?
I love you
she’d said until
the words were hieroglyphs
faded, in need
folding and unfolding
– Christopher Herold
From Blue Willow Haiku World:
keito-ami hajimari tsuma no moda hajimaru
my wife’s silence
— Shuson Kato, translated by Fay Aoyagi
where lightning bugs flash
— Max Stites
fall away, and yet …
— Mark Holloway
From Yay words!:
if I’m still
— 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:
from his side of the grate
(bottle rockets #21)
I wrote a senryu that reflected how I thought she’d react:
first serial publication
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.
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.
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.
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?)
From “Four Elements Cycle: Cleaved Wind” by Claudia Brefeld, Heike Gewi, and Walter Mathois:
at the lilac bush
— Heike Gewi
From “Doors” by June Moreau and Giselle Maya:
I was trying to remember
came to me
just as I put my hand
on the doorknob
— June Moreau
From “Making Soup” by Alex Pieroni and Jane Reichhold:
only the best tea
from an empty bowl
— Alex Pieroni
And some verses from solo efforts:
From the sequence “The Woods Road“:
the woods road
to the end of it
— Jenny Ward Angyal
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
the last of the roses
have lost their names
— Alegria Imperial
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.”
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.
… 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
So. We’ve started another trip around the sun. Is everyone strapped in tightly? This planet can really get up some speed when it wants to. I have a feeling this is going to be an especially speedy year for me. So much haiku to read and write, so little time.
With that in mind — let’s start this week’s tour of the Haikuverse without further ado. This will be a long one. Go ahead, add an extra five minutes to your coffee break, I won’t tell.
Haiku on New
I’ve mentioned before that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit according to the Japanese calendar, and that rabbit haiku have been proliferating like, um, rabbits all over the Interwebs. If you’re interested in reading some (I make fun of them, just because I like to make fun of things — including, in all fairness, myself — but a lot of them are really good), there are a bunch of examples (and a bunch of other great New Year haiku) over at the Akita International Haiku Network blog.
Other places to read good New Year haiku (and haiga, and tanka, and gogyoghka) include the following, which is just a small sample of the pages I remembered to bookmark that had good New Year haiku and doesn’t include any of the many good New Year haiku I encountered on Facebook and Twitter in the last week or so. (You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Don’t you?)
Vincent Tripi/Kuniharu Shimizu (haiga), see haiku here
Gary Hotham, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku
Bill Kenney, haiku-usa
Takuya Tomita, tr. by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
John McDonald, zen speug
Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve
Johannes S.H. Bjerg, scented dust
Chen-ou Liu, Stay Drunk on Writing
Haiku Till You Drop
And on to haiku on other topics — quite a few of those were written recently too, believe it or not. We must start off with my obligatory Vincent Hoarau haiku in French. (My apologies to anyone who doesn’t know French and/or has no appreciation for the haiku of Vincent Hoarau, but he knocks my socks off. And I have somehow just managed to discover that he has a blog! so you don’t need to have a Facebook account to read his poetry after all! Though this one doesn’t seem to be on the blog at the moment.)
leur bébé dort
dans la neige
— vincent hoarau
Another new blog I’ve just discovered: Haiku by Two, where I found the following lovely offering by Alison (can’t seem to locate a last name):
whether or not
there is a god –
This one from Blue Willow Haiku World really struck me for some reason. I was right out there on the ocean for a while after I read it. Caravels. Whales breaching. Waves, fog, salt spray. Japanese whaling ships. Guys in ruffed collars. An inundation of images, if you will.
the Age of Discovery
— Eiji Hashimoto, translated by Fay Aoyagi
Over at The Haiku Diary, Elissa managed to perfectly capture the spirit of procrastination, especially the procrastination of us writers who can always think of some other creative thing to do that’s sort of like writing but nahhh. I should write this one down and tape it to my laptop.
collages onto matchboxes
doesn’t count as “Write!”.
New Year’s Resolution: Exercise
Somebody (who? who? I must remember to write these things down!) posted this link to Facebook a week or two ago. It’s “a training exercise … [that] helps condition the muscles necessary for making haiku.” The poster suggested that it would be of help to those pursuing Fiona Robyn’s a river of stones project this month, which it certainly would, but it also seems like an invaluable exercise for anyone interested in learning to write haiku, or improving the haiku they already write. If you try it, let me know how it worked out.
Out with the old, in with the new, isn’t that what they say this time of year? Well, right with the New Year a couple of new blogs worth watching started up and another one of my old favorites closed up shop.
First I’d like to pay tribute to the latter, David Marshall’s wonderful haiku streak. At this blog and another, David has been posting a daily haiku for five years (yes, you did read right). He says he’s giving up his streak now because he’s starting to feel that writing them is becoming a routine and he’s no longer sure of the purpose. But I have to say that practically everything he writes seems utterly inspired to me. His haiku are like no one else’s on the planet, and that kind of intense personal vision is rare.
Here’s his last entry, posted on New Year’s Eve:
In the empty room
an empty box—everything
inside me at last
— David Marshall
Fortunately, David is not giving up poetry altogether. I will be following him at his other poetry site, derelict satellite, where he says he plans to post weekly “haiku sonnets” — fascinating concept.
And to console me a little, Anne Lessing and Aubrie Cox started up new blogs on the first of the year. I have been eagerly awaiting Anne’s The Haiku Challenge ever since she announced way back last May that she would be starting to write a daily haiku on 1/1/11. Anne, gloriously, is a teenager who is a relative newcomer to haiku, but not to writing, and she too has a very well-defined personal vision. I loved her first offering:
first second of a new year
and all I see is
— Anne Lessing
Aubrie Cox, whom I met at the “Cradle of American Haiku” Festival back in September, is not new to haiku, although she too is very young. She’s a senior in college who has been studying haiku for several years now under the aegis of Randy Brooks, has published her very skillful haiku many times, and has a vast store of knowledge about the history and poetics of haiku that awes me. You can find out more about her at her personal blog, Aubrie Cox. But she’s just started up another blog called Yay Words! (which is, of course, the best blog name ever). She started it to participate in a river of stones, and also plans to use it for just generally celebrating words in all their forms. I love enthusiasm combined with knowledge (that will be the name of my next blog), so I’m sure Aubrie’s blog will become a favorite very soon. Here’s her first “small stone”:
trying to make it fit like the old one
— Aubrie Cox
I discovered a site this week that is new to me although not to the world, and although it may be of interest to none of my readers I just had to let you know about it because I am jumping up and down in my mind with excitement whenever I think about it. It’s called Taming the Monkey Mind and it features — wait for it — Russian translations of Issa’s haiku. Yeah. I know. My life is pretty much complete now. Okay, so it doesn’t look like they’ve updated since 2008 but they have just recently started tweeting on Twitter, so I’m hoping that means that more translations are in the works. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Another great site that I can’t believe I never discovered before is Haiku Chronicles, featuring wonderful podcasts about various aspects of haiku. I’ve only had time to listen to one, which was about a renku party and went into fascinating detail about the composition of renku in general and one renku in particular. If you listen to any others, send me reviews — I will be working my way through the rest slowly.
I found a few essays that blew my mind this week. I’m starting to get a little tired here (this is actually the last section of this post I am writing, even though it doesn’t appear at the end — I like to jump around when I write, it makes things more interesting). So I might not go into as much detail about them as I had planned to (you are probably giving devout thanks for this right now to whatever deity floats your boat).
This is where I implore you to follow the links and read some of this stuff. Okay, I won’t lecture you any more. You probably have one or two other important things to do with your time, like making a living or raising children or growing prize orchids or something. Or, you know, writing haiku instead of reading about it. How sensible of you!
Last week Chen-ou Liu posted on his blog Poetry in the Moment an essay called “The Ripples from a Splash: A Generic Analysis of Basho’s Frog Haiku” that might forever change the way you look at good old furuike ya. He discusses the necessity of viewing this poem in the context of the literature of its time — for instance, “frog” is a spring kigo that was “used in poems since ancient times, and had always referred to its singing and calling out to a lover.” By making the frog’s sound a splash instead of singing, Basho parodies literary convention. The poem also works, of course, on a purely literal, objective level, but this second dimension of allusion to earlier literature is usually missing from most Western translations and considerations of this poem.
Chen-ou concludes with his own poetic sequence paying tribute to this ku and to Basho and other earlier literary masters, including this verse:
crouches on a lotus leaf —
— Chen-ou Liu
At Still in the Stream there is an essay by Richard R. Powell called “Wabi-Sabi in Haiku,” which gives many examples with a detailed analysis of what makes them wabi-sabi. You will definitely want to go look at this one, if only for the wonderful examples. It’s beautifully laid out and wabi-sabi is always fascinating to contemplate.
Here’s one of the examples and a bit of Powell’s commentary to go along with it, just to whet your appetite:
wings aglow –
gulls rising above
– Eric Houck Jr.
Yesterday while on a walk with my son we observed two herring gulls alight on a lamp pole. They seemed to be a pair and one stuck out its neck and emitted the common and recognizable call gulls everywhere make. I thought of Mr. Houck’s haiku and watched as the two birds leapt into the air and soared over us. Looking up at these birds I was struck by their clean appearance, the sharp line between the white feathers and gray ones. Their bodies, when they glide, are smooth and elegant, heads pivoting on otherwise plane-rigid bodies. I was charged with a subtle joy, not overwhelming, but hopeful.
Mr. Houck’s poem is an excellent example of a haiku that contains karumi, the quality Basho considered to be the hallmark of his mature style.
— Richard R. Powell, “Wabi-Sabi in Haiku”
This one isn’t really an essay, but a review. But Don Wentworth’s reviews over at Issa’s Untidy Hut are always so in-depth and thought-provoking that they give the same satisfaction to me as a well-wrought essay. This one concerns John Martone’s book of short poetry, scrittura povera. I had never heard of this poet before but I will certainly be searching out more of his work. Here’s an example:
how much time
do you need
— John Martone
Don, a fellow Issa aficionado, says of this one (and I agree with him) that, “In terms of modern haiku, it just doesn’t get much better than this. There is certainly a touch of Issa here, a perfect balancing between the comic and the serious. It is, as is life, both at the same time.”
I would definitely recommend that you follow the link and at least read through the example poems by Martone, even if you don’t have time to read the full review. They are all superb.
A bunch of fun competitions are in the works at the moment. As always, there are the monthly Shiki Kukai (which I wrote about a few days ago; this month’s topics still haven’t been announced but should be any day now so keep your eyes peeled, if that isn’t too painful) and Caribbean Kigo Kukai (this month’s kigo: calendar). Kukai are a great way to get your feet wet in the contest world, and they’re judged by the participants so you get to have fun picking out your favorite ku from among the entries.
But there are also a couple of contests that don’t come around as often. You’ll have to act fast on the first one: XII bilingual Calico Cat Contest. It’s a blitz — it just started yesterday, and the deadline is tomorrow. But it’s a fun one for several reasons: It involves using one of the wonderful sumi-e paintings of Origa Olga Hooper (contest organizer) as a prompt, the prize being said sumi-e painting; and — so you know I’m definitely going to enter — all the entries will be translated into Russian (if they’re in English) or English (if they’re in Russian), and posted on the contest site in both languages for everyone to see before the judging. You can submit up to three haiku; maybe I’ll try writing one in Russian. Or not. I might have to work up to that level of bravery.
The final contest on my list is the biggest. Just opening today, with a deadline of March 31, is The Haiku Foundation’s yearly HaikuNow contest. There are three categories: Traditional, Contemporary, and Innovative — go to the site for more explanation and examples of what exactly these categories mean. This contest gives out actual monetary awards and it’s free to enter, so there’s no downside, really. Go for it!
Full disclosure: I am helping out (on basically a peon level) with coordinating this contest. Specifically, I, along with two other helper elves, will be fetching contest entries from email, taking the authors’ names off for anonymity’s sake, and sending them off to the judges to be judged. This is a great gig for me, of course, because I get to see a lot of really cool haiku before anyone else. Sadly, I of course cannot share these really cool haiku with you or anyone else, but maybe the inspiration I derive from reading them will help make the haiku I post here a little better, which will surely improve your life.
Dead Tree News
After I got the “Close, But No Cigar” award in The Haiku Foundation’s Facebook contest in November (basically, I was a runner-up, but Jim Kacian, the judge, invented this humorous award name to indicate that he liked the idea of my ku but was not so wild about its execution), the Foundation kindly sent me and all the other winners and runners-up a copy of where the wind turns: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku.
This turned out to be a great prize. The panel of ten editors, led by Jim, chose their favorites from the past year’s journal output and web content, and I assure you that they have excellent taste. I spent a lot of my extensive driving time over the holidays reading it. I started out marking all the stuff I liked, until I realized that I was marking pretty much every page. Want some examples? Yeah, I thought you did.
Okay, here are just a couple of the ku that blew me away. Okay, more than a couple. Really, I narrowed it down as much as I could:
deeper and darker
the taste of tea
— Mary Ahearn
she let me
— Yu Chang
new year’s day all my anxieties in alphabetical order
leaves too small
to touch each other
— Burnell Lippy
maybe I don’t need
to be right
— Harriot West
Haiku were not the only things in this anthology either. There were some amazing haibun, and in my experience amazing haibun are not all that easy to find. The most touching of these was William (Bill) Higginson’s last piece of writing before he died in 2008, “Well-Bucket Nightfall, or New Day?,” a masterly meditation on well buckets, life transitions, death, and haiku. I also commend to you Johnny Baranski’s “Gandhi’s Game” and Bob Lucky’s “Shiraz.”
And then there were the essays … oh God, the essays. I wish I had time to write essays about the essays. But most of them you can find online so you can read them yourselves. (I know most of you won’t though. Uh-oh. Starting to lecture again.)
There was a reprint of one of my longtime favorite essays, a consideration of the haiku of Fay Aoyagi (one of my favorite poets) by David Lanoue (one of my favorite translators). A very interesting meditation on haiku and capitalism (which I’m not sure I entirely understood), by Dimitar Anakiev. A fascinating essay on haiku from the World War II Japanese internment camps, by Margaret Chula (the essay doesn’t seem to be online but here’s a link to her book on the same subject).
The only essay I would like to say a little more about is Jim Kacian’s, called So::Ba, which I am still thinking about, because it both crystallized some of the ideas that I have been having about haiku myself and also added some new information and ideas to support my previously vague, uncertain thinking. Basically, Jim takes the English sentence “So here we are” and relates it to the Japanese word “ba,” which he translates as “a pointer to a kind of awareness that something of importance is happening in time and space.” In his vision of haiku poetics, ba is essential: “Ba is the basis for pretty much everything we do in haiku. In fact, ba is the message of haiku: so here we are!”
A lot of the essay is taken up with denigration of the vast amount of “trash” haiku out there these days, and with historical notes about the development of haiku, in which Basho gets a hero’s welcome and Shiki gets piled on for his objectivism: his insistence on merely observing nature, rather than alluding to human history or culture or literature, or making use of the kind of richness of emotional expression that characterized the haiku of, among others, Basho and Buson. Jim regrets that the West encountered haiku right at the moment when Shiki was the dominant influence on haiku, since what he considers as the wrong-headed separation of Nature from Man in the minds of most haiku poets tends to persist to this day.
So how should we be thinking about haiku, according to Jim? Well, as far as I can make out, as a form of poetry that expresses a moment of the poet’s consciousness, that makes use of art and imagination as well as purely objective observation (this discussion will undoubtedly seem familiar to those of you who read my “Willow Buds” post the other day). I really love this passage from the essay in particular:
Haiku is not photography, a simple exact limning of what lies before our eyes. If it is an art, then it must be the selecting and ordering of words into a cogent form that helps lead another’s mind along the path that the poet’s has followed, with perhaps a similar reaction to be had at the end. And this rarely takes place before the butterfly’s wing, but usually in the roiling of the mind, consciously and unconsciously, whenever it can — for me that often means in the middle of the night.
And yet despite this we still retain some residual disdain for what are termed “desk haiku.” In truth, every haiku I’ve ever written has been a desk haiku. It may have had its origins in some natural spectacle, and I may even have written it on the spot. But always, some time later and in the darkness of my mind and study, I look again. It’s this revisiting that is the actual work of art — even if I don’t change a word. “Desk haiku” is another way of saying I’m a working poet.
— Jim Kacian, “So:Ba”
Lots to think about here. I hope you go and read this one if you have a spare half-hour. Jim’s thoughts are always worth encountering.
Note: For those of you who are holding your breath, Dead Tree News will return next week to the thrilling saga of the early development of Japanese haikai (haiku), as recounted in Donald Keene’s World Within Walls. Don’t miss this exciting installment in which master Basho arrives on the scene!
Okay. [Heaves sigh of relief.] I made it through yet another massive list of indispensable haiku-related reading for yet another week. What is the deal with you people — you keep writing too much good stuff. Or I keep reading too much good stuff. I don’t know who has the bigger problem. Is there some kind of 12-step program for people like us — oh, look, there is! (Thanks, Michael!)
Happy Rabbiting, fellow traversers of the Haikuverse. And hey, I am dying for a day off here, so don’t forget to send me your haiku for my 400th post next week!