icicle. new moon. cradle.

.

icicle —
one clear word
out of all the murmuring

.

new moon . . .
the map folded
with home at the center

.

.

“icicle,” Modern Haiku 43.2; “new moon,” Frogpond 35.2

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Yes, well, as I was saying, I, along with all right-thinking people, spent last weekend in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, at the Cradle of American Haiku Festival, being entertained and delighted by my haiku compatriots. Or co-conspirators, or whatever they are. Among them Charles Trumbull and Francine Banwarth, who edit the two journals referenced above and were kind enough, in their most recent issues, to print these works of mine, which seem to have some bearing on our weekend activities. Clarity: I think we’re all seeking that, as we muddle around with this unwieldy language, trying out various combinations of words, trying to find those that will surprise and enlighten us. And home: when we’re not running away from it, we’re traveling towards it, and I think most of us who were in Mineral Point last weekend, even if we had left home to get there, felt that in another sense we had returned home. No one understands poets quite like other poets, and there’s nothing like being understood to make you feel at home.

Other reflections/observations/fond memories from this weekend:

  • Charlie Trumbull gave us a thought-provoking paper on black haiku poets, many of whom were influenced in their work by the rhythms of jazz and blues. Which made me think again that we need to spend more time thinking about the musicality of our work, or at least the lyricism. It’s easy to forget, I think, that words are units of sound as well as meaning.
  • It’s still amazing to think about how relatively young the English-language haiku movement is–our host for the weekend at Foundry Books, as always, was the inimitable Gayle Bull, whose late husband Jim, along with fellow professor Don Eulert, started the first English-language haiku journal, American Haiku, in 1963. That’s less than fifty years ago, for those who are counting. Don was at the conference this weekend too, visiting from California, where he uses haiku in his work training clinical psychologists. It helps teach them about objectivity, he says, which I found fascinating, since I’m crummy at being objective. Maybe I’m better at it than I used to be, though, I don’t know. I’m not objective enough to tell.
  • If I studied sumi-e for the next four hundred years or so I might have a hope of being able to wield an ink brush with a tenth the skill of Lidia Rozmus, who set us up with the beautiful traditional tools of the Japanese ink painter and attempted to show us how to use them. She makes it look so easy, and I think she was sadly baffled by my complete lack of ability to paint something that did not look like a blob of ink. But since she is one of the world’s kindest people, she didn’t say so, just took my hand and tried to make it do something intelligent. I think it may be a lost cause, though–I have yet to discover any evidence that my hands are actually linked to my brain.
  • Overheard at the wine bar where we were giving a reading on Saturday night, during a moment of almost complete silence when we were listening respectfully to the work of a fellow poet: “These haiku people are getting out of hand.”
  • We had a rowdy session on gendai haiku on Sunday morning. It’s always fun to get people riled up about poetry before lunch on a weekend. If anyone wants a copy of my handout from the session, shoot me an email (reddragonflyhaiku AT gmail DOT com). Rest assured, I didn’t write any of it, it’s all quotes from other people, plus a selection of Japanese and English poetry that may or may not be gendai depending on who’s reading it and whether they’re squinting that day. You can let me know what you think. Hecklers, as always, welcome.

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rain, rain (rain, rain)

.

spring rain backwards until the beginning

.

summer rain
some of you in
some of me

.

autumn rain preparing the palimpsest

.

forgot water could be so heavy winter rain

.

_____________________________________________________________________

credits: spring rain, Modern Haiku 42.3; summer rain, Frogpond 35.1; autumn rain, Modern Haiku 43.1; winter rain, bottle rockets 26

..

In the Hallows

a junicho renku by Melissa Allen and Aubrie Cox

.
.
flickering porch light
I offer candy
to the ghost

a bottle of pumpkin ale
from the cellar

home sick from school
he reads a book
about buried treasure

popsicle stick pirate ship beached
in the laundry basket

the glint of the moon
off her sharpened
skate blades

solo dance down
the dark sidewalk

carvings in the pine
fill with sap
that will harden

my dog and his
romping through the sprouting lettuce

weeds creep
between cracks
in the concrete

we try speaking French
to the tourists at Versailles

an arguing couple
breaks bread
at a riverside cafe

at day’s end
a frog leaps from lily to lily

.

Frogpond 35.1

.

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

poems

.

however the planets align a stack of pumpkins

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

.

A spring evening I ride a car with an ordinary man

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

.
.
A spring evening is wound down toward the apple skin

.

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

.

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

.

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

— Ellis Avery, on antantantantant’s blog

.

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

.

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
.

.

blossoming witch hazel
I pound a stuck storm window
with a Chinese dictionary

— Dave Bonta, Woodrat Photoblog

.

.

winter sun
I think twice about
destroying this web

— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

.

night rain –
he tells me
he slept well

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

.

ʈɧɛ ųɳįѵɛŗʂɛ
ą ɖįƒƒɛŗɛɳʈ čȏɳѵɛŗʂąʈįȏɳ
įɳ ʈɧɛ ɳįǥɧʈ

— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

.

.
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

.

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

.
essayed

.

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.

.
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.

.

From Frogpond 34:3

.

after the argument
separating
lights and darks

— Kristen B. Deming

.

after she leaves
the weight
of hanging apples

— Marsh Muirhead

.

lightning strike
the mean streak in me
deepens

— Aubrie Cox

.

From Modern Haiku 42:3 —

.

as if each promise
carried a different weight
breaking waves

— Angela Terry

.

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

— Dietmar Tauchner

.

summer afternoon
the salamander basking
in inattention

— Ernest Wit

.

table talk
the knife resting
on the spoon

— Francine Banwarth

.

imaginary mouse
i feed him
fear

— Tyrone McDonald

.

___________________________________________________________

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.

.

into the fog the stars are no exception

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 14: Abridged Edition

Everyone have a nice Valentine’s Day? Looking forward to warmer weather? (Or cooler, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere?) Great. Glad to hear it.

Okay, got the chitchat out of the way. No time. Must be fast. Short. Abbreviated. Abridged. Yes, that’s it. This is the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books of haiku columns. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s just my boring words that are abridged, not the haiku.

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Haiku (Etc.) of the Week

(Poems I found and liked the last couple of weeks.)

.

I am giving pride of place this week to Amy Claire Rose Smith, the 13-year-old winner of the youth haiku contest at The Secret Lives of Poets. This haiku is not just “good for a thirteen-year-old.” I would be proud of having written it. Amy is the co-proprietor of The Spider Tribe Blog and Skimming the Water along with her mother, Claire Everett, also a fine haiku and tanka poet (I mean, she’s okay for a grownup, you know?) who has been featured in this space previously.

.

listening
to the brook’s riddles
a moorhen and I
.
— Amy Claire Rose Smith

.

.

From Haiku Bandit Society:

.

pearl diver
a full breath,
a full moon

— el coyote

.

.

From Crows & Daisies:

.

sleet shower
plum blossoms
on flickr

— Polona Oblak

.

.

From Via Negativa:

.

moon in eclipse
I remember every place
I’ve seen that ember

— Dave Bonta

.

(The first line links to a spectacular photo by Dave, take a look.)

.

.

From Morden Haiku:

.

stretching out
the peloton
a hint of spring

— Matt Morden

.

.

From scented dust:

.

still winter –
a heavy book about
nutritional supplements

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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(Johannes has also been writing a lengthy series of haiku about penguins that are delighting my son and me. A few of them are at his blog, linked above, and he’s also been tweeting a lot of them (@jshb32). Both in English and in Danish, because I asked nicely. 🙂 Thanks, Johannes.)

.

.

.
the auld fushwife
sits steekin –
her siller needle dertin
.
the old fishwife
sits sewing –
her silver needle darting
.
— John McDonald

.

.

From Yay words! :

.

late winter cold
I suckle
a honey drop

— Aubrie Cox

.

.

From The Haiku Diary:

.

Ripeness Is All

In the produce section:
A very pregnant woman,
smelling a grapefruit.

— Elissa

.

.

From a handful of stones:

.

Joyfulness Keeps Pushing Through

I’m reading
T. S. Eliot

Goethe
and the Old Testament

But I can’t help it

— Carl-Henrik Björck

.

.

From haiku-usa:

.

returning spring
in the dawn light she looks like
my first love

— Bill Kenney

.

(Bill’s comment: “Line 1 may be a bit optimistic, but it is warming up, and, in my personal saijiki, spring begins on Valentine’s Day, regardless of the weather.”)
.
.
.
.
have you thought
of your effect on us?
full moon
.
— Stella Pierides
.
.
(Stella’s note about the genesis of this haiku: “I wrote this haiku trying to understand aspects of (by skirting close to) Issa’s poem, posted as an epigraph on the Red Dragonfly blog.” I found this interesting because I, too, have been thinking about my epigraph lately, after having kind of pushed it to the back of my mind for some time. And loving moon haiku as I do, I really liked Stella’s take on it.)
.
.
.
.
.
a bit of parade
from the sparrow …
first flakes, last snow
.
— Ricky Barnes
/
.
.
.
.

まどろむの活用形に春の雪   小川楓子
madoromu no katsuyôkei ni haru no yuki
.
conjugation
of ‘doze’
spring snow
.
— Fuko Ogawa, translated by Fay Aoyagi
.
.
.
.
.
how many haiku
must I write…
waiting for you
.
— Miriam Sagan
.
.
(The person Miriam was waiting for in this haiku was the great Natalie Goldberg — check out the link for a wonderful story by Natalie about an evening she and Miriam spent together.)
.
.
.
.
.
my gate–
just six radishes
remain in supply
.
.
four, five, nine years
always the first to bloom…
cherry tree
.
— Issa, translated by David Lanoue
.
.
(Does everyone know that you can get one of Issa’s haiku emailed to you daily if you ask nicely? These are a couple that landed in my inbox this week, and of course after confessing my love of number haiku I had to include them here.)
.
.
.
.

“Class Warfare in Wisconsin: 10 Things You Should Know” (Tikkun Daily)

a long day…
field laborers
fasten stars
to the under belly of
a snail shaped moon
.
— Robert D. Wilson
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(Normally I try to keep this blog a politics-free zone, but can I help it if Robert wrote a great tanka and Haiku News connected it to a headline about the protests in my state against the governor’s budget bill? I’m all for art for art’s sake, but if art happens to intersect with politics in an artistically pleasing way, I’m all for that too.)

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.
A Story, A Story

At jornales, Alegria Imperial recently recounted a wonderful story (originally written for the Vancouver Haiku Group) about meeting a Japanese woman who critiqued her haiku in a way that seems to me very reminiscent of the way that Momoko critiques Abigail Freedman’s haiku in The Haiku Apprentice, something I wrote about not so long ago. The point of both Momoko and Mutsumi, Alegria’s mentor, is that haiku must come from the heart, must not just be a linguistic or intellectual exercise but must express something fundamental about what the poet is feeling.
.
I think you should really go over and read the whole story yourself, but I’ll quote a few choice passages to give you an idea of what it’s all about.
.

The white gold moon: A Japanese haiku experience
Or how a hole in the sky turned into a pair of wings in my heart

.

Mutsumi and I did meet over spare egg sandwiches and coconut muffins at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria. … I laid the printed sheets out on the table, two pages of ten haiku. I had noticed her wince as she read them and then, she pushed the pages away.

… She pointed to one of them and asked me, or to my mind, accused me, “Where is your heart?”

The haiku she had her forefinger on is this:

hole in dark sky?
but
the white moon

… “When you wrote this how did you feel?”

“Well, in the dark night sky on a full moon, I looked up and there was the moon like a white hole in the sky.”

“So…”

“Seeing a hole although it was bright sort of scared me but it also delighted me because I realized it is but the moon.”

“And so…”

“That’s it.”

“That’s why, it can’t be a haiku. It cannot stop there. It has to stop right here,” she tapped her chest with her hand and to mine, finally a gesture which uplifted me, “in the heart, your heart.”

We plumbed the idea deeper. She focused on my delight to see the moon. What did I want to do about it? And how would I have wanted to reach the moon. I said the only I could would be “to fly”. She began to smile and latched on to the image, to the idea of flying. She asked how I would have wanted to fly. And I said with wings, of course.

“But you can’t have wings. Still you can fly with your thoughts, your thoughts of happiness,” she said. “Think of where these come from,” she urged me on.

“In my heart, of course!”

“There you are! There is your haiku!”

She took the piece of paper from my hand and began writing in Japanese, translating the characters into this:

gin-iro* tsuki no hikari*
kurai yoru watashi no kokoro
tsubasa

I asked what each word meant and the haiku flowed:

white gold moon
on a dark night in my heart
a pair of wings

— Alegria Imperial


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Dead Tree News: Journaled

.

Frogpond, the venerable journal of the Haiku Society of America, edited by George Swede, came in the mail last week. First I clasped it to my heart and carried it around with me everywhere for a few days. Then I started making the difficult decisions about which tiny portion of the contents I could share with you guys. Here’s what I came up with:

First of all, I’ll mention right off the bat that there was an essay by Randy Brooks called “Where Do Haiku Come From?” that I am going to have to write a separate post about because I can’t do it justice here. So remind me about that if I haven’t come through in, say, a couple of months.

There were also a couple of interesting and related essays by Ruth Yarrow and David Grayson about bringing current events and economic realities into the writing of haiku. Ruth wrote about the recent/current financial crisis and David about homelessness. Both discussed the importance of not neglecting this aspect of our reality when we look for haiku material; David also discussed how to avoid the pitfalls of sentimentality and cliche when dealing with topics that start out with such strong emotional associations. I tend to think that the reality of the urban environment and the modern political and economic climate are seriously neglected in haiku (and I am as guilty as anyone else of neglecting them), so I was happy to see these essays here.

Second of all, here are the titles of some haibun you might want to take a look at if a copy of Frogpond falls into your path (which it will do if you join the Haiku Society of America, hint hint):

Little Changes, by Peter Newton; The First Cold Nights, by Theresa Williams; Not Amused, by Ray Rasmussen; Marry Me, by Genie Nakano; Gail, by Lynn Edge; This Strange Summer, by Aurora Antonovic; Home, by John Stevenson; Looking Back, by Roberta Beary; Koln, by David Grayson.

And lastly … the haiku. Those that particularly struck me for whatever reason:

sunset
warmth from within
the egg

— Johnette Downing

.

high beams visit
a small bedroom
my thin cotton life

— Dan Schwerin

 

coffee house babble
among all the voices
my conscience

— Robert Moyer

 

pruning
the bonsai…
my knotty life

— Charlotte DiGregorio

 

if only she had been buried wild crimson cyclamen

— Clare McCotter

 

Christmas tree
wrong from every angle
trial separation

— Marsh Muirhead

 

morning obituaries …
there i am
between the lines

— Don Korobkin

.

full moon —
all night the howling
of snowmobiles

— John Soules

.

the cumulonimbus
full of faces
hiroshima day

— Sheila Windsor

.

leaves changing…
the river
………….lets me be who I am

— Francine Banwarth

.________________________

Done! Okay, for me, that really wasn’t bad.

Just wanted to say that I will probably not have another Haikuverse update for at least 3 weeks, possibly 4, since in March I will be contending vigorously with midterms, family visits, a new job, and oh, yeah, this haijinx column gig. (Send me news!) I’ll miss droning endlessly on at you guys but at least this will give you a chance to catch up with all the old columns.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 10: Bleak Midwinter Edition

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

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

— Christina Rossetti

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

snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow

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

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

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

*

Haiku of the Week

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

*

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

moss growing on the roof tiles      unsuspected      metastasis

Mark Holloway

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

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

— Tamra Hays

.

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

sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
counting trees

— Angie Werren

.

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

winter thaw
i ignore
his white lie

— Polona (@cirrusdream)

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

piercing cold
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream

— Soseki 1867-1916

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

Waterloo sunset
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map

— Alan Summers

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)

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

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

waiting for God
to finish creation
leftover rocks
— Renee Owen

And yes you MUST go look at the picture! That’s the entire point! Click! Click! I think the link will just bring you to a page of thumbnails, all of which are worth looking at, but the one I’ve quoted above can be found if you click on the picture of columns in the bottom center.
.

And I’m always looking for good haibun, so I was excited to stumble on Hortensia Anderson’s site The Plenitude of Emptiness. All haibun, all the time! I’m trying to write more haibun so I will be dropping by here often.

*
Tanka Corner

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

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

— Michele Harvey

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

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Renku Everywhere

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

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

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Haiku in the News

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

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

Stephen Ziliak

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

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The News in Haiku


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

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

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Dead Tree News

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Donald Keene, World Within Walls

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

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

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