Across the Haikuverse, No. 29: The Not-Haiku Edition

It is not strictly true that there is no haiku here. There’s a bunch of haiku. There’s just a lot of other stuff too. It’s all poetry, though. Short poetry. Relatively short. It all makes me happy, okay?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how haiku is different from other kinds of poetry and wondering how different it is, exactly, and whether and what writers of haiku can learn from other kinds of poetry about how to write haiku. I know there’s a school of thought that haiku is haiku and Western poetry is Western poetry and ne’er the twain shall meet. That Western poems employ all kinds of tricky, slippery literary devices so their meanings are hidden in a miasma of metaphor, whereas haiku are clear as water and they mean just what they say they mean.

I wonder, I wonder. I’m not sure I believe any more that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely necessary to haiku, except extreme brevity, or that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely foreign to it. I think the salient feature of haiku is an almost painfully heightened awareness of some feature of the universe. I could say something about connections, too, and about concreteness, and perhaps about some sort of sense of the existence of time.

But basically, if I don’t feel, when I read haiku, as if my chin has been grabbed and my attention insistently focused on something outside my own skull, then I don’t feel as if the poem has done its job. And you can achieve that effect with very plain and unmetaphorical language or you can achieve it with metaphor or personification or literary allusions or surrealism or wordplay or pretty much anything else in the bag of tricks that Westerners use, that anybody in the world uses, to direct the attention of the poetry-reading public.

So if you’re going to write haiku — and we are — it seems wise to be aware, to stay always aware, of the full range of options available to poets to describe the universe they experience. Even if you choose not to use many, or most, of those options, at least you know what you’re not using, and hopefully why. You also might realize that something you need to say needs to be said in not-haiku. It’s been known to happen.

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Poetry. It’s All Good.

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again missing light...

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

Lately Johannes has been on a roll with these parallel poems of his: two poems running side by side, intertwined but able to stand independently. If you find this one interesting I recommend you dig around over at 3ournals and frags to see what else you can find, it’s a bit of a treasure chest over there.

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暮れそめてにはかに暮れぬ梅林   日野草城

kuresomete niwakani kurenu umebayashi

sun starts to set…
a plum grove suddenly
grows dark

—Sojo Hino, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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OCDC – mixing hard rock aesthetics with an anxiety disorder*

riff 
spliff 

dry ice 
precise

Not to mention three lines of lemon sherbet, each exactly 294 millimetres long, on a mirror, and a bowl of red M&Ms

[*by special request]

— Marie Marshall, kvenna rad

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I found a lion’s mane in our old shed
made of string and raffia
when we were young we used to chase antelope
I have scars on my knees*

— Kaspalita, a handful of stones

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the bride posin
bi the watterside  –  a swan
gaes intil the derk burn

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the bride posing
on the riverbank  –  a swan
enters the dark stream

–John McDonald, zen speug

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⅔ written
damn
my life
doesn’t really work
in the 1st person

–Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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signs of spring
one day rhyming
with the next

–William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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today in the city

–Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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a red apple
a green apple
on top of the table

— Shiki, translated by Burton Watson, R’r Blog

Over on the R’r [Roadrunner] Blog, Scott Metz put together a whole applepalooza of haiku about apples, which I highly recommend you take a look at.

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all the way
around the oak tree
no squirrel

— John Hawk, DailyHaiku 3/30/2012

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spring night / I give up explaining / the hippo constellation

— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Scented Dust

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rick of new-mown hay
someone left the gate open
a little horse flew
the wildest urgent creature
between the vault of my ribs

–Alan Segal (“old pajamas”), old pajamas: from the dirt hut

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Blogged

Some more words of wisdom from the R’r Blog… about cooking and haiku.

“Tradition is everything. . . . The press . . . they love to separate avant-garde from tradition. At the end they are not two things. They are the same thing. . . . There’s only two kinds of cooking: the bad cooking and the good cooking. What happens is if we forget our traditions, if we don’t keep looking to the past, it’s very difficult to understand who you are, and even more difficult to be looking to the future.”

— José Andrés, chef and owner of minibarZaytinya & é & teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University

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To expand a little on what I wrote up top about the relationship between haiku and “regular” poetry… Ron Silliman, over on his blog about contemporary poetry, has written a very interesting consideration of contemporary haiku as seen in the pages of three books — the anthology Haiku 21 (which I’m going to review soon, I swear), John Martone’s ksana (ditto), and Jim Kacian’s long after (tritto).

Silliman is not a haiku poet — he writes long, very long poetry, as a matter of fact — but he is sympathetic to haiku, or more or less sympathetic; he eyes it a bit skeptically, but lovingly. (Entertainingly, he is very bemused that none of the poems in Haiku 21 have titles. Um, really? That’s the oddest thing about haiku for you? That ten-word poems don’t have titles? I don’t know, maybe we do have some kind of giant blind spot there and haiku could rock titles just fine, but they just seem kind of … unnecessary.)

Anyway. I feel indulgent toward Silliman because he loves John Martone and so do I — I could say more about that and I will, I will. His review is thoughtful and helpful, check it out.

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David Marshall wrote a haiku every day for a while and that made me really happy, and now he’s writing weekly (or so) essays and they make me really happy too.

“When I was writing a haiku a day, I hit upon an idea I could never express properly in that form. What if every haiku about a bird, a tree, a swinging backhoe, or a boulder blocking a path set that thing aflame—what if observing it made it burn with eternal fire? What would the world look like, blazing with attention? What might be left cool and untouched?”

— David Marshall, “One Essay With Separate Titles” from Signals to Attend

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Journaled

Oh, Modern Haiku, how I love you…

Some meditations on light and dark from issue 43.1.

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one bird sings inside another autumn dusk

— Francine Banwarth

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on the edge of a forest though I tried to avoid it

— David Boyer

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a Coleman lantern
lighting the compromise
quarter moon

— Cherie Hunter Day

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all that dark matter        white peony

— Billie Dee

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deep fall–
sparrows adding
color to the trees

— Bill Pauly

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trying to switch on a light that already is late October

— Alison Williams

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one road in,
one road out–
late winter

— Jeffrey Woodward

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Ribbons 7.4. Tanka. Yes.

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I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple
wondering
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness

— hortensia anderson

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it is taking
all my life
to understand
what is real —
spring begins

— Marilyn Hazelton

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hidden
by the maples’ red curtain
six kids
two dogs and a pending
foreclosure

— Christina Nguyen

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awake
during the procedure–
a tender light
wends its way
through my intestines

— Sheila Sondik

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Lilliput Review #184. If you haven’t seen Lillie before, please go over and visit Don Wentworth and order a copy or two, or ten. They cost a buck, unless you buy five or more, in which case they cost even less. There is no possible way you will ever find a lower cost-to-value ratio for poetry.

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white flesh peaches

— Renee Albert

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Prairie Dog Spoken Here

When speaking of things
you might desire but hesitate to do,
change all your “but”s to “and”s and
all your “asteroid”s to “VW van”s.

— Wayne Hogan

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into
my
nightly
coffin
of bone

— George Swede

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What If This Poem Didn’t Have a Title?

moonrise 
the wind stops

at the window
the face of
a disappointed man

not enough
time now—

for all his
belief systems
to catch on

fire

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

On Beyond Zebra

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

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

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

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Haiku

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just
kidding

you’re
not

alive –

morning rain

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driller
kun

du
lever

ikke –

morgenregn

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

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

— Rafael Zabratynski, DailyHaiku, 12/21/11

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うごけば、  寒い     橋本夢道

ugokeba,        samui

if I move,                  cold

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

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Slime trail—
glancing back at
the glinting

—Don Wentworth, Tinywords

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

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crow watching –
the unseen tree branch suddenly
seen

— Angie Werren, feathers

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dusk at the beach
a stone and I
touch each other

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

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冬蜂の死にどころなく歩きけり  村上鬼城

fuyu-bachi no shini-dokoro naku arukikeri

a winter bee
continues to walk
without a place to die

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

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

John Stevenson, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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cave mouth
a scream beyond my range
of hearing

— George Swede, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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first
snowflakes

like me
made to last

till
they’re

gone

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

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Tanka

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

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Haibun

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

blue notes waver under the lamp

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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

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Almost Ready

five forty five a.m.

very cold

I move
close to a heater

night like wind

forming

itself

By god
I hear
a rooster

Crow

I had
only heard
a rooster

Crow

In the movies
before

this

To think
of the beautiful things

Your memory
has led me
into

And this poem

Almost ready!

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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Essayed

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

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

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

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

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

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Linked

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

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Journaled

ant ant ant ant ant 12

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

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Haiku from ant ant ant ant ant 12

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The Heron’s Nest

just how
to hold you
paper kite

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

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

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bottle rockets #26

pinwheel —
as if a second thought
starts to turn it

— Satoru Kanematsu

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Booked

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

Cover of What We Find

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standing in the middle of now here

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

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 18: Here Comes the Sun Edition

So. It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. (That’s a line from some song we sang at our third-grade choral concert. Amazing that I still remember it.)

This is how long it was: Have you ever had one of those dreams where the whole time you knew something really great was about to happen, something really fantastic you could hardly wait for, and the dream went on and on and all kinds of other humdrum, boring things happened, and you were thinking, “Okay, isn’t it about time the really great thing happened now?”, and then it was just about to happen, oh man, and … you woke up. And it never happened.

Yeah. I was seriously afraid this winter was going to turn out to be like one of those dreams. There was the cold. And the snow. And the more cold. And the unrelenting brownness and grayness. … Did I mention the cold? All through March. All through April. Into May. May!

Everyone else in the world (it seemed) was writing these cheerful blossom haiku and I kept looking out my window wondering if this was one of those dreams after all. Cold rain. Bare branches. Me shivering in my sweaters and occasionally even long underwear still, the grass like straw, the cold! so painful it felt like some kind of bone disease! (Should I go to the doctor?)

Well. So okay, it was still only about fifty degrees today with a stiff breeze. But there was sun! There’s supposed to be sun all week. And there are flowers everywhere. There are blossoms! There are lilacs! The grass is green, the leaves are green. …It finally happened!

Not only that, but I handed in my last assignments of the semester last week. Another thing I thought would never happen. And my son finally got his driver’s license, which means I don’t have to drive him everywhere anymore. [Though he will kill me if I don’t mention that he’s been getting himself practically everywhere on his bike since he was like ten, so it’s not like I’ve been a slave to his transportation.]

And my husband finally got over whatever microbial infestation had him in its death grip for the last month, so he can do something besides sit around making exploding-lung noises. Like take me to the Arboretum to look at apple blossoms. And wait patiently while I scribble illegible things about them in a notebook. Cold and lonely no more. So glad that dream is over.

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falling in love with a memory apple blossoms

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Haiku of the Month: All Spring and Summer, All the Time

I’ve mentioned before how you can follow the world’s weather patterns by observing the haiku that is posted on the Internet. Well, I was looking through all the haiku I had collected over the last three weeks and noticed that not a single one referred to autumn or winter. (I must not have been hanging out on enough southern hemisphere blogs or something. I apologize to that half of the globe.)

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river sunrise
a girl’s shadow
swims from my ankles

— Lorin Ford, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku

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as it lands
the mallard shatters the house
in the river

— Polona Oblak, Crows & Daisies

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migrating geese
the shapes of chins
in a crowd

— an’ya, DailyHaiga

(Please go visit this very lovely haiga.)

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spring dusk –
the river pauses
for a moment
to take the weight
of a swan

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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twilight
settling on all
the unfound eggs

— Pearl Nelson, Pearl Nelson

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Palm Sunday
a card game called
‘doubt’

— Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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summer rain I’m still a fool around gravity

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, scented dust

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a careless butterfly:
lost among thousands
of heavy raindrops

— Vladimir Devide/haiga by Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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“The typhoon rain seems to have stopped this morning here, but the clouds are still pretty heavy. People walking on the street are taking umbrella along. Small insects, however, are sometimes careless and venture into the pouring rain only to be slapped down on the ground.

I heard that when the tsunami was approaching, quite a few people actually went out to the pier or seaside to watch the wave. How careless I thought, but I guess that is what happens when one underestimates the real power of the nature. Being curious and being careful are both the working of the mind. It makes a big difference which working one chooses in time of danger. I certainly choose not to be a careless butterfly.”

— Kuniharu Shimizu, see haiku here

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春寒の山のひとつがはぐれけり   齋藤愼爾
harusamu no yama no hitotsu ga hagurekeri

.
spring chill
one of the mountains
goes astray

— Shinji Saito, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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it has to end:
the wind
to cherry blossoms

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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in tranquility
cherry petals are falling
abyssal fish

— Taro Kunugi, from Donna Fleischer’s Word Pond


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secretly
still expecting
the living
that life owes me
– lupins !

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

(I had a hard time choosing between this tanka and several others Mark posted this week that were equally wonderful. You should really go over there and decide for yourself which is your favorite.)

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between tour groups
the garden
just the garden

— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

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open scissors beside a vase of water

— Eve Luckring, from A New Resonance [6]: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, Red Moon Press, 2009, quoted on Basho’s Road

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This is the toy theatre room. You’ll notice the wooden Lawyer. Took forty-two hours to get his jaw right. We’re staging Visions on Wednesday. You should come.

— Ben Pullar, a handful of stones

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(You’re right, this is not a haiku. It’s a small stone, which is sometimes the same thing and sometimes not. You should let Fiona Robyn tell you about them if you don’t already know. And this reminds me — Fiona and her fiance Kaspalita, who are getting married on June 18, are asking for a wedding present of small stones written on their wedding day. They are lovely people and if you write them a poem I promise you’ll get some good karma. Shhhh. Don’t tell them I told you.)

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Web Wide World


So much fun stuff to read this month, so little time…

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Understanding Modern English-Language Haiku” from Winning Writers, April 2010

This is a fascinating essay that features the editors of five haiku journals speaking about the process they go through when writing haiku in general and one specific haiku in particular. The introductory remarks feature a discussion of one of my pet peeves, how profoundly haiku is marginalized in the wider world of poetry and the serious ignorance and misunderstanding of what haiku is among mainstream poets.

It’s encouraging that this essay appears on a mainstream poetry website. I hope that the remarks of Jane Reichhold, John Stevenson, George Swede, Linda Papanicolau, and Colin Stewart Jones do something to enlighten at least a few writers about the real nature and potential of haiku.

cold night
the dashboard lights
of another car

— John Stevenson

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Serendipiku

Speaking of Colin Stewart Jones…I got the link to that last essay off his blog, serendipiku, which is very interesting, as is his static website, also, slightly confusingly, called serendipiku. (It’s called branding, I guess. I must get with the times. Nice work, Col.)

Colin is a wonderful poet and artist. His one-word bird haiga are really fun, and I especially like his graphic haibun, which are unlike any other haibun you’ve ever seen. I recommend in particular “Menu” and “Burberry” and “Midsummer Moon.” The last, about insomnia, contains one of my favorite poetic lines of the month: “Can’t even conjure up a pathetic fallacy.”A possibly crippling ailment for some writers of haiku, probably including me.

secret promise…
almost thirty years now
since I was
the twelve-year-old boy
looking over a high wall

— Colin Stewart Jones (originally published in Muse India 37, May/June 2011)

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Insect Haiku From the Shiki-School

You can download this unpublished manuscript from 1959, by Harold J. Isaacson and Helen Shigeko Isaacson, from the Internet Archive (an amazing collection of online texts, images, and audio which if you aren’t careful will suck you into its orbit and never let you go).

It’s an excellent collection of classical haiku about insects, with commentary. What makes it really interesting, though (to me, anyway, big geek that I am), is that the translations incorporate (untranslated, because they have no real translation) the kireji or cutting words (ya, kana, and keri) that the Japanese employ in many of their haiku for emphasis and/or as a way of marking a pause between the two parts of the poem.

Here are a couple of examples:

Ownerless
the helmet on which sleeps
a butterfly kana

— Choi, tr. Isaacson
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Golden flies ya
Where on the ground has spilled
a melon’s entrails

— Chikuba, tr. Isaacson

At first I thought this manner of translation was very strange and awkward and disliked it. But now I kind of like the rhythm it gives and feel that in some ways it helps me understand better what these poems must be like in the original. I wouldn’t want these to be the only translations I read of these haiku, but I think there’s definitely a place for them in the world. That’s my final answer.

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Women Poets of Japan from The Green Leaf

“The Green Leaf”  has a lot on it, from mainstream poems by contemporary authors to classical haiku in translation to vast quantities of photo haiga to contemporary haiku to…the works of women poets of Japan, which is what I feel like featuring today because I just do, okay? The whole site, though, is well worth rummaging around in, though it feels incomplete and uneven (but who am I to talk) and also it does something which drives me completely out of my mind, which is fail to credit the translator of translated poems.

I hate this because it’s inconsiderate not only to the translator, who has done a very difficult job that deserves to be acknowledged, but to readers who might like to know where they can seek out (or, ahem, avoid) other translations by a particular translator or compare translations between translators. So I was feeling a strange mixture of annoyance and delight as I browsed around here. But then I came upon this tanka and forgave everything.

Gazing across the fields,
at Taketa I hear the cranes
ceaselessly crying:
not a space not a moment
of pause in my longing.

Lady Otomo-no-Sakanoue (8th century)

(There’s a haiga of this poem, too, if you follow the link from the poet’s name above.)

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Bare Bones Haiku

So Jane Reichhold has done it again. Last year when I was just getting started writing haiku I used Jane’s list of 24 haiku-writing techniques to help me understand what haiku were all about and all the different ways they can be written. You can find her list here on the web and also in her excellent book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku.

Jane is great at explaining how haiku work and breaking down the process of writing them in a way even a more-or-less clueless newbie can understand, as I can attest. She does have her own particular understanding of what haiku are, which is not necessarily everyone’s understanding, but hey, who doesn’t.

Anyway, what she’s done now is create this series of fourteen quite brief lessons that take a beginner through the process of learning what a haiku is, what the various parts of a haiku are, what a good haiku looks and feels and sounds like. You could do way worse as a beginner than start with these lessons and their exercises. I really like this one, for instance:

“Find a haiku that you really admire and write it [down]. It would be kind to the author to record his or her name and where you found the poem.

Then begin to rewrite the poem. Maybe start by just changing one word. Or changing one line. Or take a phrase of image you greatly admire and see how many ways you can make it work with other images.”

— Jane Reichhold, “Bare Bones Haiku, Lesson Two: Before Writing Your Own Haiku

(Disclaimer: Obviously, this is just an exercise for your own poetic development — you wouldn’t want to try to publish the results of this exercise or pass them off as your own poetry unless they ended up really, really, really different from the originals.)

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The Haiku Foundation Contest Archive

Once again The Haiku Foundation has created a very cool resource for readers and writers of haiku, which is this archive of past winners of most of the major haiku contests. If you are looking for an online collection of excellent contemporary haiku, needless to say this would be a good place to start.

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***

“Repetition in Haiku

This is an older (2001) essay by Florence Vilen, discussing when and how repetition makes haiku more effective. Most of the essay is taken up by examples, which really is my favorite kind of essay. And haiku with repetition are some of my favorite kind of haiku, so this made me very happy.

the sound they make
the sound I make
autumn leaves

— Gary Hotham

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Dead Tree News

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tea’s aftertaste,
by Aubrie Cox,
graphic design and illustrations by Katie Baird,
published by Bronze Man Books ($12)
(ordering information)

.

So you wanna see the most adorable haiku book ever published? Do you? Do you? You do? Yay! Okay…here’s the cover:

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Cover of the haiku chapbook "tea's aftertaste"

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Yes…that is a hand-sewn Japanese binding in red thread, thanks for asking. And that is a tiny little sketch of the moon reflected in a teacup. I did say it was adorable, didn’t I?

… Not sold yet? Looking for some more substance? Okay, here are a couple of the inside pages:

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distant galaxies / all the things / I could have been

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… I know, right? All the pages are like that.  Aubrie’s haiku are amazing, and Katie’s illustrations are awesome, and you just keep looking through the book going, “Why don’t more people write more haiku that so movingly combine the personal and the universal, that are filled with such astute and original observations of the concrete world, that are simultaneously mercilessly honest and lovingly generous?… And then why don’t they have an artist with the same rare sensibility draw touching little illustrations to go with their haiku… And then why don’t they put the whole thing together in a lovingly designed package and sew it up with red thread?”

It’s a mystery, really. But I wouldn’t spend too long agonizing over it. Just get the book and enjoy it. You’re welcome.

________________________________________________________________________________

Sigh. No matter how much I write it always feels like I’m forgetting something. If you figure out what it is, let me know, okay? I’m getting old, I need help with these things.

what I meant to say
still folded into
unopened blossoms

.

.

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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.)

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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.

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

.

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From Haiku Bandit Society:

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pearl diver
a full breath,
a full moon

— el coyote

.

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From Crows & Daisies:

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sleet shower
plum blossoms
on flickr

— Polona Oblak

.

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From Via Negativa:

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

— Dave Bonta

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

.

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From Morden Haiku:

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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

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From The Haiku Diary:

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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:

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

— Bill Kenney

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(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.)
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.
.
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“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
.

(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

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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. 13: Lucky Edition

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.

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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…
snowdrops

— Claire Everett

*

From feathers:

snow-fog field
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
the future

— Steve Mitchell

*
An “after” from Bill Kenney at haiku-usa:

first snow
having looked at it
I wash my face

— Etsujin 1656-1739

*

From scented dust:


February rain
stacking pills too round
to stack

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

*
From season creep:

summer afternoon
on hats
the sound of rain

— Comrade Harps

*

From Yay words! (a NaHaiWriMo entry):


snow day—
I cradle a bowl
of steamed rice

— Aubrie Cox

*

From zen speug:

lightning
lingering
on the snowdrops

— John McDonald

*
From jornales:

meringue—
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.)
*

From my Facebook page, where Vincent Hoarau left me this great birthday present (a response to one of my own haiku):

les étoiles

exactement les mêmes

qu’à ma naissance

.

the stars

exactly the same

as the day i was born

— vincent

(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

early spring
with my maiden name
I wait at Ueno Station

— Yuko Mori, translated by Fay Aoyagi

*

From The Perpetual Bird:

waning moon—
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 of
a child dying
— Robert D. Wilson
*

From see haiku here: a wonderful haiga based on this haiku —

a cuckoo’s flight —
dissecting diagonally
the emperor’s city of Heian

— Buson

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

*

From Roadrunner, August 2008, Issue VIII:3:

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.

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Deep Thought

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:

sparkler
at
its
end
cicadas

— Joyce Clement

 

nothing more to say —
the thunk
of an axe at sundown

—Susan Constable

 

I read aloud
the part about the rabbit hole …
falling snow

— Sari Grandstaff

 

How can one write
This ceaseless rain
Makes everything inseparable

— M Hasan

 

larch
burl
hack
marks
another
miracle
cure

— Mark F. Harris

 

father’s day —
an airplane flies us over
the fault line

— Michael Meyerhofer

 

 

goldenrod —
as if I should be happy
to hear from her

— Christopher Patchel

 

back from the war
all his doors
swollen shut

— Bill Pauly

in an urn
if only she knew
its pear shape

— George Swede

Einkaufszentrummenschen!
Wisst ihr wie bald wir
sterben werden?
.
mall people!
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):

rising winds
scatter fallen leaves
I hang
swinging between
two moons

— Marilyn Humbert

 

the illegitimate child —
I imagine turning up
on their doorstep
one day
in a bright red beret

— Angela Leuck

 

a gray cloud
through the window
motionless…
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.

Haiku North America 2011 – Seattle, Washington

Logo for the Haiku North America Conference

Okay … forget everything else you’ve heard about where and when the Haiku North America conference will be held this summer. Just wipe it from your mind. This is the final, official, ultimate announcement about the conference. Only pay attention to this one. Got it?

Here goes: the official press release from the conference organizers:

Save the date! Haiku North America 2011 will be held August 3 to 7, 2011, in Seattle, Washington.

Members of the Haiku Northwest group have generously offered to host the 2011 conference and they have many exciting plans already in the works, including a harbor cruise. The conference itself will be held at the Seattle Center, at the foot of the Space Needle, providing easy access to haiku writing and walking opportunities such as Pike Place Market (via the monorail), the Olympic Sculpture Park, the Experience Music Project rock-and-roll museum and Science Fiction Museum, and countless other attractions—including fleet week and the Seafair festival, with the Blue Angels performing overhead.

The conference theme will be “Fifty Years of Haiku,” celebrating the past, present, and future of haiku in North America. The deadline for proposals has been extended to February 28, 2011 (http://www.haikunorthamerica.com/pages/2011.html), but sooner is better. Proposals do not have to fit the theme. If you’ve already submitted a proposal, please confirm with Michael Dylan Welch at WelchM@aol.com that you can come to Seattle on the new dates. Speakers already include Cor van den Heuvel, Richard Gilbert, David Lanoue, Carlos Colón, Fay Aoyagi, Jim Kacian, Emiko Miyashita, George Swede, and many others.

Detailed information on registration, lodging, and the conference schedule will be available in March. For further information as it becomes available, please visit http://www.haikunorthamerica.com. And check out the new HNA blog at http://haikunorthamerica.wordpress.com/.

See you in Seattle!

Garry Gay, Paul Miller, Michael Dylan Welch
Haiku North America

Across the Haikuverse, No. 11: Snail Mail Edition

Whoosh! That was the sound of my time flying by. The semester’s started up again, so no more spending Saturdays pottering around the Interwebs and lovingly polishing this column to a high sheen. Get in, get out. That’s my new motto. Excuse me, I need to go throw some laundry in the washer. You can get up and get a snack if you want. Make sure you’re back before the tour begins, though — you don’t want to miss anything.

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Dead Tree News

Contrary to my usual practice, I’m starting out this week with my section on print resources, in order to do justice to the great snail mail I’ve been receiving lately. You see, I finally got around to subscribing to a ton of print haiku journals, which I really should have done a long time ago. But better late than never.

You can’t find this stuff online, folks. I know it seems like everything is online these days, but this is a mirage. A whole world of otherwise invisible but glorious haiku (and other short poetry) awaits you if you will take the time to send a few hard-working editors a few bucks. In return, they will send you their lovely printed-on-actual-paper collections of lovingly selected poetry, in nice big fat envelopes that do not, praise the Lord/Allah/Buddha/Zeus, contain credit card solicitations.

So just this week I got bottle rockets No. 24 (brand-new), Lilliput Review #177 & 178 (from December), and Acorn No. 25 (from last fall, but new to me). Bottom line: They’re all worth it, get out your checkbook. More details:

  • bottle rockets: a collection of short verse. Edited by Stanford Forrester, this snazzy-looking journal the size of a trade paperback contains copious amounts of haiku, tanka, and haibun. A few examples that stood out for me:

beginner’s mind …
an afternoon spent
with back issues

— Jennifer Gomoli Popolis

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next to the temple
the industrial plant
swept spotless

— Michael Fessler

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the kitchen clock
trying to keep
up w rain

— john martone

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cicadas the itch under the cast

— Bob Lucky

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first violets
it’s all about
staying small

— Peggy Willis Lyles

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early snowfall
places the flakes miss
at first

— Jay Friedenberg

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the most respect
we can show the dead
is not to tell them how it is:
the candle I lit
flickers

— Mike Dillon

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still waiting
for an apology,
on my walking route
passing a garden
of forget-me-nots

— Charlotte DiGregorio

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and I won’t quote the whole thing, but I enjoyed the haibun “To Wondering Eyes” by Liz Fenn (among others).

  • Lilliput Review: In keeping with its name, this is a tiny (3.5″ x 4.25″) stapled-together zine-like publication. It’s edited by Don Wentworth (see also: Issa’s Untidy Hut), who sends two issues out into the world together to keep each other company, and contains not only haiku but short poems (up to 10 lines) of whatever form. A couple that especially struck my fancy (of the many, many I enjoyed):

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From # 177:
snow flurries
yes and no
melt away
— Scott Watson
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From #178:
at home
a full two hours
before I remove the hat
— paul m.

  • Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku: An attractive, minimalistic publication, about the size of a rack-sized paperback, printed on high-quality paper and laid out with care and lots of white space. Edited by Carolyn Hall, it contains only haiku, which is somewhat of a rarity for haiku publications, but makes for a nicely focused journal. Again, just a few of the poems that impressed me here:

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rain all day
I carve the darkness
from a peach
— Marilyn Appl Walker
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before I know it
my mind has changed …
whitebait shoal
— Lorin Ford

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the cherry blossoms arrive without a god
— Gregory Hopkins
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the need
to need
gull shrieks
— George Swede

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a shadow under the pier
what it is
and isn’t
— Francine Banwarth

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where does the time go squids of Wyoming
— Dave Russo
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Arcturus
a pine cone glows
in the campfire
— Allan Burns

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Haiku in Ones and Zeroes

Back to the digital world. It all feels so ephemeral now, I must say. But no less worth reading for that. Here’s some posts from this week you might want to take a look at, starting with a couple about this week’s full moon, which haiku poets will never, ever be able to let alone:

Stop and Glow

She gets off the bus
where I’m waiting. Time to view
the moon together.

— Elissa

  • And speaking of viewing the moon: Instead of trying to pick three favorites from the entries for the January Moon Viewing Party over at Haiku Bandit Society, Bandit (and his dog Dottie) threw in the towel and found a moon haiku by Issa that’s way more worth reading than any of ours. (I also HIGHLY recommend that you watch the video here of Dottie snoring.)

a toy flute trills
a cane click-clacks…
winter moon

-Issa, translated David G. Lanoue

stacking my coins
two for the ferryman
rest for the laundromat

— Johannes S.J. Bjerg

  • From Andrew, Twitter name @coffeeperc, at jars of stars (originally posted on Twitter):

The swish of parting grass
as she searches
for a reason

— Andrew Rossiter/@coffeeperc

  • From Tomoya Tokita via translator Fay Aoyagi at Blue Willow Haiku World, complete with fascinating translation notes:

人参を並べておけば分かるなり 鴇田智哉

ninjin o narabeteokeba wakarunari

.

if you arrange

carrots in a line

you’ll understand

— Tomoya Tokita

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Fay’s Note:  This haiku has several ‘issues’ when it is translated; 1) it sounds like ‘a sentence,’ because there is only one image; 2) because Japanese does not use ‘subject,’ this could be ‘if I arrange…’ Even in Japanese original, a reader will not know what one will understand. About a carrot? About a poet himself? Yet, I am attracted to this haiku….

— Fay Aoyagi

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You Must Submit

This edition of the Haikuverse is going to mention Issa’s Untidy Hut a lot so you might as well get used to it. I am very excited about Don Wentworth’s upcoming new regular feature, Wednesday Haiku, for which he invites readers to send in their haiku for consideration (wednesdayhaiku AT gmail DOT com). One at a time only, folks; previously published poems okay. You’ll get a couple of copies of Lilliput Review (see above) if your poem is selected, which should be more than enough motivation for you to get something sent off to Don posthaste. As far as what qualifies as haiku, well, if you’re reading this you and Don are probably more or less on the same wavelength in that regard, but it’s still entertaining to read what he has to say on the subject:

I will not be supplying a definition of what a haiku is.  You are all big girls and boys.  I will simply say it is not what passes for haiku in the popular media; this site’s occasional patron and consummate poet/artist /curmudgeon, Ed Baker, likes to call them shorties, and I defer to that, since he doesn’t know so much more than I don’t know or am likely to ever not know.

— Don Wentworth

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Another forum for publication that just sent out a call for submissions is MOONBATHING: A Journal of Women’s Tanka. This is a print journal that just published its third issue and is accepting submissions for Issue #4. Submission instructions: 
Send your tanka IN THE BODY OF AN E-MAIL TO: Pamela A Babusci … 
moongate44 (at) gmail (dot) com…PLEASE NO ATTACHMENTS!!! E-mail submissions only. (And oh yeah — in case this wasn’t sufficiently obvious from the journal’s title, they only accept submissions from women.)

And I know I haven’t provided much help on this blog in terms of explaining what exactly tanka are and what they do, but I’m hoping to rectify that soon because I have been writing a ton of them lately, which freaks me out a little because for a long time I had a staunch anti-tanka stance. In the meantime, a quick Google search should be able to help you out if you don’t already know what the whole tanka deal is.

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A Review. Wait, Two.


1.

Ever since I first heard about Fifty-Seven Damn Good Haiku By a Bunch of Our Friends, the brilliantly-titled collection edited by Alan Summers and Michael Dylan Welch which Michael’s press, Press Here, released at the end of last year, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first reviews. Well, here (again) is Don Wentworth, giving us the lowdown. The book sounds great, I think I’ll be whipping out my checkbook again soon. Here’s a fantastic sample of one of what Don calls “the many strong voices” among the collection’s poets:

a cloud across the sun
and suddenly
I am old

— Helen Russell

2.

The other day I was hanging out in the poetry section of my local Giant Chain Bookstore Whose Poetry Collection Is Not Exactly Stellar, But It Could Be Worse, and I came across a book called Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart, by Patricia Donegan. I looked through it and thought that the selection of haiku was wonderful, but felt kind of “eh” about the commentary appended to each one, which seemed a little too, um, enlightening for me. (I tend not to be so much about the cultivating awareness and opening your heart, more about the cultivating skepticism and keeping an open mind. I have a slight allergy to anything mystical or inspiring.) Anyway, I ended up passing on it in favor of a couple of other books (which I brought home and instructed my husband to give me for my upcoming birthday, so I’ve already officially forgotten what they are and I can’t tell you anything about them. Yet.).

But then I read, in the Autumn 2009 edition of Modern Haiku online, a review of this book by Mark Brooks (who is, besides being the editor of haijinx, a wonderful haiku poet in his own right and also not exactly a sucker for mystical treatises). First off, I knew Mark and I were on the same wavelength as soon as I read the first sentence of the review: “I own multiple copies of books I love, that way I am unencumbered enough to gift a copy whenever one matches a friend.” I do that too, you may remember. Anyway, Mark’s in-depth analysis of what exactly was contained in the commentaries for each haiku made me reconsider my quickly-drawn impression that they were all about spiritual enlightenment — apparently there is also a significant amount of scholarly information included. As Mark says,

Every haiku includes the English text, an informed discussion, and a paragraph of biographical data. Donegan even includes the headnotes for the Japanese haiku when they exist. Reliably, case by case, Donegan the teacher enriches the material for every level of reader.

Mark further suggests that this book is a good one for sharing and explaining haiku with those who are unfamiliar with it, since it does so much to clarify and expand on each haiku. So now I’m reconsidering my decision not to buy this book — I may have to head back to Giant Chain again before my birthday. Thanks, Mark.

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Essays About Fun Stuff You May Never Have Thought About Before, Or Even If You Have You’ll Want to Read These Anyway

Not long ago I had a little discussion with someone about the phenomenon of the appearance of haiku that seem uncannily similar to other, previously published haiku, which if you’ve spent a fair amount of time reading haiku you know is not a rare phenomenon at all. (I have had the experience both of writing haiku that I later discovered were remarkably similar to other published haiku, which I’m pretty sure I had never read, and of reading haiku that I thought were remarkably similar to haiku I had written earlier.)

My thoughts on this subject kind of boil down to: Perhaps occasionally this is a matter of deliberate plagiarism, but far more often it probably involves either unconscious recall of the previous haiku, the fact that haiku poets are not always fantastically original in choosing subject matter (see also: full moon; falling leaves; crows; geese; butterflies; cherry blossoms; sunset; sunrise; snowfall; cicadas; and I could go on interminably but you get the idea), and also the fact that haiku are so short that if two poets happen to independently come up with more or less the same, slightly unusual image, that image will take up enough of the space of their separate poems that they will give a strong impression of being more or less the same poem.

In his very interesting essay “Some Thoughts on Deja Ku” (which is a great name for this phenomenon), Michael Dylan Welch gives many examples of uncannily similar haiku and explores what he thinks is the reason for the similarity in each instance (or asks the reader to speculate on the reason). He explores the topic in much more depth than I have here and it’s well worth a read.

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Here’s another interesting essay from Modern Haiku, this one not a review but a scholarly examination, by Paul Miller, of the work of Japanese haiku poet Ban’ya Natsuishi, specifically his well-known series of “Flying Pope” haiku. (I originally heard about this essay while eavesdropping on a Facebook conversation about Michael Dylan Welch’s entertaining series of “Neon Buddha” haiku, which were partly inspired by the Flying Pope, and which are also briefly considered in Miller’s essay.)

This essay, too, has a great first line: “As more and more modern Japanese haiku arrive at our shore, it is worthwhile to look closer at some of them before fully stamping their passports.” This sets the tone for Miller’s essay, which is respectful of much of Ban’ya’s work while remaining skeptical that all of it is effective or even particularly comprehensible. Falling squarely in the Japanese gendai tradition, haiku such as those about the Flying Pope, which often use language in non-straightforward ways and present confusing, incongruous images, frequently bemuse and infuriate Westerners (and I’m not claiming always to be an exception to this trend). As Miller says tartly,

[I]f all the reader is looking for is clever juxtapositions or clever wordplay, then randomly picked words/images from a dictionary will suffice—and the poet is not needed. Poets are needed to convey some sense of purpose to the chosen images, and in doing so they need to be conscious of the readers. Many modern Japanese haiku do not seem to do this, and one has to wonder how Japanese editors parse such mysterious verses for publication.

Miller goes on to discuss in more detail what qualities he feels makes for effective haiku, including examples from both classical and modern Japanese haiku and modern English language haiku such as Welch’s. Most centrally, Miller feels that “a successful haiku is one that moves from the known to the unknown. The shift from realism to strangeness can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be a risk…” I find this idea fascinating, and if you agree with me, you will certainly want to read all of Miller’s excellent essay.

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The News in Haiku

NOTE (2/9/11): HNA 2011’s final resting place is Seattle, Washington. The conference will take place from August 3-7. Details at the above link or at the HNA website.

You may remember that a while back I featured a news story about the moving of next summer’s Haiku North America conference from Decatur, IL to Rochester, NY. Well, the latest news out from conference organizers Garry Gay, Paul Miller, and Michael Dylan Welch is this:

“Regretfully, Rochester, New York will not be able to host Haiku North America in 2011. Since the conference is such an important part of the haiku tradition in North America, and because so many poets, scholars, and editors look forward to the biennial event, work is underway to quickly find a suitable replacement location. We plan to have more news shortly.

This is unfortunate and must be very frustrating for the conference organizers. I wish them luck in quickly finding another hosting site. (Hint: Madison, Wisconsin is lovely in July …)

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So wait a minute …. wasn’t this supposed to be a short one? How does this keep happening? Someday I’m going to go too far and find myself out in some part of the Haikuverse that’s previously unexplored, having forgotten my GPS, maps, and compass, and with no one around, not even a dreamy, impractical haiku poet, to ask for directions…

This must stop! Just you wait and see, next time I will be positively terse. Terse, I’m telling you! You won’t even recognize this as the same column!

(You can start the betting pool now on how likely you think this is. Don’t worry, I won’t be offended.)

Across the Haikuverse, No. 10: Bleak Midwinter Edition

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

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

— Christina Rossetti

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

snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow

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

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

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

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Haiku of the Week

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

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

moss growing on the roof tiles      unsuspected      metastasis

Mark Holloway

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

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

— Tamra Hays

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

sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
counting trees

— Angie Werren

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

winter thaw
i ignore
his white lie

— Polona (@cirrusdream)

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

piercing cold
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream

— Soseki 1867-1916

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

Waterloo sunset
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map

— Alan Summers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)

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

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

waiting for God
to finish creation
leftover rocks
— Renee Owen

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

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Tanka Corner

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

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

— Michele Harvey

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

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Renku Everywhere

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

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

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Haiku in the News

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

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

Stephen Ziliak

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

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The News in Haiku


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

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

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Dead Tree News

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Donald Keene, World Within Walls

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

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

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