May Day: One Year

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May Day
every nest
has a voice

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anniversary new cells in my writing hand

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Beltane
in the rear-view mirror
a faraway fire

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A year ago today I started this blog. I’d written a few haiku over the previous few days — something I’d practically never done before — and for some reason felt that they needed to be inflicted on the world. And that I needed to write more — every day, in fact — and inflict all those on the world as well.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe it was something to do with it being May Day, which has always seemed like one of the year’s pivotal days to me. Well, it is, of course. In the Japanese conception of the seasons, this is approximately the day that summer begins. (It ends, of course, in early August, when you first begin to sense that melancholy in the air. You know that melancholy? The Japanese love that. They call it autumn and get all weepy and happy. Me too.)

This was also true of European cultures until fairly recent times, which is why we call the summer solstice midsummer. The first of May went by a variety of names for the pre-modern Europeans: Beltane, Walpurgisnacht. It was about purification, fertility, all that useful stuff. There were bonfires to symbolically cleanse things, and dancing to get sexy. The harvest was going in, the thaw was finally complete, the layers of clothes were coming off…time for a party.

Here in southern Wisconsin, and also in southern New England, where I was raised, May is the month when you finally feel like you can breathe easy, because now there’s practically no chance that there will be any more significant snowfall or lengthy cold spells until November. (Practically no chance, I said. This year, I wouldn’t put it past May to dump a blizzard on us or something.)

So for those of us around here who spend most of the winter weeping quietly in a corner, the beginning of May is the time when we creep out of our corners and put away the boxes of Kleenex and admit that, just possibly, life might be worth living. New projects start to seem as enticing as new clothes.

Hence, I suspect, my more or less insane undertaking of last May 1. I remember feeling a sense of great satisfaction at seeing my first post go up, with that big “1 May” on it. It made the whole thing seem much more real than all the previous times I’d started blogs, on whatever forgettable days I started them on. And right from the beginning, this blog felt different than all those other blogs, which lasted only until I figured out that I didn’t actually have anything to say, typically after three or four days.

Writing haiku, I found, especially once I started to figure out what haiku actually were, made me feel like I did in fact have something to say, that there was actually an infinite universe of things to say, because, of course, there is an infinite universe — and if you keep your eyes open you will always be able to observe something worth observing, and worth telling someone else about.

I still feel like that. I sometimes go crazy, in fact, from the number of things there are to say about the world in haiku. Not that I have really figured out how to say them well most of the time, but that challenge is always there. Those possibilities delight me. The whole world, passing by in a predictable but novel-seeming cycle year after year, trip after trip around the sun — how could that ever not be enough for anyone to write about?

Haiku can be thought of as time-tellers or time-markers — a large part of their original function was to announce the season that a particular string of linked verse was beginning in — and now that I have spent an entire year with haiku, have written all the obligatory leaf-falling and snow-falling and blossom-falling verses, have marked all the changes of the moon, and come back around to the beginning, that aspect of their nature is beginning to intrigue me more than ever.

The year is a cycle; it’s good to know when you are in it. It’s also good to know when you are in your life. When was before this? When’s after it? Most importantly — when is now? Writing haiku — I won’t say always, because I never say always, and I reserve the right to change my mind about everything — is a way of saying: I was here, then. That was now. And since time keeps flowing, there is always another now to write about. I feel very lucky about that.

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Thanks for hanging around with me this past year and listening politely while I wandered around babbling incoherently. I appreciate it immensely. I mean, no matter how great I thought haiku were, I doubt I would have kept writing a blog that no one ever read or commented on. Or one of those blogs where people are always arguing and yelling at each other.

Fortunately, instead of one of those sad, dysfunctional-family kinds of blogs, I have the kind of happy-family blog that is constantly filled with the pleasant voices of many kind visitors. It never feels like work to hang out here. Practically everything else feels like work, but not this. (She says, staring gloomily at the pile of end-of-term projects that she’s way, way behind on.)

I have some vague thoughts for fun things we can do together this summer. But right now, I’m a little too busy and sleep-deprived to form these thoughts into coherent ideas, let alone coherent words. Give me a couple of weeks, okay?

Happy May Day. Go build a fire. And do a little dance. Come on, you know you want to.

June 6: 3-5: The Technique of Metaphor and the Technique of Simile

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

The Technique of Metaphor:

“I can just hear those of you who have had some training in haiku, sucking in your breath in horror. There IS that ironclad rule that one does not use metaphor in haiku. Posh. Basho used it in his most famous ‘crow ku.’

on a bare branch
a crow lands
autumn dusk


“What he was saying in other words (not haiku words) was that an autumn evening comes down on one the way it feels when a crow lands on a bare branch.”

The Technique of Simile:

“Usually in English you know a simile is coming when you spot the words ‘as’ and ‘like.’ Occasionally one will find in a haiku the use of a simile with these words still wrapped around it, but the Japanese have proved to us that this is totally unnecessary. … [T]he unspoken rule is that you can use simile (which the rule-sayers warn against) if you are smart enough to simply drop the ‘as’ and ‘like.’ …[B]y doing this you give the reader some active part that makes him or her feel very smart when they discover the simile for him/herself.


a long journey
some cherry petals
begin to fall”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques

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Me:
I combined these techniques because it’s difficult for me to see how a simile that doesn’t use the words “like” or “as” is different from a metaphor. There obviously is a subtle distinction in Jane’s mind but I am not subtle enough to understand it. I’d love to hear from anyone who is.

tree climbing
boys taller
than last year

hot water running
your hands on
my shoulders

cats paw at the screen door
we sign
the papers

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June 7: I edited one of these haiku slightly. Anyone who can tell me how gets a prize. 🙂

Found haiku: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’m still feeling under the weather from semi-collapsing at the end of a half-marathon I ran on Sunday in 88-degree weather (it’s Wisconsin, and it’s been a cold spring, so no snickering from you Southwesterners). Pretty much confined to the couch, since standing up for more than a few minutes makes me dizzy. There are worse things, I guess. I’m surrounded by all the books and magazines I put off reading all semester, not to mention the omnipresent, time-sucking Interweb.

I’m having a hard time following a train of thought even long enough to write a sub-seventeen-syllable poem, though. So at the moment I’m taking it easy on my fried brain by resorting to found haiku, mostly from prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins, better known as a poet — one of my all-time favorites. The first couple haiku are from poems. The rest are from his journals, which every aspiring poet should read. The man minutely observed and described everything he saw; whole paragraphs read like poems. I can’t help thinking that if he had known about haiku, he would have tried his hand at it.

I may repeat this experiment at intervals, mining the works of other poets and prose writers for haiku-like material (full credit to the original authors, of course). I agonized briefly over whether this exercise was a) cheating, or b) meaningful, but then decided I didn’t care. I enjoy it and it’s my blog. And I do think I’m learning something from this about what writing is haiku-like and what isn’t.

I’ve taken the liberty of haiku-izing Hopkins’s words by arranging them in three lines and removing some punctuation, but otherwise these are direct quotations, with no words removed or added.

So…here’s Gerard:


the moon, dwindled and thinned

to the fringe of a fingernail

held to the candle

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this air I gather

and I release

he lived on

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mealy clouds

with a not

brilliant moon

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blunt buds

of the ash, pencil buds

of the beech

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almost think you can hear

the lisp

of the swallows’ wings

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over the green water

of the river passing

the slums of the town

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oaks

the organization

of this tree is difficult

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putting my hand up

against the sky

whilst we lay on the grass

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silver mottled clouding

and clearer;

else like yesterday

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Basel at night!

with a full moon

waking the river

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the river runs so strong

that it keeps the bridge

shaking

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some great star

whether Capella or not

I am not sure

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two boys came down

the mountain yodelling

we saw the snow

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the mountain summits

are not the place

for mountain views

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the winter was called severe

there were three spells

of frost with skating

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the next morning

a heavy fall

of snow

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at the beginning of March

they were felling

some of the ashes in our grove

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ground sheeted

with taut tattered streaks

of crisp gritty snow

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thunderstorm in the evening

first booming in gong-sounds

as at Aosta

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I noticed the smell

of the big cedar

not just in passing

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the comet —

I have seen it at bedtime

in the west

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as we came home

the stars came out thick

I leaned back to look at them

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— Gerard Manley Hopkins, from Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by W.H. Gardner