It’s like a scene from a satirical movie about the 21st century. Our phones have conflicting but equally mistaken ideas about how to get where we’re going; in their incompatible eerie voices they instruct us in ever firmer tones to take more and more wrong turns. We don’t want to silence them because who knows, maybe they’ll figure out where they’re going after a while, and anyway neither of us wants to be the first to admit that their phone is wrong, so we just yell at each other over the voices, adding two more layers of navigational confusion to the general chaos.
Still I feel no nostalgia for the previous millennium; for its unwieldy paper maps that obscured the forward view; for the necessity of squinting at the trickily intersecting lines representing our path; for the infinitesimal print that silently explained everything; for the way the driver–it was a different driver then–yelled at me to hurry up, to figure out where we were going, before it was too late, which it always, always was.
objects are closer
than they appear
one clear word
out of all the murmuring
new moon . . .
the map folded
with home at the center
“icicle,” Modern Haiku 43.2; “new moon,” Frogpond 35.2
Yes, well, as I was saying, I, along with all right-thinking people, spent last weekend in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, at the Cradle of American Haiku Festival, being entertained and delighted by my haiku compatriots. Or co-conspirators, or whatever they are. Among them Charles Trumbull and Francine Banwarth, who edit the two journals referenced above and were kind enough, in their most recent issues, to print these works of mine, which seem to have some bearing on our weekend activities. Clarity: I think we’re all seeking that, as we muddle around with this unwieldy language, trying out various combinations of words, trying to find those that will surprise and enlighten us. And home: when we’re not running away from it, we’re traveling towards it, and I think most of us who were in Mineral Point last weekend, even if we had left home to get there, felt that in another sense we had returned home. No one understands poets quite like other poets, and there’s nothing like being understood to make you feel at home.
Other reflections/observations/fond memories from this weekend:
- Charlie Trumbull gave us a thought-provoking paper on black haiku poets, many of whom were influenced in their work by the rhythms of jazz and blues. Which made me think again that we need to spend more time thinking about the musicality of our work, or at least the lyricism. It’s easy to forget, I think, that words are units of sound as well as meaning.
- It’s still amazing to think about how relatively young the English-language haiku movement is–our host for the weekend at Foundry Books, as always, was the inimitable Gayle Bull, whose late husband Jim, along with fellow professor Don Eulert, started the first English-language haiku journal, American Haiku, in 1963. That’s less than fifty years ago, for those who are counting. Don was at the conference this weekend too, visiting from California, where he uses haiku in his work training clinical psychologists. It helps teach them about objectivity, he says, which I found fascinating, since I’m crummy at being objective. Maybe I’m better at it than I used to be, though, I don’t know. I’m not objective enough to tell.
- If I studied sumi-e for the next four hundred years or so I might have a hope of being able to wield an ink brush with a tenth the skill of Lidia Rozmus, who set us up with the beautiful traditional tools of the Japanese ink painter and attempted to show us how to use them. She makes it look so easy, and I think she was sadly baffled by my complete lack of ability to paint something that did not look like a blob of ink. But since she is one of the world’s kindest people, she didn’t say so, just took my hand and tried to make it do something intelligent. I think it may be a lost cause, though–I have yet to discover any evidence that my hands are actually linked to my brain.
- Overheard at the wine bar where we were giving a reading on Saturday night, during a moment of almost complete silence when we were listening respectfully to the work of a fellow poet: “These haiku people are getting out of hand.”
- We had a rowdy session on gendai haiku on Sunday morning. It’s always fun to get people riled up about poetry before lunch on a weekend. If anyone wants a copy of my handout from the session, shoot me an email (reddragonflyhaiku AT gmail DOT com). Rest assured, I didn’t write any of it, it’s all quotes from other people, plus a selection of Japanese and English poetry that may or may not be gendai depending on who’s reading it and whether they’re squinting that day. You can let me know what you think. Hecklers, as always, welcome.