five books

I’ve always acquired books at an alarming rate, but in the past I also read books at an alarming rate, so my life was kept in a pleasing state of equilibrium. Now that the internets have turned me into a distracted, flighty creature with the attention span of a dragonfly, books pile up in untidy drifts around my house, often unread or even unopened, no matter how eager I was to read them when I acquired them. 

When I do manage to finish reading a book, it’s usually because it was so good I couldn’t help myself, and then, perversely, instead of moving efficiently along and reading some new book, I go back and read it again. I’m a voracious re-reader. I probably spend at least half of my reading time re-reading things, through most of the process asking myself in alternate anguish and admiration, “How did they do it?” Usually I don’t figure it out but it’s worth it, to be so amazed and delighted so much of the time.

In case some of you could use some amazement and delight, here’s a rundown of what I’ve been re-reading lately.

Welcome to the Joy Ride: Haibun, by Peter Newton

This book contains many wonderful things, among them my new favorite sentence: “A fine mist wets the garden and by garden I mean produce section.” This is the first sentence in the haibun “Daydreaming at Night,” which you have to read. (I keep wondering whether Peter had one of my favorite non-haiku poems, Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” in mind when he wrote it — what peaches and what penumbras!) You also have to read the haibun “Welcome to the Joy Ride,” “Prayer for a Stranger,” “The Deli Clerk,” “Home Remedy,” “Unspeakable,” “Pinwheels,” “The SX-70,” “Borderline, “My America,” and okay fine, you have to read the whole thing. Peter’s style is light and deft and funny, insightful and enlightening without being heavy-handed — basically perfect for haibun, which should take itself neither too seriously nor too flippantly. Just read it, ok? and tell me if you figure out how he did it. 

Haiku 2015, ed. Lee Gurga and Scott Metz

This series is only two books old but it’s already established itself as the best way to save time if you’d like to quickly find fifty or sixty or a hundred new haiku that you really, really love. Like these:

the beach road the beach house the beach painting the rain

–Adan Breare

one dark bird in snow rummaging the invisible

–Susan Diridoni

snow through        teeth in
…….the window        a glass

–Eve Luckring

cosmos as cranium as cavern as temple as map as board game

–Michael Nickels-Wisdom

the pill I’m told to swallow
has a name
like a remote moon

–Chad Lee Robinson

This edition honors the late Martin Lucas and the principles in his classic essay “Haiku as Poetic Spell,” something else you should just go read immediately if you’ve somehow managed to miss it.

see haiku here, by Kuniharu Shimizu

When this book arrived at my house all the way from Japan, there was much rejoicing. For years I’ve been in awe of Kuni-san and his spare, beautifully designed haiga, and I got, um, slightly excited when he illustrated some of my haiku a few years ago. There are actually two volumes in this series; one contains haiga with haiku by Basho and the other are Kuni-san’s own haiku, which quite frankly stand up very well against Basho. Sometimes when I look through this book I think we probably should just hire Kuni-san full-time to illustrate All the Haiku because, you know, they look better that way. Also, they kind of force you to spend the proper amount of time that should be spent reading haiku, instead of whipping through them like a maniac the way I sometimes have a sad tendency to do. Here’s one of my favorites of Kuni-san’s own:

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Out of Translation, by Aubrie Cox

It’s true that I have a personal attachment to this chapbook because Aubrie selected and sequenced the haiku in it by lining up little slips of paper on my living room floor one day last winter. (This is the kind of thing that happens to you when half your friends are haiku poets.) However, the rest of my attachment comes from my amazement at how effectively Aubrie’s haiku transport me to and through the childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of a girl in the countryside of central Illinois, where I have never been and, if I am being perfectly honest, never have any desire to go, except sometimes when I’m reading Aubrie’s poetry. She writes with utter simplicity and clarity and the kind of emotional honesty that can be a little heartbreaking sometimes.

rainy Monday
another crumpled
paper crane

country church
forget-me-nots
between the floorboards

spring rain
a joker taped
to the spokes

toys
my father couldn’t fix…
spring rain

opening the shed–
cigarette smoke
from last fall

Into the Light, by Harriot West

I wrote a review of this book of haibun and it appeared in Frogpond 38.2so reading that is probably the best way to find out what I think about the book (spoiler alert: I like it a lot). I think I read Into the Light at least three times before I wrote the review and I’ve probably read it another three times since, so that’s like six times in less than a year which, you do the math. I need Harriot to write some more haibun so I have something else to re-read.

 

Off-Road

for Martin Lucas

I started out the day spinning my car into a ditch before dawn. When it was spinning I didn’t know where it was going, only that I wasn’t in control of it. There might have been a tree waiting for me, or another car, or a cliff. It was too dark to tell.

I felt a deep terror and curiosity. And later, as my car was being winched by the tow truck back up the slope to the road with me at the wheel, as if to begin the whole roller-coaster ride over again: joy.

black ice
looking for
clarification


The events in this haibun didn’t happen this morning, or any morning recently. I’d actually forgotten I’d written this, but I rediscovered it when I conducted a search of my email today for any mention of or correspondence with Martin Lucas.

Martin was the erstwhile editor of the great British haiku journal Presencehe was a very fine haiku poet, and the author of one of the most influential essays of the last decade about writing haiku: “Haiku as Poetic Spell.” He had a keen analytical mind and was one of the few people in the Western world to have received a doctorate for studying haiku. He was a kind man and a good editor; when I sent work to Martin I knew I could count on him to say something insightful about it, whether or not he chose to publish it. I say “was” because–as many of you know by now–Martin disappeared from his home in Preston, England a few weeks ago, and his body was found on a beach nearby yesterday. He was 51.

I rediscovered my haibun above when I searched my email for Martin’s name, because a couple of years ago when I wrote it, I accidentally sent it to Martin instead of to the friend with a similar name I’d meant to send it to. He must have thought this very strange–we weren’t so close that I’d ever have deliberately just sent him off a fairly personal haibun with no other explanation. But he didn’t question me about it or express confusion, just sent me back a kind, concerned message about what a frightening experience this must have been, and told me a similar anecdote about a coworker.

Martin was one of those people I always carelessly assumed I’d get to know better some day, perhaps when I (some day) made it over to the U.K., or he (some day) came to visit the U.S. He occupied a small but not insignificant place in my brain, because he’d done so much to form my haiku poetics and I admired his work in so many areas. As people do, I feel an obscure sense of irrational guilt now that he’s gone: that I didn’t make more of an effort to get to know him, and that I couldn’t, so to speak, keep his car from going out of control on the ice.


 

after another
failure to communicate
green china tea

–Martin Lucas, Presence 19

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That’s what I mean by Poetic Spell. Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. And once you’ve truly heard it, you won’t forget it, because the words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard. This is what I want from haiku: something primitive; something rare; something essential; not some tired iteration of patterns so familiar most of us can produce them in our sleep. It’s not the information content that counts, it’s the way that information is formed, cooked and combined. Poetic spells don’t tell us anything, they are something, they exist as objects of fascination in their own right. You can hold them in the light and turn them about and watch each of their facets gleam. They begin and end each reader’s unique reflection.

–Martin Lucas, “Haiku as Poetic Spell”

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 24: Autumnal Equinox Edition

Hand holding compassThis season. This day. This darkness. This rain. This sky. This unspoken agreement. This repeated pattern. This internal quarrel. This blown litter. This temporary solitude. This empty box. These restless legs. These unwashed hands. This bent twig. This spent coin. This borrowed time. This vague memory. This dry leaf. This discarded assumption. This long pause. This interrupted stillness. This dark house. This hard fall.

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tilted axis
I continue
to surprise myself

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Haiku to Read Again

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just because
the sky is navigable –
thistledown

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides

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山を出るときどんぐりはみな捨てる 北 登猛
yama o deru toki donguri wa mina suteru

when I leave the mountain
I throw away
all acorns

— Tomo Kita, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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things that can wait and a dying wasp ::: autumn darkness

ting der kan vente og en døende hveps ::: efterårsmørke

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

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the difference
a sparrow makes –
bare branches

— Bill Kenney, haiku-usa
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somehow
our shrinking shadows touch
harvest moon

— Alegria Imperial, jornales
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banging about
inside my ribs
cherry blossom

— Sandra Simpson, DailyHaiku

With every step into
the lake, the water touches
me in a new place.

— Elissa, The Haiku Diary

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These next two both originally appeared at the September Moon Viewing Party at Haiku Bandit Society and were then turned into spectacular haiga by their authors, which you can see at their blogs.
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matchpoint…
the distance between
this moon and that

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

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this pumpkin
as full as that, harvest
moon

— Angie Werren, feathers

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Essayed

“Haiku as Poetic Spell”

I’m very grateful to Lynne Rees for republishing on her blog an open field this essay by Martin Lucas, which also appeared in evolution: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2010.

It’s a challenging, exciting essay, well worth reading in full, that contrasts what Lucas calls the “Internationally Accepted Formula” for haiku —

seasonal ref’rence—
then two lines of contrasting
foreground imagery

with a haiku aesthetic that he considers “an ideal that is poetic as opposed to prosaic, and secondly, an expression that is more akin to a magical utterance than a mere report of an incident, however consequential or inconsequential.”

Of the “Internationally Accepted Formula,” Lucas points out, “It’s an intriguing mix, but almost all the interest is in this content, and almost none in the expression.” Using many striking examples, he argues for (or rather urges) a greater emphasis in haiku on an effective use of language to create a “poetic spell”:

“Words that chime; words that beat; words that flow. … words have power. They are not dead and scribbled on a page, they are spoken like a charm; and they aren’t read, they’re heard. This is what I want from haiku: something primitive; something rare; something essential; not some tired iteration of patterns so familiar most of us can produce them in our sleep. It’s not the information content that counts, it’s the way that information is formed, cooked and combined.”

— Martin Lucas, “Haiku as Poetic Spell”

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Journaled

the zen zpace, Autumn 2011 Showcase

Marie Marshall, who also has a blog called kvenna ráð, put together this fine collection of haiku by seven poets. She’s calling for submissions for her next edition. A couple of samples:

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the last leaf of all
it will be picked up
by hand

— David Cobb

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the earliest of mornings
Substance presents itself
as an apple

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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Contemporary Haibun Online

If you have any interest in haibun you should hustle over and read the recently released October issue of cho, especially my favorites: Sonam Chhoki’s “Last Journey“; Susan Diridoni’s “awakening in ‘The City'”; Peter Newton’s “The Goal”; and Carol Pearce-Worthington’s “I Read Everything”.

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Applied

The Haiku Foundation, with their release of THF Haiku, their haiku app for the iPhone, has recently made waiting in line a task that is no longer fearful to me. I just pull out my phone, punch at the screen a bit to make the soothing THF Haiku backdrop appear, and then spend a relaxing few minutes shaking my phone (really, you just need to tilt it a little, so you won’t look completely insane in public) to see a new haiku with every shake. There’s a wonderful variety — 365 of them so far, with more promised for the future. Some I tilted into recently:

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midsummer solstice
the bonfire luring me back
to my maiden name

— an’ya
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the shadow in the folded napkin

— Cor van den Heuvel
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Every second, a tree, a bird, a chimney, a woman

— James Kirkup

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Dead Tree News

Beyond My View, by Joyce Clement. Endionpress, 2011

My Journey, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 2004

Twenty Views from Mole Hill, by Lidia Rozmus. Deep North Press, 1999

Beyond My View, by Joyce ClementMy Journey, by Lidia Rozmus

20 Views from Mole Hill, by Lidia RozmusI am overdue to talk about these books. I bought the three of them this summer, one at each of the communal haiku events I attended. Joyce’s book I picked up at the Haiku Circle in Massachusetts in June, where she gave a wonderful reading and I enjoyed getting to know her. Twenty Views of Mole Hill I bought at Foundry Books in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, when I attended a Haiku Retreat there in June. Lidia was not in attendance there, but she was, as I have mentioned, my roommate at Haiku North America in Seattle in August, where I bought My Journey. So these books have bracketed my summer and followed me through it. I’ve read them each several times, because somehow they make me feel a little bit more like myself every time I read them.

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Beyond My View

Joyce does things with language and images that only she can do — the best writers are like that — but that make you feel like what she said was just on the tip of your tongue, because the best writers are like that too.

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age 88
all the whatchamacallits
in the spring wind

That’s what I was going to say.

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rolls over again
the earth, us with it
spring mud

This one I keep reading over and over again to see if I can see how she did it. The syntax seems awkward and garbled at first and then you see — oh! that’s the point! And then you see that there’s no other way to say it. And you feel like lying down and rolling in some warm mud.

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the
pine
grove
when
I
exhale

Yes, that’s it. I keep trying to do this kind of thing all the time. It’s not as easy as it looks.

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used to think
I’d want a gravestone
falling leaves

I still do want a gravestone, but something about this makes me think that maybe I won’t always.

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deep winter
their weight
milkless breasts

There are not enough haiku about the way women’s bodies feel — maybe there aren’t enough about the way anyone’s body feels. This one is perfect. Thanks, Joyce.

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Twenty Views of Mole Hill

first snow / I turn the lights off / to seeLidia calls the work she does that combines haibun and sumi-e painting “haibun-ga,” and the title page of Twenty Views … proclaims tongue-in-cheek that it is “The Last Haibun-ga of the Twentieth Century.” What is also is, is a meditation on place, a place seen in every season with the especially careful seeing of someone who is both an exemplary visual artist and a particularly sensitive poet.

Mole Hill is a hill, a small Illinois hill, that can be seen from Lidia’s apartment, and so she sees it.

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first snow
I turn the lights off —
……………..to see

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Haibun-gaThe seeing continues from December to December. The book takes the form of a series of unbound square cards, on each of which there is a haibun or a solitary haiku, as well as an evocative sumi-e painting. These are not illustrations of Mole Hill; they are minimalist evocations of a state of mind, a shape of thought, a unique vision. Lidia stays in one place; the world turns around her, and her mind travels. It’s as if these cards fall, one by one, into place as the seasons change.

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late afternoon
mosquito and I —
same blood type

(This is one, I think, that Issa would have written if he’d known about blood type.)

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.My Journey

In contrast to Twenty Views…, My Journey roams all over the world, from Poland and other locales in Eastern Europe, to North America, Western Europe, Japan. It also roams in time, or rather ventures through it, over fifty years of Lidia’s life, beginning with the first memory of a toddler. Again, the form of the book is important: it’s folded like an accordion, and the hinge point — the place where you turn the book over to begin folding through the pages on the reverse side — is Lidia’s immigration to the United States as a young adult.

immigration office / seeing my fingerprints / for the first time.

immigration office
seeing my fingerprints
for the first time

Like so many of Lidia’s haiku this one says so much more than it says.

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This book, too, contains both haibun and standalone haiku, illustrated with small black-and-white photographs — they read more as illustrations than as photos; you can’t see much detail, just enough to evoke a feeling or sense of place, so the overall effect is very similar to that of Lidia’s sumi-e. There is also an ink wash traced through with a wavy ink line that runs continuously along the bottom of the entire book, which of course is all in one uninterrupted piece, like a life. One continuous stretch of time, but paradoxically remembered by us in discrete chunks of episodic memory — pages, if you will.

geographical atlas / on one page / the whole world

geographical atlas
on one page
the whole world

As usual, Lidia said it better than I could. This is the last haiku in the book. Lidia’s life goes on, though, fortunately for us all.

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As for me, I’m standing with my back to the wind these days. It seems to help. I wish I’d thought of it before.

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autumn wind / another / incorrect / assessment.