October the temptation to be bitten into
Modern Haiku 43.3
(Why? It hurts, that’s why.)
October the temptation to be bitten into
Modern Haiku 43.3
(Why? It hurts, that’s why.)
bittersweet our talk of stamen and pistil
Modern Haiku 43.3
The new issue of Modern Haiku came in the mail the other day, so that was basically all anyone heard from me for the rest of the night. Among other good things there was an essay by Jim Kacian about haiku that are not three lines long. It’s interesting to think about why three lines sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s interesting that it works so often. The question is whether it works because we make it work — because we think of ourselves as writing three-line poems — or because there is something intrinsically haiku-ish about three lines. I haven’t answered that question to my satisfaction yet.
There’s so much good stuff in Modern Haiku. I gave a little talk this week at the university here about the history of English-language haiku (which was a blast, partly because I had a great audience), and I ended up talking a lot about Modern Haiku, because you can’t talk about the history of English-language haiku without talking a lot about Modern Haiku. They’ve been around almost the same amount of time. Pretty much everything that is in English-language haiku shows up in Modern Haiku at some point.
Here’s some of what I liked the most this time around.
the little pile of snow
before the keyhole
— Marilyn Appl Walker
someone else will hear
my words for you
— Petar Tchouhov
the gender gap
— Dietmar Tauchner
my home burning down in the curve of her hips autumn night
— Mike Spikes
an oak living that long without a center
— Neil Moylan
dead of winter
from the bones
— Jayne Miller
in tune with its obstacles, rain
— Eve Luckring
leaves on the river bank beginning dialysis
— Scott Glander
dawn crows the scuffle of nomenclature
— Cherie Hunter Day
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:
…your readership is very important to us.
Floating around out in the Interether right now are some interesting fruits of my labor from earlier this year. Since I’m not coming up with a whole lot of new material at the moment, think of this as hold music. Only, you know, better. I hope.
Okay, I’m off to go for a walk and hopefully come up with some ideas for things to put on this blog that I worked on more recently than four months ago. Trust me, an operator will be with you shortly…
Modern Haiku 43.2
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.
Poetry. It’s All Good.
— 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.
kuresomete niwakani kurenu umebayashi
sun starts to set…
a plum grove suddenly
—Sojo Hino, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
OCDC – mixing hard rock aesthetics with an anxiety disorder*
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
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
the bride posin
bi the watterside – a swan
gaes intil the derk burn
the bride posing
on the riverbank – a swan
enters the dark stream
–John McDonald, zen speug
doesn’t really work
in the 1st person
–Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked
signs of spring
one day rhyming
with the next
–William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society
–Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies
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.
all the way
around the oak tree
— John Hawk, DailyHaiku 3/30/2012
— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Scented Dust
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
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 minibar, Zaytinya & é & teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University
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.
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
Oh, Modern Haiku, how I love you…
Some meditations on light and dark from issue 43.1.
one bird sings inside another autumn dusk
— Francine Banwarth
on the edge of a forest though I tried to avoid it
— David Boyer
a Coleman lantern
lighting the compromise
— Cherie Hunter Day
all that dark matter white peony
— Billie Dee
color to the trees
— Bill Pauly
trying to switch on a light that already is late October
— Alison Williams
one road in,
one road out–
— Jeffrey Woodward
Ribbons 7.4. Tanka. Yes.
I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness
— hortensia anderson
it is taking
all my life
what is real —
— Marilyn Hazelton
by the maples’ red curtain
two dogs and a pending
— Christina Nguyen
during the procedure–
a tender light
wends its way
through my intestines
— Sheila Sondik
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.
white flesh peaches
— Renee Albert
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
— George Swede
What If This Poem Didn’t Have a Title?
the wind stops
at the window
the face of
a disappointed man
for all his
to catch on
credits: spring rain, Modern Haiku 42.3; summer rain, Frogpond 35.1; autumn rain, Modern Haiku 43.1; winter rain, bottle rockets 26
haiku first published in Modern Haiku 42:3
It’s getting to be that time of the semester. The time when you start muttering, “Oh, that’s good enough.” Not that I don’t have unwaveringly high standards of excellence. (Did you hear that, professors? Unwavering!) It’s just that… life is a matter of priorities. A balancing act. Term papers, haiku, term papers, haiku… okay, haiku, but just this once.
however the planets align a stack of pumpkins
— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked
A spring evening I ride a car with an ordinary man
Having got used to the depth of war I love a dog
A spring evening is wound down toward the apple skin
— Fujiki Kiyoko, translated by Hiroaki Sato on antantantantant’s blog
harigane to harigane karami aki no kure
a wire and a wire
— Maya Okusaka, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
the morning glories
gain the second floor
half a million dead in Iraq
— Ellis Avery, on antantantantant’s blog
poems and pictures (please visit the links to see the pictures)
Hear the sough of rain
I whisper a secret
so that I can get in
— Tomas Tranströmer, most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, illustrated by Kuniharu Shimizu at see haiku here
blossoming witch hazel
I pound a stuck storm window
with a Chinese dictionary
— Dave Bonta, Woodrat Photoblog
I think twice about
destroying this web
— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku
night rain –
he tells me
he slept well
— sanjuktaa, wild berries
ą ɖįƒƒɛŗɛɳʈ čȏɳѵɛŗʂąʈįȏɳ
įɳ ʈɧɛ ɳįǥɧʈ
— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets
a monarch floats
among falling leaves
— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!
(Also, written anything about tea and/or monsters lately? You might want to think about contributing to Aubrie’s Monster Mash. Deadline Oct. 29.)
Not long ago Johannes S.H. Bjerg gave a wonderful interview to an Indian magazine, okiedoks. Read it here.
I like to “stretch” the language, I want to take it where it almost loses sense because of its inadequacy to express exactly what is inexpressible. This sounds cryptic, and it is. Language can go only so far … but how far before it becomes sheer nonsense … It’s a bit like pricking a hole in “reality” to find another “reality.” And this is where it makes no sense talking about anymore. Only the poem can do that.
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg
It has always been my contention that the haiku community needs to get past the beginner’s mind of definitions and rules and get on with the celebration of the diversity of the genre that is rich and strong only to the extent that there is a wide range of practice, a surprising freshness of voices and perspectives. We need to embrace and celebrate haiku writers who relish dense language and the naming function of words, haiku writers who live in the woods and tap into the biodiversity of ecosystems there, haiku writers who protest injustice and go to jail, haiku writers who resist the male ego dominance of English, haiku writers who meditate and seek the quiet voice within, haiku writers who celebrate being social and the significance of being in community, haiku writers who are religious within a variety of spiritual traditions, haiku writers who are all about people, haiku writers who write senryu and don’t care about the distinction, haiku writers who are international citizens of the world using haiku to bridge cultures, haiku writers who are so local nobody but friends at the local pub understand them. This diversity of writers and approaches to haiku is the strength and rich surprise of elasticity found in this literary genre.
— Randy Brooks, Modern Haiku 40:1, Winter 2009
Dead Tree News
I generally hate to quote and run but this time I think I’ll just toss a few of my favorites from the most recent issues of two of my favorite journals at you.
From Frogpond 34:3 —
after the argument
lights and darks
— Kristen B. Deming
after she leaves
of hanging apples
— Marsh Muirhead
the mean streak in me
— Aubrie Cox
From Modern Haiku 42:3 —
as if each promise
carried a different weight
— Angela Terry
the construction cranes
— Dietmar Tauchner
the salamander basking
— Ernest Wit
the knife resting
on the spoon
— Francine Banwarth
i feed him
— Tyrone McDonald
the need to formulate an archival appraisal policy for born-digital materials … what was that? Oh, sorry, I opened the wrong window on my desktop again… well, while I’m here at this window I guess I’ll look at the sky for a while.
into the fog the stars are no exception
between the minnows minnow-sized spaces
Modern Haiku 42:2
the chill of
Modern Haiku 42:2, Summer 2011
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.
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…
— Claire Everett
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
— Steve Mitchell
An “after” from Bill Kenney at haiku-usa:
having looked at it
I wash my face
— Etsujin 1656-1739
From scented dust:
stacking pills too round
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg
From season creep:
the sound of rain
— Comrade Harps
I cradle a bowl
of steamed rice
— Aubrie Cox
From zen speug:
on the snowdrops
— John McDonald
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.)
exactement les mêmes
qu’à ma naissance
exactly the same
as the day i was born
(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
with my maiden name
I wait at Ueno Station
— Yuko Mori, translated by Fay Aoyagi
From The Perpetual Bird:
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 ofa child dying— Robert D. Wilson
From see haiku here: a wonderful haiga based on this haiku —
a cuckoo’s flight —
the emperor’s city of Heian
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
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.
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:
— Joyce Clement
nothing more to say —
of an axe at sundown
I read aloud
the part about the rabbit hole …
— Sari Grandstaff
How can one write
This ceaseless rain
Makes everything inseparable
— M Hasan
— Mark F. Harris
father’s day —
an airplane flies us over
the fault line
— Michael Meyerhofer
as if I should be happy
to hear from her
— Christopher Patchel
back from the war
all his doors
— Bill Pauly
in an urn
if only she knew
its pear shape
— George Swede
Wisst ihr wie bald wir
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):
scatter fallen leaves
— Marilyn Humbert
the illegitimate child —
I imagine turning up
on their doorstep
in a bright red beret
— Angela Leuck
a gray cloud
through the window
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.
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.
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:
beginner’s mind …
an afternoon spent
with back issues
— Jennifer Gomoli Popolis
next to the temple
the industrial plant
— Michael Fessler
the kitchen clock
trying to keep
up w rain
— john martone
cicadas the itch under the cast
— Bob Lucky
it’s all about
— Peggy Willis Lyles
places the flakes miss
— Jay Friedenberg
the most respect
we can show the dead
is not to tell them how it is:
the candle I lit
— Mike Dillon
for an apology,
on my walking route
passing a garden
— Charlotte DiGregorio
and I won’t quote the whole thing, but I enjoyed the haibun “To Wondering Eyes” by Liz Fenn (among others).
From # 177:
yes and no
— Scott Watson
a full two hours
before I remove the hat
— paul m.
rain all day
I carve the darkness
from a peach
— Marilyn Appl Walker
before I know it
my mind has changed …
— Lorin Ford
the cherry blossoms arrive without a god
— Gregory Hopkins
— George Swede
a shadow under the pier
what it is
— Francine Banwarth
where does the time go squids of Wyoming
— Dave Russo
a pine cone glows
in the campfire
— Allan Burns
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.
a toy flute trills
a cane click-clacks…
-Issa, translated David G. Lanoue
stacking my coins
two for the ferryman
rest for the laundromat
— Johannes S.J. Bjerg
The swish of parting grass
as she searches
for a reason
— Andrew Rossiter/@coffeeperc
ninjin o narabeteokeba wakarunari
if you arrange
carrots in a line
— Tomoya Tokita
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
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
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.
A Review. Wait, Two.
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
I am old
— Helen Russell
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.
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.
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.
The News in Haiku
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 …)
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.)
One of my favorite Christmas songs (I remembered recently, when I was part of a hastily-thrown-together chorus that sang it for a New Year’s Eve celebration) is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. The first verse, in particular, is really a masterpiece of English poetry, full of humble but strong Anglo-Saxon words, not a single one unnecessary and no necessary one left out:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago.
— Christina Rossetti
There are obviously too many words and too much meter and rhyme and too many metaphors in this for it to be a haiku, though it does have the requisite elements of simplicity and clear, evocative images, and I think there’s some wabi-sabi and yugen going on here as well. And I see possibilities in that third line for some kind of avant-garde haiku:
snow had fallen snow on snow snow on snow
Really, I think probably someone could rewrite this verse, or part of it, into an effective haiku, though I’ve been trying and not finding it so easy. Any of you like to give it a shot? Let me know what you come up with.
Anyway. It is definitely bleak midwinter here. Snow on snow indeed. It’s nice that it’s not for so many of you — you dwellers in the tropics and subtropics and summery Southern Hemisphere. I like to imagine your lives, walking outside barefoot, wearing short sleeves, smelling flowers. (Well, those of you who aren’t flooded. I’m sorry about the flooded part. I hope no one has floated away.) I’m not really jealous, it will be our turn soon enough. And though I complain bitterly about the cold and can never seem to get really warm, there is something about this downtime, for both the earth and me, that I grudgingly appreciate. Cycles. The world is full of them, and best just to accept them.
Which reminds me. Aren’t we supposed to be taking a spin around the Haikuverse? Best get started on that before you get bored with my waxing philosophical and wander away, never to return.
Haiku of the Week
That’s haiku, plural. As in, the haiku I saw on the Internet this week that most struck me as interesting for whatever reason (could be my discerning literary taste, could be the state of my digestion) and that I actually managed to remember to bookmark. (This whole process is an art, not a science.)
Mark Holloway over at Beachcombing For the Landlocked has been on a roll this week. You should really just go over there and read everything he’s written lately because I had a hard time choosing just one. I settled on this one in the end:
moss growing on the roof tiles unsuspected metastasis
— Mark Holloway
A mushroom sprouts
from the base of the locust tree,
and it will not be distracted
from its small brown task.
— Tamra Hays
sometimes the rain
I stand behind this window
— Angie Werren
his white lie
— Polona (@cirrusdream)
I kiss a plum blossom
in my dream
— Soseki 1867-1916
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:
the Thames disappears
from the Tube map
— Alan Summers
ichigatsu no yogoreyasukute kanashiki te
hands that are easy
to get dirty and sad
— Momoko Kuroda, translated by Fay Aoyagi
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.
I am tired of reading
between the lines
— Fay Aoyagi
OtherHais (Haiga, Haibun)
Every week I am amazed at how many cool haiku-related sites I have yet to discover. Since I have been thinking about venturing into haiga territory in collaboration with my amateur photographer husband, I went noodling around this week looking for haiga online and discovered … Haigaonline. (Warning: this link will lead you to a page where there are sounds of sparrows twittering and some music, which is sweet and pretty but if you’re in a quiet place or just not in the mood, you may want to hit the “mute” button.)
The December 2010 issue of this online journal features lots of good stuff, including a feature on “family haiga” — lots of husband-and-wife teams, so I appreciated that. What I really loved, though, was an exhibit of “experimental haiga” by Renee Owen — they’re colorful collages with intriguing haiku, such as:
waiting for God
to finish creation
— Renee Owen
And yes you MUST go look at the picture! That’s the entire point! Click! Click! I think the link will just bring you to a page of thumbnails, all of which are worth looking at, but the one I’ve quoted above can be found if you click on the picture of columns in the bottom center.
And I’m always looking for good haibun, so I was excited to stumble on Hortensia Anderson’s site The Plenitude of Emptiness. All haibun, all the time! I’m trying to write more haibun so I will be dropping by here often.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Highlights of last night’s festival events (which I was way too dead on my feet to post about last night):
The reception that opened the festival took place in Gayle Bull’s home, which is attached to the back of her store. It’s almost as full of books as the store.
I, unfortunately, am not the ideal person to report on reception-type events, because despite the impression you may get from this blog that I am the kind of person who never shuts up, I am actually paralyzingly shy in large crowds of people. Three at a time is about my maximum. Several dozen? None of whom I’ve ever met before? Most of whom seem to know each other? Not so much.
This is not to say that people weren’t friendly. Everyone I actually managed to meet and talk to was extremely welcoming and warm. Charlotte DiGregorio, the Midwest Regional Coordinator of the Haiku Society of America, with whom I corresponded earlier this summer about the conference, gave me some great tips about starting my own haiku group in Madison, and also some pointers about submitting my haiku to journals (which I have just recently, and very tentatively, started doing). Charlie Trumbull, a wonderful haiku poet and the venerable editor of what is probably the most prominent haiku journal in America, Modern Haiku, was kind enough to endure the gushing admiration of a newbie haikuist without throwing up.
(There was also really good chocolate at the reception, including one designed for the conference (by whom? must find out) called “Haiku.” It was in the shape of a leaf and was spicy and why didn’t I get a picture of it?)
During the reception Charlie was running around handing out sheets of haiku by Robert Spiess, the late editor of Modern Haiku whom the conference was commemorating. Everyone was meant to pick two from their sheet to read in the next phase of the evening …
We moved outside to take over the microphone of the singer-guitarist who had been quietly playing country and soft-rock standards all evening in order to present remembrances of Bob Spiess. I knew pretty much nothing about Bob at the start of the evening but by the end I almost felt I’d known him personally. Everyone emphasized his kindness and generosity, including Gayle’s two daughters who remembered his frequent visits to their home and the way he doled out quarters to them (at a time when a quarter would have been a much bigger deal to a kid than it is now).
Possibly the funniest story involved the time Bob visited Japan and was riding the bullet train with some other haikuists, and was very eager to see Mount Fuji. Then he had to use the restroom. The other poets watched in dismay as Mount Fuji flashed by while he was gone. He got a haiku out of it though, a very funny one which I am going to track down and add here.
Several people read Bob’s thoughts about what haiku is or should be. Lee Gurga, another amazing haiku poet who is Bob’s literary executor and took over the editorship of Modern Haiku after his death, read Bob’s list of what annoyed him in haiku, a lot of which are the same things that annoy me in haiku, including the overuse of words like “suddenly” and “silence.”
Someone else read an observation of Bob’s which really struck me (maybe because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself): “Haiku is the poetry of the healing of culture by nature.” Bob’s poetry is definitely heavy on nature imagery, which I have recently disparaged, but it feels very natural in his poetry because he has clearly spent a lot of time observing and thinking about it:
around the bend
a log lying in the stream
— the turtle’s ears
Not that he doesn’t closely observe human beings too:
some sticks and pebbles
and a place with mud
a child by himself
a high mountain path
the guide saying that monkey
tastes better than goat
He wrote a whole series of haiku, in fact — Tall River Junction, inspired, obviously, by Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology — with titles that were people’s names:
Fr. Augustine Confesso, Paris Priest
Smiles, “The pear you eat,
snitched from the tree, my neighbor boy,
be it doubly sweet.
This last poem illustrates something that I found interesting about Spiess’s haiku, which is how often it employs rhyme — and how well the rhyme works:
drifting in the skiff …
names of all the swallows now:
tree and barn and cliff
The rhyme almost always follows this pattern of the first and third line rhyming.
One of the most touching moments of the evening occurred during the reading of Spiess’s haiku. A Korean woman with a strong accent stood up and announced she was going to read only the shortest poem on her sheet because she knew her accent would be difficult for us to understand:
Then she added: “I have the pleasure to know Bob Spiess and he was the pure kindness.”
We had a brief break before the next phase of the evening, which was readings from our own (or others’, if we preferred) haiku. Many poets seemed to take this opportunity to further lubricate themselves with the local beer and wine that was for sale. (I don’t drink, not because I have any moral or health objections to alcohol or am a recovering alcoholic or anything, just because I have never acquired a grownup taste for the stuff. Or for coffee, for that matter. Or liver and onions. All equally disgusting as far as I’m concerned.)
Anyway, by the time the readings began, the poets were becoming kind of rowdy. Rowdy haiku poets. Heckling each other. It was quite a scene. Lots of the haiku involved double entendres or just subtle (or frank) references to sex, which all got great reactions.
Most of the haiku that were read were frankly wonderful; I wrote lots of them down thinking I would post some of them here and then realized I really can’t do that without the permission of the authors. If I can get that, I may put some up later.
Lee Gurga read a great haiku by Peter Yovu, and some commentary about it (some of which is reproduced in the link above), and announced he’d give everything he’d ever written to have written it. Everyone was familiar with the ku before he even read it, except, of course, me. But now I am and I also love it.
I really liked the Korean guy who got up and told us about the article he’d just written about how the origins of haiku were in Korea. I believe it’s traditional for the Japanese and Koreans to argue about who invented pretty much every cultural phenomenon they share, so that was entertaining.
I chose to read my “Full Moon” sequence, although, as I announced beforehand, this was completely inappropriate because we are at or near a new moon right now. This was politely, though not wildly enthusiastically, received. We all have to start somewhere.
Which reminds me that I never actually posted a new haiku yesterday. But I did write one! I swear!
haiku poets can’t forget
when it was full
Yesterday’s post on gendai haiku is now already my most popular post of all time, which kind of blows me away because I assumed a total of about three people would ever read it and at least two of them would hate it. This makes me think I should strike while the iron is hot and write my promised post on innovators in English-language haiku. Once again, try not to be put off by the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m a newcomer to the haiku world, a rank amateur, probably nothing more than a poseur, but no one, at least, can accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm, which you will just have to accept in place of expertise.
A good place to start, I think, would be with a comment Scott Metz posted on troutswirl quite recently in response to the essay of Richard Gilbert’s I mentioned in another post the other day: The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century. Be forewarned, these are some pretty polemical remarks (as remarks by poets go). If you are not entirely sold on the whole gendai/avant-garde haiku scene, try not to be offended by them but to take them in the spirit of sincere love for haiku and the English language with which I believe Scott offers them:
“…Japanese haiku are indeed, very much so, a word-based poetry, not the enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra so many continue to espouse and cling to. … [English language haiku] are … for the most part, still, ‘slavish imitations’ of translations of what westerners *think* Japanese haiku are. Creative oversimplifications, most of which lack internal energy/dynamics. creative misreadings are cool. but i think they’ve lost their virginal glow in this case. …
“One direction i find interesting for [English language haiku] is that of symbolism and literary allusions/references being used within them, either in a mythological way, or in a more canonically literary way. knowingly or unknowingly. …
“Japanese haiku, at their root, are not simply, or only, about images at all, or moments, or ‘real/true’ experiences … but about language and culture and literature: an intricately woven rug of all these elements. …
“What also strikes me … is how strangely satisfied those writing [English language haiku] are with their nature imagery. Considering how radical Basho and his followers were about always trying to do something new and fresh with kigo, it seems a shame, and kind of mortifying, that so many writing [English language haiku] don’t try to experiment more with nature/environmental imagery. To try to turn them on their heads. To twist them. Play with them. …
“I think folks writing [English language haiku] need to play more: with images, words and techniques. and that not just western poetry/poetics should be considered and sampled, but anything and everything we can get our hands on. which is why it’s exciting to see things like ‘kire’ and ‘ma’ and vampires and sufism and gendai popping up. what can we do with these things?”
— Scott Metz, comments on troutswirl
Well…I think I should let what Scott said stand as most of the commentary here, and dedicate my efforts to displaying haiku by sundry poets that I think meet at least some of his criteria for “playing” with the haiku form, doing something “new and fresh” instead of, in Scott’s immortal words, remaining content with the “enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra.”
Whether we use the word “gendai” to refer to these poets or whether we should stick to some term more familiar to us in English like avant-garde, experimental, non-traditional, I think we can all agree that most of them are attempting something different than is espoused by the mainstream haiku movement in the English-speaking world, and closer to what gendai haiku poets in Japan are doing with the genre.
It seems logical to start with Scott himself. On his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott republishes those of his haiku that have been printed in journals. References to pop culture, politics, and current events are par for the course; so is a fresh (if sometimes somewhat obscure) use of language. A couple of examples:
the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics
— Scott Metz
second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing
— John Barlow
A candle is a sweet machine
to fly across the crow-
— Grant Hackett
reading a poem
of urbane intelligence
how dead it is
— William M. Ramsey
O what the hell
haiku poet finally
kills the fly
— Le Wild
for something to happen —
The Evening Standard
— Ruth Holzer – USA
the echo of fireworksthe echo ofthe echo
not speaking the boiled egg clings to its shell
— Bob Lucky – Ethiopia
Richard Gilbert, the gendai haiku scholar I referred to extensively in my essay on that topic, also is a haiku poet himself, some of whose recent, innovative haiku appear on the website Word Riot:
dedicated to the moon
without a decent alibi
a drowning man
pulled into violet worlds
(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)
the curving radius
(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 6, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: Summer, 2008.)
— Richard Gilbert
Fay Aoyagi is another poet doing innovative work with haiku. In my gendai haiku essay I mentioned her website Blue Willow Haiku World, on which she presents many of her English translations of Japanese gendai haiku. Her own haiku are described by David Lanoue, in his Modern Haiku essay, Something with Wings: Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape, as “avant-garde” and “new-style.” Following are a couple of Fay’s haiku with enlightening commentary by David from his essay:
in the oyster shell
[Lanoue’s commentary on this haiku:]
“I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested. When Aoyagi brings us with her to the table for her pre-surgery dinner, we suspect that she has no a priori idea that the journey will take us to a tiny ocean in an oyster shell. We arrive there with her, sharing the ‘ah!-moment’ of the vision and sensing its nonlinear, non-logical connection to the poet’s (and our) interior life. Thoughts of mortality, the fear of the surgeon’s knife, a vague feeling of dread and lament … so many emotions ebb and flow in the tiny ocean in the shell. The shell on the plate is itself a post-op carcass that on closer inspection becomes a gleaming continental shelf enclosing a tiny, salty sea. Aoyagi doesn’t say what she feels about her vision, whether it comforts or terrifies her; she invites us into the intimacy of the moment to contemplate for ourselves what it might mean.”
ants out of a hole —
when did I stop playing
the red toy piano?
[David’s general commentary on Fay’s technique:]
“Her decision to probe her inner life is not new in haiku tradition, though few do it as well or as interestingly. The contemporary Japanese poet Hasegawa Kai (whose work Aoyagi has translated) describes the shift from outer to inner focus within a haiku as a sort of kire or “cutting.” In a interview with Richard Gilbert, Hasegawa defines zengo no kire as “The cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live — from the literal place / environment / atmosphere (‘ba’) of literal existence.” Such cutting, according to Hasegawa, entails a shift of focus from outward scenes to the “realm of the mind” — exactly Fay Aoyagi’s method.”
— Fay Aoyagi/David Lanoue, Something with Wings: Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape
There are a number of haiku bloggers I’ve discovered (many of whom also publish in journals, but I know their work mainly through their blogs) who, consciously or unconsciously, play with the traditional Western haiku form with interesting results. For example, John Sandbach of Crystal Dragon says, “I am deeply enamoured of the modern haiku of Japan, which, like modern art, is of many styles and energies, and which is constantly recreating itself as it unfolds. Unfortunately, the West is still primarily focused on traditional haiku and has not yet tuned in to the wonders of modern Japanese experimental artisans of this form.” Below is one of his haiku sequences:
in a hippo’s jaws —
the lettuce’s bliss
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it
On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog —
spring in Kansas City
a stone mason —
servant of the endless wall
smooth and white —
the pyramid’s youth
— John Sandbach
Nicole Hyde of the blog “noodle,” who commented on my gendai haiku post, “I’ve bought a ticket on the Gendai Haiku train too,” has some interesting examples of nontraditional haiku on her site. Since she is also a painter, her haiku often refer to art.
unbound, the English
Bay in fog —
not seen: some weird duck
soundlessin the night museum
from end to end —
— Nicole Hyde
Alan Segal, or “Old Pajamas,” from the blog “old pajamas: from the dirt hut,” innovates in many ways, often describing what are clearly imaginary or fantasy scenes.
But aren’t haiku meant to be exactly 17 syllables long?
You’re right. They’re also meant to include a seasonal reference (kigo) and a structural break (kireji). But I’ve never been good at following rules.
If your poems don’t meet the criteria for haiku, why confuse the issue?
I like haiku. I think these are similar in mood and intention. And I quite enjoy confusion.
A few of Brian’s “paiku” follow:
For idea of cat
To go away
There’s a big field
Where you can dig up
Everything you ever lost
— Brian Pike
Yi Ching-Lin of the blog y writes primarily short free verse but occasionally writes haiku, and they are generally nontraditional, as in this recent example (the link on the second line connects to Yi’s photography):
it happens daily (6 June 2010)
it happens dailywith a wounded twist— Yi Ching-Lin
Anne Lessing, the teenage writer of the blog “Phantasma,” who is just beginning to write haiku (and intends to start a project of writing haiku daily in January 2011), has produced some very interesting haiku about zombies based on the video game “Call of Duty,” one of which I’ve reproduced below:
that flower looked so pretty
so I choked it
with my child’s blood
— Anne Lessing
Finally, Elissa of The Haiku Diary writes daily haiku describing events in her life, some of which are simply quotidian or jokelike, but many of which seem to transcend the category of mere diary-entry and evoke deeper feelings and meanings.
The second of the two haiku of Elissa’s I’ve quoted below is especially interesting in light of Scott Metz’s and Richard Gilbert’s discussions of the way haiku has always been in a dialogue with the past, constantly referring back to previous poetry and other literature and history. In a way this haiku of Elissa’s, referring as it does to a famous haiku of Basho’s (“The bee emerging/from deep within the peony/departs reluctantly”), is both modern and completely classical — so it seems like an appropriate place to bring this post to an end. Hope it was a fun ride.
Closing my eyes and
swaying with the music makes
me that girl, but so what?
watched a bumble bee stumble
out of a peony!
— Elissa of The Haiku Diary