December, summarized

IMG_6841In between decorating my Christmas tree and then staring at it adoringly every night, binge-watching TV shows as if they were about to discontinue TV, making perfect Yorkshire pudding for the first time in my life (#goals), oh, and working, I have sometimes found time this month to do things that pertain to poetry, such as writing it and reading it. In particular I’ve been reading a lot of haibun, because it’s my turn again to edit the next issue of Haibun Today. Which reminds me, you should send me some haibun. [And please don’t tell me you didn’t know the deadlines or the guidelines or, I don’t know, the fault lines, they’re all right there in the link.]

Uh, what do you mean you don’t write haibun? Don’t you think it’s time to try? I mean, read some first, maybe some of Harriot West’s or Peter Newton’s or Bob Lucky’s or Carol Pearce-Worthington’s, you know, the really great ones, and then lie around indolently thinking about the stories you have known, and then tap into that story-filled indolence and write, because spending hours lying around doing nothing before you start writing is how the real pros do it, trust me on this. Read, then stare into space, then write. It’s a time-honored formula.

Okay, I have to finish up an episode of “Broadchurch” and then get into bed and scribble while lying sideways with my eyes half closed. Now you know why my haiku so often make no sense whatsoever.

deep winter
the only moving thing
the eye of the poet

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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.

 

Polar Vortex POV

I suspected that mustering haiku poets to write lots of polar vortex poems would act as a kind of voodoo spell to chase the polar vortex away and it looks like I was right, because the temperature has actually been above freezing here for several days in a row and I’m not sure that’s happened since early December. Of course, we’re well into March now so I suppose it’s just barely conceivable that it would have warmed up eventually anyway, but I’m going with the “breath of poetic fire” theory. I hope it’s warmer where you are, too, or cooler, or wetter, or dryer, or whatever condition is most desirable meteorologically wherever you reside.  Thanks to all who contributed for helping out!

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martini–
I make my own
polar vortex
.
the snow hollow
surrounding an evergreen;
polar vortex

.–Michael Nickels-Wisdom

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Polar vortex even a whisper is too loud.

— John Ashton

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the polar vortex
nanoneedles my tattoo
of the wind

–Peter Yovu

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polar vortex
distant coyotes
change key

polar vortex
sliding through
the roundabout

–David McKee

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your look
as i take the last slice
polar vortex

–Sondra Byrnes

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me and you
coexisting warmth and cold
polar vortex

–Russell Littlecreek

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polar vortex —
I forget that I forgot to
rake the leaves

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the falling fence (polar vortex) frozen falling down

–Angie Werren

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what I thought     polar vortex     what is

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polar vortex
circling spring down
the drain

–Christina Nguyen

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polar vortex the sidewalk singer’s smack talk

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polar vortex
somewhere a white bear
swimming in circles

–Peter Newton

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polar vortex
the plastic covered windows
sigh

–Heather Jagman

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polar vortex —
the neighbor’s pond freezes
for the first time

–Julie Bloss Kelsey

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antimatter–
lost in a polar
vortex

–Marianne Paul

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polar vortex -- spring catalogue arrives at my doorstep

–Marianne Paul

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Arcs the Beach Grasses Etch in Sand

I keep thinking about poetry being an agent of transformation. One is a different person—one’s life is changed—after reading a poem. Even a bad poem, full of clichés and dud line breaks and flat diction. One looks up from such a poem and is surprised to be free after that little imprisonment. That’s a transformation of a sort. But a fine poem, a poem that immediately permeates one’s being, a poem which, after being read, makes the reader look around and suddenly need to reassess the room, the world—that’s why those of us who read poetry read poetry. As for those of us who write poetry—once, just once, we say to ourselves, let me write one of those world-shifters. Let me be someone’s “suddenly I see” or “oh, that’s name of that squiggly feeling I have always felt” or “so now I need to relearn how to breathe.”

polar vortex
I make my husband drive me
to the shore

–Jean LeBlanc

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this polar vortex
a towel snap to my solar
plexus

*

polar vortex
too numb for color
on the maps

–Rick Daddario

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sick of winter–
the polar vortex
heads south

–Terri L. French

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polar vortex
what isn’t frozen
isn’t

 –Gayle Bull

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polar vortex cracks in moon blues.

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a lowing in me polar vortex

–Alegria Imperial

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polar vortex
his voice cracks
for the first time

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polar vortex
penetrated
in silence

–Melissa Allen

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

On Beyond Zebra

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

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

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

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Haiku

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just
kidding

you’re
not

alive –

morning rain

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driller
kun

du
lever

ikke –

morgenregn

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

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

— Rafael Zabratynski, DailyHaiku, 12/21/11

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うごけば、  寒い     橋本夢道

ugokeba,        samui

if I move,                  cold

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

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Slime trail—
glancing back at
the glinting

—Don Wentworth, Tinywords

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

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crow watching –
the unseen tree branch suddenly
seen

— Angie Werren, feathers

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dusk at the beach
a stone and I
touch each other

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

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冬蜂の死にどころなく歩きけり  村上鬼城

fuyu-bachi no shini-dokoro naku arukikeri

a winter bee
continues to walk
without a place to die

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

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dark
the TV ignores
everything

John Stevenson, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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cave mouth
a scream beyond my range
of hearing

— George Swede, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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first
snowflakes

like me
made to last

till
they’re

gone

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

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Tanka

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

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

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Haibun

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

blue notes waver under the lamp

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

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

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Almost Ready

five forty five a.m.

very cold

I move
close to a heater

night like wind

forming

itself

By god
I hear
a rooster

Crow

I had
only heard
a rooster

Crow

In the movies
before

this

To think
of the beautiful things

Your memory
has led me
into

And this poem

Almost ready!

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies

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Essayed

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

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

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

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

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

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Linked

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

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Journaled

ant ant ant ant ant 12

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

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Haiku from ant ant ant ant ant 12

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The Heron’s Nest

just how
to hold you
paper kite

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

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

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bottle rockets #26

pinwheel —
as if a second thought
starts to turn it

— Satoru Kanematsu

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Booked

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

Cover of What We Find

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standing in the middle of now here

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

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Across the Haikuverse, No. 26: The Z Edition

So: number 26. If I’d been lettering these editions instead of numbering them, I’d be up to Z by now. And Z, as we all know, is the end of the alphabet. This is convenient for me, because circumstances are such in my life right now that I am afraid I must put the Haikuverse on hiatus indefinitely. The blog, too, will probably be seeing far less frequent postings for a while.

I will miss you guys. Spinning around the Haikuverse, taking in the sights, shooting the breeze… it’s been fun. I’m not planning on disappearing completely, but I have things to tend to in other corners of the universe at the moment.

Stay in touch.

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underneath
the ice
of the poem
an imaginary frog
slows its heartbeat

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haiku

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the closest
I’ll ever be
to sentimental
a room full of hats

— William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society

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spring cleaning . . .
the rhythmic sound of her
sharpening pencils

—Kirsten Cliff, DailyHaiku

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lark’s song –
in an old landscape
I part my hair to the left

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lærkesang –
i et gammelt landskab
laver jeg skilning i venstre side

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

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Turning on the light I become someone alone in the house

— Sam Savage, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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autumn leaf already i am attached

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without permission part of me starts to bloom

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winter day barely one language

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winter night she knowingly reveals another arm

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another day of snow my jurassic layer

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the only sound that’s come out of me all day firefly

:

at this point i just assumed they come alive at night

Scott Metz, ant ant ant ant ant’s blog

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he thinks again of turning leaves her hands

— Angie Werren, Tinywords

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autumn days     straying from the text to marginalia

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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人ひとに溺れることも水澄めり    保坂リエ

hito hito ni oboreru kotomo mizu sumeri

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a human wallows in
another human…
clear autumn water

— Rie Hosaka, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World

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swollen rosehips
if you found God
in your body you’d die

— Anonymous (“Jack Dander”), Masks 2

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on 60 televisions the scissors hesitate

— Anonymous (“Bridghost”), Masks 2

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haiga and other art

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dog star -- / the origins / of poetry

dog star
the origin
of poetry

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

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two red butterflies / play strange attractor / in the garden.

two red butterflies
play strange attractor
in the garden

— Kris Lindbeck, haiku etc.

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the universe / these points of light/ I spin

— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets

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tanka

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if we had known
this would be
our last winter
when we professed
our love for the bomb

snow swirls
into light at the end
of the tunnel
echoes of the conductor’s
last call

postscript
for the apocalypse
countless years
from now — a cherry tree’s
first blossoms

— Aubrie Cox, Yay Words!

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hand in hand
a teenaged boy and girl pass
a cigarette
back and forth on their way
to being twenty

— David Caruso, DavidHaiku

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haibun

Revisit

I thought I had been sucked into the past. That sort of thing happens from time to time. I sat on the train on the way to the big city – well, as big as they come in Denmark – when a hippie-looking guy boarded with his monstrous Big Dane dog. My thoughts went in two directions. I thought: now, there’s a weirdo, knowing very well that in this part of the country many “off-siders” have found a cheap place to live as it’s rather poor. And I thought: great!!! Nice to see a flash of the past, and my nose replayed all kinds of smells associated with the early -70’s. Patchouli, sandalwood, fenugreek, hashish and wet and dirty “Afghan” fur coats, which was a bit of a turn-off, that last part. After having put his corn-pipe away he sat himself down in a very upright position: straight back, both feet on the floor and looking us, the other travellers, straight in the eyes. I nodded. He nodded. Dog said nowt. Then he padded the seat at his left side (he’d taken the window seat) and the dog, big as half a horse, jumped up and sat perfectly cool beside him, straight as a statue. The dog had a colourful tie as leash. We bumped on while I was listening to Incredible String Band.

straightened stream
a mirrored swan
asks twice

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

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Dead Tree News

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Some gems from the most recent edition of the always stunning Acorn (No. 27):

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enough said…
the moon rises
out of the sea

— Francine Banwarth

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isolated showers —
the genes that matter
the genes that don’t

— Michele L. Harvey

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never touching
his own face
tyrannosaurus

— John Stevenson

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all night love
the candle
reshapes itself

— Jayne Miller

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dad’s shed
a ladder folded
in the shadows

— frances angela

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full moon
from each shell
a different ocean

— Mary Ahearn

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autumn quarry
the feel of a dozer
going deep

— Ron Moss

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starfish…
to feel so much
of what we touch

— Peter Newton

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spring melancholy
I cut my tofu
smaller and smaller

— Fay Aoyagi

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Hey, seriously, I meant that about staying in touch. Drop me a line. Send me a poem. Tell me how your day went and where your life is going. I’m interested.

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away from the window
hearing the rain
trickle down the window

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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.

The Lives of Poets, No. 1: Peter Newton

A while back I conceived this idea to harass all my favorite poets by sending them an interminable list of questions and whining until they answered them all so I could post the answers here. I immediately sat down and drew up the list of questions and saved it as a Word doc entitled “Questions to Annoy Poets With.” But then I wasn’t brave enough to actually do anything about it for a while. Because, you know, I might annoy someone.

Then over the summer I met Peter Newton, whose poetry I’ve admired for a long time, at the Haiku Circle in Northfield, Massachusetts. He was friendly and kind and since we’ve exchanged cordial email messages off and on for a while, it occurred to me that he probably wouldn’t actually bite if I sent him this long list of troublesome questions and audaciously invited him to lay bare his poet’s heart. Plus, with school starting again today, I needed to come up with some way of formulating interesting blog posts without actually writing them myself. The idea of making other people write them was getting more attractive all the time.

And to my delight, Peter not only responded to my request but did so at great and thoughtful and illuminating length. I’m so pleased to present his words to you and hope I’ll have the opportunity to do the same with many more poets in the future. But for now I’ll just get out of the way and let Peter speak.

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Peter Newton

Peter Newton: The Interview

The Basics

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Name/pen name:

Peter Newton

Day job/occupation:

Stained glass artist.

Website/blog/Twitter feed (if any):

Generally, I’m a low-tech person. I work with my hands all day. I’ve never owned a cell phone and I use my laptop as a typewriter that remembers everything. However, the idea of the Twitter stream interested me a few years ago. I think I’m up to a whopping 300 or so tweets, mostly poems of mine and poetry related information. Twitter.com: @ThePeterNewton

Family, pets, non-poetry hobbies, etc.:

Partner of 27 years is Mark Pietrzak. No kids. A dog named Possum. Since I’m self-employed and work at home, my hobbies include working on my old house (1883) and dabbling in yardwork (cutting the lawn).  I’m pretty active in my small town of Winchendon, Massachusetts (aka “Toy Town”). I belong to the Historical Society, community volunteer groups, etc. One of the great things about living in a small, remote place is that one person can make a difference.

Love to plant things, just as long as they can take care of themselves after awhile. I spend two months a year up in Vermont where I work at The Bread Loaf School of English and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Something I’ve done for two dozen summers. Not much of my free time is non-poetry related, I must admit. Though I went to college and got my M.A. to become an English teacher I now spend most of my days in a small glass workshop making fun, funky, 3-D creations for the mass gift market. And I feel like I’m right where I need to be. What’s that zen saying: “No snowflake falls in the wrong place.”

How long you’ve been writing haiku and what gave you the idea to do such a crazy thing in the first place:

I started writing haiku in the early 90s while I was living in Atlanta. I was struck by a reading William Matthews gave up at Bread Loaf around that time. He opened his reading with a dozen or so one-line poems (with titles, which I always thought was kind of cheating) and they were great. I was impressed with how much could be conveyed in a handful of words. They were funny and serious but all were almost philosophical. And surprising.

Matthews got me thinking about words in a new way. If they were the right words in the right order, they were like seeds in the reader’s mind that could grow and grow. I think that was my first interest in really exploring short form poems of my own. Then of course came the long and tedious tutelage of Robert Spiess at Modern Haiku. I say tedious because as many out there know his criticisms were even shorter than the poems he wrote. And I say tutelage because he was very patient and kind toward me and my early efforts at haiku and senryu. I spent years re-teaching myself how to write. Re-thinking how I look at the world. Learning to pay attention. Still at it.

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The Nitty-Gritty

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Do you have a personal philosophy of haiku or a particular vision of haiku poetics? What do you think haiku are, or should look like, or should be, in English? What do you think their purpose is?

A haiku is a poem and far more than a poem. It’s the road and the destination at the same time. I know that sounds a bit vague and Zen-ny but the point is that haiku have allowed me to see the world with “fresh eyes,” as Basho said. A world that I had spent many years observing closely as a poet but in some ways never really lived in. Some sort of barrier was removed between me and the rest of the world when I started reading, writing and studying haiku seriously. Through my awareness of ordinary things and occurrences I feel like I am able to appreciate my place in the world. The haiku poet learns to look at life very democratically. A blade of grass can equal many things. Birdsong becomes the soundtrack for your life. Along with the wind, the swell of tides, a person’s voice. You get the idea. Haiku means going green. Not just back to nature, but back to your roots as a human being. Fresh eyes. Picasso had a saying: “It takes a long time to become young.” Makes sense to me.

Haiku has been a kind of reincarnation in my poetic life. I had given up on the whole mainstream poetry publishing game. Haiku allowed me to see poetry as something new and exciting. To see poetry for what it is and always has been, for me anyway, a small song about the world I live in. A glimpse. An elevation of the pedestrian detail—the dog asleep in her strip of sunlight, the cardinal’s red, the sunflower’s bow. Haiku are the way I make my real life imaginary. And my imaginary life real.

If I have any haiku philosophy it is: say it from the start. Don’t hold back. No one else can say whatever it is you have to say. Even if they wanted to. If you don’t say it, no one else will. As Emerson said “writing means hurling yourself at the mark when all your arrows are spent.” My approach to haiku is my approach to life, which is also short.

Rediscovering haiku has been like finding a homeland I didn’t know I had. Each day is another adventure on Haiku Island, to borrow Jim Kacian’s analogy. Here on the island, I am free to wander like a curious kid who’s old enough to know there’s always more to learn. Haiku are the lessons you teach yourself. Bookmarks in the good parts of your life you might want to come back to, or share with someone else. A chronicle of perfect moments, I’ve said before. And that remains true.

What should haiku look like? Not for me to say. Whatever can be imagined. They probably should fit on a bumper sticker though. A t-shirt, maybe. I do believe in the underlying principles of Japanese haiku construction: our relationship with nature, collaboration with the reader, a wabi-sabi appreciation. A less is more approach. Less intellect and more sense. And that haiku be the poetry of the people. Inclusive, not exclusive.

I like to tell the story I either heard or made up at this point but the one about the famous old poet being interviewed by a reporter. The reporter asks: “So, what made you start writing poetry in the first place?” And the famous old poet answers: “The question is not what made me start writing poetry. It’s what made everyone else stop?”

The Haiku Society of America has an Education Committee but really it includes each of us reading and writing haiku today. We need to help spread the word about the risks of confusing haiku with the limerick, for example and the rewards of noticing something in your own back yard, for the first time, and setting it to words.

As far as the purpose of haiku? Discipline, restraint, gratitude. These are not bad life lessons just in case we didn’t get enough growing up. Basho set out on his 1,500-mile field trip for a lot of reasons, many of which we’ll never know. But one thing is clear to me. Basho sought a greater awareness and enjoyment of the fact that we, as people, are more alike than we are different. Certainly, all poetry tells us this.

So I say haiku is a way of life and people sometimes ask: what do you mean by that? Like some kind of poetry cult? Not exactly. It’s just that no matter how many times I hear the red-winged blackbird skip its stone song across the pond. I stop. Keep quiet. It’s the only proper way I know how to answer. That’s the haiku way of life.

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What does your haiku writing practice look like? Do you write daily or regularly? Do you have special times or places you like to write? Do you write longhand or on a computer? Do you revise extensively? Is there anything in particular you do to put yourself in “haiku mode?”

Again, working backward toward the truth. I have to start from now, just like in haiku. It’s more a matter of what I don’t do in order to get into the haiku mode. I try to back away from the fray. I’m a bit of an ostrich in that I stick my head in the sand when it comes to the goings-on of the world at large. That reminds me, I really do need to cancel my satellite dish service. The world will go on with or without me. Better for me to focus on the tasks at hand. This poem. This breath. Okay, that yard full of leaves. That woodpile to be stacked. “Haiku mode” is synonymous for living well. Life is full enough without being plugged-in 24/7. Am I sounding like a Luddite yet?

Writing haiku is a daily practice for me, in the early mornings, usually, sitting in the same spot with a cup of coffee and the same view that only changes with the seasons. I have stared out that east window toward the cupola of our old barn for so many years I feel part swallow, part squirrel – the one we never seem to be able to get rid of. I give up. And discover that the state of surrender is a pretty cool place to live. I continue to strive toward that home anyway. The next haiku I write starts out as an invitation to sit awhile. Be quiet. I am a witness to generations of yard fowl. I watch the hemlocks grow into themselves.

I write on my laptop from notes I scribble on pieces of paper that I carry around in my pockets. I’m not obsessed but more automatic when it comes to carrying a pen and paper. I learned early on that the role of the writer is to write what you know. So, it’s a good idea to take notes along the way. Life’s distracting. I’m sure there are many wonderful poems out there that got forgotten by me and many others. We should arm ourselves with writing utensils. At the ready.

Haiku revision? Absolutely. Only after days or weeks or longer of repeating words, committing some to memory do the real words emerge. Imposters fall away. They can’t hold on long enough. True haiku stay with you. Kerouac said “Haiku should be plain as porridge.” Maybe he also meant that the good ones fill you up, stick to your ribs.

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What does your haiku reading practice look like? Are there poets you particularly appreciate? Journals you find especially inspiring? Do you read haiku daily? Do you read mostly English-language haiku or do you read a great deal of Japanese haiku (in translation or not) or haiku in other languages? Are there books you would recommend, either of haiku or about haiku?

Read people you love. And, of course, I mean that figuratively. Read people whose poems you love. I keep certain books close by at all times. And a pile by the bed, a few on the shelf, some in the car. It’s silly almost. Books are scattered throughout my life. No one would ever guess that I actually know where and how they are “filed.” How I look at Peggy Willis Lyles’ haiku as a kind of touchstone. At Stan Forrester’s as the perfect gift. John Stevenson as a friend I never met. And many others. I have relationships with books and look at libraries with a reverence some reserve for church.

So, I read haiku everyday. A few, dozens or maybe a hundred. By all different poets. All in English. None in translation unless they are published in the handful of journals I check in on regularly: Acorn, Chrysanthemum, Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Notes from the Gean, Roadrunner. And a few blogs and websites I admire aside from this one include: Curtis Dunlap’s Blogging Along Tobacco Road, Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site See Haiku Here, Don Wentworth’s Issa’s Untidy Hut, The Haiku Foundation’s various forums, Cornell’s Mann Library’s Daily Haiku, Tinywords, and occasionally Twitter, which streams a surprising number of true talents if you don’t mind wading through a little drivel, some of it, no doubt, my own.

One thing’s for sure. I could spend my life reading the work of all the haiku poets out there. And I think that number is growing. Hope it is.

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Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing haiku? Or about how annoying these questions are?

Just a reminder to myself to always be open to new voices—my own and those of others just arriving on Haiku Island.

Rumi said: “You become what you love.” And I believe him. I like to think that I’m part haiku by now . . . open, unfinished, imperfect.

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Which of your haiku would you like to share with my readers?

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over my thoughts the hush of pines

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in the cat’s mouth
a handful of feathers
& how many songs

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mid-argument
wind chimes
we gave each other

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whatever I was thinking the cardinal’s red

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— Peter Newton

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