(why not)

begins a new / season / why not only yes

 


Questions to ask yourself in the spring:
How high is blue?
Why is why?
If never, then what?
Was it ever spread so thin?
With wings, is it necessary?
Are the complete works complete?
Twirling: Explain.
If you turned around, would it be there?
Are we all remembering the same planet?

begins a new
season
why not only yes

there is a season

I don’t think there’s anything essential about seasonal references in haiku, but I usually feel weird when I don’t use one, and that weird feeling bothered me for a long time. Was I secretly a haiku reactionary who was going to break out in 5/7/5 any day? Would I turn into one of those irritating people who berates other poets for using two season words in one haiku? Or start insisting that people whose middle line is shorter than the other two are doing it wrong? (Like, whatever, dude. Chill.) 

I felt better when I realized that it didn’t bother me in the least whether other people used seasonal references. (Or did any of that other stuff.) I just wanted to use them myself. It was important to me, emotionally if not artistically. And it took a presentation at last summer’s Haiku North America to help me figure out why. The presenter was the calm, elegant, and utterly impressive Patricia Machmiller, who’s long been associated with the Yuki Teikei Society — in other words, to a quite “traditionalist” approach to haiku. But she’s anything but doctrinaire–she’s a wonderful poet with an amazing feeling for language and an empathetic and flexible attitude toward writing haiku–and in her discussion of kigo I heard expressed for the first time some of my own unspoken, maybe even unrealized feelings about the importance of season words.

For Patricia, and for me, it’s not about “following the rules” by rotely sticking one of these “magic words” into a poem. It’s about, according to Patricia, “bringing the large feeling of the season into the small poem.” It’s about “bringing in eternity.” The seasons are a cycle and their rhythms are familiar to us from early childhood. I find I experience nostalgia most powerfully during the change of the seasons–the first spring flowers, the first yellow leaves, the first snowfall conjure up images of all these events from all the different periods of my life, of the things I was doing then, the people I was with, maybe even the historical events that were occurring. (Who in the eastern half of the United States doesn’t remember that 9/11 was a perfect, bright, crisp, clear September day?) References to the seasons remind me that I’m part of history and part of the human race and part of nature. Patricia also quoted John Stevenson on this subject: “Kigo represent the community of the living and the dead.”

Mentioning a season, essentially, is a shortcut to emotional resonance that’s effective for just about everyone in the world, or at least everyone who shares similar seasonal experiences. In a typical English twelve-syllable haiku, it’s just good budgeting to devote a few of those syllables to conjuring up a season. No, it’s not necessary. There are other ways to bring in that same resonance. (I’d like to get around to talking about several more of them over the next few weeks.) But it’s simple and amazingly effective. And it makes me feel better. And I no longer feel bad about that.

.

warmer days
the wind chimes
change keys

.

encased

t
h
a
w

in the icicle

.

spring equinox
the cat takes advice
from the moon 

.

from time
to time
birdsong

.

__________________________________________________

With thanks to B.S. for the suggestion of subject matter.

(Whoa, dude. Do you know what your initials are?)

.

rain, rain (rain, rain)

.

spring rain backwards until the beginning

.

summer rain
some of you in
some of me

.

autumn rain preparing the palimpsest

.

forgot water could be so heavy winter rain

.

_____________________________________________________________________

credits: spring rain, Modern Haiku 42.3; summer rain, Frogpond 35.1; autumn rain, Modern Haiku 43.1; winter rain, bottle rockets 26

..

Across the Haikuverse, No. 15: Catfish Edition

Hi fellow travelers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, at least in the form of tour guide. A lot has happened. The earth has shaken. It isn’t tilted quite the same way anymore. I think I can feel it. I’m a little off kilter these days. Not that I can complain, seeing as how I don’t live in Japan.

It’s strange — last year at this time I didn’t even know anyone who lived in Japan, and now I know many people there, whose welfare I am deeply concerned about. They mostly all seem to be mostly okay, at least physically. But their sense of security has been pretty much shattered; they’re living with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I am so admiring of the way they are keeping themselves centered despite this.

I think haiku helps. Maybe any art helps. It’s a way to take the broken pieces and make something whole out of them.

And on that note…here are a few places you might want to drop by for earthquake news and art:

1. Gabi Greve’s earthquake blog, Japan — After the Big Earthquake. It’s very Gabi-like, meaning insanely comprehensive and completely fascinating. Mostly it’s full of Japanese news reports about all the details of the earthquake/tsunami aftermath and aaathe ongoing nuclear disaster saga, but there are also lots of Gabi-style notes about Japanese earthquake folklore and plenty of earthquake haiku from all over the world. A couple of examples:

A giant catfish (namazu) lived in mud beneath the earth. The catfish liked to play pranks and could only be restrained by Kashima, a deity who protected the Japanese people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty rock with magical powers over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed his guard, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.

— Gabi Greve

unseen
the third wave
blossoms

— Svetlana Marisova

2. Scott Watson’s amazing, moving earthquake journal from Sendai, being published serially at Issa’s Untidy Hut. The prose is mostly spare and economical and to the point, which makes his picture of the deprivations they are suffering in Sendai all the more effective. Here’s a typical passage, from Part 6:

On the way back meet an elderly neighbor walking his Akita dog. The dog is up in years too. We talk a while about how we canʼt flush our toilets.  Such an inconvenience. When will gas service resume. When will we have water. Some American friends, I tell him, strongly urge me and my family to flee Japanʼs nuclear disaster. But how would you get out of Sendai, he asks. Thatʼs exactly what I tell them. They donʼt understand that we canʼt go anywhere even if we want to.

— Scott Watson

Sometimes Scott waxes a little more lyrical, as in this passage from Part 5 — the last sentence is one of my favorite statements about poetry, ever:

Nukes in Japan. Earthquake land. They are safe, they are necessary, the people are told. Experts are telling the people. Government officials are telling the people. Electric power companies are telling the people. Eventually the people come around. The people repeat what they are told.

Poets tell people nothing. People donʼt repeat poems. They sing them in the here and now, which is when, exactly.

— Scott Watson

3. Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site, see haiku here, where the haiga are all about the earthquake these days, and are heartwrenching and beautiful. Speaking of Sendai, he illustrated a wonderful Basho haiku that follows a Sendai episode in Narrow Road to the Deep North:

I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet –
straps for my sandals

— Basho

and followed it up with “after” pictures of Sendai, which, unfortunately, are not nearly as pretty as iris sandals.

One of my favorite of Kuni’s own haiku about the earthquake is this one, also a stunning haiga:

tsunami swells—
how I wish
I were a bird

— Kuniharu Shimizu

4. Miriam Sagan’s Miriam’s Well, where she has been posting many earthquake haiku submitted to her — I believe she’s still accepting submissions. Here’s one of my favorites:

tsunami
pieces of future days
wash away

— Mark Brooks

5. This haiku of Bill Kenney’s from haiku-usa:

all the names
I’m learning to pronounce –
tsunami

— Bill Kenney

6. We Are All Japan, the brainchild of Sasa Vazic and Robert Wilson (who edit the journal Simply Haiku). It’s a very active Facebook group that is open to all comers and is a sort of clearinghouse for earthquake news, support, and poetry. Sasa and Robert are also putting together an anthology of earthquake-related poetry (all forms, not just haiku or other Japanese poetry) whose proceeds will benefit earthquake victims. They’ll accept (previously unpublished) submissions until May 15 at svtojapan@gmail.com. If you’re not Facebook-y, their website is http://wearealljapan.blogspot.com.

_____________________________

Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch

People have also been known to write haiku (and tanka) that aren’t about the earthquake these days. Those are fun to read too.

.

From Miso Soup:

Satie –
the rain
eases

— Alison

.

From Haiku Etc.:


I am not here
but these red peppers are
so I buy one

— Kris Lindbeck

.

From Heed Not Steve (there is also a great illustration so go visit):

oh I see you
in the scrawl and scribble
Graphite Buddha

— Steve Mitchell

.

From old pajamas: from the dirt hut:

leaving my lover alone for a minute my tongue hunts a lost cloud

— Alan Segal

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From jornales:

haiku truths–
crocus and frogs after rain
kestrels and hyacinths
telling you secrets non-stop
oh, poet for you, no rest

— Alegria Imperial

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From a lousy mirror:

the surplus
of words burrowed in
spring darkness . . .
a mole eating his way
through the may or may not

— Robert D. Wilson

.

From Stay Drunk on Writing:

stepping stones
to the Zen Garden —
dog dung

— Chen-ou Liu

.

From Yay Words!, the hokku of a great kasen renku in progress between Aubrie Cox and Wayne Chou — go read the other verses:

spring breeze
tea stains
on the atlas

— Aubrie Cox

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From Blue Willow Haiku World, two entries, because there is no way I could choose just one out of four whole weeks of daily entries:

ボブ・ディラン掛けよ蛙の夜なれば     榮 猿丸

bobu diran kakeyo kaeru no yoru nareba

.

play Bob Dylan
it is a night
of frogs

— Sarumaru Sakae, translated by Fay Aoyagi

.

春なれや水の厚みの中に魚      岩田由美

haru nare ya mizu no atsumi no naka ni uo

.

spring—
fish inside
the water’s thickness

— Yumi Iwata, translated by Fay Aoyagi

.

From Crows & Daisies, see note above about impossibility of choosing, etc.:

snowflakes
the white mare’s whinny
lifts a cloud

.

hedgehog ball
i always was
the odd one out

— Polona Oblak

.

From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:

summit road
once more the moon
changes windows

— Tom Painting

.

From a handful of stones, the haiku that wins the Most Makes Me Want to Read It Aloud Award for this edition:

sick train the night heron shifts silt for all of us

— Alan Summers

.

From rolling stones:

women’s day
more to the moon
than this sliver

— Jill

.

From Jars of Stars:

invisible
to those around me
I watch blossoms
fall
a thousand years from now

— Paul Smith (@monkeywillow)

.

From Daily Haiku:

crows in a pine
moving the dark
from limb to limb

— Carolyne Rohrig

.

From Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a great haiga — go look:

the equinox
what winter has taken
what winter has spared

— Mark Holloway

.

In case you’re wondering, “Isn’t there someone who collects great haiku from all the haiku poets on Facebook and puts it somewhere where we poor Facebook-less souls can take it in? And maybe sometimes translates it into French or English depending on which language it started out in?”, the answer is yes, yes there is. He is Vincent Hoarau and his blog is La Calebasse. From a set of fantastic spring haiku he shared recently, here’s one of his own that I love (I am presuming this was probably written first in French and then translated into English, but this was the order it appeared in on the blog):

sun ! sun ! sun !
the daffodils don’t know
where to look

.

le soleil ! le soleil !
les jonquilles ne savent plus
où donner d’la tête

— haiku and translation by Vincent Hoarau

____________________________

Journaling

Anyone who hasn’t discovered Contemporary Haibun Online (cho) yet? They released a new edition a couple of weeks ago (dated April 2011 — now that’s efficiency). Please go check it out now so I don’t have to hunt you down and stand over you while you read it. Here’s one of my favorites from the issue to get you started.

Midsummer Night

Into the garden
take a small square of Kozo paper.
Fold, crease, fold and fold again.
Now place upon an upturned mirror:

crossing a dark sea
of reflected galaxies
this empty boat

—Jann Wirtz

__________________________

The Wild, Wild Web

A roundup of amazing haiku websites I’ve stumbled upon since the last time I rapped at you.

.

How to explain Basho’s Road? The posts there are infrequent but worth waiting for. The site is beautifully designed and all the posts contain both poetry (usually Japanese short-form, but sometimes not — the most recent post as of this writing contains a quotation from Montaigne) and art, wonderful art. It’s a quiet and thoughtful place and I can feel my breathing slowing down and my brain speeding up whenever I stop by. The proprietor is Norbert Blei, stop by and thank him (I guess now that I’ve said that, I should do it too…).

……………………………………………ah!
…………….today haiku come as easy
as picking them off a small fruit tree

Ronald Baatz, from White Tulips

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Since I discovered John Martone’s poetry a few months ago (via Issa’s Untidy Hut), I’ve been noticing it — and hungrily seeking out more of it — everywhere I go. Then recently I got this brainstorm to use this amazing new “Google” thing the kids are all talking about and what do you know, it chewed up my search request and spat me right out at a web page called “john martone’s poetry projects,” which contains links to about a zillion pdf’s of collections of John’s work, and now I’m locking myself in the bathroom and not coming out until I’ve read them all.

Most of these collections are best read as collections — they contain variations on one or several themes and have much the same effect, on me at least, as a turning kaleidoscope, a really well-made one that you just can’t tear away from your eye. Here’s one verse, though, that I think works well on its own.

look at
that cloud
thats you

— John Martone, from box turtle (2008)

.

Ray Rasmussen, a Canadian poet well-known for his haiku and haibun, has just recently put together a couple of very striking and well-edited sites that you’ll want at least to go take a look at, and possibly to contribute to.

The first one is Day’s End, which looks at various aspects of aging through (mostly previously published) haiku, senryu, tanka and haibun. It was put together by Ray and guest editor Anita Virgil. Here’s a sample:

first time together
kissing a grandmother
for real

— Charles Trumbull

The second site, which is still a work in progress, is Romance under a Waning Moon, a website of haiku, tanka, haibun and images about the ups and downs of later-in-life romance. Ray’s still accepting submissions for this one (he prefers them previously published) — check out the details at the site.

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Deep Thought

The website of the British haiku journal Presence contains numerous fascinating essays, including several meditations on that perennially fascinating topic: what, exactly, is a haiku?

The one that made me think the most, although I did wish the author would stop shouting, was this one by David Cobb. I’ve italicized the passages I found the most thought-provoking.

My mind is kind of spinning in circles, now, actually — I have to try to integrate these ideas (which I find compelling and convincing) into my mental conception of haiku.

Two Differing Views of Time and Nature in Haiku

1. A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of A MOMENT keenly perceived, IN WHICH NATURE IS LINKED TO HUMAN NATURE. (From A Haiku Path, recording the official definition adopted by the Haiku Society of America and used in Frogpond magazine.) [My (meaning Mr. Cobb’s) capitals.]

2. In the first place, Japanese haiku are NOT NATURE POEMS AT ALL. Japanese poems are concerned with the four seasons of the year, so they are SEASON-POEMS. Haiku are TIME-POEMS; where content is concerned, haiku deal with the passage of time, with things that have passed away, with the present and the future. And the poet illustrates this process of becoming and passing away within a short or long period of time by referring to things in the natural world, both alive and dead. (tr. from an article by Thomas Hemstege in Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, Vol.16, No.60, March 2003.) [My (yes, Mr. Cobb’s) capitals again.]

This definition argues that references to Nature are incidental or instrumental to the poet’s impressions of the passage of time. The nub of the action is something that poets do with Nature. The case is made for a haiku continuum rather than a haiku moment.

— David Cobb

[Editorial note to Mr. Cobb: I love your — well, Mr. Hemstege’s, I suppose — ideas, but there are these things called italics which are used by most authors to provide emphasis, and which are MUCH LESS UNNERVING to the reader than ALL CAPS.]

___________________________

Dead Tree News

Recently I was reminded again that I really needed and wanted to read R.H. Blyth’s seminal four-volume work Haiku, first published in the late forties, which was one of the main instruments for introducing haiku to the general public in the Western world. Blyth introduced a lot of misconceptions about haiku too — the idea that it was somehow fundamentally attached to Zen Buddhism, perhaps, being the main one. But he also passionately loved and was intimately familiar with the body of classical Japanese haiku (not to mention having an encyclopedic knowledge of Western poetry), and did translations of thousands of them that, although they sometimes are more poetic than accurate, are really, really lovely. So as long as you take him with several pounds of salt, he is still well worth reading.

The problem is, Haiku is out of print and commands an impressive price on the used-book market. And though I had no problem borrowing the volumes from my university’s library (libraries, people! wonderful things! use them!</librarian sales pitch>), I realized almost as soon as I started reading them that I needed to own them myself. So one night I was noodling around on Amazon looking at the ridiculous prices that some dealers were asking for these volumes ($700 just for the “Spring” volume?!), when I found what seemed like a very reasonable deal. And almost quicker than I could ask my husband, “Honey, would I be crazy if I paid this much money for four books?”, I’d ordered the things, and a few days later they arrived at my house all nicely wrapped in gloriously old-fashioned layers of brown paper. And lo, when I had removed all the wrapping paper, I discovered they were beautiful, and I was very happy.

I haven’t read them all yet. I suspect it will take months, if not years. But I am in love. The first volume is all about Eastern culture and haiku in general (and contains lots of very authoritative-sounding, incredibly well-written and inspiring, and dubious theories), and the remaining three volumes contain haiku translations and (highly subjective) commentary, in seasonal order starting with Spring and grouping the haiku by kigo. Pretty much any page you open to you’ll find something you love. I just opened the “Summer-Autumn” volume at random and look what I found:

Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.

— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth

I swear, I will never hit a fly again.

I’ll be back with more about Blyth someday soon, I promise.

(Note: Don Wentworth, over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, has been writing some thoughts about Blyth lately too — you’re well advised to take them in.)

__________________________

Winding Down

Long day. (Although the days have gotten a bit shorter due to the earthquake, did you know?) Long month. All kinds of things shifting and spinning. That catfish still restless underground.

But haiku is still there. The haikuverse is still full, still worth exploring. It’s some comfort to me, how about you?

July 26: Shared Water: a renga

A month or so ago I wrote about renga (or renku), the form of collaborative linked verse from which the haiku evolved. Everything I’d read about it fascinated me and I was itching to try it, so I issued an invitation for renga partners. Steve Mitchell of Heed Not Steve was the only one brave (or crazy) enough to take me up on it. This means that Steve was the only one who got to have the fun of spending the last month emailing renga verses back and forth with me as we tried to master the notorious intricacies of renga link and shift.

See, here are the most basic rules of renga: each verse should link to the verse immediately before it — should connect to it somehow, say in subject or tone or viewpoint or just linguistically, as for instance when one word suggests a variety of meanings that can be played on in different ways. It should also shift completely from the verse two before it — should have nothing in common in the ways I just mentioned. You’re also, technically, not supposed to repeat significant words (nouns, verbs and the like) in the course of a renga. And you should try to cover as many different subjects as you can in the course of a renga — to create a little microcosm. By the time you get to about verse 18 of a 36-verse kasen renga, the type we attempted, these rules are starting to drive you (and by “you” I mean “me”) out of your mind. In a good way, of course.

Steve and I, both complete newcomers to this form of poetry and a little intimidated by the whole thing, elected to take the (relatively) easy route of using one of Jane Reichhold’s ready-made seasonal kasen renga forms — in this case, the one for summer. These specify for each verse who should be writing it (with two people writing, you more or less switch back and forth each verse, except when you don’t), how many lines it should be (you alternate 3 and 2 line verses), and what the subject matter should be. Jane’s forms are loosely based on the great Basho’s kasen renga rules: the renga moves through the seasons, making a couple of complete cycles of the year, and contains a certain number of references to moon and blossoms and love. You can entertain yourself trying to figure out which verses are which in our renga.

Steve was lots of fun to work with — I enjoyed trying to figure out how the heck each new verse he sent me was supposed to link to the verse I’d just sent him. Links can be very subtle and devious sometimes. We both kept notes on each verse we wrote — how we linked, what we were thinking as we wrote it and how we saw it fitting into the renga as a whole. I’ll link at the bottom to a separate page I’ve created with all our notes, so if you feel like reading them you can.

The overall impression a renga should leave is not of a neatly ordered landscape, as in a traditional Western poem with a unified theme, but a sort of whirlwind tour of the world  via several different modes of transportation and with a constantly changing group of travel companions — moving like lightning from one subject to another, from one kind of weather to another, from one mind to another. For this reason, they can be challenging to read if you’re not used to them — but once you start to get the hang of it, they are exhilarating. Or at least I think so. Hope you do too.

*

Shared Water

a summer kasen renga between Steve Mitchell and Melissa Allen
June-July 2010

balmy blue lakes
shimmering dry heat
shared water

organic milk on the strawberries
the shortcake dissolves

copper strands
entwine the land
quaint bitumen

bright socks on her needles
she watches the people on the bus watch her

playing parlor games
unmindful as the moon peeks
through the drapes

bleached plastic pumpkins
holding a seance on the lawn

stalking through frosty grass
the cat leaps
on the tail of a leaf

the young boy makes a muscle
dad gives a low whistle

biology class picture
the children
divided by sex

anonymous in the dark
feral peafowl invade the trees

the third day of fever
he writes a poem
about the war

those brothers interred
their silence accuses

the moon
through a row of icicles
flashes of insight

on the roads a glacial crawl —
fly away Snowbirds!

andante
their conversation waltzes
to the music

light steam in his nose
hot tea hides his fortune

bright pink sweater
the unexpected shyness
of the blossom

iridescent hummingbird
faster than gravity

the soothing cool wind
so brief
windows left open

under the microscope
the fruit flies are born and die

(ME) gnashing ego
believes (ME) its own truth
fear (ME) and (ME) death

half asleep, waiting for the sound
of the false teeth being brushed

the a.c. hums
our summer lullaby
the meter spins

fish reeled from the river
silver-clad for the boating party

dressed for dinner
“Where’s your new brooch?”
she pins it on

cuttings from the jade plant
he returns her Polaroids

the oak tree
with enduring scars
carved initials

Moscow beer line —
passing the communal cup

moonlit haze
I think I hailed this cab
it looks amber

goosebumps on her arms
he rushes through the painting

cold autumn rain
she counts the money
one more time

fragile sand dollars
half-buried by the surf

the oily sea
punishment from the gods
for digging too deep

wool coats forgotten
a reprieve from the frost

damp violets underfoot
trying to imagine
cactus flowers

the riverbed mesquite
imagining water

*

You can look over here if you’re interested in reading our notes about our writing process.

*

(And if you’ve made it this far and you are intrigued by renga, I hereby issue another invitation. Ashley Capes of Issa’s Snail, a renku site, who has done a whole lot of writing and coordinating of this fascinating kind of poetry and really knows what he’s talking about, has kindly offered to organize a renga for readers of this blog to participate in — leave a comment if you are interested in participating.)