Across the Haikuverse, No. 20: Summer Solstice Edition

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The first day of summer, and already I’m wondering where the summer went. It was a day that skittered between sunshine and rain, not fulfilling any promises. In the evening the sky turned green for a while and we kept an ear out for the tornado siren. Some lazy thunder rumbled by. I remembered later that I’d forgotten to eat for most of the day. It hadn’t seemed necessary, the way it never seems necessary in dreams. Around bedtime I finally got around to asking my husband where the rosebush that had suddenly appeared on our doorstep a couple days earlier had come from.

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that shade of pink
I wonder if I’m
blushing too

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Haikai That Caught My Eye

Wow, people were writing haiku on a wide variety of subjects the last couple of weeks. Underwear and the universe and tomatoes and dinosaurs…maybe I am dreaming after all.

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I am alone
for week-long Spring rains
singing loudly to
the computer screen just how much
you are my sunshine

— Donna Fleischer, word pond

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housework
an old song in my head
over and over

— Catherine J.S. Lee, Mann Library Daily Haiku

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森のごときをんなが眠る夏電車  平井照敏
mori no gotoki on’na ga nemuru natsu-densha

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a woman looking like
a forest sleeps
summer train

— Shobin Hirai, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
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universe
a collection of numbers
that rhyme

— Rick Daddario, 19 Planets (this is a great haiga, go take a look)

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the waning moon-
  a hole
in my underwear

— Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies
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tomato—
sometimes even stars are not
enough

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
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temporary relief –
while the pears ripen
I’m stuck on Earth

midlertidig lettelse .
mens pærerne modnes
sidder jeg fast på Jorden

— Johannes S.H. Bjerg, 2 tongues/2 tunger
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January thaw—
the garden exposed
to my dreaming

— Adelaide B. Shaw, DailyHaiku

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what they tell us
about the war
ornamental poppies

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

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step back into the fragrance our histories mingling

— Susan Diridoni, Issa’s Untidy Hut, Wednesday Haiku
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not awake enough
to turn the swifts’ chitterings
into a haiku

— Patti Niehoff, a night kitchen

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incessant rain
falling on ferns and dinosaurs and
on my eyelids

— Taro Kunugi, quoted on Donna Fleischer’s word pond

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cicada song
the cat stalks
fat robins

— Angie Werren, feathers

The epigram to this haiku: ““There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet)

This is part of Angie’s unbelievably cool project this month to combine NaHaiWriMo prompts with random Shakespeare quotations…what? How does she think of these things?  Who cares — just go check it out, it will blow your mind.

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Journaled

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A bunch of journals came out this week that I hadn’t seen before and was mightily impressed with, like for instance…

Lishanu: an interlingual haiku journal

Online journal, full of, oh joy, oh bliss, haiku in multiple languages, all translated into English. Or vice versa. You know what I mean.

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ripe moon –
my pale hands
in the berry bushes

зрела месечина –
моите бледи дланки
во малините

Elena Naskova, English/Macedonian

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lumière d’aube –
rien d’autre
dans la toile d’araignée

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dawn light –
nothing else
in the spider’s web

Damien Gabriels, French/English

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American Tanka

Another online journal. Very minimalist, but very high quality. Twenty tanka, one to a page, click on through and enjoy yourself.

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years of buttons
in a glass Ball jar
the blue one on the top
so far from the blue one
on the bottom

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Eucalypt

This also counts as Dead Tree News, because it’s a print journal only. And a really nicely done one — glossy covers and paper, and lovely ink illustrations. More journals should have illustrations. In my humble opinion. Someone get on that.

(Oh, it’s all tanka, did I mention? And Australian. But you probably could have guessed that from the name.)

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when what might happen
happens
the earth is turned
as if the planting
might begin again

— Kath Abela Wilson

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The shortest night of the year has started. I’m tempted to see it through. Skip the dreams for once. Try making my own.

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what dreams may come…
black ink dripping
from rain-soaked leaves

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April 20: Punk Rock Haiku (Wildflowers in Progress)

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abandoned building site wildflowers in progress

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Daily Haiku, 4/18/2011

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A couple of months ago, my old friend John, whom I used to hang out with while he played guitar in his parents’ basement when we were still young enough to live with our parents (because, you know, we were still in school), sent me an MP3 file (“a what?” my 1988 self asks) of a song he had recorded in the basement of the house he lives in now with his wife and daughter and makes mortgage payments on. How does time pass like this?

Anyway, if you must know, it was a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s “Arms of Love,” done all Phil Spector-ish and Wall-of-Sound-y, with sleigh bells, no less. It was awesome. But that’s not the point here.

The point is that when I opened this file in iTunes, I noticed that in the “album” field it said “Wildflowers in Progress.” A small firecracker went off in my brain and I emailed him and said, “What is this thing it says for the album name?” and he wrote back and said (I quote), “It’s going to be the eventual title of the solo record I’ve been compiling tunes for for the last couple of years (got the name from an enclosure of flowers I saw on an off-ramp on I-81 on the way to New Jersey a few years back).”

Well, that was all very nice, but I wrote back and informed him that what it really was, was part of a haiku. And the next day I carried out my threat. See above.

Yes, that’s right: this is a six-word poem and I only wrote half of it. The less interesting half, needless to say. I mean, a phrase like “wildflowers in progress” is pretty close to being a haiku on its own — to get it all the way there you just need someone to pull some kind of workmanlike juxtaposition out of the air and tack it on somewhere, and that’s all I did.

I’m extremely grateful to John for tossing his amazing found poetry to me and letting me run away with it. (He still gets to use it as his album title, in case you were wondering.) And I’m even more grateful to him for tossing me, around the same time, this music-geek-worthy aphorism, which I have added to the lengthy file I am amassing of the seemingly infinite definitions of haiku:

“Haiku is kind of the punk rock of poetry. Three chords and the truth.”

Truth. It’s good to see someone identifying this as the key characteristic of haiku, rather than the number of syllables, or the presence of a seasonal reference, or some kind of structural requirement like juxtaposition or kireji, or the presence of a difficult-to-define quality like ma or yugen or karumi.

For the record, I find all those things really interesting to think about and work with, and recognize that in a poem as short as a haiku, the ability to surprise and enlighten the reader is greatly enhanced by the use of these time-honored techniques and concepts, which are vital to understand and master.

But that’s what haiku are, not what they’re about. What they’re about is the truth. If you don’t have some kind of truth to work with to begin with, nothing in your technique will conjure it into existence, and your haiku will be dead on the page.

Now I’m starting to sound all pompous and truthier-than-thou. I think I’ll have to let John save me from myself again. This is what else he says about writing haiku: It’s “deceptively simple. But insanely hard to do well. The difference between The Clash and some run-of-the-mill hardcore band, if you will.”

Well, okay. I have to admit it never occurred to me before to compare, say, Basho’s frogpond haiku to London Calling. But it works for me.

So my revised haiku-writing advice: Be true. But also: be punk. And pay attention the next time you’re driving through New Jersey. You never know what you’ll find.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 7: Please Don’t Make Me Go Christmas Shopping Edition

Yes, it’s that time again — time to check your booster rockets, lay in a supply of freeze-dried sushi, and climb into the shuttle for a whirlwind tour of the Haikuverse.

I am going to try to make this snappy since, in anticipation of the Holiday of Boundless Capitalist Delight, I’m planning to swing back by Earth later this afternoon in an attempt to observe this planet’s December ritual of purchasing an overabundance of material goods to honor the birth of someone who spent a lot of time talking about how stupid money was. If you joined me, we could amuse ourselves by trading senryu about the foibles of our holiday-crazed fellow human beings and then repairing to a tea shop to eat cookies and regain a Zenlike state of tranquility. Wouldn’t that be fun? Oh, well, maybe next year.

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If you’re as stressed out by Chrismukkwanzaa as I am, you should go check out The Haiku Foundation’s new user forums. They have kind and helpful moderators, interesting discussion topics, opportunities to get feedback on your haiku from wiser and more experienced poets, and a generally happy, relaxed atmosphere, which we can all use this time of year.

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Chris Gordon from ant ant ant ant ant stopped by here this week and left a brilliant comment that made me very happy, which reminded me that I hadn’t visited his wonderful blog in a while. Lots of great poetry there, including this lovely one-liner of Chris’s from his 2007 book Echoes:

the rain warmer than the air around it I find your scar

— Chris Gordon

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Fiona Robyn, who posts her own lovely writing at a small stone and other peoples’ at a handful of stones, has gotten on the “write a whole bunch of stuff in a month in the company of other people” bandwagon (see: NaNoWriMo, NaHaiWriMo).

Her version is called “International Small Stones Writing Month,” and it’s headquartered at a river of stones. In a nutshell, the idea is to sign up to write one of the tiny poems Fiona calls “small stones” every day in the month of January. This seems like it would be a lot of fun for someone who, unlike me, had some extra time on his or her hands in the month of January. So if you’re one of those people, go make Fiona happy and hop on her bandwagon.

And speaking of a handful of stones, here’s one of my favorite posts from last week:

the fog finally
lifted, revealing distant
condominiums

— @HaikuDiem

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I’ve really been enjoying the haiku that George O. Hawkins has been posting lately on Facebook and Twitter. Like this one, for instance:

open water
the icy countenance
of a swan

— George O. Hawkins

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Speaking of Twitter, CoyoteSings has created a blog featuring some of the best Twitter haiku and tanka, so if you’re wondering what’s going on over there on Twitter but you don’t want to actually get an account, you could check out Jars of Stars. Here’s a ku you might like, for instance:

such heat
then snow

our lives

— @PerlyGates

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I liked this Daily Haiku entry last week:

first raindrops
an inaudible voice
on the answering machine
— Robert Epstein

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I am so glad to see that Alan Segal, who had been on hiatus from his blog for a while, is back to posting fairly regularly at old pajamas: from the dirt hut. Alan’s poetry is surreal and challenging but I like the interesting things his images do to my brain. Example:

my horse dreams
of tracing the pattern
between stars…
and, ironhooved, shape,
sew his wooden kimono

— Alan Segal

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I don’t pay nearly enough attention to haiga (there are only so many hours in the day) but every once in a while one really grabs me, like this illustration of a Ban’ya Natsuishi ku by Kuniharu Shimizu from see haiku here. (Go look at it. It’s a picture, see?)

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“Issa’s Sunday Service,” over at Issa’s Untidy Hut keeps on making me happy. Last week there was a Grateful Dead song (“Althea”) that so, so geekily references both “Hamlet” and a 17th-century poem by Richard Lovelace (and, interesting to nobody but me, I just noticed that the version of the song linked to here was recorded in 1981, when I was twelve, at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, CT, about fifty miles from where I was living at the time).

Then there were several poems and ku on the subject of temple bells, including:

the praying mantis
hangs by one hand…
temple bell

— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Really, what’s not to like?

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At Haiku Bandit Society the monthly Full Moon Viewing Party is coming right up on the 21st. Go on over there and share your ku on the subject of the full moon. All the cool kids are doing it.

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On Michael Dylan Welch’s website, Graceguts, there is a great Lee Gurga interview, from 1991 but still well worth reading. (Michael reminded us of it on Facebook this week.) Here’s an excerpt:

My personal destiny is somehow intertwined with haiku, and has been since the dawning of consciousness in adolescence. I don’t feel this with any other kind of writing, nor with any other activity with the exception of planting trees and wildflowers. But please don’t misunderstand me: this is not to say that I suppose there is anything “special” about my work, or that it is better than the writing of those differently related to haiku. But then, of course, the aim of haiku is “nothing special”—that special “nothing special” that somehow touches us at the core of our being.

— Lee Gurga


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Over at extra special bitter, Paul David Mena blew me away with this one this week:

December rain —
the long night
longer

— Paul David Mena

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At Tobacco Road Poet, the “Three Questions” this week were answered by Jim Kacian, who is the founder and president of The Haiku Foundation and also one of my favorite living haiku poets. He wrote this, for example (and I had a really hard time choosing this one from among many other favorites), so you see what I mean:

just now
as my life turns crazy
forsythia

— Jim Kacian

It’s worth reading Jim’s answers to the Three Questions and also worth reading much of the copious other material by and about him that is available out there on the Interwebs. There is this index that can get you started. I love the first essay it links to, “Haiku as Anti-Story”, which starts out this way:

Haiku are not really difficult, once you are willing to take the words at their own valuation. … So why is it so hard? Why does it need explanation? Because the mother, friend, reader is looking for story. “Yes, it’s a lily, but what is it really?” Your audience is looking for story, but you’re giving them — anti-story.

— Jim Kacian, “Haiku as Anti-Story”

Oh — so hard for those of us who love stories so passionately to let go of that narrative pull. This makes me wonder if I am guilty of wanting haiku to do too much — if I want them, too often, to be tiny stories. It also makes me wonder if it’s really impossible for haiku ever to be tiny stories. So much to think about…
But if you really want to be blown away by the comprehensiveness of Jim’s thoughts about and understanding of haiku, you’ll have to set aside a little time to read his magnum opus: First Thoughts: A Haiku Primer. This covers everything about haiku, from history to form to content to technique to language, in exhaustive, sometimes exhausting, but exhilarating detail. (If for some reason you’re a little short on time this week and want to read a short excerpt to get an idea of what the Primer is all about, you could just read “How to Write Haiku.”) Try it, you’ll like it.

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Dead Tree News: During the same used-bookstore visit in which I picked up the Johan Huizinga book on play I wrote about the other day, I found a thick tome by Donald Keene entitled World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. It covers poetry, fiction, and drama. I am making my way through it slowly. Very, very slowly. Okay, so I’ve only read two chapters. But they were great chapters!

These were two of six chapters on the early development of “haikai,” which are what we know today as haiku (in case you weren’t aware, no one called them that until Shiki coined the term in the nineteenth century). Keene doesn’t even get around to Basho until chapter 5, so this is the really early development of haikai.

Some of this story was familiar to me — I knew that haikai originally were the first verses of renga, a linked verse form which at the time was primarily a kind of parlor game or a form of court entertainment, often employing crude humor or at best clever word play. But I didn’t know that no one took them seriously as an independent art form until a guy named Matsunaga Teitoku came along. He wasn’t a great poet or anything and he seems to have been a little OCD-ish in insisting that everyone follow the Official Rules of Haikai, which he kind of made up himself. (Some things never change.)

However, Teitoku did haikai the great favor of saying that it was just as valid a poetic form as renga or the fancier poetry known as waka, and also of saying that it was all right to use a simpler, more ordinary vocabulary — “haigon” — in haikai, compared to the more elevated, literary vocabulary that writers of waka usually employed. Here’s what Keene says about this development:

[Teitoku’s] insistence on haigon not only enriched the vocabulary of poetry but opened up large areas of experience that could not be described except with such words. Haikai was especially popular with the merchant class which, though it retained a lingering admiration for the cherry blossoms and maple leaves of the old poetry, welcomed a variety of poetry that could describe their pleasures in an age of peace and prosperity. … [W]ithout his formal guidance haikai poetry might have remained forever on the level of the limerick.

— Donald Keene, “Matsunaga Teitoku and the Creation of Haikai Poetry” from World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867

So there you have it … the next time you are writing a haiku and striving to keep it simple, stupid, you can thank Teitoku.

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Okay, off to brave retail hell in the name of peace on earth. As ever, it was a joy circumnavigating the Haikuverse with you this week. I wish you many silent nights in which to read, and write, haiku, unless you are the kind of person who prefers the company of merry gentlemen this time of year, in which case, by all means, go for it.

June 25: 1-3: Blue

blue moon
escorting improbability
he comes back

Ella Fitzgerald
singing “Am I Blue”
a jay squawks

sky clouded over
for happiness
this blue pill

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It started out as a coincidence that I had a couple of haiku featuring the word “blue” in my gigantic slush pile of rough ku that I need to either revise or flush down the toilet. Then I decided that I liked them (or rather their heavily revised reincarnations) paired together, except they needed another companion, because two haiku aren’t really a sequence, but three are. But I’ll shut up now with the boring commentary and let you discover what else you can about this grouping.