Tag: william j. higginson

Dragonfly Dreams

Assorted dragonflies

Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into when I announced this topic? No, I did not. I had no idea that so many people would send me so much varied and amazing poetry about dragonflies. Just as I had no idea there were so many kinds of dragonflies until I started doing a little (okay, a lot) of research…

I’ll launch into the poetry in a minute, but first off, for those among you who like me have to know every. single. thing. there is to know. about something before you can possibly just enjoy reading about it (yes, we are annoying)… here is the Wikipedia article on dragonflies (which fascinatingly contains an entire section on the role dragonflies play in Japanese culture and even references haiku) and here is the page on dragonfly kigo from Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database.

Okay, I’ll shut up now and let you enjoy this dream of dragonflies.

_________________________________________________________________________

.

Red dragonfly perched on grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

aki no ki no akatombo ni sadamarinu

The beginning of autumn,
Decided
By the red dragon-fly.

— Shirao, translated by R.H. Blyth
.

toogarashi hane o tsukereba akatonbo

red pepper
put wings on it
red dragonfly

— Basho, translated by Patricia Donegan

.

Origami dragonfly

(Photo by Jay Otto)

a dragonfly lands
on a stranded paper boat…
summer’s end

— Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies

.

within his armful
of raked leaves
this lifeless dragonfly

— Kirsten Cliff, Swimming in Lines of Haiku

.

Red dragonfly over landscape

(Artwork and poetry by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

dragonflies
the soft blur of time
in another land

.

Dragonfly on ferns

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

out of myself just briefly dragonfly

.
adding a touch
of blue to the breeze –
dragonfly
(Magnapoets Issue 4 July 2009)

.
fading light –
everything the dragonfly
has to say

— Paul Smith, Paper Moon

.

Common darter dragonfly

(Artwork by Amy Smith, The Spider Tribe’s Blog)

.

a crimson darter
skims the mirror-lake…
your lips on mine
tomorrow
may never come
.

twisting and turning
a dragonfly splits
a ray of light …
he says he loves me
in his own way

(Simply Haiku Winter 2011)
.

catching
the blue eye of the breeze
dragonfly

(Simply Haiku Spring 2011)

.

— Claire Everett, At the Edge of Dreams

.

Dragonfly on reeds

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

on the water lily
remains of a dragonfly
morning stillness

(Evergreen English Haiku, 1995)
.

from sedge
to sedge to sedge
dragonfly
.

with a few brushstrokes the dragonfly comes alive
.

autumn dragonfly
waning
like the moon
a few scarlet leaves
silently fall
.

— Pamela A. Babusci

.

Golden dragonfly

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

.

Dragonfly rising
everything shining
in the wind
.

Gold dragonflies
crisscross the air in silence:
summer sunset
.

A cirrus sky
one hundred dark dragonflies
with golden wings

.

— Kris Lindbeck, Haiku Etc.

.

.

Dragonfly on grass blade

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

The dragon-fly,
It tried in vain to settle
On a blade of grass.

— Basho, translated by R.H. Blyth
.

The dragon-fly
Perches on the stick
That strikes at him.

— Kohyo, translated by R.H. Blyth
.

the instant it flies up
a dragonfly
loses its shadow

— Inahata Teiko (1931-), translated by Makoto Ueda

.

Red dragonfly haiga

(Artwork by Rick Daddario, 19 Planets)

.

red dragonfly
on my shoulder, what
rank do I have?
.

spiderweb down,
a damselfly touches
my lips

— Michael Nickels-Wisdom
.

born in the year
of the dragon-
fly!

— Mary Ahearn

.

Red dragonfly in grass

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

sunset
from the tip of my shoe
the red dragonfly

(South by Southeast 18:2)

 

dew on grasses
the dragonflies
are gone
.

in a wrinkle
of light
dragonfly
.

— Donna Fleischer, word pond

.

Typewriter

(Poetry by Melissa Allen; illustration clip art)

.

.

through and through the gate dragonfly

— Melissa Allen

.

Red Hot Dragonfly

.

coupling dragonflies
at break-neck speed—
HOT!

(Modern Haiku 35.1)

— Susan Diridoni

.

Dragonfly close-up

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

on the dried husk
that was an iris blossom
black dragonfly
.

we came here
seeking solitude
the loon
the dragonfly
and the speedboat

— Christina Nguyen, A wish for the sky…

.

Dragonfly and Grasshopper(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro: “Red Dragonfly and Locust [Aka tonbo and Inago]”, from Picture Book of Selected Insects with Crazy Poems [Ehon Mushi Erabi]). From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.)

.

this brief life a dragonfly
.

dragonfly
where there is water
a path
.
— angie werren, feathers

.

tombô ya ni shaku tonde wa mata ni shaku

dragonfly–
flying two feet
then two feet more

— Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

.

Dragonfly on rock

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

a break in the rain…
the stillness
of the dragonfly

— sanjuktaa, wild berries

.

dragonfly—
how much of me
do you see?

— Alegria Imperial, jornales

.

noonday heat
dragonflies slice
the still air

(South by Southeast Vol. 12 #1)

— T.D. Ingram, @haikujots (on twitter)

.

Red dragonfly drawing.

evening breeze
teetering on its perch
a red dragonfly



(Haiku Pix Review, summer 2011)

.— G.R. LeBlanc, Berry Blue Haiku

.

high notes
a red dragonfly skims
across the sound

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

.

Blue dragonfly

(Haiga by Polona Oblak, Crows and Daisies)

.

the heat
between downpours
blue dragonflies

— Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked

.

Steel blue flash
flies wing
drifts
— Robert Mullen

.

Yellow dragonfly

.

dragonfly dreams
the hospital intercom
repeats her name
.
with the password
to her sanity
darting dragonfly
.
iridescent dragonfly
hard to see
how her Ph.D. matters
.
tell me the old stories
one last time
convalescent dragonfly
.
discharge papers
the dragonfly returns home
on new meds
.
letting go of her walker
she lifts into the night sky
dragonfly
.
— Susan Antolin, Artichoke Season

.

Multimedia Interlude:

Sick of everything around here being flat and quiet?  I found some moving stuff that makes noise for you too.

  • First, there’s this amazing (very) short film by Paul Kroeker of the last moments of a dragonfly’s life, which I discovered via Donna Fleischer at word pond. It’s set to music and is incredibly compelling:

http://www.petapixel.com/2011/08/11/spontaneous-and-creative-short-film-of-a-dying-dragonfly-shot-with-a-canon-7d/

  • Second, there are several versions of the well-known Japanese folk song (I mean, well-known to the Japanese) Aka Tombo, which means “Red Dragonfly.” This is apparently an indispensable part of every Japanese child’s upbringing. There are an almost infinite number of variations of this on YouTube so if these four aren’t enough for you, feel free to go noodling around over there looking for more.

Female vocalists

Male vocalists

Instrumental

With upbeat dance backing track added

.

and on this general theme…

.

perched on bamboo grass
the low notes
of a dragonfly

(Haiku inspired by Tif Holmes’s Photo-Haiku Project:  http://tifholmesphotography.com/cphp/2011/07/july-2011-series-entry-11/)

— Kathy Nguyen (A~Lotus), Poetry by Lotus

.

for when even
the music stops—
dragonfly wings

— Aubrie Cox, Yay words!

.

Dragonfly tiles

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

mid-morning
a dragonfly and I
bound for Mississippi
.

in and out of view
the computer-drawn dragonfly
on the web page

— Tzetzka Ilieva
.

dragonfly
at 60 miles per hour
those giant eyes

— Johnny Baranski

.

Dragonfly on stalk

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

first impressions
a dragonfly hovers
before landing

— Cara Holman, Prose Posies

.

Dragonfly zip haiku

.

.

.

— Linda Papanicolaou, Haiga Online

.

In this forest glade
The snail gone, a dragonfly lights
On the mushroom cap

— P. Allen

.

Owl catching dragonfly

.

‘Oh!  Catch it!’

‘I heard they eat their own tails’

When I was a child, living on an Air Force base in Okinawa, it was a common belief, among the elementary school set, a dragonfly would eat itself if you caught it and fed it its own tail.  I looked online and didn’t find any references to this notion so maybe we were all sniffing the good Japanese glue.

Anyhow, even though we constantly snagged lizards and grasshoppers and cicadas, I never saw any one ever catch a dragonfly, as common as they were.

dragonfly
we play in the puddles
afraid to get close

— Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve

.

Dragonfly on bark

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

dragonfly—
wings vibrating
on the rock face
(From the sequence “Ten Haiku: For the Dodge Tenth Anniversary Hike” in The Monkey’s Face)

dragonfly
on my fingernail
looks at me
(From Wind in the Long Grass, edited by William J. Higginson [Simon & Schuster, Books for Young Readers, 1991])

— Penny Harter, Penny Harter homepageA Poet’s Alphabestiary, Etc.

.

An old tree
No bud and no leaf
full of dragonflies.

— @vonguyenphong22 (on Twitter)

.

Dragonfly illustration.

neti neti
a dragonfly hums
raga Megh
(raga Megh(a)=a raga for the monsoon season. Neti neti= a key expression from the Upanishads: “not this nor this” or “not this nor that” alluding to the essence of things.)
.

”the sky’s gone out”
on the radio – and then
a dragonfly
.

dragonfly –
I mark an unpaid bill
“later”

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

.

Orange dragonfly

(Photo by Melissa Allen)

.

in and out the reeds
a blue dragonfly
mother keeps sewing
.

stitching
water and sky together
–       damselflies

— Paganini Jones, http://www.pathetic.org/library/5644

.

boys playing games
stones miss the darning needle

— Jim Sullivan, haiku and commentary and tales
.

dragonfly heading to the lemon hanging in the sun

— Gene Myers, genemyers.com, @myersgene (on Twitter)

.

Dragonfly and poppies

(Artwork by Kitagawa Utamaro, “Dragonfly and Butterfly,” from A Selection of Insects)

.

bluetail damselfly
escapes the empty cottage
where children once played
(1st place Kiyoshi Tokutomi Memorial Haiku Contest 2009)
.

on the bus
to the children’s museum
first dragonfly

— Roberta Beary, Roberta Beary

.

flitting idly
from flower to flower
a blue damsel
lights upon the lotus
unfolding iridescence

— Margaret Dornaus, Haiku-Doodle

.

Dragonfly with water lilies

(Photo by Jay Otto)

.

dark waters
a dragonfly dreaming
its reflection
.

iridescent wings
the flying parts of
the dragon

— Stella Pierides, Stella Pierides
.

silhouetted dragonfly
reeds pierce the moon
(The Mainichi Daily News, May 30, 2009)

— Martin Gottlieb Cohen

Across the Haikuverse, No. 9: Rabbit Edition

So. We’ve started another trip around the sun. Is everyone strapped in tightly? This planet can really get up some speed when it wants to. I have a feeling this is going to be an especially speedy year for me. So much haiku to read and write, so little time.

With that in mind — let’s start this week’s tour of the Haikuverse without further ado. This will be a long one. Go ahead, add an extra five minutes to your coffee break, I won’t tell.

*

Haiku on New

I’ve mentioned before that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit according to the Japanese calendar, and that rabbit haiku have been proliferating like, um, rabbits all over the Interwebs. If you’re interested in reading some (I make fun of them, just because I like to make fun of things — including, in all fairness, myself — but a lot of them are really good), there are a bunch of examples (and a bunch of other great New Year haiku) over at the Akita International Haiku Network blog.

Other places to read good New Year haiku (and haiga, and tanka, and gogyoghka) include the following, which is just a small sample of the pages I remembered to bookmark that had good New Year haiku and doesn’t include any of the many good New Year haiku I encountered on Facebook and Twitter in the last week or so. (You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Don’t you?)

.
Vincent Tripi/Kuniharu Shimizu (haiga), see haiku here
Gary Hotham, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku
Bill Kenney, haiku-usa
Takuya Tomita, tr. by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
John McDonald, zen speug
Steve Mitchell, Heed Not Steve
Johannes S.H. Bjerg, scented dust
Chen-ou Liu, Stay Drunk on Writing

*

Haiku Till You Drop

And on to haiku on other topics — quite a few of those were written recently too, believe it or not. We must start off with my obligatory Vincent Hoarau haiku in French. (My apologies to anyone who doesn’t know French and/or has no appreciation for the haiku of Vincent Hoarau, but he knocks my socks off. And I have somehow just managed to discover that he has a blog! so you don’t need to have a Facebook account to read his poetry after all! Though this one doesn’t seem to be on the blog at the moment.)

leur bébé dort
dans la neige
de l’échographie

— vincent hoarau

.

Another new blog I’ve just discovered: Haiku by Two, where I found the following lovely offering by Alison (can’t seem to locate a last name):

whether or not
there is a god –
heavenly skies

— Alison

.

This one from Blue Willow Haiku World really struck me for some reason. I was right out there on the ocean for a while after I read it. Caravels. Whales breaching. Waves, fog, salt spray. Japanese whaling ships. Guys in ruffed collars. An inundation of images, if you will.

the Age of Discovery
has ended
a whale

— Eiji Hashimoto, translated by Fay Aoyagi

.

Over at The Haiku Diary, Elissa managed to perfectly capture the spirit of procrastination, especially the procrastination of us writers who can always think of some other creative thing to do that’s sort of like writing but nahhh. I should write this one down and tape it to my laptop.

To-do Listless

Gluing tiny
collages onto matchboxes
doesn’t count as “Write!”.

— Elissa

*

New Year’s Resolution: Exercise

Somebody (who? who? I must remember to write these things down!) posted this link to Facebook a week or two ago. It’s “a training exercise … [that] helps condition the muscles necessary for making haiku.” The poster suggested that it would be of help to those pursuing Fiona Robyn’s a river of stones project this month, which it certainly would, but it also seems like an invaluable exercise for anyone interested in learning to write haiku, or improving the haiku they already write. If you try it, let me know how it worked out.

*

Blog News

Out with the old, in with the new, isn’t that what they say this time of year? Well, right with the New Year a couple of new blogs worth watching started up and another one of my old favorites closed up shop.

First I’d like to pay tribute to the latter, David Marshall’s wonderful haiku streak. At this blog and another, David has been posting a daily haiku for five years (yes, you did read right). He says he’s giving up his streak now because he’s starting to feel that writing them is becoming a routine and he’s no longer sure of the purpose. But I have to say that practically everything he writes seems utterly inspired to me. His haiku are like no one else’s on the planet, and that kind of intense personal vision is rare.

Here’s his last entry, posted on New Year’s Eve:

Moved Out

In the empty room
an empty box—everything
inside me at last

— David Marshall

Fortunately, David is not giving up poetry altogether. I will be following him at his other poetry site, derelict satellite, where he says he plans to post weekly “haiku sonnets” — fascinating concept.

.

And to console me a little, Anne Lessing and Aubrie Cox started up new blogs on the first of the year. I have been eagerly awaiting Anne’s The Haiku Challenge ever since she announced way back last May that she would be starting to write a daily haiku on 1/1/11. Anne, gloriously, is a teenager who is a relative newcomer to haiku, but not to writing, and she too has a very well-defined personal vision. I loved her first offering:

first second of a new year
and all I see is
glitter
— Anne Lessing

.

Aubrie Cox, whom I met at the “Cradle of American Haiku” Festival back in September, is not new to haiku, although she too is very young. She’s a senior in college who has been studying haiku for several years now under the aegis of Randy Brooks, has published her very skillful haiku many times, and has a vast store of knowledge about the history and poetics of haiku that awes me. You can find out more about her at her personal blog, Aubrie Cox. But she’s just started up another blog called Yay Words! (which is, of course, the best blog name ever). She started it to participate in a river of stones, and also plans to use it for just generally celebrating words in all their forms. I love enthusiasm combined with knowledge (that will be the name of my next blog), so I’m sure Aubrie’s blog will become a favorite very soon. Here’s her first “small stone”:

new hat
trying to make it fit like the old one

— Aubrie Cox

.

I discovered a site this week that is new to me although not to the world, and although it may be of interest to none of my readers I just had to let you know about it because I am jumping up and down in my mind with excitement whenever I think about it. It’s called Taming the Monkey Mind and it features — wait for it — Russian translations of Issa’s haiku. Yeah. I know. My life is pretty much complete now. Okay, so it doesn’t look like they’ve updated since 2008 but they have just recently started tweeting on Twitter, so I’m hoping that means that more translations are in the works. A girl can dream, can’t she?
.

Another great site that I can’t believe I never discovered before is Haiku Chronicles, featuring wonderful podcasts about various aspects of haiku. I’ve only had time to listen to one, which was about a renku party and went into fascinating detail about the composition of renku in general and one renku in particular. If you listen to any others, send me reviews — I will be working my way through the rest slowly.

*

Essaying Essays

I found a few essays that blew my mind this week. I’m starting to get a little tired here (this is actually the last section of this post I am writing, even though it doesn’t appear at the end — I like to jump around when I write, it makes things more interesting). So I might not go into as much detail about them as I had planned to (you are probably giving devout thanks for this right now to whatever deity floats your boat).

This is where I implore you to follow the links and read some of this stuff. Okay, I won’t lecture you any more. You probably have one or two other important things to do with your time, like making a living or raising children or growing prize orchids or something. Or, you know, writing haiku instead of reading about it. How sensible of you!

.
Last week Chen-ou Liu posted on his blog Poetry in the Moment an essay called “The Ripples from a Splash: A Generic Analysis of Basho’s Frog Haiku” that might forever change the way you look at good old furuike ya. He discusses the necessity of viewing this poem in the context of the literature of its time — for instance, “frog” is a spring kigo that was “used in poems since ancient times, and had always referred to its singing and calling out to a lover.” By making the frog’s sound a splash instead of singing, Basho parodies literary convention. The poem also works, of course, on a purely literal, objective level, but this second dimension of allusion to earlier literature is usually missing from most Western translations and considerations of this poem.

Chen-ou concludes with his own poetic sequence paying tribute to this ku and to Basho and other earlier literary masters, including this verse:

this frog
crouches on a lotus leaf —
reciting Basho

— Chen-ou Liu

.

At Still in the Stream there is an essay by Richard R. Powell called “Wabi-Sabi in Haiku,” which gives many examples with a detailed analysis of what makes them wabi-sabi. You will definitely want to go look at this one, if only for the wonderful examples. It’s beautifully laid out and wabi-sabi is always fascinating to contemplate.

Here’s one of the examples and a bit of Powell’s commentary to go along with it, just to whet your appetite:

wings aglow –
gulls rising above
the garbage

– Eric Houck Jr.

Yesterday while on a walk with my son we observed two herring gulls alight on a lamp pole. They seemed to be a pair and one stuck out its neck and emitted the common and recognizable call gulls everywhere make. I thought of Mr. Houck’s haiku and watched as the two birds leapt into the air and soared over us. Looking up at these birds I was struck by their clean appearance, the sharp line between the white feathers and gray ones. Their bodies, when they glide, are smooth and elegant, heads pivoting on otherwise plane-rigid bodies. I was charged with a subtle joy, not overwhelming, but hopeful.

Mr. Houck’s poem is an excellent example of a haiku that contains karumi, the quality Basho considered to be the hallmark of his mature style.

— Richard R. Powell, “Wabi-Sabi in Haiku”

.

This one isn’t really an essay, but a review. But Don Wentworth’s reviews over at Issa’s Untidy Hut are always so in-depth and thought-provoking that they give the same satisfaction to me as a well-wrought essay. This one concerns John Martone’s book of short poetry, scrittura povera. I had never heard of this poet before but I will certainly be searching out more of his work. Here’s an example:

how much time
do you need
morning glory

— John Martone

Don, a fellow Issa aficionado, says of this one (and I agree with him) that, “In terms of modern haiku, it just doesn’t get much better than this.  There is certainly a touch of Issa here, a perfect balancing between the comic and the serious. It is, as is life, both at the same time.”

I would definitely recommend that you follow the link and at least read through the example poems by Martone, even if you don’t have time to read the full review. They are all superb.

*
Competition Corner

A bunch of fun competitions are in the works at the moment. As always, there are the monthly Shiki Kukai (which I wrote about a few days ago; this month’s topics still haven’t been announced but should be any day now so keep your eyes peeled, if that isn’t too painful) and Caribbean Kigo Kukai (this month’s kigo: calendar). Kukai are a great way to get your feet wet in the contest world, and they’re judged by the participants so you get to have fun picking out your favorite ku from among the entries.

.

But there are also a couple of contests that don’t come around as often. You’ll have to act fast on the first one: XII bilingual Calico Cat Contest. It’s a blitz — it just started yesterday, and the deadline is tomorrow. But it’s a fun one for several reasons: It involves using one of the wonderful sumi-e paintings of Origa Olga Hooper (contest organizer) as a prompt, the prize being said sumi-e painting; and — so you know I’m definitely going to enter — all the entries will be translated into Russian (if they’re in English) or English (if they’re in Russian), and posted on the contest site in both languages for everyone to see before the judging. You can submit up to three haiku; maybe I’ll try writing one in Russian. Or not. I might have to work up to that level of bravery.

.

The final contest on my list is the biggest. Just opening today, with a deadline of March 31, is The Haiku Foundation’s yearly HaikuNow contest. There are three categories: Traditional, Contemporary, and Innovative — go to the site for more explanation and examples of what exactly these categories mean. This contest gives out actual monetary awards and it’s free to enter, so there’s no downside, really. Go for it!

Full disclosure: I am helping out (on basically a peon level) with coordinating this contest. Specifically, I, along with two other helper elves, will be fetching contest entries from email, taking the authors’ names off for anonymity’s sake, and sending them off to the judges to be judged. This is a great gig for me, of course, because I get to see a lot of really cool haiku before anyone else. Sadly, I of course cannot share these really cool haiku with you or anyone else, but maybe the inspiration I derive from reading them will help make the haiku I post here a little better, which will surely improve your life.

*

Dead Tree News

After I got the “Close, But No Cigar” award in The Haiku Foundation’s Facebook contest in November (basically, I was a runner-up, but Jim Kacian, the judge, invented this humorous award name to indicate that he liked the idea of my ku but was not so wild about its execution), the Foundation kindly sent me and all the other winners and runners-up a copy of where the wind turns: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku.

This turned out to be a great prize. The panel of ten editors, led by Jim, chose their favorites from the past year’s journal output and web content, and I assure you that they have excellent taste. I spent a lot of my extensive driving time over the holidays reading it. I started out marking all the stuff I liked, until I realized that I was marking pretty much every page. Want some examples? Yeah, I thought you did.

Okay, here are just a couple of the ku that blew me away. Okay, more than a couple. Really, I narrowed it down as much as I could:

autumn rain
deeper and darker
the taste of tea
— Mary Ahearn

cemetery gate
she let me
go first
— Yu Chang

new year’s day all my anxieties in alphabetical order
—Carlos Colon

leaves too small
to touch each other
spring chill
— Burnell Lippy

blue sky
maybe I don’t need
to be right
— Harriot West

.

Haiku were not the only things in this anthology either. There were some amazing haibun, and in my experience amazing haibun are not all that easy to find. The most touching of these was William (Bill) Higginson’s last piece of writing before he died in 2008, “Well-Bucket Nightfall, or New Day?,” a masterly meditation on well buckets, life transitions, death, and haiku. I also commend to you Johnny Baranski’s “Gandhi’s Game” and Bob Lucky’s “Shiraz.”

And then there were the essays … oh God, the essays. I wish I had time to write essays about the essays. But most of them you can find online so you can read them yourselves. (I know most of you won’t though. Uh-oh. Starting to lecture again.)

There was a reprint of one of my longtime favorite essays, a consideration of the haiku of Fay Aoyagi (one of my favorite poets) by David Lanoue (one of my favorite translators). A very interesting meditation on haiku and capitalism (which I’m not sure I entirely understood), by Dimitar Anakiev. A fascinating essay on haiku from the World War II Japanese internment camps, by Margaret Chula (the essay doesn’t seem to be online but here’s a link to her book on the same subject).

.

The only essay I would like to say a little more about is Jim Kacian’s, called So::Ba, which I am still thinking about, because it both crystallized some of the ideas that I have been having about haiku myself and also added some new information and ideas to support my previously vague, uncertain thinking. Basically, Jim takes the English sentence “So here we are” and relates it to the Japanese word “ba,” which he translates as “a pointer to a kind of awareness that something of importance is happening in time and space.” In his vision of haiku poetics, ba is essential: “Ba is the basis for pretty much everything we do in haiku. In fact, ba is the message of haiku: so here we are!”

A lot of the essay is taken up with denigration of the vast amount of “trash” haiku out there these days, and with historical notes about the development of haiku, in which Basho gets a hero’s welcome and Shiki gets piled on for his objectivism: his insistence on merely observing nature, rather than alluding to human history or culture or literature, or making use of the kind of richness of emotional expression that characterized the haiku of, among others, Basho and Buson. Jim regrets that the West encountered haiku right at the moment when Shiki was the dominant influence on haiku, since what he considers as the wrong-headed separation of Nature from Man in the minds of most haiku poets tends to persist to this day.

So how should we be thinking about haiku, according to Jim? Well, as far as I can make out, as a form of poetry that expresses a moment of the poet’s consciousness, that makes use of art and imagination as well as purely objective observation (this discussion will undoubtedly seem familiar to those of you who read my “Willow Buds” post the other day). I really love this passage from the essay in particular:

Haiku is not photography, a simple exact limning of what lies before our eyes. If it is an art, then it must be the selecting and ordering of words into a cogent form that helps lead another’s mind along the path that the poet’s has followed, with perhaps a similar reaction to be had at the end. And this rarely takes place before the butterfly’s wing, but usually in the roiling of the mind, consciously and unconsciously, whenever it can — for me that often means in the middle of the night.

And yet despite this we still retain some residual disdain for what are termed “desk haiku.” In truth, every haiku I’ve ever written has been a desk haiku. It may have had its origins in some natural spectacle, and I may even have written it on the spot. But always, some time later and in the darkness of my mind and study, I look again. It’s this revisiting that is the actual work of art — even if I don’t change a word. “Desk haiku” is another way of saying I’m a working poet.

— Jim Kacian, “So:Ba”

Lots to think about here. I hope you go and read this one if you have a spare half-hour. Jim’s thoughts are always worth encountering.

.

Note: For those of you who are holding your breath, Dead Tree News will return next week to the thrilling saga of the early development of Japanese haikai (haiku), as recounted in Donald Keene’s World Within Walls. Don’t miss this exciting installment in which master Basho arrives on the scene!

*

Okay. [Heaves sigh of relief.] I made it through yet another massive list of indispensable haiku-related reading for yet another week. What is the deal with you people — you keep writing too much good stuff. Or I keep reading too much good stuff. I don’t know who has the bigger problem. Is there some kind of 12-step program for people like us — oh, look, there is! (Thanks, Michael!)

Happy Rabbiting, fellow traversers of the Haikuverse. And hey, I am dying for a day off here, so don’t forget to send me your haiku for my 400th post next week!

Renga: An introduction and an invitation

I’ve been meaning for a while now to write something about renga*, the form of long collaborative verse from which the haiku was derived (by the great Basho), and which is still being written and enjoyed by millions around the globe … well, okay, maybe thousands on a good day. It fascinates me, because we have nothing like this art form in English — for us, poetry is a solo sport, in popular mythology the province of tortured, lonely geniuses sweating it out in their attic bedrooms or sordid studio apartments. (Or suburban kitchens, as the case may be.)

For the Japanese, however, poetry was for a long time a basic social skill, at least for the upper classes, a way of impressing lovers and court rivals. In The Tale of Genji, the eleventh-century work that is generally called the world’s first novel, the hero, an illegitimate son of the emperor who is implausibly and annoyingly talented at everything, is always seducing his (many, many) ladies with little verses he tosses off practically without thinking about it, and they are always replying in kind.

At that time, the tanka was one of the most prominent verse forms — five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese syllables. Tanka contests were popular among those with nothing better to do with their time. Renga, it’s hypothesized, began as a way of, um, relaxing after these contests — by writing more poetry, except this time in collaboration with your rivals instead of in competition with them. That is, it was a party game. Those crazy Japanese!

The basic idea behind renga is that one person writes the first part of the tanka (the 5-7-5 — sound familiar?) and another person writes the second part (the 7-7) — and then someone else writes another 5-7-5 connected to the 7-7, and someone else writes another 7-7 connected to that, and on and on — sometimes, in the good old days, for a thousand stanzas or more.

By Basho’s time (seventeenth century), even the Japanese were beginning to feel that this length was a little bit crazy. Basho had the idea to cap the renga at 36 stanzas, which he neatly and sensibly laid out in a little 4-page book, 6 stanzas on the first and last pages and 12 on the 2 middle pages. He also made up all kinds of rules about what kind of subjects each stanza was supposed to cover. You were supposed to start the renga with a verse about the season you were in, for instance. (This first verse of the renga is called a hokku. Basho liked writing hokku so much that he wrote a whole bunch of them without bothering with the rest of the renga, and thus the haiku was born — though it didn’t get that name until Shiki thought it up in the nineteenth century.)

These days people still frequently write Basho-style 36-stanza renga (they’re called kasen), but renga can be any number of stanzas really, written by any number of people — sometimes even solo, though that seems to kind of miss the point as far as I’m concerned. On the wondrous Interweb, you can find all kinds of detailed instructions and blank forms for composing renga of different types and different numbers of stanzas — I’ll throw some links down at the bottom of this in case you’re really interested.

For me, though, the really interesting thing about renga isn’t the form per se, it’s the way they’re composed and the way the stanzas link together. William J. Higginson and Penny Harter, in The Haiku Handbook (from which I admit I have cribbed a lot of the preceding information), explain memorably:

“The point of renga writing is not to tell a story in a logical progression. Each stanza must move in some new direction, connected to the stanza just before it but usually not to earlier stanzas. When reading a renga we do not discover a narrative sequence, but zig-zag over the different imaginary landscapes of the poets’ minds, much as a spaceship coming out of polar orbit might flash now over ice and snow, now over teeming cities, now over green forests, ultimately to splash down into blue ocean. As readers we should enjoy the flow of sights, sounds, and insights as they tumble past.”

— Higginson and Harter, The Haiku Handbook, p. 192

Just as memorably, Jane Reichhold explains how to link renga stanzas and comments a little on what it actually feels like to engage in this dance of minds:

“[T]he important thing to watch is what happens BETWEEN the links. Think of each stanza as a springboard from which you are going to jump. As your mind leaps (and you think you know where the poem is going) you should be forced to make a somersault in order to land upright in the next link. It is the twist your mind makes between links that makes renga interesting.

Some leaps are close (as in the beginning and end of the poem) so the subject is moved only slightly ahead. In the middle of the poem renga whizzes can pirouette until your head spins — and that is just what is desired.

Take your partner by the hand. Start tapping your feet. Bow. And away you go.”

— Jane Reichhold, “Jump Start to Renga

I have to say that when I first started reading renga I was a little baffled — as Jane says, my head was spinning a little. Finding the connections between stanzas can be challenging, and understanding the point of a poem that whirls from subject to subject and thought to thought so quickly was difficult for my linear Western mind.

I didn’t really get it until I found “Omelet” — a renga written by Jane and Sue Stafford, this online version of which they have helpfully annotated so that you understand what was going on in the poet’s minds when they made their leaps between stanzas. Another great annotated example is “The Click of Mahjong Tiles,” written by six different authors. I also really like the example given in The Haiku Handbook, a renga by five authors called “Eleven Hours” that can be found on pages 202-206 of the 25th anniversary edition.

Once you start to get it, it’s exhilarating to watch the flashes of understanding and communication from mind to mind, from stanza to stanza: as I said, nothing like any English poetry, and as Jane says, more like a dance, or maybe a jazz band riffing.

These days, renga aren’t written so often as a party game, because how often do you have two or more capable haiku poets, with at least several hours to spare, at a party? But the Internet and its instant communication have made it much easier to write renga long-distance. Which brings me to my (highly shy and diffident) invitation —

anyone want to renga with me? Obvious disclaimer: I don’t have any actual idea how to do this, I’m just really interested in learning. I don’t care whether you have any renga experience or not. I just kind of want to see what it’s like to pass poetry back and forth with one or more other minds. (My experiment the other day writing haibun in collaboration with my friend Alex has whetted my appetite for this even more.)

Drop me a comment or an email if this sounds interesting to you, and we’ll see what we can do.

*

More information about renga/renku:

How to Renga (Jane Reichhold’s Aha! Poetry site) — information, instructions, forms for composing renga (Basho, kasen style)

Renku Home — a world of information, mostly by William J. Higginson

Renku Reckoner — John Carley’s site that has detailed instructions and forms for composing many different types of renku

4 Elements Renga — forms and instructions for composing renga based on the four elements

—–

*Some people call it renku. I am not equipped to comment on or settle the debate on this issue. Call it whatever you want. Renga, renku, let’s call the whole thing off.

13 Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens: Found haiku, and a poetic tribute

Make sure you make it to the bottom of this post. There is a delicious candy surprise waiting for you. Or, um, a pile of Brussels sprouts, depending on your opinion of derivative, semi-parodical poetry.

The other day somebody compared some of my work to Wallace Stevens’s. This was hugely flattering to me because, although I don’t really believe in picking favorites when it comes to poetry (or really anything else), if someone held a gun to my head and said, “Name your favorite poet or else,” I would have to say (or rather, probably, shriek in desperation), “Wallace Stevens! Wallace Stevens!”

Like everyone else who knows a fair amount about both Wallace Stevens and haiku, I’d noticed the resemblance between haiku and probably his best-known poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” William J. Higginson and Penny Harter, in The Haiku Handbook (great book! read it!), quote the first stanza as an example of the influence of the haiku on early-2oth-century poetry:

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I could probably go on for a while about what Stevens’s theory of poetics was and why he’s so great and everyone should love him, but you don’t really care and if you do you can go read about him on Wikipedia or even better, pick up a copy of The Palm at the End of the Mind from someplace and just read his poetry until you fall over in a dead faint.

What you are really looking for here is some pseudo-haiku culled from Stevens’s work. And although I have some reservations about this exercise because I don’t think it gives all that accurate an impression of what his highly metaphorical, dense, intellectual poetry is about, I can oblige you, forthwith:

At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the falling leaves
(“Domination of Black”)


 

the grackles crack
their throats of bone
in the smooth air
(“Banal Sojourn”)


 

The white cock’s tail
Streams to the moon.
Water in the fields.
(“Ploughing on Sunday”)


 

The skreak and skritter
of evening gone
and grackles gone
(“Autumn Refrain”)


 

A bridge above the … water
And the same bridge
when the river is frozen
(“Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery”)


 

Long autumn sheens
and pittering sounds like sounds
on pattering leaves
(“Mr. Burnshaw and the Statue”)


 

The grass in in seed.
The young birds are flying.
Yet the house is not built
(“Ghosts as Cocoons”)


 

Slowly the ivy
on the stones
becomes the stones
(“The Man with the Blue Guitar”)


 

A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter
when afternoons return
(“The Poems of Our Climate”)


 

a bough in the electric light…
so little to indicate
the total leaflessness
(“An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”)


— All selections from Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play

*

Did you make it all the way through that? Okay…as either a reward or a punishment (you decide), I am now going to inflict on you a rare example of my non-haiku poetry. It is of course haiku-ish (being modeled on a haiku-ish poem), so it’s not too terrible. I don’t think. Oh — be sure you’ve actually read “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” before you read it, or the full effect will be lost on you.

Something else you need to know to fully appreciate this is that Wallace Stevens famously had a day job as an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut.

Thirteen Ways of Looking At Wallace Stevens

I.
The view from the window
Of the poet’s office:
Thin clouds spread
Over a hazy sky.

II.
I drive down the avenues of Hartford
Looking for Wallace Stevens
Or for what he has left behind.

III.
Precision, quiddity, and fancy,
The shape of Wallace Stevens’ mind.

IV.
A man sits at a mahogany desk
Holding his pen completely still over
An empty ledger book.

V.
The black marks on an actuarial table
Look much like the black marks
On a page of poetry.

VI.
Wallace Stevens walks to work
Down streets blackbirds have flown along.

VII.
What will you pay me, Wallace Stevens,
Not to finish this poem?

VIII.
I wake from a strange dream
Through which Wallace Stevens was flying.

IX.
The shadowy quality of a day in the mountains
Spent reading Wallace Stevens.

X.
Unassimilable,
Like the thing and the image of the thing,
Like the two parts of Wallace Stevens’ life:
The doing, and the being.

XI.
Wallace Stevens leaves the office,
Carrying an umbrella,
His briefcase swinging
At the end of the arm he writes with.

XII.
The two eyes of the poet,
Seeing in two directions.

XIII.
I sit down to write a poem.
I look up, and there is Wallace Stevens.
He casts his shadow over the paper.