Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Extending the Haiku into Haibun

Although a haiku is often about what we call a "haiku moment," one of those moments of joy when one sees something of beauty, a sudden sunrise or sunset caught at the kitchen window, the first crocus seen on a morning walk, the song of a finch high in a tree, the haiku often seems to need some explaining. As Desi used to say to Lucy, "You got some splainin' to do."

From Basho in the 17th Century to Buson and Issa in the 18th Century to Shiki in the 19th Century,  haiku poets have often found a haiku doesn't stand alone very well without some prose suggesting its context. Basho made four major pilgrimages during his lifetime, and on one of them, he writes in his journal of the Lady Kogo who lived in a hut near where he is staying on his trip. Here is his haibun from the journal.

". . . . Lady Kogo's grave is in the bamboo thicket next to a small teahouse. A cherry tree has been planted as a grave marker. She, who spent her daily life in silk-embroidered garments and quilts, in the end turned into dust and compost among bamboo thickets. I am reminded of the willow of Chao-chun village, the flower of Wu-nu shrine of the old Chinese legends.

sad nodes —
we're all the bamboo's children
in the end

Arashi Mountain —
the path of the wind
through the bamboo grove


And here's a haibun I wrote one afternoon this winter by something I saw as I sat looking out the window into my back yard. I thought that the haiku alone was ok, but felt some explanation for the reader might be helpful. Usually the prose that precedes a haiku is more poetic than normal narrative prose.


A Winter Haibun

I sit in the fading, late afternoon light coming through the family room windows, looking out at a winter-blue sky. The sun has moved beyond trees to the south to reflect off snow, bathing the back yard in brilliance. Light and warmth will fade quickly, though, as the sun settles behind the Front Range and night creeps in from the east. 

            three shadows race 
            up and over the brick wall 
            roosting crows  

And this haibun was a result of watching a sunrise start at blood red and slide through pink to orange and thinking about the change in seasons and how our garden has changed its colors and flowers.


Orange Sunrise
The sun now rises more northeast as the days approach the summer solstice. Mornings are warmer and days hotter. Early spring crocuses and jonquils have folded their tents and molder now at the foot of blue and yellow iris and lavender columbine. Fewer birds flit through morning air because some are brooding their young. A change of seasons is in the air and thundered its nearness last night, softening to an orange sunrise.

quiet spring dawning
crows are off plotting mischief
I miss their brash caws


One of the things I do each day is to write a haiku and send it along to Chris Valentine, my poetry partner and mentor up in Montana. Often, I find that I must explain what I've written so she can perhaps make some suggestions about making it better. And at times I think perhaps some explanation will make the haiku easier to grasp. After all, a haiku is a thought, smell, sight, scene, pared down to a few words, and those words may not be a suggestive of the scene as the poet feels it is. Often, I'll take my explanatory text and place it ahead of the haiku to form a haibun. Then I'll work on the prose to make it a bit more poetic than straight narrative, trying to give more of the flavor of why I wrote the haiku.

And if you're wondering, I have a fascination with crows. We have lots of them in our Denver neighborhood and I love trying to figure out what they are doing as they sometimes fly by silently, sometimes calling, other times gathering in murders and raising hell in the trees.

Here's a poem I wrote some years back about crows in my neighborhood. It was a fun poem to write.

A Murder of Crows

A large, pompadoured crow
struts, stiff-legged, across the street,
breaking into quick crow hops
to gain the grass just ahead of
a speeding car. A slick-haired punk,
showing off for his peershe's cool.

Two raucous, swirling groups
of screaming crows squabble and
threaten, claiming territory.
Rival gangs -- name-calling, posturing,
intimidating. They swarm as if to attack,
but veer offa dangerous
West Side Story ballet.

Thousands of crows clutch winter-bare
limbs, creating black-leaved Gothic trees.
They settle into a ferocious silence.
Half an hour. No sound.
Then at an unseen, silent sign,
they explode out of the trees into
a frenzied, screeching mobChoppers
and their leather-clad riders
roaring through Sturgis.

Do we fear large flocks of crows
because of Hitchcock's The Birds?
Or did the master of scare
use our innate fear?

And here are two haiku I wrote recently about crows.

three crows glide over
a fourth madly flapping caws
wait up wait for me

light brushes crow's wing
feathers gilt by rising sun
an instant of joy

With that, I'll close this blog. Hope this post about haibun helps spur some of you on to writing haiku. And I hope it is as much fun for you as for me. I'm posting this a week early to make up for missing one a bit ago. I'll be in Casper, Wyoming, for the WyoPoets workshop this weekend. I look forward to seeing my poetry partner there.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Writing Small With Haiku

I've been trying to post and entry on this blog every two weeks but missed writing two weeks ago because Ginny Hoyle and I were wrapping up a five week haiku class we'd been co-teaching. I put together a chapbook of the haiku we wrote in the class and had it printed to hand out the last session. That kept me busy.

I subscribe to a weekly online journal, The Weekly Avocet, that features nature poetry, and in this week's issue were several poems I particularly liked. The editor of Avocet suggests that if we like a poem we should write to the poet and let him or her know.

I sent a short note to Joyce Lorenson, of Green, RI, who had written a poem, "Spring Peepers," about those tiny but musical frogs that come out during "mud season," as she poetically puts it. Joyce wrote back and says she reads this blog and has started writing haiku. She says it seems to fit her better. And that's a perfect reason to write haiku, because we fit better into it, or it fits us better.

So, thank you, Joyce, for giving me some ideas for this week's blog. We don't have much of a mud season on the plains of Colorado—much too dry—but we have a crazy spring. We went from a high of 74 on Wednesday to snow Thursday night. I looked out this morning and there was my daily haiku:

spring snow
peach tree becomes white
haired old man

A bit later I looked out after sending my haiku on its way to my poetry partner in Montana and the peach was backlit. Here's the peach tree.

I may find another haiku in this picture. The important point here, and one Ginny and I stressed to our students in our haiku is to "Slow down and be aware." As you write haiku, slow down and start looking more closely at nature and what's going on around you, looking for haiku subjects. Haiku is small enough that you can take something small, the first crocus, snow on branches, a finch singing from the top of an elm, your cat sitting on a table in a sunbeam, a crow flying silently past, and write small around it with a haiku.

Here's the cat sitting on a table in a sunbeam. I was checking on my neighbor's house while they were on a cruise, and I passed a window and there was Willow, sitting in the sun.

small gray cat
lays on table in sun

I think this will lead nicely into my next blog, two ways of expanding haiku using common Japanese poetic forms, the Tanka and the Haibun. But that's for two weeks from now.