Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some Haiku I Wish I'd Have Written

I thought for this week, I'd share some haiku that I envy, ones I wish I had written. They come from different sources and reflect the varying styles of haiku. They show that lots of things are fair game and that modern haiku comes in different flavors.

I remembered one I really liked but couldn't find it, and as I scoured Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America, I came across this one which is almost as good. It was written by Stanford M. Forrester of Windsor, CT.

haiku walk —
a flower pollinates
my notebook

This haiku is striking because of the surprise of the last line. Many teachers of haiku recommend haiku walks in which the poet walks deliberately, observes carefully, and takes notes, either in a notebook or mentally. Obviously this walk was worth the time.

Here is another from Frogpond that was selected as the best of those in the previous journal.

            summer heat
            strands of her hair not captured
            by her braid

The ambiguity of this haiku is what makes me love it, as well as the sexy and sensual image. And who's "summer heat" are we to notice? Hers? His? The weather? This one was written by Michael Ketchek of Rochester, NY.

Another, less sensual but equally effective haiku selected as the best of the previous issue of Frogpond, starts with weather but heads into a different direction. It's by Peter Newton of Winchendon, MA.

            afternoon rain
            emptying a book
            of its words.

The next haiku was written by Issa, one of the great haiku masters of 19th Century Japan. It shows his great regard for nature and reminds me of how I ignore spiders in the house or talk to them, warning them about not coming near Kathy, my wife.
don't worry spiders
            I keep house

This next two haiku are by my haiku partner and mentor, Chris Valentine, from Birney, MT. She lives in a tiny town on a hill overlooking the big sky and hills of the Tongue River valley. Winters can be tough up there, cold, snowy, lonesome.

            snow falls
            a silent landscape broken
            by squabbling finches

            snow and more snow
            friends reduced to images
            across the phone line

This next haiku was written by another friend who co-teaches a haiku class with me, Ginny Hoyle. She wrote it as part of a project in which a painter and a poet are paired to produce a painting and a poem tied to the painting. The haiku is then painted on the canvas and tells about the painting better than any description I might write.

            over dark water
            under dark skies

The shape of the haiku suggests the painting. One strange but fascinating aspect of this haiku is that the dark water in it is over the ducks and the dark skies under them. A result of Ginny's delightful sense of poetry and humor, which is also obvious from this next haiku of hers.

            night walk
            trespassing on my neighbor's snow
            a stop sign's shadow

Another haiku with a surprise in the last line. Makes it one I wished I had written. But then Ginny's imagination far exceeds mine.

So you see the wide range of subjects for haiku. And the various formats, from 5-7-5 to shorter lines and even one in which the line length is very different from the usual short line, long line, short line, to one where lines 1 and 3 are long to frame the ducks.

I've saved two of my favorite haiku for last. Both come from a small chapbook of haiku, The Deep End Of The Sky, by a wonderful poet from Pierre, SD, Chad Lee Robinson. A friend recommended the book and I ordered it recently from the publisher, Turtle Light Press,  Arlington, VA.


Another surprise at the end of this haiku. Perhaps it's just my old pilot's habit of looking at the sky overhead and then down to the horizon, but the words of this haiku, leading down to the prairie, almost seem to bend from overhead to the prairie horizon. This is the one haiku that if I could steal and call mine, I would. I read it and was amazed.

Here's the other haiku on that page, about as good. I'll just offer the haiku and shut up so as not to spoil the effect.

            meadowlark —
            all you'll ever need to know
            about sunrise

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Walking Pilgrimage Through Haiku Revision

I thought the term "Walking Pilgrimage" for the revision process was appropriate because the Japanese haiku masters, Basho, Buson, and Issa, went on long walking pilgrimages to visit sacred cherry trees, Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. And a current haiku master, Momoko Kuroda, has repeated their pilgrimages. They all wrote haiku along the way as part of their travel journals.

My little bichon got me up at 11:30 PM—she must have an atomic clock in her head to always jump off the bed and whine at that time every night—and as we walked outside, I discovered it was raining softly. I didn't hear it as I got out of bed because it was not as loud as my grumbling about her getting me up.

I went back to bed and woke around 4:20 AM, this time for my own trip to the bathroom, and I lay there for a few minutes listening to the wonderful sound of a soft spring rain. My mind keeps flashing back to the terrible drought we went through for three years, and the sound of rain is sweet music.

Because I always wake with the thought that I must produce a haiku for Chris, my mentor and poetry partner, I immediately start thinking haiku. Rain in the night is a perfect topic. So I started writing variations in my head. Here are a few, as best I can remember them. Galloping senility has not yet arrived this morning.

spring sound
soft rain drops on new leaves
in the night

spring music
soft rain on spring green leaves

May music
rain on spring green leaves
made for sleep

spring music
rain drops on lime green leaves

spring music
rain on lime-green leaves

As you can see, I've come up with a bunch of variations, any of which might work, but I like to wait until I'm awake and sitting at the computer to capture a more final version. Knowing I wanted a blog entry for this morning, I tried to remember my first few variations and wrote them down immediately before I forgot them. Normally, I just start with the latest variation in my head and go from there.

soft music
spring rain on new leaves

Then I realized that this last variation has missed the fact that this was happening at night, so I used the title of a local PBS evening classical music show in the haiku, "night music." I had already moved from "lullaby" to "adagio," and that perhaps suggested "night music" to me.

night music
spring rain on new leaves

Then I changed "spring rain" to "May rain" and that felt better. It set the scene at night in May and spring because of the new leaves on the trees. The haiku was feeling better.

night music
May rain on new leaves

Then I decided to run through what I'd already written to see if anything seemed left out in the haiku. I liked the word "soft" earlier on because it was a soft rain, not one of those pounding thunderstorm deluges we often get at night from storms that build over the mountains in the afternoon and move east over the city at night. So I added "soft" back in, which lengthened the middle line, but it didn't feel too long.

night music
soft May rain on new leaves

I like this version and have decided to stick with it. It sets the time for me, at night, in the spring, May in particular, and the trees have just leafed out. I also like the accents or stresses of that longer middle line. "soft May rain" has three stresses with no unaccented syllables, and "new leaves" two stresses. For me they echo the drumming of the rain on the leaves, window pane, and the roof just outside the window. For me it captures that "haiku moment" I felt. Finished and off to Chris for my daily haiku.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

So! What's a Tanka?

We've discussed the haiku, then the haibun—haiku with prose added to set the stage or context—so now let's look at the tanka. If we use the 5-7-5 haiku as a starting point, think of the tanka's structure as 5-7-5-7-7, a haiku with two added long lines. If you are using the short line, long line, short line technique for your haiku, just add two lines about as long as the long line of the haiku.

There is often a switch in tone or subject in the final two lines of the tanka. Here's an example that Jane Reichhold offers in her book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku:

            in seven years
            the body replaces itself
            how is it
            I know in every cell
            the hour we first met

This tanka essentially states a fact of biology and the last two lines start from that fact and makes a statement of love. Quite a lovely tanka. Wonder if I Kathy would think it mine if I slipped it into a blank card for mother's day?

Often the middle line of the tanka can be read as the first line of a stand alone poem consisting of the last line of the haiku plus the two longer added lines. Sort of an oddly shaped haiku. Here's a tanka I wrote when I read of Robin William's suicide.

a supernova
drawn slowly down a black hole
we'll miss you Robin
what pain could have such power
to shutter your brilliant light

The haiku in this case could stand alone, in fact that's how it started, but as I thought about the haiku, I felt I wanted to ask the question in the final two lines of the tanka. So I added the last two lines. You can read just the haiku and feel complete, and you can read just the middle line of the tanka as the first line of another haiku that uses the final three lines. When I write a tanka, I often see if I can read a tanka and see two haiku in it. Those feel best to me.

Toward the end of her life, my mother seem to waste away in a nursing home. It pained me to visit her because she often called me by one of my cousin's names and had lost touch with the past. One question she often asked during the last five years of her life was, "Where's your father? I haven't seen him in years." I'd carefully explain, as my did sister, that he'd died a dozen years before. Other times she'd say, "I want to die so I can be with your father."

Thinking back on those days, several years after her death, I remembered the fear on her face as she tried to remember. She was in her 90s then. She died at 95, finally to be at peace. Here's a tanka I wrote about that.

she lies in the dark
alone in the old age home  
mind filling with fear
she knows her husband is dead
but cannot remember it 

So, if you write a haiku and find that all you want to say won't fit in those three lines, see if you can add two more long lines and write a tanka instead. It's a fun exercise when the haiku seems to be not quite enough.