Hello and welcome to the latest episode of the haiku pea podcast, Episode 17 of the 3rd series. In case you are new to the podcast, I’m Patricia and I’m your host, as always. However, today there is another voice on the podcast, Ben Gaa, who came along last month to present a writing and editing workshop and stayed on to do a reading for us from his new book, One Breath. We’ve been talking a little bit about the essence of haiku, and brevity. Ben’s reading flows naturally into this conversation and so from his talk I’ll jump in with some feedback from some recent episodes and of course the podcast on the first Monday of the month would not be the same if we didn’t have a little bit of renku.
READING FROM ONE BREATH:
pulling a pen from her hair
the waitress becomes
of tart lemonade
the fiddle holes fill
the secrets we keep
between paper sheets
backyard weeds everyone has a name
the quite place inside
following the web
to the spider
Patricia’s efforts at poems during the chat
on the spider’s web
the fiddle holes fill
the fiddle holes fill
I hope you could hear the fun I had talking to Ben about his poems. In fact I have an apology, I got so excited towards the end that I really talked too much. Yes hard to believe, such a quiet retiring person as myself, talking too much. Hey ho, my apologies. To make up for it I have invited Ben to do another call to answer some of your questions either about the reading we’ve just heard or the writing and editing workshop he did for us a month ago, or something completely different and random. Could you please email me questions by the 20th September? If you don’t have the email, just head to the poetrypea website and you’ll find out my contact details.
Listening back to it I realised my south London accent came to the fore in the reading of one of my efforts at haiku, the fiddle one. I wasn’t talking about glue, but gloom.
As I said to Ben, you and I have been thinking about haiku, their essence and their length recently. Many of you got in touch and gave me more to think about. Thank you for that. Today I wanted to spend a little time sharing some of that thinking and feedback with you.
I’ll start with something that Ben mentioned in his reading but it’s something I really should’ve said before now because for at least someone starting out writing haiku it sort of switches the lights on. I know when Giddy Nielsen Sweep said it to me it was like a light bulb going off. She reminded me, as Ben did today of the blindingly obvious.
Giddy told me that when you write a haiku you are trying to capture a moment in time. Or as Ben put it the poem itself has to be a single moment.
Today as you know, Ben and I briefly discussed the idea of a Haiku being said in one breath. I’m not convinced about this. Both Craig Kittner and Michael Baribeau wrote to me about the one breath idea. Michael suggesting that it is a guide for the type of brevity which is often successful and Craig that it was useful for beginners, giving them an easy, relatable frame of reference, but that once you attain a certain amount of experience it becomes less useful. With time and practice your instinct tends to kick in.
Both gentlemen pointed out that many people have mastered techniques which allow them to take longer breaths. Swimmers and singers for example. That to me puts the kibosh, as my mother says, on the idea of a single breath. For who is to say how long a single breath is? Feel free to disagree you know I don’t mind.
In a previous podcast I quoted Michael Dylan Welsh who said “haiku needs to be short while communicating clearly, seeing what needs to be said – thus, to be as short as necessary” some of you disagreed with me about that. Mark Gilbert pointed out that there is a current fashion in English language haiku in which haiku don’t communicate clearly, in which they say less than what needs to be said, and, by any objective standpoint, are shorter necessary. He used one of my monoku as an example:
the birdsong of things lost
Bisshie Sonicboom, Issue 17.
I would argue that it’s just as I want it, but can I justifiably argue that it is as short as necessary? It’s quite possible that Mark could be right when he asserts that it could fall into the group of haiku which doesn’t communicate clearly and says less than what needs to be said. I was experimenting with monoku and minimalism. I freely admit that whilst I’m pleased with the result it is definitely on the borders of not communicating clearly or saying enough.
I wrote it towards the beginning of lockdown here in Switzerland. I was sitting in my garden and there was little or no traffic noise and I could really, really hear the birds. For me they summed up what have been lost in the lockdown. I couldn’t go anywhere, I’d lost and still have lost many of my freedoms, but I had the birdsong. Does that compensate? Personally I think not, but I am probably in the minority there.
At this point, I’d like to quote Wayne Kingston who wrote to me that “many revisits will reap decidedly different illustrations of the artists intent. Grasping what a poet is trying to convey can be limitlessly rewarding.” Even as I give an explanation of this monoku I can see other explanations and interpretations.
From a personal viewpoint I’m not sure I’d like to see English language haiku stride down the route of vagueness, a little meander now and again is fine. However, I do think that you can communicate clearly and yet to be open to a number of interpretations. How many times have you written a piece which in your own head communicates exactly what you’re thinking and then someone talks to you about it and they have seen another meaning? I don’t have a problem with that. What I don’t like and again I would stress it’s a personal opinion, is a poet pushing the boundaries too far and hopping over into ambiguity. Ambiguity which is only countered if you know the poet. Anyway that’s a topic for another day. I know many of you have thoughts on that subject.
Both Wayne and Mark raised another question – when is enough enough or to put it another way how long can a haiku be and still be a haiku? Mark and I are continuing to think this one through and if you have thoughts please send them over and I’ll copy Mark in and we can start a larger discussion.
Mark also expressed a worry that if you’re cutting / editing your haiku in a minimalistic way then perhaps you might lose your voice. Michael Baribeau suggested perhaps a haiku’s focus on phrasing would trump a minimalist approach.
Craig Kittner wanted to reassure us that in all probability we wouldn’t lose our voice. He shared a discovery he made when starting out as an abstract artist. He came across a book titled “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri. Robert was a teacher and painter of the Ashcan School in New York in the late 19th and early 20th century. His book is a collection of letters, lectures and classroom notes. Although the book talks about drawing and painting Craig feels that Robert’s philosophy on art is applicable to any creative field, such as ours. He sent me a quote from it:
“Don’t worry about your originality. You couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”
Craig’s conclusion being that he comes “down firmly on no, if you cut from your haiku you will not lose your voice. If someone else cuts it for you, you might, but if you were doing the cutting, the cutting itself is part of your voice.” Craig, I think I agree with you.
This might be a good time to say when you send me a haiku and it’s returned with an edit suggested by myself or one of the editing team, we never get upset if it’s rejected. If you want to say no, please don’t be afraid to. Although, sometimes that might mean your verse will be rejected.
I have a lot more feedback to think about. Topics include negative space, extremely short poems like tundra and pretentiousness. If you have any thoughts on these topics please feel free to share them with me in an email. I’m always very grateful for your thoughts.
My thanks to James Young, Giddy Nielsen Sweep, Ian Speed and Michael Baribeau for joining me on the renku.
winter bites – –
in my rice bowl
scratching the snow
a squirrel’s hoard
found food functions
better than exotic recipes
and fancy dining
no feet of clay for this
plodding house wife
Giddy Nielsen Sweep
a coolness creeps
into the harrowed soil
life’s bitter sweetness
my kiln belly
anticipating the crop
i plough on
hunger for bitterness leaves
upturned earth unsweetened
kissed by summer
asleep in the bee meadows
a trout stream
in the frying pan
hibiscus flowers float
a thermos for tea
to warm our hands
for its nectar
the red petals
a moth circles
around the moon’s reflection
the rabbits left me
one garden tomato
in the spotlight
table roses and stew
run bunny run
Giddy Nielsen Sweep
That’s the end for another week. Thank you very much for coming along and joining myself and Ben and all the other poets who have contributed to this weeks episode. My thanks to them too for the time and trouble they’ve taken to email me and get engaged in discussion. Don’t forget to continue sending feedback, it’s valued greatly and of course it helps me to learn.
The next podcast in a couple of weeks will be a special written by the community on the topic of loss. I will be trying out another experimental bell to see if that works better than my last attempts.
Don’t forget I’m now accepting submissions on the topic of found poetry. Deadline 1st October, emails only please.
Questions to finish with first who would like to do a reading next year? Just five minutes also Michael or send me a little commentary. Second question are the expert on the subject that you like me to talk to? Email me some subject suggestions I’ll try and get hold of them.
So until next time keep writing
If there’s any information just drop me an email and try and sort it out for you. ciao.
For the purpose of next month I am defining them as haiku that you have literally found somewhere. Here’s a photo of two books I found on my bookshelf from which I “found”
how to lie
You can find them anywhere, on posters, on a cereal packet, in other poems perhaps.