Hello and welcome to a very special podcast. Well they’re all special, but this one is special because it’s our third birthday. Happy birthday to us.
Of course there are other reasons why this is a special podcast, because today I am joined by two of our lovely community. First I’m going to have a chat with Craig Kittner about pretentiousness in relation to haiku or at least I’m going to give you part one of the chat he and i had, then as usual there’s a little bit of renku, indeed the end of our latest renku and to close the podcast a haibun reading by Jennifer Hambrick, a first for the podcast.
This week there’s a lot of info in the shownotes, so please go and have a look.
Before we get started, a little bit of housekeeping. Very importantly an apology. On the last podcast, episode 18 the one on Loss I got someone’s name wrong. I hate doing that, names are important. So Neena Singh my sincere apologies.
This is Neena Singh’s haiku:
old age home
the leaves fall
with no noise
Now, I’m going to be in and out of hospital quite a bit in the next couple of weeks. I’m having surgery on my neck, quite close to the vocal cords actually, so if you send me any emails and i don’t get back to you as quickly as usual, that’s why. James Young is going to help me out with guest editing the next topic, which is social issues. Please send your haiku and senryu to me via email by the 1st November please. I would just ask that you keep the verses on social issues rather than political ones. I want to steer clear of politics on the podcast.
Before I offer you the audio of part one of the chat I had with Criag I just wanted to say that there might be a couple of blips on the audio as it is taken from a Zoom call and good as the quality is, I have less control than if we were both in the same room. I hope you enjoy it and there is lots of info from the chat on the shownotes.
“Thank you for inviting me to explore this rather tricky subject. I hope we can do it justice and spark some novel thoughts among the community.
Let me begin by sharing a little something that was the start of a turning point for me.
A little over a year ago I attended my first Haiku North America Conference. I went to the opening reception and I always feel a little shy at such gatherings where I don’t know anyone. But I saw a table with a couple of empty seats and decided to sit down and try to join in on any conversation that was going on at it. Within seconds, someone at the table blurted out, “I just don’t see how ‘tundra’ can be considered a haiku!” And a lively debate ensued. I immediately felt at home. These were my kind of people.
I know you explored this well known, one image haiku during the first series of the podcast, but I’d like to take up the subject again, briefly. And for any listeners who don’t know, “tundra” is a haiku by Cor Van Den Huevel. It appears in his book the window washer’s pail, published in 1963, which is available in the digital library of the haiku foundation. (The Window Washer’s Pail (tundra)
The haiku is the word “tundra.” Just that. Alone on a page.
If you’re familiar with it, try to remember how you responded when you first read it.
For myself, I had heard about it before I actually saw it in a publication, so my reaction was a little tainted. Kind of like a movie that you hear too much about before going to see.
But when I think about it, I can see how a work like this could be easily dismissed. For instance, you could take the stance that a single word simply can’t be a haiku and be done with it.
Or you could label it as “silly” or even “pretentious” and spare it no thought.
And, Patricia, that’s really why I wanted to be involved in a discussion about pretension in haiku. When you raised that spectre back in episode 14, it got my back up a bit. Because in my years of being engaged with art forms of several types, I have seen people use the word “pretentious” to write off work instead of dealing with it. And fairly often, that which turns out to be innovative and groundbreaking was originally labeled in such a way.
If you write haiku, when you read haiku, you will inevitably come to some that are problematic. Maybe they sound wrong to your ear, or they’re too simple, or too complex, or they don’t fit your definition of haiku, or you simply don’t understand them. How do you respond?
That begs the question, why are you reading haiku in the first place?
If you are reading simply for pleasure, then OK, you can just skip over the problematic ones and move on to the ones you like.
If you are reading to see how your haiku stack up against these other ones, then you’ll probably label the problematic ones as “bad,” or “not really haiku,” or (yes) “pretentious.” Perhaps then you’ll get a little feeling of smugness about your own work. At that point you might want to consider an examination or your priorities. I’m just saying.
However, if you’re reading as a true, dyed-in-the-wool writer, you are going to dismantle that problematic haiku and see what makes it tick. If it’s bad, what’s ruining it? If it’s not a haiku, why isn’t it? If it’s pretentious, what makes it so? You’re going to do this because you love your craft and you want to understand it better. Because that makes you a better writer.
I spent my younger years as a visual artist and if I see a painting I don’t like, I can tell you exactly and in minute detail why I don’t like it. My wife is an accomplished chef and let me tell you, when she gets served a substandard meal at a restaurant, I get to hear everything the kitchen did wrong. It’s uncanny really, but that’s what true dedication to a craft gives you. A discerning eye, a discerning palette, a discerning ear.
And the funny thing is, sometimes when you start to pick apart a work that’s problematic, you uncover something that makes it sing. Things click and you realize it actually works. Those awkward brush strokes actually give the work a raw power, that unusual flavor is actually enticing, that one word on the page actually unlocks a whole world of association.
Now, I said in the beginning that the Haiku North America Conference was a turning point for me. The reason I say that is I went to the conference thinking that I had a pretty good idea of what haiku is. I even had my personal little definition of haiku. But being surrounded by other haikuists and spending days with them doing nothing but digging into the essence haiku showed me that there is no all encompassing, static definition. Haiku is a living, breathing art form. Like all living things it evolves in response to changes in its environment. Changes like new technologies, new understandings of nature, new social and politcal forces, new writers, new pandemics.
I look at “tundra” now and it excites me. It’s like looking at the embodiment of history. Love it, hate it, dismiss it. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the living essence that is haiku and it undeniably had an impact on how haiku has evolved in the 57 years since it emerged.
So, back to the question of pretension. We could look at it like readers, or editors, and find and discuss examples of it from recent publications, but frankly I don’t think that’s in keeping with the nature of this podcast. Let’s look at it like the writers we are.
Let’s not ask how we respond to it when we see it in the works of others. Let’s ask how we respond to it when it crops up in our own work.
When I first emailed you regarding this, Patricia, I said I felt compelled to divide what we might call pretentious into three categories.
The first being actually pretentious, defined as expressing a sense of superiority, or what we in the Southern states call “puttin’ on airs.”
The second category is grandiloquence, or trying to show off verbally. But what about word choice? Simplicity of language is one of the things we’re told to focus on in writing haiku, but are there times when choosing a fancier word captures the experience in a way a simpler word just can’t?”
Haiku from the podcast:
of its lean:
toppled pine tree
The haiku Pea Podcast Series 2 Episode 14
in the cirque
only a dusting of snow
walking through the cirque
in misty season
iridescent maples pale
the 3rd age
A bit of an abrupt stop, but next time we are going to complete our chat by talking about Craig’s third category; Audacious or Original haiku. Do join us in November for that. I think it’s a cracker.
After listening back to our chat there were a couple of things i Wanted to ask you.
- Is there a haiku or senryu that has a word in it which makes the haiku really come alive for you?
- What is your process for finding the strongest possible words for your work, is it the thesaurus, is it being widely read, is there something else that helps you?
- With rgards to the topics for next year. I want to delve deeper into techniques so are there any techniques that you would really like to work on?
Now I’d like to bring you our latest complete renku. I do love creating renku, it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with haiku poets in a way I don’t normally get a chance to. It’s a co operative way of working which often engenders interesting discussion and I would say about a third of the verses are eventually different to the original versions. This time I would like to thank James Young, Ian Speed, Giddy Neilsen Sweep and Michael Baribeau for joining me. If you go to the show notes you will find out which poet was responsible for each verse and of course it will be in the next journal, which I’m working on now. If you would like to be involved in creating renku, just drop me an email to let me know.
So here it is: Winter bites:
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
on the leftovers
plates wiped clean
mug empty sunset alone
the porcelain bowl beneath
the last few candies
breaking bread in golden times
So next I have a first for the podcast. Jennifer got in touch to volunteer herself to do a reading. Don’t forget you are most welcome to do the same. It’s super to hear other voices on the podcast. I discovered that Jennifr is a rather succesful haibun author and so, as I know many of your are interested in that form, and I know next to nothing about it I asked Jennifer to do a haibun reading for us. There are links in the shownotes to her work.So without further ado, welcome Jennifer .
Thanks Jennifer. The first haibun reminded me so much of my favourite ever short story writer; Katherine Mansfield and her story Bliss.
I enjoyed that reading very much. It’s encouraged me to have a go at haibun, when I have some time.
Gosh that was a packed podcast, wasn’t it? Thank you all for comeing along and listening and of course to Criag, Jennifer and my wonderful renku poets for their contributions to your fun today. I do hope you enjoed it and I welcome your feedback so keep it coming. Speaking of keeping it coming, I’m going down to one Pea TV Moment a week from November, but I am welcoming videos, so please keep them coming too. If you are interested but don’t know what I’m looking for just send me an email, but remmber, October is a difficult month for me this year.
So once again, thank you and I look forward to joining you agai in a couple of weeks for the podcast featuring found poetry. What an adventure that was…
Until then… keep writing.
If there is any information you want that isn’t i the shownotes, just drop me an email. Ciao