Hello and welcome to episode 3 of the third series of the Haiku Pea podcast. My name is Patricia and in this week’s podcast I’m going to be doing a little bit of thinking out loud about the essence of Haiku, not the rules or the form, but what, at least for me is it’s very being, it’s heartbeat. After that, I’ll give you a short review of Vandana Parashar’s new chapbook and I’ll finish up with some renku.
Whether you agree or disagree with me feel free to email me and tell me. I’m not so precious that I’ll be upset if you have a contrary opinion. I like a healthy and respectful debate.
As you will know if you’ve listened to the last couple of podcasts I have been contemplating the essence of haiku but having trouble getting going. There’s so much to say, but where to start and how, as my children would say, to stay on topic. It’s been hard and I’m not promising that I’ll not head off on tangents from time to time, but I’ll do my best.
It might be fair to say that my comments are influenced by the Haiku world post Shiki. If I were to go through his manifesto, I’d have to say that I pretty much agree with most of it, but there are certain things that should not be forgotten or ignored from the days before Shiki, as they would make our haiku world smaller. I hope to point those out as we go along together.
I decided to start my cogitations with the haiku or aha moment.
I wondered how to define it and the definition I find most convincing is that of Michael Dylan Welch.
He says that “there are perhaps three sorts of “haiku moment”:
- The original moment of inspiration that motivates the poet to write.
- The “moment” depicted in the poem.
- The moment of realization that the reader experiences on reading the finished poem.
The opinion of many modern day haijin seems to be that the haiku moment should be a direct observation. A notion which comes from in part, 19th century European realism and does not have Japanese origins.
I don’t agree with that proposition. I think it’s perfectly acceptable, although I find it hard myself, to write so-called desk haiku, something which may be sparked from a book, poem, or magazine you’ve read, a film you’ve seen or it’s popped into your head. Who is to say that direct experience is more important in haiku than an idea which comes from your imagination or is inspired by somebody else’s imagination. What do you think?
Let me illustrate this with one of Basho’s poems:
Summer grasses —
traces of dreams
of ancient warriors
Surely this is something that has been inspired by an historical event that Basho has not experienced himself rather he has heard of it either through reading about it, or through those stories or sagas are passed down through centuries, that oral tradition that so many cultures have. Does that make it any less a haiku?
Can you visualise Basho lying in the grass, touching the grass, communing with it and feeling within it the traces of dreams of those ancient warriors? It doesn’t matter to me that this clearly happened in the past, nor that the feeling of the dreams come from his imagination, it’s fiction, he can’t have spoken with the soldiers. It doesn’t matter. In his writing of it I can feel it in his present. He has written a poem that communicates his a-ha moment superbly, don’t you think? And in so doing we the reader have our a-ha moment, at least I hope you experienced it.
This poem also illustrates a technical point I want to make. The haiku moment, or to return to Michael Dylan Welch again the first a-ha moment, often takes place in the past but in the writing of it we express it in the present tense as if it happens in the here and now. As James Hackett said, “NOW is the touchstone of the haiku experience”
Sticking with the technical I’d just like to say that you can have as many a-ha moments as you like but unless you’re very lucky and / or naturally talented, a worthy verse will not be the result of all of them. Jane Reichhold wrote, “In my early years of haiku writing, I easily accepted the prevalent credo being espoused on how to write haiku. This was, sometimes implied and occasionally expressed, as being: if the author’s mind/heart was correctly aligned in the “proper” attitude, while experiencing a so-called “haiku moment”, one merely had to report on the experience to have a darn-good haiku.”
“I came across Aware – a haiku primer written by hand and illustrated by Betty Drevniok,” “I came away with her precept: “Write [haiku] in three short lines using the principle of comparison, contrast, or association.” On page 39 she used an expression I had been missing in the discussion of haiku when she wrote: “This technique provides the pivot on which the reader’s thought turns and expands.” Technique! So there are tools one can use! I thought joyfully.”
I cannot recommend Jane’s work, “Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A hands on guide,” enough. When I find myself word bound I turn to her, try out a technique that I don’t normally use and suddenly the world becomes bright again and full of words.
But to get back on topic, Jane gives us a number of techniques that we can try in order to improve our haiku writing in general and the a-ha moments in particular, but here is another take on how to create a haiku moment.
Many of us are photographers. I know I love to take photos and I particularly enjoy using the macro setting on the camera. As I was reading for this particular episode of the podcast I found an article by Ray Rasmussen in the New Zealand poetry society pages, a great resource, by the way, the New Zealand poetry Society I mean, where he likened it to photography.
He said, “Both photography and haiku composition lead to an intense focusing on direct experience that is different from normal daily living. For example, normal practice when visiting a place like the Kurimoto Garden might be to walk around, chat with a friend, enjoy the sunshine, hold hands, look at the elements of the garden, that sort of thing.
Instead, when engaged in the process of photography, I focus in, attempting to isolate forms and colours that strike my aesthetic sense. Looking through the lens, composing the frame, selecting the camera settings, imagining the print, all these provide a deeply relaxing contemplation of place.”
This contemplation or focus can help us to find our aha moment.
He quotes work from one of his favourite Japanese poets, Hokushi (d. 1718),
I’m going to translate it slightly differently
my burnt hut, ashes
but wonderful the cherry
blooming on my hill
Hard to imagine standing in front of your burnt hut yet focusing on the cherry tree. Now imagine you have a camera in hand or to eye, focusing on the cherry tree and blurring the image of the burnt hut. Does that help?
Do you have another technique of creating or finding the aha moment. Let me know, I can share it on the podcast.
Now for something a little different. A book review. If you’ve listened to the podcast before, you will recognise the name Vandana Parashar, as one of our regular contributors. Sometime ago she told me that she was preparing her first chap book for publication and I’m happy to say that we can now all read it, for free, and it’s called “I am”.
As I read through the book I was taken on a journey as a female from a young age to a somewhat mature woman. Some of the events described in her senryu I recognised and some I didn’t but Shloka Shankar, who writes a brief description of the book on the publishers website, is quite right when she says of Vandana’s book, “no topic is off-limits for her as she dons the role of daughter, wife, and mother— each with its own set of challenges”. The senryu in this book, made me smile, left me with a lump in my throat, and sometimes made me a bit uncomfortable.
I’m pleased I read Vandana’s book because I think it’s encouraged me to write more freely about topics that matter very much to me, whether they will make people uncomfortable or not. Thank you so much Vandana.
I’d like to finish with the final verse in the book, which made me ponder,
how many of us want
to be women again
Well Vandana, I decided in the end that if I had to come back again, and I’m not sure I’d want to, despite the challenges that you’ve written about and more that I can think of, I’d happily come back as a woman again.
Whether you’re a woman or not, I think you’ll enjoy reading Vandana’s senryu, give it a go.
And now for the renku which I’m happy to say I’m going to read to you in its completed form. My thanks to all the poets who helped me put this one together. Kim Russell Richard Bailly. wendy c bialek, m shane pruett, Veronica Hosking, James Young, Andrew Syor, s zeilenga, B S Saroja, Rickey Rivers Jnr., Craig Kittner, Mineko Takahashi and Jonathan Roman. Check it out on the poetrypea website to see who exactly has written each verse.
I so enjoyed coordinating it and I got extremely excited towards the end to see how the renku concluded. I love the story, I hope you do too. Don’t forget you can read it on the renku page of the poetrypea website. So here you go:
sculpted by endless soles
a welcome chill
how ancient my son’s name
wind in the willows
green blades impaling
will the night be dark
or give no shelter?
all those unfinished poems
wendy c. bialek
the fading colours
m shane pruett
an old quilt
m shane pruett
she adds peat to the fire
reaches his soul
in the alpine air
the long trudge through winter
a returning trapper
offers his assistance
news from another village
the sky lamp shines long tonight
B S Saroja
Rickey Rivers Jnr
a new life divides
mired in slush
a solitary rose petal
people gather and scatter
tides wait for no one
a die cast
no going back –
she vomits on the deck
of candy-coloured blossoms
Thank you once again for your thoughtful and splendid work.
We’ve already started putting together renku three and four and I know some of you have told me that you’d like to join in and you will be getting an email from me but we are always happy to have more people to write renku verses and create a range of stories. If you’d like to join in and you haven’t already told me, drop me an email and I’ll make sure you get a verse.
Thanks very much for coming along and listening to me today. I hope I didn’t ramble too much when talking about the essence of Haiku and I hope I’ve given you something to think about, email me and let me know.
I’m going to be continuing with essence topics for a few weeks to come so if you want to make some points, if you’d like to get involved and give me new bits and pieces to think about I’m happy to hear from you.
Next time on the Haiku Pea podcast it’s one of our specials where we all get a chance to write on a specific topic and this time it’s going to be love. I know it’s a bit cliched what with February being the month of Valentine’s Day, But I promise I’ve got some cracking verses for you. The deadline has passed for the topic of love so now I’d be delighted to receive your submissions on recipes. Tell me about your favourite recipes, your favourite food, your memories inspired by recipes. the deadline is the 1st of March. So until next time, keep writing.