It could be the snow, or the grey sky, but something is drawing me to post about haiku recently published in Haiku Canada’s most recent publication, the Haiku Canada Review. Perhaps I’ll do anything to stop me from going downstairs and having another piece of the custard cake I made earlier; I’d never tried this before and thoughts of literally diving into its creamy custard are very strong. So it’s a good day to write this post, one I’ve wanted to do for a while, on the power of very short haiku.
LeRoy Gorman has edited the Review for forever. Each issue usually includes a few broadsheets called Haiku Canada Sheets by selected poets. It’s an honour if he chooses to produce one with your haiku as it gives you the opportunity to have a small collection of your poems out in the big wide world. Each issue also contains tanka, renku, haibun and other Japanese form poetry, as well as reviews, essays, and as they say, more. Members can submit artwork which every issue includes, often lovely drawings like the frog on this issue’s cover, and at the head of this post, drawn by Brent Partridge.
Many of the poems are quite wonderful, but I have a special place in my sensibilities for the very short ones that work. This issue begins with an essay by Vicki McCullough about Allan Brown and his poetry; Allen passed away in 2016. One of his shorter poems is:
it is too dark to hear
the loon’s cry
The poem was written after his wife Pat died. Ms. McCullough has done wonders bringing Allan’s philosophy to the fore. After all, 99.99999999 % of people wonder what the big deal is, with haiku, anyway. She quotes some of his thoughts about his relationship with haiku. He has learned from Issa, he said, “a little…about the fashioning of both delight and despair.” In the poem above, I can be with him in the dark, the dark being much more after Pat’s death than an indigo sky; this dark is the dark that makes us think the light can never come back again. Some might say that the poem makes little sense- how can the dark make you unable to hear. That’s the power in this poem. A good haiku brings you into it, makes you want to spend time with it, to be where the poet is, and to expand the insight that comes into one that enters one’s own life. Nine words, and they could have been the whole eulogy at a memorial service.
One of the Haiku Canada Sheets features the poems of Charlotte Degregorio from Chicago (for Haiku Canada has members all over the World) whose books and blog, among other media, show that this lady knows what she is doing. Her tiny poem caught my eye:
in his eyes
And without knowing the background story, I knew a background story, I knew a moment, I knew his eyes, and I was a granddaughter remembering my grandfather’s face, remembering his hands, and the way he sat, how his attempts at speaking English are still in my ears. The poem grows as you spend time with it. A lyric poet with the same set of circumstances would have written stanzas, a sonnet, used reams of words to get in every wrinkle, every good deed, every special time with her grandfather, but these nine words contained all of that, and more.
An even smaller big poem of hers is:
It’s what we would be thinking in the same situation, but that she has captured that moment in five words fills me with awe. Read it again, and again. It will stick with you and come back to you when you need it. It’s the kind of poem that sticks for there is no stress about remembering it. You know already that it is part of you.
Not quite as short, but equally full of things to ponder, is this poem by Jennifer Hambrick:
in his words
The comparison of flickering flames and flickering thoughts is clear, and, at first, the poem looks rather light as compared to the previous ones. But our deepest thoughts need not be about sad times, they don’t have to make your emotions run up and down the scale. This poem is a quiet one and brings to mind the times when people are together trying to share thoughts, when those people might wonder about what a person’s words might mean. It’s a poem of uncertainty. Flickering thoughts could indicate doubt, or hesitation. They could be very important in any kind of relationship and are sometimes hard to pin down. These flickering thoughts, and the image of the person’s face in the flickering light…even that image is strong enough to be frightening, or calming, or loving, or simply an exchange of philosophical ideas. This little poem is packed if you take time with it.
Edward Cody Huddleston wrote this poem:
whether I give it
A serious decision, and these seven words express the problem. The poem suggests everything that goes through a person’s mind when the question of giving a eulogy comes up. Seven words that say it all, the guilt, feelings of duty, feelings of love, the last chance to say what you want said, the fear of not saying it completely, of letting people down, of what others see as your responsibility, and more. There, it’s taken a paragraph to begin getting into this one. For behind it are all the commonalities, the losses that have already been experienced, the idea of funerals and memorials, possibly a fear of speaking in public, all those eyes and ears in the room or chapel, that you may not believe in eulogies, that giving one may take all the strength you have.
At first Debbie Strange’s one-liner seems simple, and light compared to the poems already mentioned, but
a butterfly wing beneath my boot autumn
tugs at me. A boot is crushing the most delicate of creatures, those brilliant dusty wings, or perhaps just a torn off wing. It calls into question why a butterfly is on the ground, the heavy boot that possibly means a hike, a good thing in autumn air, but oh, doesn’t it bring to mind innocents in all parts of the world that are under the ‘boot’. This poem comes very close these days as our neighbours to the south are losing healthcare, and the right to live their own lifestyle, when everything good is endangered, even our earth. It is the refugees who are walking to Canada through the snow. Enough said, the poem says it all, and much more if you let it seep into your self.
The next poem, a one-liner, at first seems jus clever and humorous. You might read the poem quickly, smile to yourself in response to the wordplay, and go on to the next haiku. But I find, along with the cleverness, that kjmunro’s poem
in ten(t)se camping in bear country
has more to offer; she gives us the romance of camping in a northern wilderness, and its inherent dangers. The poet lives in Whitehorse, Yukon. She is a woman who experiences the possibility of having only canvas between her and a grizzly, so images of long curved claws haunt the poem. She would not have been alone, most likely, and would have taken all precautions. After all, bears are fairly common around where she lives. There is even a bear incident map that indicates all human-bear conflict in the Whitehorse region. The danger is real. This word play contains a recognition of danger, but the poem also shows the spirit of an adventurer, one who will not give up having great experiences because there is a possibility of risk. We have here, the Yukon version of climbing Everest, one small bit at a time. I like the levity, the devil-may-care quality of these few words. These few words are more ‘intense’ than an initial reading may have suggested.
So thank you, thank you, LeRoy, for what you’ve done for Haiku Canada, for selecting and publishing poems all these years. Because of the Review we know our fellow poets across Canada and many places in the world, and have been kept aware of the development of Japanese form poems as they develop outside of Japan. No one else could have done it, but you did. Months of collecting, making decisions, doing layout, mailing out hundreds of issues.
And thank you poets, for writing these very brief, but wonderful, poems.