Alice and Lucinda

lucindaIn June 2015 Lucinda Williams and her father Miller Williams, an internationally known poet, sat together to make a video.  Grammy Award Winner Lucinda has written a song called Compassion based on her father’s poem of the same name.

It was the last time they were to see each other.

On YouTube he reads his poem, and then Lucinda sings her composition Compassion. You can sense how proud he is of her. He’d often appeared with her, reading his poems between her songs. No big ego from either one of these two talented creators.

In the video, it’s clear that Lucinda had entered her father’s poem and made a different kind of ‘art thing’ from it, a song.

Obviously he didn’t think the song was a lesser art form than the poem, though I can see how some might.

alice the flamingo coloured

I wonder whether Lewis Carroll would have minded that I stepped into Wonderland to have a look round.

In Three Sets of Literary Haibun, I did just that.  Let’s join Alice at table with The Mad Hatter and friends.

“I beg your pardon,” said Alice very
humbly; “ you had got to the fifth bend
in the story, I think.”
“I had not!” cried the Mouse, sharply
and very angrily.
“A knot!” said Alice, always ready to
make herself useful. “Oh do let me help

to undo it!”
by this nonsense
a dormouse growls

It is a little aside, something Carroll may not have noticed, or wanted to put into his account.

The senryu doesn’t complete the story, it merely connects with what we know to an unexpected sound from the dormouse. A dormouse makes little squeaking sounds but sounds its time sleeping. Here the word ‘growls’ indicates a dormouse having trouble sleeping because of the noise and squabbling at the table, a grumpy mouse. Just now, I googled ‘dormouse sounds’, and herd its squeal. If I’d done this earlier, I might have written ‘a dormouse chatters his teeth’, which seems to be another dormouse sound.

In the next haibun, I focused on the lowly Queen’s Gardeners.

“Would you tell me please,” said Alice
a little timidly, “why you are painting
those white roses?”
“Why the fact is you see, Miss, this
ought to have been a red rose-tree.”
The Queen! The Queen! …and the
Gardeners instantly threw themselves
flat on their faces.

paint drops drip
from petals
the knaves stressed out

Alice in Wonderland is as contemporary today as it was when written. It’s worth rereading it to note the parallels in our own lives and governing systems. In this set of thirteen haibun, (as in the other two sets on the poems of Gary Geddes and Sue Goyette, I use the author’s words, or a precis of them, in the prose part.

In Alice’s day, people seldom worried about how they felt about the servants and their difficult work and long hours. Twelve hours a day over hot tubs scrubbing and then ironing with heavy irons, or cooking below stairs. They paid insignificant wages so that they could have boiled collars and twelve course dinners. Stressed out.

The Red Queen is a bully. She doesn’t worry about how she made anyone feel, and you could empathize with those gardeners doing their very best, always on the brink of having their heads cut off, and never expecting mercy. Life was absurd, and they had to get used to it.

Sort of like being Aboriginal, or a scientist, a veteran or a creative person under Harper’s Conservative government. After Alice leaves Wonderland, what happens next…

from poem to poem/ Peter Richardson and Sue Goyette

richardson goyette covers

I was no end pleased when Peter Richardson decided to write a poem triggered by one of my own.  I had written ‘braiding afield’ about a woman engrossed in braiding the wild long grasses near her home.

a blonding begins a dying/living as plaiting is tightened as tight plait

snakes this way that with no knowing of an eta or of any t at all or a


grasses selected at random in the right/ wrong place at the happening

grass used to this using being used used to being bent and scythed


yet this furzed exhilaration new extraordinary existence grass slidden

through handskin-covered muscle bone twisted and who will who will


see the braid in this abandoned field …


Peter responded from the point of view of someone watching, with “At Portsmouth Acres Townhouse Village”:

…Was it harmless? Braiding viper’s

bugloss and vetch–did she wear

gloves? Itchy work that. Making tresses

that snaked between our aligned backyards,

hauling herself in that sack of a dress

under a wall of cobalt blue clouds

that held off and held off as if

she were in cahoots with cloudbursts,

why it begs the question: who was she

and where can we apply to have her returnin

to give us lessons in the minutiae of weaving grasses?

Though his protagonist was observing the woman, he was also inside of the poem with his knowledge of what kinds of ‘grasses’ were being woven, the deep blue clouds over him, the thought that she might not finish the task before the clouds burst. He was inside the field yet outside it, looking at it from a different place, and trying to make sense of what she was doing.

Using the same idea, I wanted to step inside the poems of Sue Goyette in Ocean (2014, Gaspereau Press) shortlisted for the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize.

It has been one of favourite collections ever since it came out.  I read it through several times, beginning to end, reveling in her lush language, rich images, her sense of humour.

But I wanted to know the poems more intensely, so I chose 13 of them, (along with writings by Lewis Carroll and Gary Geddes) for a chapbook Three Sets of Literary Haibun (2015, catkin press), held up my skirts, and sloshed inside of them one at a time.

The poems are a history of a community living by an ocean with personality trying to come to terms with its vagaries. It’s a long lesson in cooperation, conciliation, dealing with frustration and politics, its mythmaking, and absurd explanations, a discovery in how to live with a magnificent ‘creature’ that nibbles away at, and batters, the shores. In this poem, a ‘squadron of cooks’ makes a meal to appease their off-landish neighbor:

An excerpt from Ocean’s poem eight:

                                         They peppered their soups

with pebbles and house keys. Quarts of bottled song


were used to sweeten the brew. Discussions between

preschool children and the poets were added


for nutritional value. These cooks took turns pulling

the cart to the mouth of the harbor. It would take four


of them to shoulder the vat over, tipping the peeled

promises, the baked dream into its mouth.


And then the ocean would be calm. It would sleep. Our mistake

was thinking it would make us happy.

I wanted to be there, with the cooks, one of the desperate shoreline residents, throwing ingredients into the soup, trying to satisfy Ocean.  Based on the poem, this from my Three Sets of Literary Haibun:


The trick to building houses was to make sure they didn’t taste good. The ocean ate boats, children, promises and rants, even names. We tried to satisfy it―cooking cauldrons of sandals and sunglasses, quarts of bottled song.

calming an ocean

the child

tells of a dream

Our mistake/ was thinking it would make us happy, and isn’t that what nurturing is, why we feed people, not just our children, and why we celebrate with food.  We want family and friends to be happy, and what better way to try to befriend such a strong and unpredictable neighbour. We make mistakes like this, think simple solutions, what will work in everyday situations, will work in all situations.

In any case, you should get hold of a copy of Ocean, and spend time with each poem. You may be inspired to write a haibun from one of them. Or you may decide to use someone else’s work, and write a poem or haibun from inside it.

For a look at haibun based on Gary Geddes The Terracotta Army, go five posts back to LITERATURE TO HAIBUN/ INTRO TO LITTLE LITERARY HAIBUN.