The greatest little poetry conference in the world

We have done it again! Haiku Canada Weekend took place May 17 – 21, 2018, and one highlight was this presentation to editor Steve Luxton in celebration of a special anthology. On the cake was the poem silence, and a deeper silence, when the crickets hesitate, a haiku by Leonard Cohen. The carrot cake was baked by Angela Leuck, organizer of the 2018 Haiku Canada Weekend.

The anthology was of haiku on the topic of Mr. Cohen and launched on our Weekend at Bishop’s University, Lennoxville.  In the photo is Mike Montreuil of Éditions des petits nuages, Montreal, who published the collection as Gift of Silence: A Haiku Tribute to Leonard.

You will note that we were not the cast of thousands of which many conferences boast, but we can boast of thousands of poems being highlighted, read, written and edited during these three or four days, for though originally the conference ran from Friday until Sunday noon, there were several events that took place after the conference, including some workshops and a hike up Mount Orford.

Anyone who has not been to one of our conferences, (and ‘Weekend’ instead of conference is intentional…) can have any idea of the poetry, the workshops (small book making, origami haiku lantern folding, haibun, tanka, haiku, publishing online, and many of these in French as well as in English), the distances travelled, the presentations, the long-into-the-night renku, book launches, cafeteria meals (Wonderful meals at Bishop’s cafeteria and thank you to the staff of that cafeteria! Stanford Forrester and Philomene Kocher at lunch).

There was a banquet and ginko walk, and the gift of just plain walking on that beautiful campus with its super presentation rooms, banquet facility and food, sleeping accommodations…The flowers!  The venues, complete with grand piano and gigantic golden fan! Oh Angela, you have been a great organizer! Thank you!

Angela has been writing and publishing haiku and related forms for many years. The day before the conference, she’d just returned from a five-week residency teaching haiku in Labrador to students in elementary and in high school classes, yet spent the next day baking the cake. First of all, can you imagine that residency, during which she had feedback such as this from the coach of a sports team ― roughly the teacher said: I couldn’t believe it. On the bus to the game, the players were writing haiku!

Just to top things off, if you haven’t been taking haiku seriously, One of our haiku poets, Katharine Munro from Whitehorse, Yukon, has just been short-listed for the Vallum Chapbook award with her submission of a haiku sequence the distance!

When haiku poets get togther in local groups or at these larger events, the concentration is on writing better haiku and related Japanese form poems, three days, or in this case five days, of learning, and Kathy’s poems are the proof of it.  We are serious about showing that haiku is not just a counting game for children, but the ongoing development of the Japanese form. Soon the lyric world will be taking us seriously too!

On to the fun!  On Friday afternoon, there was a reading of Secrets du Femmes, a collection published in France, edited by Danièl Duteil, with the Afterword written by Janick Belleau.

A highlight of Friday evening is always the reading for the launch of our annual anthology. This year, editors Marco Fraticelli and Philomene Kocher decided to dedicate the collection to LeRoy Gorman, who has just retired from the volunteer position of Publications Editor which he took over temporarily 22 years ago.

LeRoy brought the newsletter out of the dinosaur age of a page or two, typed, stapled containing some news of the very new Haiku Canada Association, to our current varied-part journal The Haiku Canada Review, with its French section along with English poems, its book reviews, its haiku from all over the world, its renku and articles, and its Haiku Canada Sheets.  Thank you again, LeRoy. He was presented with a framed cover of the issue called a far galaxy with his haiku two hours/ to a far galaxy and back/ same old movie. Here is Philomene Kocher (editor), LeRoy, Claudia as cover designer and anthology publisher, and Marco Fraticelli, (editor).

The next morning and on Sunday morning the first presentations were the anonymous workshops, an important feature of our weekends. Unsigned haiku are dropped into a box or other container and these are pulled out and critiqued by the group without knowing whose poem they are working with. As the AGM took longer than usual, and those listed to handle the Sunday event were still at the AGM, Marco and LeRoy stepped in.  We are that kind of organization, the personification of flexible.

All day the book room is open, the silent auction is going on, and other presentations continue. Poets relax in between sessions. We like each other.

  

Terry Ann Carter stepped down after many years as President and we served up a royal roast…(This on the day of the Royal wedding, but we had more fun).

Then some books were launched including Mike Montreuil’s collection of French Canadian Northern Ontario (Matawa) joual poems, Claude Rodrigue’s intriguing French haiku crossword book: entrecroisées haiku.  He promises it in English as well next year.No automatic alt text available.

. These are a memoir of sorts, how he remembers his grandparents speaking, the language he used with his friends, poems about hockey, food, family.  Marco, Terry Ann and I also launched books.

Terry read from Tokkaido, I from fish spine picked clean (after which Terry played on that grand, the fish spine suite, composed after reading my collection, and I feel very special because of that. Thank you, Terry!) and then Marco read from One Thousand Years, a collection of haibun in which he ‘becomes’ Chiyo-ni for the prose, and follows with Chiyo’s haiku.  You will probably hear a lot more soon about this collection!

Sunday morning we participated in the origami lantern workshop with Jeanne Painchaud at which we were allowed to try to make one of these lovely pieces. Some poets were very successful, and others of us, like me, were not, but the lanterns were hung and looked splendid! They looked enchanting strung in front of portarits, and with those umbrellas looking as if they were enchanted too.

Now, you’ve probably been to a making-small-books workshop before, the creation of small books perfectly suited to the collection of, or the writing of, haiku and other small poems. But you’ve never been in one hall with four masters of the art, given the time to see each one present her skills on how to make one or more specific books. Here are Terry Ann, Maxianne Berger, Ruth Mittleholtz and Marjorie each showing new ideas for these books, with some special creations.

More workshops on haibun and tanka: (Yes, Rubber Duck tanka. There’s no world like it.)

I should have taken more photos…There were so many wonderful things. Gifts of local cheeses and maple syrup for the presenters, the book sales tables, silent auction items, workshops by French haikuists, a presentation on science and the environment in haiku, one on haiku and mental health and an online course for those studying to be health care workers, the banquet, the ginko walk.  We played hard, but we also worked hard, if we so wished. The traditional after-hours renku was read on Sunday by renku masters Marshall Hyrciuk and Karen Sohne, and the gingko prizes awarded to Sandra Stevenson, Luce Pelletier and Lynne Jambor!

The winners of the international 2018 Betty Drevniok and Jocelyne Villeneuve Awards were presented, as were the current executive, with new President (moi) new Vice President Claude Rodrigue, new Publications Editor Mike Montreuil, and returning Secretary Lynne Jambor, returning members’ Secretary Kathy Munro, returning Web Page administrator Luminita Suse, and returning Haiku Newsflash editor Carole Daoust.

Luce Pelletier and I with Sharon Morrison in between Suzanne Doereg and Lynne admire lanterns.

You don’t see anyone bored at this conference; there was a river to walk to, poems to write, poets to talk with, tweets to tweet. Cake to eat! Sake at the renku, along with other treats like biscotti and squares and chocolate.  And then there were the other small precious things, like this box of haiku ‘chocolates’ made by Kathy Munro and found on the ‘free’ table. I saw it there, fell in love, stole it, thinking that if it was free, it was mine. It turned out she hadn’t yet put up the little sign that said ‘Take One’ of the teeny tiny origami-like twists.  But lucky me, Kathy came up at the end of the conference having refilled the cups and gave the box of ever-so-sweets to me after all.

Thank you, Pearl and Marco for several photos on this post. What would we do without those who actually remember to take pictures.  Again, thank you Angela, and giving much praise for her stalwart sidekicks Steve Luxton and Carolynn Rafman.

fish spine picked clean end of conversation

Hello new book! I begin this post with my editor and publisher’s name along with mine, and part of the skeleton of a fish. It’s sometimes a good idea to start with a part of something, a manageable piece, to take time to see the part, and so the whole, more clearly.

So here is Éditions des petits nuages, a small press with a big vision, one that takes risks and sends out into the world a fullness of books on poetry, mostly Japanese-form poems, in French and in English. Poet, translator and editor in his own right, Mike Montreuil’s ‘nuage‘ publications run from the historically important through compilations of contemporary poetry. I’m proud to be published once more with Éditions des petits nuages, pleased that some of my books are part of his publications list.

Montreuil is also the Publications Editor of Haiku Canada, main editor of the Haiku Canada Review and its Haiku Canada Sheet Series, both functions he has recently taken over from LeRoy Gorman. It’s a hat that is not easy to fill, but Mike will do a fine job.  And so, back to some the many poets published under the mantle of the ‘little clouds’: Andre Duhaime, Micheline Beaudry, Maxianne Berger, for starters, and Jocelyne Villeneuve. The Villeneuve project alone is worth many blog pages, as is the collection of years of The Betty Drevniok Award poems and judges’ comments, all this besides Montreuil’s work for The Haiku Society of America and sundry other poetry-related projects.

Now it is my turn again to be published by the little clouds, with fish spine picked clean, a collection of tanka, the five-line poems that can, every once in a while, be written in one line as it is in the title of this blog. It’s one of my briefest tanka, but one that pulls in what I like to portray in such a short poem, an image, but an image that links with an emotion, a very human poem.  After so many publications with my name on them, it’s still amazing to see the title and my name on the spine of this spine.  It’s been a long time coming for another tanka collection (after Your Hands Discover Me/ Tes mains me découvrent, 2010, Éditions du tanka francophone,  Montreal), and it mostly comprises already-published tanka in other other journals, in paper or online, such as Skylark, Take Five: Best Contemporary tanka, or Gusts, Canada’s Tanka Magazine, or in themed books such as Blackbird’s Throat.

These poems might count as a section of memoir expressed in tanka, but as such, it is of course, only the smallest part, a particle perhaps, of thoughts and feelings throughout my life.  Records of a kind. Not a narrative per se, but bits and pieces of nature, happiness, love, and sadnesses such as most people have, and about which many poets write. The ‘spine’, so to speak, of tanka poetry.

And what is this spine, my spine, trying to say and why collect all these pieces of my self into a book.  For I am not famous or rich as a many a poet may and should be. Not a celebrity poet whose books everyone wants personally signed, a writer the world clamours to know more about, which doesn’t matter, as it’s the right time to do what you’re doing as long as it is the right time to be doing it. Ah, I will be known throughout the land for long, oblique, tortured sentences. Still, it’s the way it is. Now is the time for fish spine to be shouting ‘life’ and this is how life is for me: how it has been, how it is, including the lusty erotics… who is to say when those experiences in life have been there and gone. Not me.

fallen into temptation/i unbutton/his shirt —/moon’s wry/romantic grin

never sleep they say/in the path/of a moonbeam/but my love/who’s thinking of sleep

crossing the bridge/across the border/the fire in us/could have melted/this steel

Putting the collection together has given me the chance to share the beauty of a dear one’s love of language, the simplicity of  a Brahms passage, or cross cultures with the poetry of another country, showcasing the relationship between early tanka and the Chinese poets.

languish languid limpid livid/you loved words/they came tripping out/like spring brook water/lively

then three simple notes/down and back/generates a measure/the ordinary…/seeding the/extraordinary

the smiles/of small girls/deny what is written/that no one is glad/when a girl is born                        (with reference to a poem called Woman by the poet Fu Hsüan who died c. AD 278.)

Within this collection of notes and whimsies written over the years, and the freedom allowed by Montreuil as editor, I can even approach being funny, reference Artificial Intelligence, indulge in my liking for the word ‘tarty’, and, using a famous pair of dancers, give a nod to how women are men’s equals, perhaps at times more equal, despite obstacles that few even notice.

it’s been with me, officer/all night long/the robot/had already/learned/to lie

fred and ginger/she in high heels/this marmalade is a hit/packed with tarty bits/of orange peel

The book will be out by March 12th, and I will be reading from it at Ottawa’s Tree Reading Series on March 13th.  Thank you so much,  Mike Montreuil and your little clouds.

 

Thousand Leaves, Karuta Haiku Canada

Thousand Leaves, Karuta Haiku Canada, a card game based on the traditional Japanese Karuta tanka game, that I put together in 2006. (Photo: the start of a poem by Marianne Bluger, and the ending of a poem by someone else…)thousand leaves 1

Karuta is simply the Japanese word for ‘cards’, and there are many karuta games, especially for children, that are meant to teach letters, memory, listening skills and reflexes.

Today, the competitive literary form of karuta, Ogura Hyukunin Isshu, based on one hundred famous poems, is played by a wide range of people in Japan. Although the game itself is simple, playing at a competitive level requires a high-level of skills such as agility and memory. It is recognized as a kind of sport in Japan.karuta cards

Tradition means that the same poems are always used: Good karuta players memorize all 100 tanka poems and the layout of the cards at the start of the match. Non-memorizers have to depend on luck to figure out whether they can find the correct poem-ending card.karuta cards 2

A player says the first line of a tanka and the first person to match the rest of the poem wins that card. Since many of the poems start with the same sound, though you may have responded most quickly, you may answer with the wrong poem. For example, there are 3 cards starting with Chi which are “Chihayafuru”, “Chigirikina” and “Chigiriokishi”, so a player must react as soon as he/she hears the beginning decisive part of the poem. Sort of like pushing the bell quickly or too quickly in Jeopardy.

There are other versions in Japan, including one in which players leap from card to card on a giant floor mat, something like our Twister. I have an English version of a karuta game based on the Tale of Genji, the first novel ever, written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting in the Heian court, but this is not the traditional game.

thousand leaves boxThe one I came up with usually has a photo of a Haiku Canada poet, (but sometimes just the name) with the first line of one of their poems, haiku or tanka. The other ‘half’ card has the rest of the poem. It’s up to us to make the rules. Simple matching, calling out or even adding points for making new poems.

We can play traditionally, laying out the non-picture cards so that they can all be seen, trying to memorize where they are.

But since we do not have a canon of famous poems yet in Canada, we can match as best we can, until the poems are checked against a master sheet.thousand leaves master  In the version played with my cards in Plattsburgh, we gave points for the correct poems when created, but also points when a new good poem was created.  George Swede won a spiffy hat, as I remember it.

For your first game of Haiku Canada Karuta, try to match these eight poets’ first lines with their endings… (answers at the end of the post)

game sample

ah those first warm nights/ full of bawling cats/ and lilac

underground parking/ no space/ for the moon

from all directions/ these flickering sparks of light/ evening fireflies

in its absence/ I dream/ a new moon

evening rain ―/ I braid my hair/ into the dark

ducking for cover/ we dry off by posters/ of people in the sun

the moon’s eclipse/ on the front lawn/ strangers become friends

motel stillness ― / the bed/ out of quarters

I think I’ve made this too easy… but you get the idea of Karuta. One time we played this, it was in a room of about thirty poets. I simply distributed all the hundred poem parts, and we all ran around switching, matching and trading pieces.  You’d never have thought this was a group of poets who are very passionate about Japanese-form poetry.

Perhaps that is a defining description of such poets: they take poetry, not themselves, seriously.

 

From literature to tanka, part 1

ribbons spring summerThe Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Ribbons, the Tanka Society of America Journal, highlights the theme of Novels.

The editor, Michael McLintock, introduces the theme with a memory of being a six year old walking out of the library with a real novel, his first. It was Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Little Brown and Company, 1956). He tells of his terror and excitement. I can remember that feeling the first time I was allowed to choose a book that was not in the children’s section. My book was Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, and I took it home feeling very grown up though I was only ten.

We who love reading and poetry have often felt that excitement. It hangs around in our heads for a while, and we don’t want to let it go.

When we write a poem about a novel we’ve read, we get to relive that excitement and let ourselves fall back in time to the books that have changed ou lives or that were exceptionally memorable. It gives us a chance to get inside the book again, and create a new poem from inside the beloved pages.

Literature does many things for us but writing tanka or other literary forms from older literary works gives us a stake in the original story, taking us out of ourselves or deeper into ourselves. Either way, something new is made, and adds to the literature. The challenge is to put a whole novel into five lines.

catcher in the ryegorman tankaLeRoy Gorman has been a longtime supporter of visual poems. As editor of the Haiku Canada Review, he has accepted many such poems, aware of their visual impact and how a visual arrangement can affect the meaning of a poem. Here he arranges the lines into an upside-down A, but the lines step down carefully and deliberately to the possible result of a decision he has to make.

We don’t know whether the student’s work deserved an A, and this hidden aspect heightens the conundrum in this poem. We wonder if he did give her that mark, and the shortening of each line takes our breathing into account as we read it.

Because she loved J. D. Salinger’s fictional rebel in The Catcher in the Rye, possibly because she is one of his few students who actually read the book, Gorman wants to award her, ring the church bells, tell the whole world about it. The student became part of Holden’s life, and LeRoy Gorman celebrates a teenager’s realization of what a good book can do.

war and peace40 years later/ rereading War and Peace ―/ no longer Natasha,/ I’m old Drubetskaya/ fretting about her son

Angela Leuck becomes Tolstoy’s old Princess Drubetskaya fretting, as we all do, about our sons and/or our daughters. Once in a while what we are reading comes so close to personal experience, we stop breathing. At present, reading this poem, I fret about my son far away, and he is forty-eight years old!

Every woman wants to be the gorgeous Natasha. I like that ‘no longer’. She’s been trying to be Natasha in one way or another, perhaps in fantasy. To change, to suddenly prefer being an old poor woman because she knows love in the truest sense surprises the reader. The poem is full of empathy for the long suffering and the powerless. Creating new poetry out of that empathy honours the original work, and gets us thinking more about minor characters in literature and in our own lives.

farewell to arms

the last pages/ of Farewell to Arms/ so unbearably sad/ I play Moonlight Sonata/ again and again

Literature affects. Sometimes it touches so strongly, we have to do something about it. Immediately, right now, before we drown in the feelings the writing has stirred in us.  Luminita plays music, and she writes tanka.  She also has the gift of writing tanka that are concise and precise.

Key words are ‘again and again’, Moonlight Sonata after Moonlight Sonata until the sadness is driven away. Until we come back to earth and see that beauty can help counteract sadness.

Michelle L. Harvey loves the English classics:bronteausten

the old cow pasture/ where it meets the sky/ good enough for Austin and Bronte/ and falling in love

Harvey has entered the lives of the two writers by reminding us of scenes they would have encountered daily. The tanka puts us in a romantic mood, perhaps for some of us, our ancestral roots. It makes us want to go to that pasture and talk with the novelists, ask them how, from such rural settings, they thought to become writers.

I like the line ‘where it meets the sky’. It acts as a symbol of where the writers saw themselves and their writing. They escaped from the cows into worlds of their own making, far away from the everyday. Women of vision. Suddenly we want to go for a long rural walk, watch some cows, see if the cows will inspire us too.

a fine balance

for years I’ve sought/ relief from the seesaw/ of my life…/ today I finished reading/ A Fine Balance

How many of us go through what Dawn Bruce talks about in her first three lines. She’s just finished that novel and perhaps looks up, looks around her and realizes how fortunate she is. A Fine Balance is overwhelming; the lives of its characters are so difficult and they survive on so little.

Characters in the novel are caught up in the middle of great political and economic difficulties, and as always, it is the ‘little man’, the ordinary citizen who suffers the most.  In this novel, dignity is a silent character, its personal defining, its loss, its murder.  Dawn Bruce’s fine poem turns on the fourth line. The first three lines are a simple commonplace remark. The last two hint at awakening.

Dawn Bruce says a great deal in these eighteen words. We look around us stunned after finishing such a novel. How good our life is.  How small our see-saw of troubles in comparison.

The use of the word see-saw is perfect. We’ve been moved by a novel, or come face to face with some other desperate truth, and it’s human nature to look for a way to not let it interfere with what we have. We go out of our way to avoid the homeless, grump because they park themselves outside our favourite Starbucks and we don’t like feeling our uneasy feelings as we exit with our lattes. Some publications of this novel show an image of a balancing act on the cover, but we are the ones balancing.

Poetry as a state of grace, as Susan Stewart says. In writing the tanka above, poets have caused books and literary characters to come to life, to be organically connected with our own lives.