seven months

It’s been seven months since I came back from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and those months have been busy.  I’ve been writing, and am pleased and proud to be one of seven (out of two hundred submissions) on the shortlist in the 2017 Malahat Long Poem Contest with my series of lyric poems about Fogo Island, Newfoundland.  I didn’t win, but have been sending those poems out as a chapbook submission, and maybe, just maybe, have had a hint of a chance with one publisher.

I love designing the covers of my books, collaborating with the authors so that they are completely happy with their books. Here are the books catkin press has published in the past seven months: First, Firefly in the Room by Grant D. Savage.

Cover photograph: Grant D. Savage

This unusual collection of erotic haiku by Grant Savage, an excellent haiku poet. His luscious photography was perfect for this theme in his use of colour and composition. And the haiku are astute and sassy.

The two next publications were compilations of haibun with tanka. The first was Hans Jongmann’s Swooning, a manuscript that was so good and so unusual in its narrative of love and being young, has a central mystery, that I just had to publish it. His wife Farida wrote a prose section which set things up beautifully. The reader is captivated, held to the last page.

The next venture was a chapbook of poems, My Head Full of Pakistan, about Blaine Marchand’s deep love of the country where he worked with CIDA.  Blaine was with me in every step of publication, from editing (and there was very little) to layout, to cover background and images, including choosing textured papers for the cover and for the interior pages, which reflected the textiles of that country. This is the cover in an early stage of design.

Blaine’s photograph is featured on this cover. There are several more inside the chapbook that serve to enhance and illustrate Blaine’s lyric poems. These are poems that give you a slice of Pakistan written by someone who loves that country and who is known for the depth and insights in his writing.

Then another haiku/ tanka/ haibun writer sent me a memoir called She Don’t Mean a Thing If She ain’t Got That Swing that intrigued and amazed me. Guy Simser of Ottawa focused on the love of his life, wife Jan, and on their travels, on the music and activities they shared for so many years. His writing was so rich in expression, description, detail and humour. What could I do except say I’d publish it.

Again the author was particular about the papers used for text and cover, and his choice of sensuous paper for the text meant that the many fascinating photographs printed perfectly in colour. This is a beautiful object as well as a well thought-out book.

In February we launched three books at Pressed, for Grant, Guy and Blaine, and what a dynamic set of presentations that was!

In the new year, Hans said he had a couple (a couple…!) more manuscripts. He has a reputation in the Japanese-form world for his sterling poems, so first we published Below the Frostline, which is completely haiku.  The second, Shift Change,  was another variation on memoir that focused on travel, bicycling, and work experiences in various places. His writing has honesty and colour. Each poem is just right. We argued over editing as we always have, but he is a wise writer and makes the right choices.

When Haiku Canada held its conference in Whitehorse last year, it happened to be Mystery Month in the Yukon. With that theme in mind, Haiku Canada members submitted ‘crime’ ku, a selection of which was printed on file cards in a clear large font and displayed with kindred books in a case in the library/museum foyer. The library asked whether there would be a book, and so Kathy Munro, haikuist, and Jessica Simon, crime writer, edited a thoughtful, humorous, delightful collection of Killer Ku.  I loved working with them; I appreciated their enthusiasm and their fine insistence of particulars. They came up with the perfect headings for the sections, such as Breaking and Entering, Cannibalism, and Cell Blocks. Their inspired early layout and concise editing add so much to this very different collection which can be enjoyed, not only by haiku enthusiasts, but by anyone who picks it up.

Anna Vakar is a long-time haiku poet who has spent her years in the haiku life learning what haiku is, what it could be.  Vicki McCullough met Anna Vakar and realized that this poet needed to be better known and needed to have a book of her work. Vicki has done an amazing job writing introductions to both Anna’s life and her haiku path. Anna Vakar is a strong poet who has the habit of writing comments on the pages of any anthologies or haiku collections she acquires. The book includes a list of the kind of comments Anna writes beside and around the poems. A couple of photographs show pages of this perceptive self-teaching marginalia. Vicki is an editor who insists on academic excellence. She and Ms Vakar have produced the finest kind of haiku book, one that shows a haiku poet’s path while teaching about this form.

During these months I was co-editor, with Marco Fraticelli of Haiku Canada’s 40th members’ anthology, which is being published by Ekstasis Press in British Columbia. It is dedicated to one of the founders of the society, Eric Amann, who passed away last fall. The anthology is unusual as it isn’t just a haiku collection, but rather a gathering of haiku experiences, memories, stories of one’s first haiku publication, or how one came to haiku. Each member had one page which could be comprised of just haiku or part prose, even haibun.

Its title, Wordless, is from a little book Amann wrote early on, which influenced many haikuists. Marco and I learned a lot from co-editing this collection, especially about how accommodating and patient an anthology publisher can be. Richard Olafson of Ekstasis Editions is a dream to work with. I’m sure we were a nightmare to him with our hundreds of edits.  We are so pleased that the cover will feature a painting by Aili Kurtis of Perth. Richard let me design the cover, at least in its first phases. This is an early draft:

Then came a great event! Managing editor Mike Montreuil of Éditions des petits nuages said the press would publish MY haiku collection! AND would be happy to let me design its cover. Well, paradise for me!  The book is dedicated to musician/philosopher Oliver Shroer, whom I knew, but would like to have known better for how he lived his life, the music he took risks with. He was one of those special people. When he was diagnosed with leukemia, he walked the Camino, and played in 25 churches along the way.  Much of his playing, on stage and in those churches, even in hospital during the later stages of the disease, can be seen in videos on the net. When I met the 6’3′ or 4′ Oliver at a festival in Owen Sound, he was wearing a bowler hat.  I had kept a file of an image Ellen Drennan had put on facebook, and she let me use it as the background. Her image is full of energy and light, perfect for an ‘Oliver’ book. The haiku are not about Oliver, except for a few; the poems range, I hope, between a very few ‘not-too-bad’ haiku to several that will be judged ridiculous, and everything in between. I had three very good editors beside Mike Montreuil: Philomene Kocher of Kingston, Marco Fraticelli and Grant Savage of Ottawa, but they can’t be blamed for what I finally included.

One of the last cover designs has been for the winning Tree Chapbook manuscript for 2017, Amanda Earl’s Electric Garden. The judge, Steven Brockwell, took the time he needed to choose a winner from so many fine submissions, but is definite about the talent of Ms Earl. Her poems are tight and energetic and honest with a superlative use of language.  She sent me an image of a lily I might want to use, and agreed to let me incorporate it into a collage. I think we’re both pleased with that collaboration. Here it is:

And that will almost do it. I produced a tiny personal chapbook of a long poem, Body of Light, and will publish one more collection before the end of June, for Grant Savage.

That’s been my publishing year.  These titles join the previous list of publications, including Singing in the Silo by Philomene Kocher, and Drifting by Marco Fraticelli, as well as others. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t turn up for a lot of poetry events. I won’t have such a heavy schedule ever again, but I’m glad every one of these is a catkin press production, and I am so proud of the editors and authors.  What a great crew!

Most of the books will be available at the Haiku Canda Weekend in Mississauga, May 19 – 21 at The University of Toronto at Mississauga, and at the Small Press Book Fair in June. This adventure of being a small press publisher is turning out to be quite the journey. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Oops! I forgot something… Pearl Pirie’s Phafours Press published a chapbook of my gendai one-liners. That means a lot.  Many thanks, Pearl for sometimes seeing the world and language the way I sometimes do… I apologize that this is only an approximation of the cover with art by Judith Copithorne. I’ve run out of copies, so I can’t photograph it. But I love it!

 

 

 

 

 

hans jongman’s ‘swooning’

I love the books I publish at catkin press. The latest is a wonderful memoir in haibun by Haiku Canada member Hans Jongman, with a section by his wife Farida.

As soon as I started to read the manuscript I knew I wanted this for a catkin book, but as I continued reading, I was captured by story, the haiku between the prose, the sense of a long deep relationship. It is punctuated with pathos and humour, and wanders all around the world. Photos enhance the sections well, as in this one in which all his sixteen-year-old hopes and vulnerability on his first sea voyage are apparent.

sailor hans

Farida’s written contribution (as opposed to her part in the overall story) leads to the later sections and the possibility of resolving a longtime situation.

I don’t want to say too much, except that it is mystery and a bit of treasure hunt for the things that really matter in life.

Hans’ peripatetic life began in Holland in 1951, and before eventually settling in Toronto, goes to sea, takes flights, car journeys. It keeps longtime friends, falls in love, has children and grandchildren, as many do. But his and Farida’s together make an extra intriguing literary intertwining.

He gets out of the haibun form all that Basho meant the form to produce; haibun adds lightness and space and the opportunity for the reader to breathe, and to add their own connotations. The text has several titled sections, such as one called “The Most Beautiful Eyes”, and another, “To Sea”

When Farida (the owner of the beautiful eyes) writes, the tale is succinct, easy to follow. eyes 2

Not haibun, just good straight effective prose. She says what she has to say, what she wants to tell, cleanly. No flounces or purple language here. Though not known as a writer, I think she should consider writing more in the future.

Read this book also for a picture of what it was to be a teenager in Holland in the 60s, for the situation of a young woman who loses her mother and is cut off from family. This book isn’t only for those who know the haibun form; anyone who enjoys a good read will love it.

On the extra benefit side, the haibun form may, because of SWOONING discover a new cohort of followers when they find what an accessible form it is and how subtly the haiku enhance the overall writing.

 

 

 

 

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!”
insulted
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:

eight

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.

 

 

More About Leonard Budgell and Arctic Twilight

len henry charlottelen at henry's 90th crop

I never tire of seeing photos of Len with his friends and family. Here he is in a visit with  Henry and Charlotte Voisey, c. 1980. In the first photo, from the left, Len Budgell, Charlotte, Henry and their daughter Mary Voisey. The second is Len at Henry Voisey’s 90th birthday party.

When I met Leonard Budgell almost by accident in 1978, he was 25 years older than me, about the age of my father, yet we became the best of friends. Len was closest with friends like with Henry Voisey and Charlotte, both of whom were from Labrador, and who were, in Len’s own words, of ‘Eskimo’ descent. Henry was an HBC man, and a radio operator, as Len was. You will love their faces, he said. He’s short and solid and square, and she’s small and birdlike and so warm. 

you told me
of their collection
of stone and bone scrapers
sculptures carved
from dog’s teeth

There were so many things Len and I could talk about with each other and with no one else. We were safe with each other, and there was trust. There are 17 hours of oral history on tapes in the Hudson’s Bay Archives, orchestrated by Jocelyn McKillop, but the hundreds of hours we spent over meals, tea, walks in Oak Hammock Marsh, or Bird’s Hill Park, at MacDonald’s while we watched his grandchildren play in the “Play section’ are mostly lost.

tallgrass

we watched the geese
lift from the river
together as one
as one we knew
there was no next step

I visited him in Moosonee in the 1990s where, after his Hudson’s Bay Post Manager career, he managed Federated Shipping for The Hudson’s Bay Company. That company shipped equipment, food, and basic supplies to communities on James Bay. He visited me when he came to Oshawa from Winnipeg to see his daughter Kathy and his grandchildren. We met in Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Sharbot Lake…and during these visits we talked, with satisfying bouts of being quiet together, listening to coyotes howl, watching for bear prints on the beach.

island at moosoneelen building a fire

I especially loved our time in Moosonee, I reveled in the the clean fresh air, in our canoe trips on the river, flights over James Bay; I was spoiled by Asheurias, the wonderful cook for the people who worked with Len. Ash would say, Eat it all up, maid, and present me with enough Newfoundland-style cooking to feed the whole town. And Len and I talked into the small hours.

I wish I had some physical record of more of his stories: the one about a criminal wearing a suit, and carrying only a suitcase who’d come through Hebron and stayed with him briefly; a tale of how the crew of the Nascopie once stole a goose he’d roasted at Hebron that showed another side of his usual peaceful nature; of the Inuit man whose wife needed delicate care that only Len could provide; his own story of his courting of Muriel, their long love and the bringing up of their children. And many stories of Hebron, one of the places he hoped to show me one day. (I got there in 2005, five years after he had died.) One thing we never talked about was our own dying: I was unprepared for his.

 

this is where you lived
among hebron’s hills
here the garden
the graveyard
its picket fence

Several times I nearly died while I was in Vanuatu, and there were many times he could have died on his postings. I never told him of my encounters with the Grim Reaper, nor did he regale me with his. If he mentioned, as he did in a letter quoted in Arctic Twilight, some glitch with his heart, it was a humorous recounting, after the fact. If he had outraced an avalanche, that was merely a lucky victory over the bleak fellow in the hoodie. Our own demise wasn’t a subject to be avoided; it just didn’t seem that important. Neither of us was afraid of it, neither attached any importance to philosophizing about what happens after death.

He worried more about suffering, but it was the suffering of others he lamented. He worried more about what was happening to all those in small communities in Labrador, the conditions they were living under, the alcoholism, the young peoples’ suicides.

at saglek harbour
no one left now
to listen for
the almost noiseless feet
of caribou on muskeg

In Ottawa in the mid nineties, we were visiting a friend of his, a brilliant and well-known elderly anthropologist, to hear his views on an early version of Arctic Twilight. Afterwards we went to what was still called The Museum of Civilization, in Hull. Cardinal’s curving building meant to him the snowy Mealy Mountains in Labrador where he had often hunted. Some of these experiences are in Arctic Twilight, but I remember particularly two things about that afternoon. The first is that after we took in the totem poles and the exhibit of the Eastern Aboriginal culture, after he spent a long time with a York boat that brought people and goods to places like Fort Garry near Winnipeg, he seemed tired. It was the first time I had ever seen him tired.

like your brother max
who once walked
across Labrador
to enlist
your boundless energy

He was about eighty years old, yet it took me by surprise. In my mind he had always been energy personified, a person who got up every morning at 5:30 and did useful things until he went to bed. The useful things included writing letters to friends, to anyone who wrote to him. He wrote stories, sending several to Them Days Magazine in Goose Bay, Labrador, and he wrote letters to the editors of the Whig Standard newspaper and The Beaver magazine to comment on mistakes that ‘those idiots’ had published without sufficient research.

in this small cave
you ate with a friend
it was dark
all you could see were
his strong inuit teeth

His home in St. Boniface was spotless and cared for; after Muriel became ill, he took on the responsibilities for all aspects of taking care of the house. He had a wonderful garden with incredible produce, and he planted, weeded, and harvested produce from the fertile soil of a younger daughter’s garden on a farm outside Winnipeg, looked after his grandchildren as often as he could. He had lunch with his old-timer friends from The Hudson’s Bay Company, and kept an office at the Company’s main headquarters for years after his retirement. He visited with his Mennonite and Ukrainian friends.

len and Muriel on board ship

Muriel had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was often in pain from arthritis; there were hospital visits, home visits; he himself had some heart problems but despite tests and drop-ins at the cardiologist office, he kept on going. He liked a clean house so he vacuumed and washed floors and did laundry. He made jam, preserved fruit. Wild cranberries meant dozens of jars of jelly, and he helped as much as possible in the kitchen, especially on clean-up. His driveways were shoveled before full daylight, and he helped with his neighbours’ shoveling too. In spring, he’d be off to the Marsh to see spring happen there.

storm clouds lift
on the beach at iron strand
roseroot sedum glistens
the shorewater
settles

But at the museum he was a little slower than usual, happy to sit with a coffee. He did, though, want to see the Arctic exhibit. This is the other important thing I remember from that day. When we entered the exhibit, there was a long wall with life-sized photographs of some Inuit, smiling at the camera, as if in welcome.

Well there’s ( an Inuit name)…!, Len said, his face brightening. And there’s his brother, and his father, giving their Inuktitut names. He named several others on the wall, and since my memory is not anywhere near what his was, I don’t remember the names or what else he told me about these friends of his that graced the Arctic Exhibit. I wasn’t surprised that he knew their names, or these people.

coonera
the last man to come up
and grin in my face
not letting on to the spirits
about my journey

Hindsight is a grand thing, he would have said, but only years afterwards I thought Why weren’t the names of these people there identifying them. Of course, that day, I didn’t think to write the
names down, or suggest we get the Museum to put their names with the photos. Probably only Len knew who these men were, and it was a bad slip-up on my part not to have done so.

in this small cave
you ate with coonera
it was dark
all you could see were
his strong inuit teeth

Perhaps it was part of policy, or just habit, that names of native peoples were not recorded. I never could find out the name of a native person in a photograph of Len’s father when he was a young Servant of the Bay at Davis Inlet, although the native figured as large as George Budgell did in the photo. Since Len himself was a very small boy at the time of the photo, he didn’t know either.

George Budgell and an Inuit man

This is the photo of George Budgell, Len’s father, taken around 1927. Afterwards I saw that in so many archive photos, whether in the National Library, The Manitoba or The Hudson’s Bay Archives, even the Labrador Archives in The Rooms in St. John’s, only the names of the white people were noted.

WEBrown

Here is his great Hudson’s Bay friend, W.E.Brown, whose story runs through Arctic Twilight. (Brown had been a Mountie in the North before starting his career with The Bay.) Len never saw this image, but he would say that ‘Buster’ Brown would have known the names of most of the people with him here. I never saw Len with a camera, though he didn’t mind being photographed. He didn’t need an image to help him remember, and perhaps he felt that by isolating one moment, he would not remember other details associated with it.

Leonard remembered all the names of those he had dealings with, especially people like Millik whom he respected and cared about, making no distinction as to whether they were native. In fact, a person interested him more if he or she were native. Every single one was an important person, no one more important than the next. There are some who would have wished he hadn’t remembered their names, for he never forgot those who acted unethically, especially if they were Hudson’s Bay employees, historians, writers or publishers who had not done their research in the history of, or the vessels owned by, the Hudson’s Bay Company.

millik was big for an eskimo
competent and honest and powerful
his face would break up
up into a hundred
heart-warming smiles

Once when he was visiting me, having arrived in Kingston by train from Toronto, my car broke down and a tow truck called. He had to be lifted by the driver into its cab for the ride to the garage, and in my home, he wasn’t jumping up to make tea or suggesting that we walk in the woods. When on his return trip, a porter who saw he had difficulty getting into the train suggested he have a wheelchair waiting in Toronto, he shook his head. Of course he wouldn’t need one, yet in his next phone call he admitted that he wished he had said yes to that plan, that the station had seemed very big to walk across that evening. But he hadn’t talked about his pain; it was as if he figured if he didn’t mention it, it didn’t exist.

you hunted
in that time of famine
shot one
thin fox
and gave it away

Early December of 2000, I got a phone call from Len’s youngest daughter saying that he’d been operated on for a hip replacement, but that he’d gone into a coma. Of course, he hadn’t let me know that he was going to have the procedure. He wouldn’t have me worry. He’d let me know once it was all over. I asked if she would go in and tell him that Claudia says she loves you.

The next day, a second call. Her father had not survived.

I did as you asked, she said….We’re so glad that you were in his life.

According to his wishes, his ashes were scattered in Labrador over the graves of his parents. If he’d thought it possible, he would have loved to lie on the Iron Strand of Labrador where I found a grave heaped with stones. He most likely knew of this grave, and might have thought, as I did:

whoever is in this stone grave
how i envy him
he will never have to leave
the labrador
or these sunsets

glacier worn mountains
one behind the other
you spent many an evening
absorbing the order
in this solitude

 

Literature to haibun/ intro to little literary haibun

 

 

 

 

 

debs bookThis week, Ottawa poet and short story writer Deborah-Anne Tunney ― cover above of her book The View From the Lane (2014, Enfield & Wizenty, Great Plains Publications) ―  read us her poem based on a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.  She took us inside a kitchen, focusing on the tensions between Annie and Melanie. suzanne p

(Tippi Hedren, (Melanie) Suzanne Pleshette (Annie)

Ms. Tunney enabled us to concentrate particularly on two characters in a scene that is not as often recalled  as many of the others in the movie. Her poem introduced us to the women in an intelligent, intimate way, making it more memorable.  “…alone in the living room/ of that bungalow off a dirt road, speaking/ of Lydia’s mind shaped like a/ kitchen, the crazed cruel love Annie// keeps hidden in a cupboard…”

From one art work to another, a tribute. I think Hitchcock would have been delighted, just as Cavafy would be pleased at what his poem had generated for Leonard Cohen. To decide to get inside someone else’s work, to show that spending time with it is valuable enough for you to do so, is tribute; it can also be a fascinating adventure.  As well, for a practitioner of one form to create a new ‘thingness’ from an already ‘made thingness’ can make it possible for the original to reach a completely different audience/readership/listener, and all in the spirit of ‘upcycling’…

Remember when a poem was something you had to deal with. It was a part of the curriculum and often the teacher didn’t understand the poem either. But the Teacher’s Manual on page 214 had a description of what the poem was about.  Our job was to guess what was in that manual. Think of those essays set in which you were to analyze a piece of writing. Often you didn’t understand what was happening in the book, article or poem to start with. Literature was so dull. Précis…Ugh!

One way of understanding complicated writing, or to get closer to the intention of any poem, or even just to enjoy it in its fullness, might be to approach it as a method actor might do.

Whether the work is a popular play, or avant garde, the actors’ mission is to create in themselves a sense of the character, to get inside their thoughts, and develop the psychological, emotional feelings of those characters.  Some actors stay in character for the run of the play so they can fully experience living in the character’s life.

Recalling 19th century woodcuts by creating haibun, to create from Cavafy a contemporary piece of music, writing “The Birds” into poetry, forming a new poem based on another, is to disturb the finality of a form, to allow it to leak out into a different environment, a different time. This can be disturbing to the original creator who may feel possessive about his/her work; they may see it as a suggestion that their work is not already complete as is.

Yet to be excited enough about someone’s work to try it, is to attempt to integrate the source world with your own consciousness.  It is to realize that any created piece can have an unending future, even though the original work stopped in time when it was completed.

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As your personal one-point perspective engages with a previous creation, it communicates through an imaginary sense of touch, of atmosphere, a confronting.

Re-entering a piece of art can bring the original again to the attention of today’s reader, possibly a different audience, to have it reconsidered. Not ‘oh that poem again, I read that ten years ago…’ but a chance to react differently because you have placed yourself and others inside that stopped time, and shifted it to the present.

Because of this altered energy, a contemporary section of a work’s genealogy comes into being, as well as a new bridge to its future. In stopping the time of the work, it says Let’s get on that train, and stop at a different station. Have a look around. Let’s invite ourselves into Hitchcock’s kitchen with Ms. Tunney, sit down for a while with Melanie and Annie. Get to know them, ask different questions of them than Hitchcock did. Let’s watch the woman in the field with Peter, discuss why she might be braiding grass methodically as if it were her daughter’s hair.

gary geddes cover soldiersRecently, with permission of the two living authors,  I invited myself into the lives of three different situations they have created, so I could get closer to imaginary people who represented real people, real conundrums, real relationships: The writers are Lewis Carroll, Susan Goyette and Gary Geddes.

This excerpt is from the third section of Three Sets of Literary Haibun, Gary Geddes and Claudia Radmore (2015, catkin press). It is based on ‘Spearman’, a poem from The Terracotta Army (1984, Oberon Press; 2010, Goose Lane Editions), winner of the Commonwealth Prize, Americas Region.

I have arrived in the workshop/studio of Lao Bi, the artist who sculpted the soldiers’ faces, and I sit quietly in a corner. For the artist it must have been the commission of a lifetime, the culmination of his life’s work so far. I imagine the Emperor summoning him, the artist in awe of the Emperor, and all the bowing involved in the meeting. Or perhaps it was done through an emissary. In any case, this Emperor was more like a god to Lao Bi, at least in his range of powers over a lowly artist’s life and death. I wonder what was going on in Lao Bi’s mind. Was he at all suspicious of the Emperor’s intentions…

Gary Geddes lets you see him through the soldiers characters and the artist’s interaction with them. A spearman enters the studio and Lao Bi tells him where to stand. The artist has a great many portraits to make in clay, and I imagine he was chosen because of his skills and his ability to work to deadline. Where the Emperor was concerned the word ‘deadline’, could mean just that, so he has to work quickly.  Here is a haibun from Three Sets written after Geddes’ ‘Spearman’ poem.

Spearman

He has worn his armoured vest and spear for the sitting.  Pleased, Lao Bi laughs out loud, creates an uncanny likeness―not just the face but the way the sleeves bunch up at the wrist, the studs and fluted leather of the shoulder pads.

ordered to the frontier/ the spearman leaves/ himself behind 

The haibun is consciously brief, and uses many of Geddes words and phrases, a sort of ‘found’ prose. In the original poem, Geddes builds the spearman’s character, recounting the soldier’s amazement that the artist can take his measure in a single sitting. That would have been the first sitting. It is in the second setting that the spearman has returned in full regalia ― proud of his calling, he strikes his own pose, a daring attitude in the presence of the Emperor’s artist ― and we see the artist suddenly liking the spearman, seeing someone he can relate to, and beginning a relationship with the soldier, with the man; perhaps he will share the contents of his wineskin with him, get to know him better.

Then the spearman is called to the front, and is reluctant to leave his village, but also, strangely , to leave this image of himself. You can imagine him wondering why it was important to him; there’s a sense of awakening. Today we have so many images of ourselves, but in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s time, it was unknown to even think of such a thing, especially if you were a lowly person, like a spearman.

The original poem makes you aware that the soldier realizes that his chances of returning alive are slim. He may never survive the next battle, but now he knows there will be this sculpture left to remind others of him. There is poignance in the original, especially because though we know his statue would be buried for many centuries, he probably would not have known the Emperor’s plan at the time. This short literary haibun simply slips me into the studio, so that I can emphasize in the haibun the care with which the artist replicates the trappings of a soldier’s existence.

The haiku reminds also of the more philosophical implications of leaving ones’ self behind. It does what much of Japanese-form poetry does ― reminding us of the transience of our world.

Gary has created so many beautiful portraits, so many human soldiers, in The Terracotta  Army, and these few haibun are meant as small windows into this collection. In his introduction, you get to see how Lao Bi, or Old Bi himself becomes an interesting character in the poet’s mind, how he began to make his characters come alive for him..

These haibun will also serve to broadcast his work to a different audience. In October I will present this kind of ‘living inside another writer’s work’ at the Haiku North America Conference in Schenectady, New York.

Many American haiku, tanka, and haibun poets will attend, as will several poets from other parts of the world who might not have heard of Gary Geddes’ work. He is well known in Canada and among lyric poets, but this will be outreach to a different readership; once they hear about Geddes’ poems through these thirteen short haibun about the Terracotta Soldier, they will want to read the originals.

Gary, I will only take a small cut of the sales profits.

In a future post, I’ll continue with little literary haibun based on Ocean, (2014, Gaspereau Press) by Sue Goyette, and Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll., from my Three Sets of literary Haibun. 

 

More on taking risks in haibun

Jane Hirshfield writes that to read a haiku is to become its coauthor, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the …shapes of your own life. If the listener/reader can do that, can settle with those few words of a haiku, listen to them, curl them around in her mind, live with them for longer than a few seconds, climb inside them, consider their flavours, then the poem may begin to affect a life the way a great piece of music does.

celesta's writing croppedHaibun offers the chance to do that, but also to understand how the prose is affected by the haiku, how the two parts reflect off each other, changing the meaning of each part, or enriching it, backwards and forwards.  When either part is unusual for one reason or another, we get to think about that, about why the writer put those two parts together, decide whether the pairings work, and why or why not.  When a respected poet does something outrageous, we accept that something completely new is in the making.

When in Drifting (2014, catkin press) Marco Fraticelli set out to create haibun from a ragged set of papers, bills and journals, written by an unknown woman in the early 1900s, he did exactly that. He got to know Celesta Taylor so well, first by reading every scrap she left in that abandoned cabin, and then by paring her words down to the few that best told her story.  It is as if he became Celesta, until her story began to merge with his own life, until she and he were ready to coauthor the haibun in Drifting.

One might be surprised that a man wanted to take this on, or feel that a man would miss the subtle parts of what she chose to record, not only her emotions, but the details like canning tomatoes, doing the mending, her thoughts about God. However, to read the excerpts he has chosen tells us he understood her well and thoroughly in 1905 and through the following 11 years, felt close enough to Celesta to feel what she did, see what she did, and act as she did. He becomes Celesta. There’s a feeling of conversation between the Celesta who was and the Celesta he has become. This is me, Marco, wanting to communicate with you, Celesta Taylor.  I feel I know you. It’s a conversation that begins:

Henry gave me this diary/ an old one of his/ so I like it better than new. (November 6, 1910), a haiku he has created from her own words.

Celesta’s diary begins in 1905 when she writes about her teenage sons away at school, about going to the doctor about her arm, and reporting that the mill caught fire. The mill belonged to the man and his daughter that she was housekeeping for. Each of these entries a month apart were marked with a mysterious ‘X’. Half the world’s population will get this right away.

The haiku following these three entries, written by Fraticelli, form links with her words, yet also with his own life, for this is something he himself has also done:

I sprinkle ashes/from the woodstove/onto the compost pile

After a difficult month, Celesta barely mentions Christmas, 1905:

December 18, 1905: Henry’s surgical operation.

December 20, 1905: Henry sat up a few minutes.

December 21, 1905: Grandpa died.

December 25, 1905: Christmas. Ploding about as usual.  (Her own spelling)

Marco responds with: boxing day/I light the fire/with wrapping paper

Using found material in any poetry can be risky. Yet in Drifting, Celesta Taylor becomes real, and her story mesmerizing, for these are her own words, her own experience, her own feelings, and her lover’s ultimate betrayal. Drifting is a collaboration happening across a century.

In his further investigations in using haibun, Fraticelli has put together a small chapbook of selections from Fragments, a work in progress.

fragments cover Also called Fragments, (2014, King’s road Press) in these chapbook poems he works backwards from Chiyo-ni’s haiku, creating the prose in Chiyo-ni’s voice. The imaginary premise is that letters written by Chiyo-ni have been found in a Buddhist temple. Marco ‘edits’ these invented letters, and follows the prose with one of Chiyo-ni’s haiku:

I can’t imagine that I will actually ever send these letters to you. It is more likely that they will be found under my pillow one morning when I do not return from my final dream of you.

 I also saw the moon/ and now, world/ “yours truly…”

Recreating a poet from made-up letters, now that is amazing, Mr. Fraticelli.

Terry Ann Carter of Victoria, B.C., is writing haibun from another unusual perspective. For a long time she has been in awe of the set of woodcut prints known as The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido, for which Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) painted the originals.

shimada

Widely recognised as one of the true greats of ukiyo-e art, Hiroshige was a prolific artist who specialised in painting landscapes and adopting Western techniques such as perspective.

Hiroshige was not a printmaker. He painted the pictures which were then used as guides to be pasted onto woodblocks by the woodblock carver and his apprentices. One block was needed for each colour, and sometimes as many as twenty or thirty blocks were needed. A carver would train for over twenty years before he was allowed to touch the finer parts of a block.

Then the blocks were off to the printers. Each finished print was the outcome of registering each of the many carved blocks over the previously printed colour so that the lines and colours fell in exactly the right place. It was a complicated system of keeping the papers damp, and having highly developed complex colour and printing skills, knowing about changes in pressure, in the brushing, variations in the proportion of pigment to paste, in the way the pigment pools subtlely at the edge of the printed shapes, in the types of brushes used. Hiroshige had the easy part, though he is the one who gets credit for the prints, just as Picasso did.

The Tokaido was one of several important roads constructed by the Shoguns to increase their control over the country. In 1832 Hiroshige made the trip to Kyoto as part of a delegation sent on behalf of the Shogun. Upon his arrival back in Edo he immediately began work on a series of prints that would become known as The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido.

All that to explain the fascination of the prints from an artistic point of view.  Ms. Carter sees this side of the prints, and has envisioned Hiroshige as he walks the Tokaido, putting herself into the mind of the painter, but linking it to her own world. We shift from 1832 Japan to 2015 Canada in these poems.  Although Hiroshige was looking and sketching landscape, he could not escape his own concerns, such as how to survive as an artist and maintain his own political integrity.

In her haibu, she walks the path with the painter and suddenly realizes the world crashing in on her meditative or reflective state. In this haibun, she and Hiroshige arrive at Station 23:

Station 23: Shimada

How Best to Cross a River or a Stream

You always said try holding it together for a change. But I’m battling depression. My body a tripod with the help of a walking stick. A hiking manual deleting the part about shallow water. Your answer to everything…elliptical. A poet writes about being a kid. Seeing his neighbour drown a sack of kittens one cold November night. That river too wide to cross. Does anyone listen to Little Walter anymore? My eye surgeon cutting into the heart of me. All that I see. My father crossing North Africa. 1943. Rommel on the run. These trajectories at the lookout, north of Black Mountain College. On the North Carolina switchback they call Blue Ridge.

triptych/ painting of a chair/ a chair and sumi-e

I once was at a weekend workshop in Connecticut with Jane Hirshfield and Robert Bly. The simplicity and honesty in their approach to poetry was remarkable. My respect for what she writes tripled, and it was mighty to begin with.  She writes: To plunge one thing into the shape or nature of another is a fundamental gesture of creative insight, part of how we make for ourselves a world more expansive, deft, fertile, and startling in richness.

Here we have seen Terry ann Carter and Marco Fraticelli ‘plunging’ into the lives of others, creating, through ‘sympathetic magic’, opportunities for the rest of us to experience those lost rich worlds.

 

A few notes on Contemporary Haibun

Basho_HorohorotoAs Jane Hirshfield makes us aware in her book Ten Windows (2015, Alfred A. Knopf, New York), just as in American poetry, between the early 1950s’ formal meter and rhyme and the late 70s use of language akin to the abstract expressionist use of paint, there have been revolutions by the Beat poets, the confessional poetry of Lowell and Plath, and the “deep image” poetry of Robert Bly, in Bashō’s lifetime poetry went through transformations oddly parallel.

Within his writing journey, he used sudden loosening of language, taste and subject matter through to a poetry that was quieter of surface and more inwardly centered. Bashō variously wrote haiku that advocated wordplay, transgression, and haiku that turned on well-known classical works. He wrote poems using simple everyday language and imagery that used humour and earthiness, and in his mature poetry, came to prefer poems of “lightness.”

All forms of Japanese poetry continue to go through similar changes, a natural part of poetry’s life, keeping it vibrant. This includes the haibun form.

In the Poets Online blog, there is a piece about Jeannine Hall Gailey and her collection of haibun, She Returns to the Floating World, in which she explores motifs in Japanese Folk Tales. Though the poems are based on traditional content, they are ultra modern in form. Her poems are spoken by characters from mythology, fairy tales, animé and manga.

The blog also features poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil who has written several articles on haibun. She admits that she is “not one to stay close and straight to any particular poetry ‘rules’ (the haibun form especially and brightly lends itself to experimentation if one desires).”

In the current volume, Volume 9, of  Haibun Today, a quarterly journal online, with its founder Jeffery Woodward as General Editor, Juliet Wilson of Scotland writes of ‘Night Fishing’ in a purely objective, haiku-like manner , Lynn Rees of England reviews Ethiopian Time by Bob Lucky, offers a haibun from the collection called ‘Dead Cat’, and a well-thought-out piece by Guy Simser of Canada called ‘Dilly-Dallying Over a Drying Creek Bed’, complete with references to being taunted by Dali’s waxed moustache.

In A Hundred Gourds: A haiku, haibun, haiga & tanka poetry journal (online) Mike Montreuil , editor of the haibun section, has published a haibun by Marco Fraticelli about a dream in which he is Suzanne telling off Leonard Cohen for what he has done to her by writing the famous song, along with the dream Leonard justifying its writing. Lynn Edge of the United States writes of being bored enough to watch The Batchelor on television.

All of the above are interesting, well-written, absorbing haibun in contemporary mode; little of the prose is deeply emotional, or about travel, or life story although the volume does include several of these.  But because haibun is poetry and poetry has a life, it continues to be innovative and must risk veering from the traditional forms.

This is not always appreciated. In the current volume of Haibun Today, June 2015, Ken Jones of Wales, former co-editor of Contemporary Haibun Online, is concerned about the current shift in haibun styles.  However these new styles do exist and are being accepted by excellent editors.

The best way to keep up with what is happening in this particular form is to bask in these online forums. You can also keep up with what Bashō might be writing if he were alive today, as A Hundred Gourds and other journals have a wondrous selection of modern haiku and all Japanese forms.

Haibun Today

A Hundred Gourds

Poets Online Blog

Image: Basho Horohoroto.jpg – Wikimedia Commons; Picture and poem by Matsuo Bashō, quietly, quietly/ yellow mountain roses fall/ sound of the rapids<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/w/load.php?debug=false&lang=en&modules=noscript&only=styles&skin=vector&*” />// // // //

 

More Publisher’s Hat

Singing in the Silo by Philomene Kocher (2014, catkin press)

singing in the silo coverAt the end of this post, note the website of Philomene Kocher, for that is where you can get a copy of this gem.

When a writer with a haiku heart lets you in on her process, it is a special gift to the haiku/tanka/haibun world. This is what Philomene Kocher has done. Instead of selecting ‘only her best’ work, she shows her first haiku, and lets you follow her growth in writing Japanese form.

Ms. Kocher grew up on a farm in Ontario, and many of her haiku reflect this, and speak of family joys and sadness:

boots phil 1In a haibun (prose followed by haiku) this is the haiku she uses, an early memory:

U turn/ the snake slides/ over its own tail

After a death, she writes:

over the years/ the wound on the elm/ has closed and healed/ like the one in my heart

There is a tender world between the covers of Singing in the Silo, between her photo on the front cover of a lake dear to her and her sisters, and the image of the farm family’s boots on the back.

http://www.singinginthesilo.ca/

 

More Publisher’s hat

Drifting, Marco Fraticelli  (2013, catkin press)COVER drifting frontWhen I began catkin press, I wanted fiercely to start with publishing poetry by Marco Fraticelli. Any poetry by Fraticelli, and I was sure he was hiding a manuscript or two, or ideas for a manuscript or two, so I asked him. Turned out there was an idea he had been thinking about and working on for a long time. Not the haiku or lyric poetry he was known for, something else: haibun based on some old papers he had found in an abandoned house in the Eastern Townships over 30 years ago.

I was intrigued by the yellowing paper, especially the journal fragments, and the handwriting of one Celesta Taylor, in love with an older man, caring for his children, and the details of a rural woman’s life in the early 1900s.

What Marco did was to edit and use her words as the basis of the prose part of the haibun, adding his own haiku. He has been a haiku poet for many years and is another Canadian haiku master. In a foreword, he explains more about his process, and tells more of her life, garnered from research done by his sister Rina who had made a NFB film based on the same materials.

We came up with the perfect size for Drifting-a little smaller, the right size to tuck into a pocket or purse. Convenient.

Marco Fraticcelli is a lyric and haiku poet, and publisher, from Montreal. For copies, message me on facebook.