enter the frog, or haiku from the Haiku Canada Review

20170215_153331It 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:

grandfather…

the well

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:

ashes…

I scatter

his life

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:

evening fire

thoughts flicker

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

or not

eulogy

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.

 

 

 

 

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.