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!






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.


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=”//*” />// // // //


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.