fish spine picked clean end of conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The beauty of short tanka

These tanka are from the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Gusts, Canada’s Tanka magazine. I have a preference for shorter poems, revel in how so few words can say so much, and find longer tanka are often poems to which not enough thought has been given.

only had
one dream about
my father—
he walked
right past me

Stanford Forrester

in between storm clouds
there is hope
for a sunny day
with you

Mike Montreuil

for a heartbeat
let me breathe-in
the scent
of his hair

Huguette Ducharme

the glass—
a taste of lipstick
just before
the taste of wine

Colin Bardell

I’ll bury it
moon deep for now—
this longing
for a lover
like you

Paul Smith

child dies
of cancer
clouds shape shifting
white to black

Pamela A. Babusci

Emptying trash
the letter
I threw away
I throw away

Carol Purington

a contrail
stretching straight
toward the sun
I was watching it
until I felt lonely

Kozue Uzawa

Shinoe Shôda, who died herself in 1965 from an illness caused by the atomic bomb, depicts the tragic death from the bomb of children and a teacher who tried to protect them:

the big bones
must be
the teacher’s
the little skulls
are amassed nearby

Hiroshi Homura’s skillful and unexpected juxtapositions carry a powerful message of radiation and the fallibility of the human body:

at ground zero
of the atomic bombing
unwrapping soap
at night, naked

Yoshiko Takagi describes how children are given tablets to protect them from radiation of the thyroid after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011:

how cruel—
on a child’s
one pale red tablet
of potassium iodide

Sanford Goldstein says that variations keep readers alert—and appreciative:

tonight’s relief: /pie /deep /in a cafeteria/ booth         Sandford Goldstein

this child
night after night
and still
the stars

Christina Nguyen

I feel at home
in another life
I was a seagull

Joanne Morcom

you came back
little swallow
I am here

Huguette Ducharme

long line
at the coffee shop—
the perfect place
not to meet
anyone at all

Robert Piotrowski

yellow leaves
grey sky
the drip drip
of time passing

munira judith avinger

little by little
my yoga poses
little by little
I get to know him

Kozue Uzawa

listening to
the Missa Solemnis,
I try to imagine
orphic silence

Mary Kendall

haiku weekend
silk jammies
the narrow road
to the interior

Tom Lyon Freeland

only had
one dream about
my father—
he walked
right past me

Stanford M. Forrester

The image at the top of the post is a detail from the cover of a novel about Murasaki, early Japanese novelist and tanka poet, by Lisa Dalby.

Urban haiku/ a commuter’s world

Riding the Bus, by Mike Montreuil (2011, Bondi Studios)riding the bus coverWhen Mike Montreuil took the bus every day to work in Ottawa, he was often thinking poetry, looking at his world through a haiku poet’s eyes. Contrary to supposed tradition, his haiku often had no season word from nature. There were not too many dandelions growing in the aisle. He had to look elsewhere.

These are urban haiku.

skateboard in hand/ he walks his children/ home from daycare

At first it seems no more than a casual observation seen from the bus window. Except, yes, there are possible season words here: skateboards can be used in three seasons, and daycare is open all year round. So, season word of a kind. What I like is the scene of young children with a father who is not all that much older than they are. You can almost hear a conversation. What might they be talking about, and why is the father not at work.  If he isn’t working, why isn’t he taking care of the children. There are a thousand ‘ifs’ and ‘mights’ in the scene, but that’s what is intriguing about it. Mike has told many stories in a few clear words.

city intersection/ two women in a truck/ kiss

No season word, and a few seconds only of seeing the two women. The poem in context of 2011 is poignant. New laws, the media and social media slant the  scene.It’s a tender moment. There isn’t much time at a city intersection to kiss, but they’ve seized the moment. It’s tender too as we know nothing of the two women. They could be sisters or mother and daughter, or friends. I like the open-endedness of the haiku.  There is a lot left up to the reader. While most readers will think ‘lovers’, many would disagree. One thing is evident: the scene is not, in 2011, considered outrageous.  And Mike may have been the only person to have even noticed them.

morning light/ the split ends/ in her hair

Tiny details usually pass unnoticed.  As an overly sensitive teenager, I used to worry about what other passengers on the bus thought of my appearance.  Of course, probably nobody even noticed me.  This haiku offers atmosphere, a fuzziness perhaps. The morning light is so soft, or, equally, overly harsh. We on the bus are not even fully awake. It’s as if in trying to wake fully, the poet just happens to notice someone’s hair, and before his gaze moves on, that one little thing sticks in his consciousness: split ends.

Family experience tells him that women are not happy if their hair has split ends. This is where the poem opens up.  Whose hair.  Why split ends. What is this woman’s life like. Does she care about her hair. What connections is the poet making. Or is the poem simple observation, like looking at a photograph or painting, possibly in a half doze. The difference here is the attention given to the experience.

long winter/ the stretched seams/ of her spring skirt

Can you picture this person, so tired of wearing her heavy winter clothes? As if by wearing her new spring clothes she will bring spring on more quickly? We know season here, the spring skirt as Canadian entry in a saijiki or kyose. (A saijiki has a list of kigo, (seasonal terms), as well as a description of the kigo itself, a list of similar or related words, and some examples of haiku that include that kigo; a kyose is simply a list without the.)

In the ‘skirt’ and its stretched seams, sketched in nine words, the poem suggests a national weariness with winter, as well as a glimpse of the wearer, someone who, perhaps, has had to buy an inexpensive skirt, or one that does not fit as well as it could.

This chapbook collection, with its perfect photograph on the cover by Carole Daoust of Montreal, tells writers not to let the moment pass. There can be a world in a few seconds, whether in split ends, in a glimpse of a skateboarder or through a truck window. It’s as if William Blake were on the bus.

Next time you are on a bus or train you may notice something quite small, like this, that deserves its own poem:

sunshine on her feet/ the blond/ toe hairs

Thank you Mike, for this view of the city.



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=”//*” />// // // //


Your Hands

Your Hands Discover Me/ Tes mains me découvrent, Claudia Coutu Radmore translated by Mike Montreuil (2010, Les Éditions du tanka francophone, Montreal)  scan0001Tanka written about a love affair between two poets, one who lived in Canada and one in Massachusetts. I was fortunate that Mike Montreuil was available to translate this manuscript; it was a pleasure to get together to thrash out the final version, and he is excellent at this kind of translation, soul of poet to soul of poet.  While I am not bilingual, I have read a fair amount in my father’s tongue, and could understand the nuance of a translation. (My Mother was English so that was what we spoke at home.)

These are from a series of tanka written in the heat of passion. No need to say much more…

ditches/lined with fireweed/ after so many miles/ flames/ that won’t go out

                  des fossés/ garnis de bouquets rouges/ après tant de kilomètres/ des flames/ qui ne                     s’éteindront jamais

I am honoured that Michael Dylan Welch, Founder of The Tanka Society of America wrote an introduction that he named ‘Alive and Urgent’. Thank you Michael!