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:
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
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.