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.