Getting ready for Chinese New Year

January 22, 2014

Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden -cropI didn’t expect to see much in Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in the middle of January, but when I visited last Saturday, I found it blooming with red lanterns and bustling with preparations for Chinese New Year. I was also surprised to see winter jasmine in flower and many trees full of early buds.

The Chinese  lunar New Year (which begins on January 31 this year) is a time for sweeping away the old (dust, clutter, debts, worries) and welcoming in the new (renewing hope for health, happiness, and good fortune). Staff and volunteers at the garden were busy cleaning, tidying, tying up loose-ends, and decorating in preparation for the upcoming Year of the Horse Temple Fair, Feb 2 (2014). Red lanterns are hung around the garden to bring good luck (red is considered the most auspicious colour because of its association with fire, the sun, energy, light, and life-blood, which demons fear, so it also keeps demons away), and they welcome back the light of spring.

A few images and haiku from my visit:

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New Year’s lanterns─
the courtyard mosaics
swept clear

P1150415

preparing for
the New Year─
peony buds

P1150404

still pond─
finding the courage
to say goodbye

P1150423

P1150406

P1150457

P1150433

P1150462

Chicken Soup for the Soul & the lure of a frozen pond

December 1, 2013

book cover4Everywhere it snows, kids love winter. The first snow of the year is always the most exciting ─especially if you live in a place like the south-west coast of British Columbia, where snow is not guaranteed. When my boyfriend and I moved from Vancouver Island to Toronto to go to university, we were looking forward to escaping the cool, rainy winds of Victoria and experiencing a real Canadian winter of sunshine sparkling on snow and ice hockey on frozen ponds. We packed all our essential possessions in two large hockey bags (including two pairs of skates and a toaster oven). The morning we left, we discovered that our friends had graffitied a sarcastic message on the road in front of my boyfriend’s house: Craig loves Harold Ballard (Harold Ballard was the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team at that time, and my boyfriend was not a Leaf’s fan). [Note: scrawled on the road in front of my parents' house were the words There is no pie in Toronto, but that's another story.]

Our first winter in Toronto did not start the way we expected. We discovered very quickly that the York University campus, where we were living, had the apt nickname, “Siberia,” and that we had exchanged the damp but relatively gentle winds of Victoria for the bone-chilling, driving sub-zero blast of what we were beginning to think of as a flat urban wasteland. Did things improve? Did we finally get that beautiful Ontario snow we were expecting? Well, you’ll have to read my story in the new collection, Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter: 101 Stories about Bad Weather, Good Times, and Great Sports.

But seriously, Craig and I ended up having many wonderful winter experiences over our four years of living in Ontario (including snow-shoeing over pristine snow north of the city, seeing my first Snowy Owl and Snow Buntings on an outdoor education field trip, and gazing down at the frozen Niagara Falls as we crossed the bridge to the US to watch a hockey game in Buffalo). By our second winter, we had a car, and two of our good friends, Mark and Donna, had moved from the westcoast to Hamilton (an hour’s drive from Toronto), and on weekends we explored a lot of the countryside together. Craig and Mark were on a constant quest to find the best pond on which to play ice hockey. In warm weather, they scouted for accessible ponds with potential. When the temperature started to cool, they monitored the thickening ice. The moment the ice could hold their weight, they were out skating and passing a puck around (long before locals were ready to brave the ice). Donna and I skated too, but we never lasted as long as Craig and Mark.

When I saw the call for submissions to a Canadian winter themed Chicken Soup for the Soul, I knew I had to write something about our Ontario experience and the siren call of frozen ice. But which of our many winter memories should I pick? Should I write about the Christmas day we tested the ice on a pond in the middle of a deserted conservation area? Or the night we skated on an old outdoor rink ─with boards around the outside and lights overhead, canned music, and a warm-up hut with a wood stove? Or should I write about the time we were house and dog-sitting on a farm north of the city, and we skated on the farm pond as the two big dogs slipped and skidded around us? No. I decided to start at the beginning ─with the first winter and the first pond.

pond-skating

Jelly the cat in the jam aisle

July 8, 2013

This little “breakfast-time” story I wrote for Smuckers Jam is available right now in the PB & J aisle of  grocery stores across Canada (though finding it is a bit hit and miss).

Smuckers story

Here’s a little look inside:

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You can read or download the whole story here. The story is part of a summer campaign to encourage parents to read with their children (and buy Smuckers jam). There is also a contest with a story written by children’s author Ted Staunton as the prize. Find out more here (contest ends Aug 6, 2013). It’s a bit confusing, because it sounds like the prize is a personalized version of my story and that Ted Staunton wrote it (my name isn’t mentioned, and I knew it wouldn’t be when I wrote the story for them), but the prize (from what I understand) is a new story written by Ted, and the winning child and his/her family get included in the story.

Anyway, I had fun writing the story, and I’m happy to be part of something that encourages parents to read with their children (and I like jam).

Bamboo & Basho

June 27, 2013

Interested in haiku poetry or how to use bamboo in your garden? This Saturday I’ll be joining other poets from the Vancouver Haiku Group at Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden for a celebration of bamboo. Angela Naccarato, poet and Intuitive Consultant, will lead haiku workshops (open to anyone visiting the garden, with three workshop times between 1-3pm), and I will be sharing some of my photographs of “bamboo in Basho’s footsteps” (from my last visit to Japan).

Bamboo haiku workshop

A haiku I wrote on my last visit to the garden:

bamboo haiku

Sharing poetry & music (with a historical twist?)

May 21, 2013

If haiku expresses a “now moment,” can haiku be written about the past? I’m immersing myself in early Vancouver history today to see if some haiku emerge, and I’ll be sharing the resulting “historical haiku” Thursday evening at Chapters bookstore in downtown Vancouver as part of a larger celebration of poetry and music with the Vancouver Haiku Group. Everyone is welcome! (May 23, 7-9:30 pm, Robson St. Chapters store)

Chapters Reading

Needs some work, but here’s an example of what I’m working on:

Main&7th_1899(2)

(Main & 7th Ave about 1899 – I don’t remember where I got the photo from, so I hope I can be forgiven for not giving credit. It is probably from the Vancouver Archives, and I believe most of their old photos are in the public domain.)

Added after the event (in this photo James Mullin’s Asian flute accompanies Kozue Uzawa’s tanka reading):

James&Kosue

The event was led by Angela J. Naccarato, founder and facilitator of the Vancouver Haiku Group, who read some of her own haiku and free verse.  Other poets included Marianne Dupre, Rosemary Carter, Brenda Larsen, Vicki McCullough, Liam Blackstock, Ashok Bhargava, Alegria Imperial, Donna Farley, Kozue Uzawa, James Mullin, and myself, taking the audience on a journey that evoked colours, sounds, and emotions from childhood memories in India to a monsoon in China to swimming with turtles in Barbados to Vancouver’s past to cherry blossoms in Vancouver’s present.

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(Here, Liam Blackstock entertains the audience with charismatic readings/performance of his free verse poetry)

Daily Haiku

May 5, 2013

Some of my haiku are being featured this week on Daily Haiku, starting with this one posted today:

yellow smudged moon—hoya2
scent of hoya flower
in the empty room

The timing is perfect, as my hoya plant is now in bloom (and, as usual, I was alerted by the scent when I was up alone in the middle of the night). When I was a kid, my parents had a hoya plant for years before it finally blossomed. My mom thought my dad had tied some plastic flowers to the plant to play a joke on her.

This Daily Haiku cycle started April 7 with the haiku of invited poet LeRoy Gorman. Seven different poets are featured in rotation, until September (2013). Here’s a short haiku by Jim Kacian posted April 15, which suggests a whole story in a single line (and reawakens some vivid summer memories):

summer night she smells faintly of fire

Haiku, or not?

April 11, 2013

What is haiku? Many people think it is simply a short three-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables. But please forget this definition! It leads to things like:

that song was poppinhaiku
hari ini tdr gk ya?
Sorting the bedroom
-Haiku Robot

or

Haikus are easy
but sometimes they don’t make sense
Refrigerator
-anonymous

What is a haiku, really? Haiku is a very short form of poetry (originally Japanese) that aims to capture the essence of something. It uses simple, direct language to point to a thing or moment (usually in nature), while at the same time implying something more. Traditional haiku contains three main elements:

- a kigo (seasonal reference)

- a kireji (cutting word, symbol, or pause, that divides the haiku into two juxtaposed parts)

- 17 on (17 Japanese sound units), with the poem usually broken into three phrases of 5-7-5 on (written in Japanese as one or two vertical lines)

Today, haiku are written all over the world in many different languages, including English (the word “haiku” is both singular and plural).

The 17 Japanese on sounds do not actually correspond to English syllables (for example, the word “on” itself, which English-speakers would view as a single syllable, comprises two on). Translating a Japanese haiku into 17 English syllables actually makes the haiku longer than it was meant to be. For example, a famous haiku by the 17th century Japanese poet Basho was originally written using 17 on, but it is translated:

old pond…
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

To translate it into 17 English syllables would make it too cumbersome, moving away from the original intent of the poem. Here’s an example (from the Wikipedia haiku page):

at the age old pond
a frog leaps into water
a deep resonance

It’s the simplicity and directness of the first translation (and the original haiku) that catches the reader’s attention and leaves the reader room to see the moment for him or herself. In fact, it’s haiku’s simplicity ─its ability to focus the reader in on a precise, concrete “a-ha” moment─ that makes it so appealing to many haiku-lovers. Simplicity keeps the moment fresh. Any added decoration, metaphor or explanation entangles the reader; gives you so much that there is nothing to stop and think about. The simple wording engages your imagination. You pause and hear the sound of the water as the frog’s body breaks the surface. But the simply written haiku can also imply emotion and allude to deeper meaning. The “old pond,” for example, can be read as a reference to Basho, himself, an old poet still moved by the world around him.

So, the idea that English haiku should be written in 17 syllables is not actually correct, and throwing a bunch of words together into three lines of 5-7-5 syllables (even if they are poetically written, rather than generated by a robot) does not make those lines a haiku. To be a real haiku, a poem has to have some or all of the elements mentioned above (seasonal reference, simplicity, and also a juxtaposition or a space between images that suggests something deeper). In other words, “That song was poppin” is not a haiku.

Here are a few haiku I’ve come across recently that I really like (my favorite haiku are always changing):

evening walkblossoms_crop
the faded leash
I can’t throw out
-John Soules

abandoned farm
still there, the scents
in the barn
-George Swede

graveside
forming one shadow
with my sister
-Tom Painting

solo hike─
slowly catching up
with myself
-Annette Makino

You’ll notice that none of them have 5-7-5 syllables. But yes, all of them are haiku.

I hope this post doesn’t sound like an anti-5-7-5 rant. Like many people, I grew up thinking English haiku had to be written as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables (you’ll find many haiku written this way in my earlier blog posts), and I wasn’t really conscious of the other elements of good haiku, other than the seasonal reference. I wrote and read haiku intuitively, I guess (with mixed results). I still write this way, but I’ve also been making an effort to think more about haiku, how it works, and what makes a good haiku (which leads to more re-writing), and I’ve come across an awful lot of writing that calls itself haiku, but is not. This pseudo-haiku is sometimes interesting writing forced to fit the 5-7-5 format (often with the first sentence ending in the middle of the second line), or even good poetry with intriguing metaphors, but it’s not haiku. The main point I want to make here is that haiku is about more than syllable count (I’m talking to you, Haiku Robot, children’s book publishers of stories written in so-called “haiku” format, companies that hold “haiku” slogan contests to advertise new products, and anyone who leaves comments on haiku blogs complaining that the haiku is not real haiku because the syllable count isn’t right).

Okay, maybe this is an anti-5-7-5 rant.

Anyway, if you want to learn more about haiku, here are some good websites and blog posts to check out:

Haiku on Wikipedia (good explanation of haiku and the issues around syllable count)

Graceguts, the website of haiku poet, Michael Dylan Welch (contains examples of haiku, articles, and links to other resources)

Haiku checklist (helpful for thinking about and revising your own haiku)

Essential elements of haiku

Haiku journey of poet Ferris Gilli (many good insights into how to write haiku)

How to write bad haiku (a fun post that looks at what makes a haiku “bad” or “good”)

Why No 5-7-5

Kireji and kigo (cutting word & seasonal reference)

More on juxtaposition and seasonal references

Things are looking up

February 1, 2013

It’s been a grey rainy week here in Vancouver, but downtown today, I had an unexpected glimpse of cherry blossoms and sunshine ─appropriate for the start of National Haiku Writing Month (February, the shortest month for the shortest poetic form).

blossoms-downtown3
early blossoms─
a new spring
in my step

Click here for more info on National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo).

First haiku of the new year

January 1, 2013

hot chocolate




gray winter day

the barista offers me

a flower

 

Inspired by fall leaves and history

November 23, 2012

I thought I’d share a glimpse into the wonderful writing retreat I experienced last month at Spark Box Studio near Picton Ontario (with funding gratefully received from the Canada Council!). A whole week without distractions, focusing on the craft of writing historical picture books! I was particularly interested in exploring the question, “How do I take a huge topic such as the War of 1812 and hone in on a small story suitable for children?”

To help me get on the right footing for my retreat, I stopped in Toronto beforehand to meet with children’s book author Monica Kulling, for a thoughtful and inspiring discussion about writing historical stories for children. Her latest book, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, about a little dog who touched the life of Pablo Picasso, was hot off the press, and provided a great example (I love the dog, illustrated by Dean Griffiths).

Next, I took a side trip to soak up some War of 1812 history and watch the reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara Falls. The boom of cannons, smell of smoke, calls of the soldiers, costumes of the military and civilian reenactors, and the cool, damp fall day helped to cast a spell that opened a window into the past.

At Spark Box Studio, I started each day with a solitary walk between farmers’ fields. The empty fields, subdued colours, and the whispers and rustles of leaves and grasses that followed me as I walked, made it easy to imagine a young girl two hundred years in the past, standing on the edge of a field, hearing the distant boom of cannon and cracks of musket fire. I felt like I was walking with one foot in the present and one in the past as I wrote these haiku:

.

autumn wind

on the lonely path

many voices

.

 

whispering grasses

the words always

out of reach

.

While it was great to have so much time to myself to think and write,  talking with the creative hosts and other guests at Spark Box Studio was also enriching. And, despite that last haiku, the words weren’t out of reach. I finished the first draft of a picture book story and concluded the retreat feeling buoyed in spirit, recharged and reinspired to continue writing…


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