Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

My year of Joy Kogawa House and Haiku

November 26, 2017

For me, 2017 has been a year connected to Joy Kogawa House.

Historic Joy Kogawa House is the childhood home of Canadian author Joy Kogawa, who wrote the ground-breaking novel Obasan, a fictional story based on Joy’s memories of being interned as a child during WW II, along with thousands of other Canadians of Japanese descent. Located in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, the house was built in 1912-13. Joy and her family lived there from 1937 until they were interned in 1942. During the war, the house was confiscated and sold, and Joy’s family was not able to return to Marpole. Years later, however, Joy lent her support to a community campaign that saved the house from demolition. Today, the house is a space for author residencies, literary events, as well as remembering the injustices experienced by Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, and moving toward healing and reconciliation.

Joy Kogawa House c 1938

Joy and her brother at the front (west side) of the house c. 1938

 

I was grateful to be offered a writing residency at the house, which was initially planned for February. Since February is National Haiku Writing Month (the shortest month of the year for the shortest form of poetry), and haiku is one of my passions, I decided to focus on haiku, and to partner with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (VCBF), preparing for the spring blossom celebration and the festival’s international haiku contest. Plans shifted slightly, and rather than staying at the house in February, I organized a poetry reading and haiku workshop, and worked with the VCBF on koinobori scale-painting activities in preparation for Sakura Days Japan Fair without staying at Joy Kogawa House (which I was able to do since I live in the Vancouver area). (More on these activities in an earlier blog post.)

Joy Kogawa House events

February poetry reading, plus haiku workshop & koi scale painting

In May, I visited the house for a reading and performance of “A Suitcase full of Memories” by Joy Kogawa and Soramaru Takayama of Japanese Poets North of 49, and was delighted to meet and briefly chat with Joy afterwards.

In July, I was able to live at the house and work on my own writing projects, finishing a verse novel for children, and co-editing an anthology of haiku poetry written by members of the Vancouver Haiku Group. I started the month by hosting a book-making workshop given by poet and book artist Terry Ann Carter from Victoria, which brought together many creative people, and was an inspiring kick-off to my in-house residency. Staying at the house by myself gave me time and space to focus on writing without my usual distractions, making a big difference to my writing pattern and productivity. I also enjoyed the opportunity to explore and get to know the Marpole neighbourhood, including its tree-lined streets, housing mix, history, and changing local culture, and to relax in the peaceful stillness of the backyard where a young Joy Kogawa once played.

four images

I returned to the house to live and work at the end of August, and also hosted a presentation by my friend and colleague Jean-Pierre Antonio, a professor at Suzuka University in Japan, who gave us a fascinating account of the life of Japanese immigrant Masayuki Yano through the translation of Mr. Yano’s pre-WW II diaries.

Jean-Pierre's talk

At the end of September, my haiku activities at the house concluded with the hosting of An Evening of Japanese Poetic Forms: from the Tokaido Road to the World Stage, with Terry Ann Carter reading from her new book of haibun (prose with haiku), Tokaido (Red Moon Press), Rachel Enomoto sharing haiku, and Kozue Uzawa reading tanka and leading participants in a short tanka-writing workshop.

Japanese forms reading

An Evening of Japanese Forms, a Word Vancouver event (with thanks to Tracey Wan for the bottom right photo)

In early November, Joy Kogawa returned to the house to read from her children’s picture book, Naomi’s Tree, which was a treat for all of us who came out to listen and celebrate the old cherry tree in the laneway behind Joy Kogawa House. The tree now has a plaque, encouraging people to seek it out on their neighbourhood walks.

So now, I seem to have come full circle, enjoying the house in each season, and again, looking ahead to early spring when the cherry blossoms will bloom again.

P1220292

My workspace while in residence at Joy Kogawa House (looking out at the old cherry tree behind the back fence)

 

To close, here are a few simple haiku written during my stay:

 

no need

for an alarm clock

early morning crows

 

picking the last

ripe raspberry

evening robin

 

And from my evening walk past the elementary school young Joy Kogawa attended:

 

fading daylight

the empty swing

still swinging

 

 

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Breaking the ice (haiku reading and upcoming workshops)

February 5, 2017

For the month of February (which is National Haiku Writing Month), I’m partnering with Vancouver’s Joy Kogawa House to celebrate haiku with events leading up to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. Last night, I was joined by other members of the Vancouver Haiku Group, as well as visiting poet Carole Glasser Langille, to kick off the month with a reading of prose, haiku and other poetry.

vhg-reading-feb-4-2017

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The weather was more wintery than I expected when I picked the theme (there were more hints of spring in Vancouver by this time last year), but despite the snow, the house was full, and by the end of the evening we’d fully moved into the spirit of spring.

dsc02161

Cherry preserves in anticipation of the blossoms to come . . .

p1190836

In partnership with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (VCBF), renowned haiku poet Michael Dylan Welch (from Sammamish, Washington) will be teaching a “How to Haiku” workshop at the Terry Salman branch of the Vancouver public library February 18. More info on the VCBF site.

I’ll be teaching a “Haiku Secrets: beyond the basics of writing haiku” workshop at Joy Kogawa House on Feb 25 (move away from 5-7-5 and learn how these tiny poems can express powerful experiences in both nature and urban life). More info on the events page of Joy Kogawa House. To register contact info@kogawahouse.com.

Both workshops are followed by an opportunity to decorate a giant koi “scale” with haiku for a koinobori installation at Sakura Days Japan Fair, which will be held at VanDusen Garden April 8-9 (2017). We’ll also be encouraging participants to submit haiku to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival international haiku contest.

for-haiku-workshop_jp

koi-installation

(Above photo courtesy of the VCBF and Powell St. Festival)

 

West Coast winter haiku

December 5, 2016

One thing I actually enjoy about Vancouver’s winter rain and early darkness is the neon reflections.

wet city(2).jpg

(A version of the above photo-haiga was published in the last issue of A Hundred Gourds)

Today, we even got some snow. It’s days like this that I’m happy to work at home.

winter rose(2).jpg

Fall is cherry blossom time?

December 1, 2015

 

While spring is the traditional time for celebrating cherry blossoms, fall is when we hear the results of the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational contest. This year, I was excited to learn that one of my haiku (inspired by the Vancouver Canucks hockey team making the Stanley Cup playoffs) was selected as the top winner in the “Vancouver” category. And, seeming in honour of the occasion, these rather confused cherry blossoms were blooming in November when I visited Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden.

confused cherry blossom3

Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational Top Winners, 2015

Vancouver

Stanley Cup playoffs
the last cherry blossoms
still hanging on
                      Jacqueline Pearce
                      Vancouver, British Columbia

British Columbia

cherry blossoms
come and go
my seventy years
                      Dan Curtis
                      Victoria, British Columbia

Canada

Alzheimer’s ward
cherry blossoms
in the fog
                      Marco Fraticelli
                      Pointe-Claire, Quebec

United States

cherry blossoms
no room in the selfie
for me
                      Joe McKeon
                      Strongsville, Ohio

International

cherry blossoms
falling
in love again
                      Brendon Kent
                      Southampton, England

Youth

cherry blossoms—
grandma tells me about
her first date
                      Cucu Georgiana, age 12
                      Botosani, Romania

Click here for commentary on winning poems

Fall is also a time when local cherry trees are filled with beauty of a different colour.

fall cherry trees

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)

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).

A shared experience with Stephanie Meyer (?)

February 22, 2010

I recently finished reading Host, Stephanie Meyer’s science fiction novel for adults. (In a nutshell, the story is about what happens when an alien parasite species takes over Earth, but the occupation doesn’t quite go as expected, nor does the resistance.) I found the writing much tighter than in her Twilight books, and the story riveted me from beginning to end (interesting characters and situation, unpredictable plot, entertained and also made me think). I finished the book and immediately wanted to read more. Since, Stephanie Meyer has yet to write a sequel or any other novels in the genre, I had to satisfy myself by looking up interviews with the author. For example, this one behind the scenes at Oprah:

I was intrigued to discover that Stephanie Meyer feels Host is her best novel so far (she wrote it after the learning process of creating the Twilight series) and that she plans to write more in the series or at least in the speculative fiction genre. This is good news!

In a different interview I came across, Stephanie Meyer talked about her first novel, the highly successful Twilight, being inspired by a dream. She said she woke up with the story fully formed in her head. As an author who has been struggling with writing lately, I thought to myself how great it would be to have this kind of dream-powered inspiration. Then I remembered that this actually did happen to me once. My very first piece of published fiction was inspired by a dream that remained vivid in my mind after I awoke. By coincidence, my dream had something in common with Host, as it involved meeting an alien. Unfortunately, the story that emerged from the dream did not turn out to be an amazingly popular novel that spawned a series of hugely successful books and movies. In fact, it wasn’t anything as long as a novel. If, as Stephanie Meyer speculates, a story emerging fully formed out of a dream only happens to an author once in a life time, it’s rather unfortunate that my once-in-a-life-time inspiration turned out to be a short poem. In any case, here it is:

First Contact

in our greeting
centuries of preparation,
rehearsal, speculation
become meaningless

face to face
yet still light years apart
I, hidden by layers
of more than clothing

he, wearing a naked openness
I do not know how
to read

until his eyes
honest and sharp
as stars

cut away my surface skins
of history, culture, gender,
misplaced identity

exposing me to
my self
naked and clear
for the first time

and only then
do we have
a common language

Published in Tesseracts6, the Anthology of New Canadian Speculative Fiction, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink (Tesseract Books 1997).

April is poetry month!

March 31, 2009

I just discovered that April is National Poetry Month in Canada and the United States. Great timing for me, a lover of haiku, as in April I will be journeying to the birthplace of Basho, the 17th c. Japanese poet known as the “saint of haiku.”

Here are two spring haiku by Basho (and a photo I took at Vancouver’s English Bay this morning):

blossoms_english_bay

 

many things

they bring to mind —

cherry blossoms!

 

patter patter

petals of of tiny flowers drop

a waterfall of sound

 

Check out GottaBook blog for a new poem every day in April by various authors who write for children.

June haiku

June 25, 2007

mock orange bushHaiku traditionally begins with a seasonal reference. This goes back to old Japan when haiku was part of a party game. The host often started off the game by poviding the opening stanza (called hokku), and the guests took turns adding stanzas to create a longer linked poem (known as renga). The seasonal reference in the opening line was a way of dating the poem (or at least letting people know in which season it was written). The party poets took their renga seriously, and eventually a book of rules was created, which included lists of objects (mostly plants and animals) associated with each season. The opening hokku written at parties was often more popular and better remembered than the rest of the renga, and eventually it became an independant poetry form called haiku.

My list of seasonal objects for June would have to include cottonwood seed fluffs (first one or two, then hundreds float through the air and collect like snow along roadside curbs), mock orange blossoms (the bush in the photo above started as an unidentifiable bare stick that I almost pulled out of the ground), and shedding dog hair (our dog, Dylan, sheds so much that we’d be knee-deep in dog hair if I didn’t vacuume every day).

 

first cottonwood fluff

drifting over my backyard

summer I was twelve

 

white dome of flowers

as tall as the neighbour’s house

began as a weed

 

white flower beacons

glow as the evening light fades

calling out with scent

 

fur falls to the floor

as I scratch my dog’s backside

it doesn’t matter