Posts Tagged ‘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.

P1060882

(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 convey the essence of a moment. It uses simple, direct, concrete (often sensory) language to describe what is observed and experienced in that moment (present tense), while at the same time, a haiku can also imply something more. Haiku are often associated with nature, but they can be inspired by other types of experience as well. 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 (in this case, by William J. Higginson):

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 (undoubtedly, there are also other references that we, as 21st century English-speaking poets, will not get) .

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…

Celebrating Cherry Blossoms -Vancouver style

April 9, 2012

This year’s Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival got off to a perfect start Thursday, April 5, with sunshine and cherry blossoms both cooperating. The Akebono cherry trees alongside Burrard Skytrain station (site of the festival kick-off) were in full bloom!

The event included Taiko drumming and other performances of Japanese music, as well as energetic Bollywood-influenced dancing that got the crowd joining in (led by Shiamak dancers, who are choreographing a flashmob umbrella dance to happen April 14).

The blossoms, people, and multicultural celebration inspired this haiku:

downtown Vancouver
oasis of blossoms
welcomes everyone

(Note: the festival also hosts an annual international haiku contest)

The celebration of blossoms continued at Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden over the weekend with Sakura Days Japan Fair.

Signs of spring?

March 2, 2012

I spotted the first cherry blossoms (and bees) in my neighbourhood on February 7, and soon after came the snowdrops and crocuses. It seemed that we had seen the last of winter and that there was plenty to inspire some spring haiku. What better timing than February being National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo)?

I had been looking forward to NaHaiWriMo (writing a few short lines a day seemed much more do-able than the word output required for National Novel Writing Month!), but was struggling a bit with throwing out the 5-7-5 syllable structure (see this NaHaiWriMo post for background on why 5-7-5 is no longer considered correct for haiku in English), and just wasn’t finding myself paused in any haiku moments. That is, until the very last day of February, and the return of snow.

Was winter finished, or not? Were blossoms covered by snow a negative or a positive image? The seasonal ambiguity and my current mood of life evaluation (partly prompted by turning a certain age I won’t mention) inspired me to play with a glass half full/half empty theme. The result is maybe not worth sharing, but here it is (with all thought of syllable count tossed aside):

blossoms

under late snow

buried hope

or

blossoms

under snow blanket

wake

Woven through with crows

December 30, 2010

Late this afternoon the setting sun lit up the trees behind my house. It’s hard to see them in this photo, but as I looked up through the branches, wave after wave of crows passed over as the birds headed to their nightly roost (if you look closely, you can make out at least four blurry crows, but there must have been close to 100 flying over).

 

sunset painted trees
bronze threads woven together
by black crow stitches

Crunch time

November 6, 2010

Fall is one of my favourite seasons. I love the colours, the fresh air that’s cool and exhilarating, but not yet cold, and the smell of fallen leaves that brings me instantly back to my childhood. I think I’ve talked in a previous post about how fall always feels to me like the start of a new year more than January does. There was always the excitement and anticipation surrounding starting a new grade or a new university year, new clothes, seeing old friends again, wondering what the new school year will bring, the build-up to our local Fall Fair (which I looked forward to every year), then Halloween and the thrill of roaming around at night with my friends. And something about the grey sky, the sound of geese flying overhead, the stark branches of trees revealed as leaves fall, the smell of the leaves underfoot… seemed to hint of intriguing stories to be told, potential adventures to be had, secrets to be uncovered –as if there was something creative and unseen crackling in the air around me.

Darby’s visit to my blog last month reminded me that I haven’t posted any haiku in a while, so here’s a haiku that attempts to capture some of that fall feeling I’m talking about:

leaves crunch underfoot
crows billow over treetops
bonfire smoke at dusk

Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of the cloud of crows that passed over these trees on my way home earlier this week, but you get a hint at least.

I took this next photo right before the first (a bill-board near my bus stop). I apologize for the quality of these photos, but I liked the mood.