Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Take a trip across the web

For today's haiku, I'm going to make you hop a link over to Issa's Untidy Hut. The Hut is a blog written by Don Wentworth to go along with his magazine of haiku and other small poetry called Lilliput Review.

Every Wednesday Don features a haiku by a different person and today he posted one of mine. It was written back in March when everything here in North Carolina screamed Spring. At the time, though, it felt obscene to enjoy it as the grim news of tsunami and nuclear meltdown came in from Japan.

So stop on over at Issa's Untidy Hut -- hope you enjoy my haiku, but more importantly stick around to explore. Lots of great stuff over there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The real and the precious and the real

I'm exhausted after a hockey game tonight, and having trouble concentrating enough to work on a new haiku.

Instead, I went digging through my scrap pile of old papers and notes, and came across this from some years back. Not a haiku, but relevant in the sense that when you're a contemporary American person writing haiku, you always have to find a balance between respecting the long Japanese tradition from which it comes and blindly imitating it; between beautiful, delicate subjects and more modern, everyday things:

"Sitting outside reading some poems by Sam Hamill and thinking these particular ones were a little too precious, with a feeling of inauthentic chinoiserie*. At that moment a single white petal from a Bartlett pear tree floated in front of me and landed beside my crossed legs. Was it a message of some kind? It sure was damned precious. But if that petal was a message, then all the other things nearby had to be as well -- a bright, partial orange rind in the liriope bed; a cluster of five cigarette butts; each of the thousands of bricks that made up the courtyard..."

A lot of the notes I recover from my old scraps just don't work anymore. But this one still rings true. When you feel like your haiku might be getting too pretty or precious or sweet -- look for some orange rinds and cigarette butts to write about. And when your haiku are too reliant on trash and trying too hard to be gritty or modern, remember that the flower petals are just as real. It's all real; it's all notable, in one way or another.

*I don't remember which of his poems I'm referring to -- in general I have the greatest respect for Sam Hamill's writing, translations, and work with Copper Canyon Press. His book of essays, A Poet's Work, was very important to me when I was just out of college and starting to write more seriously.

Monday, August 29, 2011

sketched with dew

sketched with dew
on the morning air
this perfect web

Sunday, August 28, 2011

chorus of frogs

A couple of scenes from yardwork and gardening today seemed conducive to haiku, but I'm having trouble wrangling them into a suitable poem just now. One involved a neighborhood cat stalking birds and butterflies in our yard, and the other was a black widow spider scurrying out from the garden bed we were digging around in. The results so far are too cutesy or too melodramatic, respectively -- we'll see if anything comes of them later on.

For today, then, I'll share a haiku that was published in the most recent issue of the journal I help to edit, South by Southeast. Our next deadline is coming soon on Sept. 15th, so if you're interested in submitting your own haiku or ordering a copy of the magazine, pop on over to the link above for submission and subscription information.

In the meantime, this haiku of mine was published earlier this year in volume 18, no.2:



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are there male ladybugs?

Of course there are. But I just had that thought out loud and Margarite looked at me with an expression that said she didn't know where to begin... That has nothing to do with today's haiku, though:

after the music
the record's rhythmic
shush           shush          shush          shush

I like this sound-image a lot -- the way when a record player reaches the end of a side it keeps spinning, the needle playing a soft, new song of static. I don't think the haiku is quite working yet, though. It's too flat, a one-dimensional observation.

What would improve it? A story to go along with the image of the record? Maybe the people who were listening to the record have left the room, or fallen asleep, or are otherwise occupied. Or maybe it needs a counter-rhythm, or another sense to be engaged.

her soft snores --
the record player goes
shush           shush          shush          shush

morning sun --
the record player's soft
shush           shush          shush          shush

Not sure I've hit on it yet, but it's improving, I think...

Friday, August 26, 2011

noon glare

noon glare                               sleepeep                 the cricket still sings

Thursday, August 25, 2011

fluorescent hum

Thankfully the inspiration for today's haiku didn't actually happen today. If you get migraines you'll surely understand why. If you don't, I hope the poem still works on some level:

fluorescent hum --
the room ripples
around the blind spot


Many thanks to my friend Noah Scalin, who featured "No more moon poems" on his Make Something 365 blog today. Noah's work is the inspiration behind my starting a daily haiku blog. After you take a look at Make Something 365, be sure to check out his original 365 project, Skull-a-day. Fantastic stuff. Thanks, Noah!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

in the dry leaves

Before I stocked up on pocket-sized notebooks, I used to fold sheets of paper down into quarters and write on those. They fit perfectly into a pants pocket and weren't as stiff as a full notebook. So now there are stacks of them around the house, all covered with scribbled ideas for poems, or the titles of books to check out from the library, or just snippets of conversation overheard on the bus.

This evening when I went looking for a haiku to post here, I grabbed a rubber-banded stack of those old sheets. They turned out to be from a couple of years ago when we were living in a house in the woods of north Chatham County. It was as rustic a place as either of us had ever lived -- a mile-long unpaved road to get there, heated only by a woodstove in winter... and truly beautiful. Living there for three years was a treat.

When we moved into the house I thought it would be a non-stop source of haiku moments, but in the end I probably wrote the same amount there as I did anywhere. I guess it's more in the attention you pay and the time you commit to it, rather than the idyllic setting. Still, the haiku I DID write while we were there can take me right back in an instant.

The one I picked for today reminded me of how even the most mundane things there seemed wilder and more remarkable:

big as a deer
in the dry leaves

The more I roll that one around on my tongue, though, the blander it tastes.

Sometimes bland is good for a haiku -- you read it, wonder why someone would pay enough attention to such a thing to write a poem about it, and you end up sharing a greater appreciation for something ordinary for a moment.

But sometimes it's just bland. I'm not going to judge this haiku one way or another, but it did make me want to add some zing to it:

something in the dark
rattles the dry leaves
big as a wolf


in the dark
dry leaves rattle
big as a wolf

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

big toad sits

big toad sits
on the sidewalk

first fat
drops of rain

Monday, August 22, 2011

Maximally minimalist?

talking about everything but

Are those 4 words enough to be the poem in themselves? Not necessarily a haiku, because it lacks any close observation of something outside of the self... But is it enough to be a senryu, observing a tendency of human nature? Or does the poem need another element to give the reader more context?

Part of me thinks that it's enough. Every line or image I consider adding to the poem limits the reader's interpretation, whereas this phrase by itself can contain whatever experience the reader brings to it.

Some examples of elaborations that I'm considering:

bedside lamplight --
talking about
everything but...

his birthday --
talking about
anything else

Grandma's fart --
the conversation
gets faster and louder

Those are pretty clumsy examples, but they'll serve the point. How minimal is too minimal? When is more information enriching and when is it limiting and deadening? A lot depends on the reader, of course, but we don't get to choose all of our own readers. One reader might take the first phrase and rattle off a dozen situations that it evokes in her mind, from the silly to the heartbreaking. Each time she reads it will bring a different interpretation. Another reader might be totally put off by the lack of a clear reference and not make the extra step of supplying her own details. And that's assuming you care about readers at all.

Whether going maximally minimalist or adding plenty of detail, the trick is to be aware of the balance of what is lost and what is gained with each decision.

talking about anything but

Sunday, August 21, 2011

babel bird











Saturday, August 20, 2011

red sunset


the breakdancer
so smoothly

to his feet

Friday, August 19, 2011



sea oat

a grackle's

Thursday, August 18, 2011

low rumble


the straw wrapper
a question mark

by the
storm drain

This one is a little longer than I usually like -- especially that middle bit -- but I haven't figured out a way to cut or reword it that works for me yet. Maybe this one will remain a case where I stretch my own rules or inclinations and leave it at that.

It's also pretty straightforwardly descriptive, without the ambiguity I talked about in an earlier entry at the start of this blog. Ah well, a different kind of haiku for a different image and impression. There's room for the ambiguous and room for the descriptive -- I just don't want to get lazy or boring and always take the straightforward route...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday senryu

pre-game meal --
the sliced end of the zucchini

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

sky clearing


the birdfeeder

his neck

Monday, August 15, 2011

stripping mulberry

I've been neck deep in book arts activity for the past couple of days, meeting deadlines, etc., so how about a book-related haiku for tonight:

stripping the stringy bark --
the mulberry tree already was
the book

Plenty of reservations about this one as a haiku, but let's let it stand overnight and see if any solutions come up...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

summer storm

guttural thunder     gutter water mumble FLASH      thunderous rumble

Saturday, August 13, 2011

nodding off

nodding off

on the page
an 'o'

its wings

(originally appeared in South by Southeast, v.16:no.3, 2009)

Friday, August 12, 2011

old judo partner

old judo partner
dancing slowly
with his bride

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Klezmer clarinet

patio bar
a moth jumps & flutters
with the klezmer clarinet

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ghost crab cartwheels

This one comes from that same 1999-2000 notebook I mentioned the other day. Unlike that haiku, I remember this image well from an autumn trip to the Outer Banks.

I'm going to try 2 versions -- the first is a little long but is the rare example that I don't really want to cut down; the second is the same image hacked down into a more orthodox haiku size...

claw over claw
a ghost crab
cartwheels past
the unsurprised sanderling
facing into
the north wind

* * * * *

nor'easter --
ghost crab cartwheels past
the hunched sanderling

Hmm -- on second thought maybe I do prefer the chopped-down version!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dazed and confused


stream past
the moon
inches past
the flying car

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bus exhaust

One fun part of sharing a haiku every day is that on days when I don't write a new one, I get to go back through old notebooks and the mounds of crumpled scraps of paper on my dresser to find a likely candidate.

Today I picked up an old green notebook from the bookshelf. I hadn't opened it in years, but the sight of it has always inspired some subconscious good feeling. Judging from the dated entries, it's from 1999/2000 and full of so many ideas that I scarcely remember -- some of which later turned into actual projects (and can be re-incorporated into those newer projects...), but most of which are just scraps floating in the pages, waiting to be remembered and polished or expanded.

The good feeling it inspires is a combination of what I was doing at the time and the physical book itself. The journal is such a satisfying size (4"x 6") and thick enough to have some heft. It has to be one of my favorite store-bought journals ever. As for what I was doing, I was more closely involved with editing South by Southeast at that point, was still living in Richmond where I was writing and sharing a lot of haiku and other poetry and short fiction, and maybe most importantly, I was just starting to discover the fields of book arts and artists' books.

Lesson learned: go back to your old notebooks once in a while! You were younger then, and fresher! And now you're older and wiser and more able to follow through on those spasms of inspiration!

In any case, back on task. I don't remember writing this haiku but am glad to rediscover it:

hot bus exhaust --
the homeless man describes

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Extracting staring fluttering and welling

For today's haiku, let's try another poem formed by extracting lines from three different haiku, scrambling them, and creating something new and serendipitous.

(For more about the technique and the inspiration behind it, you can check out my earlier post here.)

staring hard
fluttering yellow
my welling anger

As usual, I'm surprised (and delighted) at how readily you can make sense of something created in this randomized way. And at the same time it has fresh disjunctions that I wouldn't have thought to put in if I were creating this poem from scratch.

One disappointment for me is that the resulting haiku has a gerund in each line. Using "-ing" gerunds to give your poem a sense of immediacy and action can be a sort of crutch when writing haiku. It's not a bad practice in and of itself, but it can become formulaic and grating when it happens over and over again in a manuscript, or in a batch of submissions. So I'm disappointed to see that in 3 randomly selected lines from 3 randomly selected haiku posted on my blog, they all use that same trick.

Ah well -- doing it 3 times in one haiku -- now that's how to be effective.

An older one

For some reason this haiku has been on my mind recently, although it's about ten years old... Apparently it wants to see the light of day:

whistling along
with the cardinal
an octave lower

Friday, August 5, 2011

Haiku from photographs II

So last week I wrote about how I wanted to write some haiku based on the very haiku-like photos of Daido Moriyama. While the photos seemed perfect for adaptation to haiku, I struggled with some kind of block. I came to the conclusion that it was because the setting was so foreign to me. The photos I was looking at were from distinctly Japanese settings and I've never been to Japan, so I didn't have the immediate experience to write haiku from.

This week I've been re-reading volume one of R.H. Blyth's 2-volume A History of Haiku. One point he makes helped me to understand further why I was having trouble writing from these photos. In his view haiku is a poetry of sensation:

"In haiku, the two entirely different things that are joined in sameness are poetry and sensation... The coldness of a cold day, the heat of a hot day, the smoothness of a stone, the whiteness of a seagull, the distance of the far-off mountains, the smallness of a small flower, the dampness of the rainy season, the quivering of the hairs of a caterpillar in the breeze -- these things, without any thought or emotion or beauty or desire are haiku." (p.7-8)

And there's my problem. I was treating the photos as strictly visual things, unable to sink into them because the sensations of the places pictured were inaccessible to me. With a little imagination, though, it should be possible, now that I've identified that stumbling block...

by the tracks

with the

Thursday, August 4, 2011

shimmering heat

shimmering heat

a skinny orange cat
in the crabgrass

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Mockingbird, singing his song..."

"Mockingbird is mocking me now that you're gone." Can't think of a mockingbird poem without getting the Tom Waits song stuck in my head...

How about 2 related haiku for today? Not sure which I prefer:

the oriole
can't find the notes
for it all

* * *

mockingbird trying to say it all at once

Tuesday, August 2, 2011



all night

on the

Monday, August 1, 2011



hops under