Friday, March 30, 2012

On a different note: Discovering William T. Vollmann

Although I've been aware of his name for years, I'm just now starting to read and discover the work of William T. Vollmann. The first thing I read was his book about hopping freight trains, Riding Toward Everywhere, and I'm hooked. That book is full of close observation that will make any haiku poet smile, and portrays a gritty, wandering world that Basho and Issa would surely recognize.

Here are a couple of favorite short passages:

Now from the blackness I began to see other stars, right over that foot-high strip of steel that reminded me not to fall into Anywhere. I sent my hand an inch over the edge and touched cold wind. I touched darkness. And beside me there came more and ever more stars, brighter and whiter and clearer than I had seen in a long time. Indeed, I had forgotten the stars, as I so often will on those other nights of my life. No matter what I have accomplished and whom I have loved, how much I have lost by missing the stars for so many of my nights! And now I am grey, and who knows when I will die, and never see the stars again? Who would I have been if I could have been alongside these stars always?

And, talking about the loneliness of riding freights, and the decline in the number of hobos on trains these days:

I had expected my travels to be picaresque, teeming with wise, bizarre or menacing outlaw characters. At the very least, I had imagined that without really trying I would meet dozens of people of Pittsburgh Ed's sterling caliber. In fact my various odysses were haunted by absence, with only here and there a few lost voices... singing about the way things used to be back then, as if they were crickets who had inexplicably outlived their summer.

Man, I love that last line. I highly recommend that book, and now have moved on to a collection of essays, Expelled from Eden -- also excellent so far.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

in mid-air

in mid-air
the inchworm

through the open window
the choir's
and ascend

Monday, March 5, 2012

Haiku and photography VI

At work in the art library today, I came across this beautiful book of photographs: Naksan by Korean photographer Boomoon. It's a series of black-and-white photos of a storm-swept beachbreak. I think that they first appealed to me because the ocean they show looks very familiar -- not the perfect, air-brushed waves of a surf magazine or the raging, dramatic seas of shipwreck drama. Just the kind of normal, sloppy, unremitting ocean that any beach bum or surfer has watched for hours and hours on end, waiting for the prettier days to come.

That made the photos appeal to me in a haiku-aesthetic kind of way, in the way that they chronicled a sequence of regular moments and were not conventionally beautiful or overtly dramatic. The book ends with an essay by Shino Kuraishi (about whom I know nothing, unfortunately). The essay begins:

"Long ago, there was a term in Zen Buddhism, genjô, which has been translated as "actualization" or "realization." It refers to things manifesting themselves before our eyes as they are, appearing in a raw, unprocessed form. By all rights, the photographic apparatus was well suited to reproducing this ultimate ideal, the unadorned, unvarnished manifestation of things. But photography has produced no more than a mere semblance or pseudo-actualization, and all too often has degenerated into the realm of fiction where the "thing as it is" becomes "something it is not," providing ample evidence of repeated disgrace."

The opening of this quote speaks directly to the way that haiku and photography have often seemed like beautiful partners to me. As the quote continues, though, it also unintentionally points out a limitation that can plague haiku practice if taken too strictly -- a prejudice against presenting anything other than the 'thing as it is.' While such haiku can be the most sublime examples of the form, not every one has to be a somber sermon. Some imagination, some humor, some adornment are necessary to liven things up, to keep us fresh enough to appreciate the more subtle, serious moments that otherwise might become monotonous. And besides, sometimes the thing-as-it-is IS imaginative, deceptive, varnished, adorned, etc., and there's no disgrace in that...

In any case, this is a beautifully produced book put out in 2010 by Nazraeli Press. I'm looking forward to seeking out more of Boomoon's work.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

spinach seed

spinach seed
in the cool, wet soil,
the pink, pulsing earthworm

Friday, March 2, 2012

"in our bodies now" featured on The The poetry blog

Really pleased to announce that The The poetry blog has featured my haiku sequence "in our bodies now" as their poem of the week for this week.

Thanks to wünderpoet/friend Colie Hoffman for introducing me to The The, and for inviting me on. I'm honored to share space with the steady stream of excellent poets and poeticizers they publish there.