Wednesday, June 04, 2014

What happens when haiku happen

I'm delighted to post Paul Griffiths' account of a course held at Ty Newydd, near Criccieth, North Wales at the beginning of May. 'Haiku: Writing from Life and the Landscape' ran from 9th to 11th May, 2014 and it was a joy to lead. Please, join us, vicariously, for the weekend.

Haiku and haibun at Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre

This is an account of my participation in a weekend of discussing and writing haiku and haibun in a course on the theme, Haiku: Writing from Life and Landscape, held at Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre, Llanystumdwy, near Criccieth, Gwynedd, Wales, in May 2014.

Tŷ Newydd (The New House) is an old, beautiful building, looking across fields to the sea, a short walk away. David Lloyd George (1863-1945) grew up in Llanystumdwy and returned to the village in his last years, where Tŷ Newydd was redesigned for him by Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), creator of Portmeirion village. Lloyd George’s grave, also designed by Williams-Ellis, stands close to the house, in the Dwyfor valley. [1] 
first impression
Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre is part of Literature Wales/Llenyddiaeth Cymru; the habitable, stones-and-mortar component of a national society of writers; a magical place where people come from anywhere and any background for creative writing courses of all kinds.[2]  This year, the Centre holds three courses on East-West topics; this one being the first.

The course was led by Lynne Rees; a poet and novelist[3],  who was co-editor with Nigel Jenkins and Ken Jones of the anthology, Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales. [4] The course was originally planned by Nigel Jenkins and Lynne Rees, as joint tutors. Sadly, Nigel Jenkins died early this year after a brief illness, and the decision was taken to continue with the course in memory for the life of a poet.[5]

We seven students were diverse; a wide age range, women and men, of several transatlantic nationalities, from homes in Wales, England and France. Lynne had a clear understanding of what she wanted us to achieve, and it was a warm experience, socially and creatively. The course extended from the Friday evening after dinner, and finished with lunch on Sunday. So here we have our structure: introductions and preliminary thoughts, a main day of work, and a morning of new topics and summation.

Lynne opened by commenting that Nigel Jenkins wanted people to come to an informed understanding of haiku as a contemporary poetic form; a form that, in its brevity and compression, focuses on a moment observed, felt or remembered. The structure of a haiku is commonly based on a two-part juxtaposition, either phrase-fragment or fragment-phrase. Its common dangers were noted: ‘cause-and-effect’, ‘description’, ‘aphorism’, ‘the whiff of Zen’, ‘didacticism’ and ‘shopping list haiku’.

To explore the form as juxtaposition, Lynne offered an exercise based on a ‘haiku generator’; a couple of pages of one-liners taken from diverse sources. We were to use these to produce our own two-line juxtapositions. Here is one of mine:

where we stand in the rain
wild strawberries

My originality is restricted to the combination of two existing lines, in a way understood by me as phrase-fragment. All that was needed at this point was an exercise that draws attention to this basic formal and semantic aspect of the haiku form.

The Saturday was divided into four parts, with our eye on the wet weather: first, more work on the formal-semantic aspects of the haiku; second, a ginko – haiku walk [6];  third, more discussion of aesthetic principles and a discussion of haibun; finally, an evening session of recital and open discussion.
weather forecast

We awoke after breakfast to the business of making distinctions between the haiku form, as traditionally practised in Japan and as it can be meaningfully practised in contemporary English. There has also been a movement from some early, conservative practices in English-language haiku writing towards a more flexible contemporary practice.

It is, or at least was, a common Western conception of the haiku as a form based on a 5-7-5 syllable count, written in three lines. Such an understanding is not sufficiently accurate in terms of the Japanese tradition and also needs to be re-thought in terms of English-language contemporary needs. A 17-syllable count can be excessively long in English, while a three-line form ignores how haiku are usually presented in Japanese script. While the Japanese language does not have the definite article, its omission in English may produce a false orientalising note. Also, capitalisation and punctuation need to be re-thought in terms of the needs of the poem, in which even an exclamation mark may add excessive force to a phrase that needs to sustain its focus and concision.

With all such matters in mind, we were asked to look at several contemporary haiku, and write brief appraisals of one or two. I chose one by Anita Virgil [7]:

not seeing
the room is white
until that red apple

Note the poem’s spareness, syllable count (13), and lack of capitalisation and punctuation. My thoughts concentrated on the effects of the line breaks. I felt that the first works as a pause that emphasises the distinction between the act of looking and what is looked at, while the second marks a perceptual shock that awakens full visual awareness, as the viewer registers the presence of the apple. So I suggested that this can be understood as a haiku with two different kinds of break; the first semantic, the second perceptual. Others in the group had considered the same poem, and it was striking that there was limited common ground between how we understood it. I think that this is where Lynne’s comment that ‘the reader completes the poem’ is relevant: close reading, paying attention to every detail of the poem is vital – but different readers will produce different readings.

Now we were ready to take advantage of a temporary improvement in the weather, and take our ginko in a circuit from Tŷ Newydd down to the coast and back. Lynne’s conception of a ginko is similar to my own practice of using some combination of a notebook, sketchbook and camera while out walking. In addition, Lynne asked us to pause from time to time and write notes on specific topics, sometimes directly related to our experiences on the walk, more often of a general and personal nature, reaching beyond immediate experience.

borrowed landscape
After a satisfying lunch, we returned to general issues, beginning with wabi-sabi, loneliness and slenderness; the principles of Japanese aesthetics that were transformed and given new depth by the 17th century haiku master, Matsuo Bashō: wabi-sabi as the recognition and acceptance of imperfection as an essential part of reality; as tenderness and brokenness; as something laid bare. After brief consideration of renga – haiku sequences – our next major topic was the haibun; the prose-haiku partnership that originated in Bashō’s travel journals. Lynne used the concept of link-and-shift to explain the basic relationship between the prose and haiku elements of haibun. While there must be some recognisable connection between the prose and haiku, there is also a shift, in imagery and meaning. The haiku, read in the context of the associated prose, acquires new resonances that feed back into the prose.

We were left to ourselves for the latter part of the afternoon. I took the opportunity to look around Tŷ Newydd and dip into its extensive library, then worked on a walk journal that I had begun to edit a couple of years ago but remains unfinished. After dinner, we reconvened for recital and discussion of whatever we had on our minds. I read the freshly edited extract from my journal. This is an autumn walk in my home region, in the French Var [8]: 

After a steady climb along the fire patrol track, I arrive at the little reservoir, obviously broken and empty. It’s densely wooded here with many chênes vertes, but there are some fine views in the gaps: la Barre de Cuers, Rossignol, plateau de Thêmes, la Ste-Quinis. The breeze has eased off and I am left with the sounds of my writing, flies buzzing in and out of range, the feel of a sweet in my mouth, my tinnitus…
Almost no birds – the sound of a jay once, and the sight of a pair crossing the line of my walk. Jays, flies, butterflies… Plenty of signs of sanglier doing some gardening. The herby scent of everywhere – thyme dominant and so omnipresent that it is easy to forget to mention it. The breeze is picking up.

in the shade, pissing sound
walking on again
stink of cow parsley

The final morning opened with an exercise in free writing, choosing one word, then writing without pausing on whatever associations that word prompts in us. I chose ‘rain’ and had a rant about the weather. There’s no need to repeat that here and, indeed, the chief purpose of such an exercise is to get the words flowing and to open up the writing mind.

There was then further discussion of haibun and the working relationships between the prose and haiku. Two points interested me particularly. One concerned the placement of one or more haiku in relationship to the prose passage: at the start, within or at its end. There is no rule, and the key question is what work is the haiku expected to do in relationship to the prose. The other concerned the process of composition; noting that the prose and haiku are not necessarily written together, and a workable link may emerge later. In this respect, haibun can be understood as a form of collage.

We were then asked to produce another piece of writing, starting from a prompt provided by Lynne, ‘Imagine a photograph of yourself when you were much younger’. I had difficulty with this one, not because I couldn’t write but because the photograph I brought to mind took me too deeply into personal memory, and I opted not to read out my text.
incident with heifers
We ended the course with an exercise in tan-renga; a short form of linked verse, written by two people; the first writing a haiku, the second adding another two lines. The result is a tanka (waka) that would be 5-7-5-7-7 in Japanese practice [9].  As in haibun, the relationship between the two parts is based on link-and-shift: a sense of relationship, yet also a shift in register of some kind. To conclude, we were to choose a haiku from a page of them, and add our own lines to produce a tan-renga. Here is mine, opening with a haiku by Nigel Jenkins [10]: 

long enough in one town
to notice the people’s
ways of aging

so many stout arms
the women of Wrexham

Nigel Jenkins’ haiku prompted a recollection of noticing, while in Wrexham one day long ago, that so many of the local women of my mother’s generation had strong arms; massive but not manly, the result of a life of domestic and farm work. This too is personal memory but in a form that both I and a reader can cope with, so I hope.

So that was it; over too soon. Up to this point, I have been writing from my notes on Lynne’s discussions and exercises, and my responses to those, and have not covered every topic or idea that Lynne introduced. I want to end with some more personal reflections.
what storms do

I attended the course for several reasons, after seeing a notice in the New Welsh Review. One is Tŷ Newydd’s location in a familiar part of Wales, where old friends live. The notice in NWR also caught my attention because I had written about the Wales-haiku link in a review of Nigel Jenkins and colleagues’ Another Country [11].  I knew Nigel only through our brief correspondence associated with the review, and now feel that I was too late to meet someone very special – but it was good to join in a course with Lynne and other people who knew, respected and loved him. A year later, I wrote another review, on Stephen Addiss’s The Art of Haiku [12].  Writing both essays taught me a lot, and gave me some clearer sense of working across the historical and cultural differences between Japanese haiku and their Western descendants. But writing reviews is one thing; writing haiku and haibun something else.

In this last respect, I had a particular problem in mind, related to my own walking. I have been developing an approach to my walks, in the Var and North Wales, that combines drawings and photographs with notes written during the walk, sometimes including haiku. I am trying to work with these visual-textual materials through printmaking and by writing walk/travel journals for my blog. It is more than a year since I last posted such a journal, and the truth is that I have felt blocked about how to proceed [13]. 

I have conceived my journals with reference to Bashō’s haibun [14],  and to contemporary eco-critical and psycho-geographical writing [15].  There is a difference in mood as well as culture between these two kinds of inspiration, and part of the problem is how to make unified sense of them. The course has given me new insights into how I can work with that difference. One idea that struck me particularly was Lynne’s suggestion that haibun composition is a kind of collage, which makes sense of my attempts to combine visual-textual materials. For me, it was a ‘Yes, of course’ moment. This one insight is still at work, as I relate it to other things that are on my mind, and my perception of ‘who I am, at work in my studio’ is changing.

During the course, I felt that I was probably the only participant approaching haiku-haibun mainly from the perspective of an interest in East Asian culture, rather than as an extension of a contemporary Western poetic practice. Probably, if we had had more time to talk to each other, I would have found that our actual range of interests and attitudes is complicated, with everyone engaging with the Japanese tradition to a greater or lesser extent, while also drawing on Western haiku and the wider Western poetic tradition in many different ways.

I have come away from the course with a strong feeling that, whatever the linguistic, formal and psychological shifts in the move from one cultural tradition to the other, haiku-haibun writing is, as Nigel Jenkins has proposed, a viable contemporary Western poetic practice [16].  Working across cultural traditions is always going to be difficult. But I see this less as an obstacle than as sensitively negotiable ground; as a negotiation that is itself a poetic act.
tan renga

© Paul Griffiths, paul@paulgriffiths.eu
3rd June 2014

Notes
My thanks to Lynne Rees for her teaching and to everyone on the course for our haiku-friendship, and again to Lynne for making helpful comments on a first draft of this essay.
[1] See entries in: Davies, John, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur I Lynch. 2008. The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
[4] Jenkins, Nigel, Ken Jones and Lynne Rees (editors). 2011. Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales. Llandysul: Gomer.
[5] For a warm in memoriam essay, see: Barnie, John. 2014. Remembering Nigel. Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, 214, summer: 72-80.
[6] This term may derive from 吟行, ginkō, given by the New Nelson as ‘travelling minstrel’.
[7] From: van den Heuvel, Cor (editor). 2001. The Haiku Anthology (Third edition). New York and London: WW Norton and Co: 250.
[8] Chênes vertes and sanglier are small holm oaks and wild boar, respectively.
[9] For the origins of tan-renga, see: Addiss, Stephen. 2012. The Art of Haiku: Its History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters. Boston and London: Shambhala: 45, 62.
[10] From: Jenkins, Nigel (David Pearl, illustrator). 2002. Blue: 101 Haiku, Senryu and Tanka. Aberystwyth: Planet, unpaginated.
[11] Griffiths, Paul. 2012. Taking the haiku temperature of Wales. Shakkei 18/4: 2-4. (A review of Jenkins et al 2011; see note 4.)
[12] Griffiths, Paul. 2013. The Art of Haiku. Shakkei 20/1: 8-11. (A review of Addiss 2012; note 9.)
[14] For Bashō’s poetics, see, for example: Shirane Haruo. 1998. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Matsuo Bashō. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
[15] For example: Farley, Paul, and Michael Symmons Roberts. 2011. Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness. London: Vintage.
[16] For the Japanese tradition, see Addiss’s The Art of Haiku (note 9) and, I suggest, an account of the linguistic and visual aspects of Japanese poetics (haiku and waka), in: Tanahashi Kazuaki. 2012. Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan. Boston and London: Shambhala. …and for the Western (not necessarily anglophone) contemporary tradition, see the discussions in Another Country (note 4), and: Kacian, Jim, Philip Rowland and Allan Burns (editors). 2013. Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. New York and London: WW Norton and Co.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

drawing

drawing
18” by 16”, felt tip pen on coloured paper by Ffion, age 4

There is a red house with orange windows and a pink door. There is a black cat whose feet have slipped off the bottom of the page. There is a tree sprouting flowers, petals pushing against the paper’s edge, a lavender sky with a sun and a crescent moon. And floating above the roof of the house, two stick people, holding hands, unwilling to come down to earth and decide whether the sun is about to set, or if the moon will make way for dawn, or whether the cat is trying to escape or climb into the picture and run towards a door that could be closed, or might be on the point of opening.

all the times
I have been wrong
fresh paint

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cae Cottage, Penceilogi

1 & 2 Cae Cottages in 2014
From 'Three Houses'

wiping the dust off
my grandmother's clock
another year

Memory paints my grandparents like the characters in a Dutch interior: Granny in the doorway between the porch and dark scullery, D’cu sitting in a low chair by the fire where two brass horses rear on blocks of polished oak. I enter silently, from daylight on the unpaved lane, stepping down over the stone hearth into the shadows, as if even the slightest noise could tear the membrane that divides remembering from not remembering. 

I am sure I stayed here once although my mother cannot be sure. But I know the two connected bedrooms in the eaves, the cool lino beneath my bare feet, lying in an iron bed with my sister watching the squeeze of sunlight and dust around the edges of the pulled curtains. 

The garden is a field with long grass and trees and an outside privy where, a young woman with auburn hair tells her two wide-eyed daughters, I was once chased by a goose. 


Friday, May 02, 2014

Join me for 'Haiku: Writing from Life and the Landscape'

A residential weekend at the beautiful Ty Newydd on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales.
9th to 11th of May 2014



and now, with May,
after the south side blossoms
come those on the north

Nigel Jenkins (1949 - 2014)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Just published: Contemporary Haibun 15


The arrival, and settling in, of the latest anthology of the best haibun harvested from haiku writing journals from around the world. 

After being edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross and Ken Jones for the last 15 years Volume 16 will be edited by Jeffrey Woodward, Founder and General Editor of Haibun Today. Really looking forward to seeing his particular stamp of generosity and enthusiasm next year but in the meantime let's enjoy this.

Monday, December 30, 2013

On the horizon: editing for CHO: Contemporary Haibun Online

If you're interested in haiku writing you're no doubt already aware of the web journal Contemporary Haibun Online. Jim Kacian, and his editorial team, published my first haibun here back in 2007 as well as in their sister print publication the annual anthology Contemporary Haibun (Red Moon Press), about to celebrate its 15th issue.

So I'm fizzing with new year delight to announce that I'll be one of three new editors at CHO after April 2014 alongside Bob Lucky (Editor in Chief) and Marjorie Buettner, both of whom are internationally successful haiku and haibun writers themselves. 

All my writing energy from the last two years was spent in the research and writing of Real Port Talbot, an upbeat and offbeat story of my hometown in South Wales, UK. Amongst the 70,000 words of history and commentary you will find some poems, some memoir and a few haiku, although they are in the minority. But editing other people's work always inspires my own and I am sure that my involvement in CHO will encourage me to get back to writing haibun, a form that brings together poetic epiphany and narrative, a form that enabled me to write about my life in a way that felt honest and precise and allowed me to produce my haibun collection, forgiving the rain in 2012.

So my new post with CHO feels particularly rewarding. I'm going back to where I started but, hopefully, with a deeper understanding and an appreciation of the form. And with a desire to encourage new and established haibun writers too.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

It’s haiku, Jim, but not as we know it

First published in 'The Brief', Newsletter of the British Haiku Society, November 2013

It was delightfully appropriate that an email request in August this year to comment on inter-planetary haiku was preceded by the word, ‘Greetings!’ The only bit missing was, ‘Earthlings’.

November 18th 2013 is the scheduled launch date of NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission), a spacecraft that will explore the red planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. It will also deliver thousands of space and mars-inspired haiku to whatever audience might be lurking there. Or at least that was NASA’s intention when they announced their online haiku contest in March this year. Public voting took place during May and June.

There were over 12,000 entries and over 39,000 votes. An enthusiasm for poetry writing that was only eclipsed by the staggering absence of any poetry. Or at least that was my reaction to the few dozen I read through when the BBC World Service asked if I could comment on the winning entries and give a general overview of the submissions.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of people or their ability to communicate an idea. But sincerity and ideas don’t make a haiku. This was the winning entry:

It’s funny, they named Mars 
after the God of War 
Have a look at Earth 

Benedict Smith 
United Kingdom

Yes, it is funny. Next?

Maven’s engineers
write in binary while we
count some syllables.

Craig Houghton
Connecticut, USA

Of course, the old syllable count, chopped up sentence approach.

Before the programme went live the interviewer at the BBC confided, ‘We don’t want you to be nice about these.’ That was a relief. But, let’s be honest, this wasn’t a haiku competition. It was a publicity event to raise awareness of the MAVEN project. And NASA defined a haiku as, ‘a poem made of three lines; the first and last lines must have exactly five syllables each and the middle line must have exactly seven syllables.’

So what could I say? That the counting of syllables to make haiku has its roots in literary misinterpretation. That poetry is about suggestion and understatement. That the best haiku are small epiphanies. Snapshots of the quotidian taken from unexpected angles, perhaps with a startling depth of focus. The tiniest of elegies. Breaths of emotion, some light, some dark. (David Cobb, Foreword, The Humours of Haiku (Iron Press 2012)

I hope there are some crafted haiku among all those barren syllables hurtling towards the red planet. Some simple words that will help illuminate life on our tiny planet, if only for the sake of the mental health of any Martians who might end up trawling through them.

If you have the time and inclination (and don’t mind losing the will to live) you can check out all the submitted haiku at this link.

Friday, August 02, 2013

tiny words: big appreciation

It's always encouraging to have a haiku chosen for tiny words and satisfying to have comments of appreciation posted there too. But when someone takes the time to analyse and dissect your haiku with insight and eloquence, and share that response, then that makes your appearance in the online journal even more worthwhile.

Many thanks to Strider, Haiku Apprentice at Learning Haiku by Reading and Doing for taking the time to respond to my haiku on 31st July 2013.

tinted mirror
what I think
I believe

-Lynne Rees

'Wow, another haiku poem that raises and sets me pondering philosophical issues. Or should I say, "confronting" those issues. Because the "mirror" mentioned in the work confronts us all every day, with apparent certainty. Who am I? What face do I present to the world? And for that matter, what is "the world"? This is literally an "existential" haiku!

This poem seems to deliberately set up an echo to Descartes' famous "Cogito ergo sum" - "I think therefore I am". For me, Lynne Rees appears to be challenging me to recognize that our other mirrors may also be "tinted". How do we know? What do we think? What do we believe about the world?

What we "believe" about ourself, our appearance, we usually judge by means of a mirror - even though intellectually we "know" of course that everything is in reverse. So when shown a picture of ourself in a photograph we experience with something like shock the revelation of what we "really" look like.

So for me, this poem is almost like a zen zazen, a challenge - and also a means - to balance our left and right brains. Our left hemisphere breaks reality into pieces - like shards of glass; it focuses on and manipulates "facts" and "data". The right hemisphere by contrast works to integrate these into wholes; into fully comprehensible pictures of reality. So which side of the mirror is real?

This poem leaves me unsettled. There is no final answer. Like those parallel mirrors in which I see myself reflected endlessly into the distance, this poem, and these philosophical questions, recur endlessly. The writing and the reading, the poet and the reader, are the mirror images. Which side knows? Which side believes?

Ah, wonderful!

Strider'


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Those small stones...

... not the forgotten ones I find in the corners of coat pockets or the ones I collect on solitary walks (along with tufts of sheep wool and pieces of driftwood) but the ones I've written during January for the last two years. The ones that Fiona and Kaspa, from Writing Our Way Home encourage everyone to write: read about the project here.

You can read the small stones I wrote in January 2011 on the NaSmaStoMo link above (National Small Stones Month). January 2012's daily observations, dreams, memories and captured moments are here.

I don't plan to do anything with these when I first write them. They are writing practice: free of judgement, editing or plans to publish although some of them do find their way out of this blog record and onto the pages of journals or into a potential MSS. But it's the spontaneous writing within a disciplined structure of 31 days that's the most rewarding and enjoyable aspect of this project: the sense of freedom I feel to write anything.

My grandaughter used to stay a lot with me when she was younger. 'I can do anything I like when I stay at your house,' she once said to me. Hang on... strict bath-times and bed-times, meal-times always at the table, no TV in the morning. Are you mixing me up with someome else?! But she obviously felt completely free within those boundaries. That's how I feel during Fiona and Kaspa's January writing challenges.

year end
the grass crisp
with frost



Friday, November 16, 2012

forgiving the rain - thanking Snapshot Press

I have it. The cover of my new haibun collection due from Snapshot Press at the end of this month.


It has all the qualities that I hope readers will find in the contents: texture, delicacy, contrast, light and shade. A big thank you to John Barlow at Snapshot Press for all his work and insights.

forgiving the rain will be available via Snapshot's website from around 25th November, 2012. And, to make things easier for overseas haibun enthusiasts, they take Paypal : )

Thursday, November 01, 2012

 
 
map reading:
the desire to know
where I'm going
the fear of losing
my way
 
 
 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

forgiving the rain due from Snapshot Press

all this green forgiving the rain

(first published by tiny words, 13.3.2008)

I never thought that one little haiku written in my head while driving along the motorway in the rain would end up being the title of a book... but it is and I am very happy.

forgiving the rain, my haibun collection, will be published by Snapshot Press in November 2012. Lovely.

Now to find a cover image that will serve the collection well.