I know the smoke and steam of
industry. Tall chimneys, the cordons of terraced houses. Shift changes: men in
caps and thick jackets leaving or returning home in the dark.
The cover of Frances Angela’s
new chapbook, Philip Street, evokes these
memories of my hometown in South Wales. I recall the streets named for
landowners, builders and benefactors. Remember the kids we were warned against playing
with … they didn’t like me playing with patsy
o’malley they said her family were thieves and rogues[i]
And there was the library too: the library just for the smell[ii]
I know that smell: dust,
polish, paper.But then my childhood
path diverges from the one that unfolds in the subsequent pages: a children’s
home, a catechism class, whiskey. This is not my story. Yet somehow, it is my
story, the one I imagine, the one I experience through my senses… pub night the dark heap of mother’s clothes[iii]
… and through empathy and compassion for hope forbidden
and lost. a girl i wanted …
‘What’s the word for the sky in your house?’ my granddaughter asked as I was putting her to bed.
‘The sky in my house?’ And I looked up towards the ceiling, imagined the open space above it, between floor joists and the roof’s wooden rafters, and I saw what she was seeing, saw it confined there as if it had forgotten to move before we’d converted the derelict barn to a home. ‘Ah, the attic,’ I said.
Fifteen years later I live in a house with no attic and sometimes I stare at the sky and wonder about all that time it was living with me and I hadn’t known.
In his Afterword to The Wonder Code Scott Mason asks, ‘… where does wonder begin?’ And answers, ‘I believe it begins with a sense of discovery.’ discover (v.) from the Old French descovrir, which meant, satisfyingly in the above context, to unroof, and also to unveil, to reveal.
We discover things when we lift the veils of self-importance, fear, indifference, cynicism, intolerance, impatience. We discover things when we do no…
Sometimes life and poetry intersect naturally. I had a brutal wardrobe clear-out yesterday, as witnessed by the pile of clothes hangers in the centre of the bed and a bulging large carrier bag destined for the charity shop. And then, through one of those random extended internet excavations, I came across this haiku by Annette Makino, published by tinywords a few years ago which I'd commented on briefly.
hanging in my closet the person I used to be
Reading it again still elicited a similar variety of responses: laughter, recognition, resignation and sadness. And this time part of ‘the person I used to be’ was neatly folded at my feet! Most of us keep clothes that no longer fit us, or suit us. I still have an ostentatious, ostrich feather bolero that I bought in the early 1980s and will never wear again but hold onto from a sense of nostalgia. But the haiku also propels me towards imagining clothes that belonged to someone else, a husband, wife or partner who may have left, or died…
I have a particular fondness for line-break – perhaps because I came to haiku from writing free-verse where line-break is the principal structuring tool. But it’s still something that matters to me in constructing haiku, although I approach it with a lighter touch to avoid any overly dramatic effect that a longer poem might be able to carry and dilute.
And it was the idea of line-break that immediately hit me when I first read Salzer’s haiku, on the page and out loud… the idea that the haiku would work as well without any:
how many become one sound of rain
The haiku’s theme of oneness, alongside the option for the reader to pause in multiple places to play with the sense of what Salzer is saying, make it perfect for the monostich form. BUT… that’s not what Salzer chose to do so instead of simply imposing myself on the poem I want to look deeper and appreciate the author’s intention.
I don’t think Yovu could have packed any more into this haiku. Colour and sound. The human experience and the natural world. Distance and proximity. And the beautiful simplicity of concrete language that injects it with vibrancy and authenticity and communicates an experience we can all recognise and share. Add to that the use of colour as adjective and noun, the onomatopoeia of ‘gong’ and the almost-eye rhyme with ‘orange’, as well as the monostich form that encourages us to experience this moment in one celebratory hurrah, and this is a haiku that makes me feel good to be alive on this day in the world. A day when that orange could almost be the sun sitting in my own small palm.
There are two things that immediately strike me about ai li’s haiku: a strong sense of containment, perhaps even imprisonment, from the image of a room with no windows.the concrete images at the end of each line – room, windows, stars – which anchor me to the real world.
The idea of containment/imprisonment is a subjective response; the room could as easily be a cellar where the poet/narrator has chosen to be. But surely there’s a sense of longing, or aware*, in the third line, a longing for the exterior world, the night sky, for beauty and peace and freedom, that reinforces this idea for me.
But if this is about imprisonment why don’t I feel any distress or sense of restriction? Perhaps because of those three concrete words at the end of each line. Poets place (or should place) words at the ends of lines for deliberate and conscious reasons. And these do feel consciously placed. Room. Window. Stars.
I am i…
All the time I pray to Buddha I keep on killing
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and
(ed. R Hass, The Ecco Press, 1994)
I’ve been told (but have never been able to accurately
source it) that Arthur Koestler* said ‘true understanding involves transcending
the barrier of paradox’. And that idea seems to be the backcloth to this haiku
by Issa, how he subscribed to the non-violence at the heart of Buddhist
thinking and behaviour yet could not live up to the first of the five precepts
that all Buddhists should follow: ‘Avoid killing, or harming any living thing’.
Because there’s no wriggle room to say that mosquitoes, annoying or not, aren’t
living things. How could he call himself a Buddhist but also act in a way that
betrayed his core beliefs? Does that make him a hypocrite?
On the logical surface of the argument, yes. But I
imagine we are all culpable of what could be described as self-betrayals. Are