Basho in Leiden

Doing some research to finish an article about the Dutch in Japan during that nation’s closed era (about 1641 to about 1853), I came across a photo of a Basho haiku painted on a wall in the delightful city of Leiden in The Netherlands – and now can’t remember whether I walked past it 2 years ago or am now just thinking I did!

The Basho wall haiku in Leiden. Image: Tunbantia, via Wikipedia

ara yumi ya sado ni yokotau ama no gawa

a wild sea, 
and stretching out towards the Island of Sado,
the Milky Way

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), tr RH Blyth See more translations here.

This website about the Wall Poems Project has a page dedicated to Basho’s 1689 poem, which was painted by Jan Willem Bruins in 1994 using a paper version in Japanese characters as his guide. “While he was painting, he was spotted by a group of Japanese passers-by. Filled with adoration, they stopped to watch Bruins apply the characters in a slapdash fashion. They asked if he had ever done a calligraphy course. When he said that this was his first try, they paid their respects to the painter with a deep bow.”

The Wall Poems Project ran from 1992 to 2005, and includes this very graphic 1966 poem by another Japanese poet, Seiichi Niikuni (1925-1977).

Kawa mata wa Shū by Seiichi Niikuni. Image: David Eppstein, vis Wikipedia

The two characters translate as ‘river sandbank’ with the left line being ‘river’. Niikuni was a longtime creator of concrete poetry.

The smell of haiku

The power of scent to raise a memory has been scientifically proven, as has the link between scent and emotion, one that perfumiers strive to tap into. This article in The Harvard Gazette explains the science: Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours go directly to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory – and the oldest parts of the human brain.

And although we list taste as one of the five senses, science says that everything we taste is by way of being smelled. No sense of smell, no sense of taste.

Here are some haiku I think convey the sense of smell very well, even if they almost all use the word ‘scent’! I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part look at haiku that engage with the senses beyond sight, I’ve had fun putting it together.

fallen eucalypt …
the scent
cut into stove lengths

Jo McInerney
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

gentle rain
scent of the seedbed turning
a deeper brown

Katrina Shepherd
from Before the Sirocco (NZPS, 2008)

yellow roses
at Uji the fragrance
of roasting tea leaves

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to the haiku, written in 1691, is that as yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica) have no fragrance, they must borrow smells from the roasted tea.

Uji was once one of the most important tea-growing areas in Japan. Read more here. It’s interesting to note that although the yamabuki plant is not a rose, its name is often used to mean ‘yellow rose’ in Japanese literature!

migrating geese –
her scent finally gone
from my pillow

Stephen Toft
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

in the alleys
orange blossom scent . . .
the rest escapes me

Luci Cardillo
from Autumn Moon 2.2 (2019)

otoko kite heya nuchi suisen no nioi midaru

a man enters
the room, disturbing the scent
of daffodils

Yoshino Yoshiko, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

two boys giggle
as he enters the bike shop …
onion seller

Alan Summers
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

family reunion
bad breath
has a name

Roberta Beach Jacobson
from H Gene Murtha Senryu Contest, 2019

summer breeze
setting aside the book
to smell her hair

Makarios Tabor
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1, 2020

 

The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

The sound of haiku

We are surrounded by sound all our waking (and sleeping) hours, some of it pleasant (birdsong), some of it discordant (emergency sirens). These haiku seem to me to use sound in interesting and sometimes inventive ways.

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner
resonates

Dee Evetts
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

pissing into a steel trough the muted boom of the bar

Stuart Quine
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay
from Stepping Stones (BHS, 2007)

furu oto ya mimi mo su-nara ume no ame

a falling sound
that sours my ears
plum rain

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku, written in 1666, is: What the Japanese call ‘ume’ is most often translated as ‘plum’ … but the fruit more closely resembles the apricot. Because the fruit ripens from mid-June to mid-July the rains of this time are called ‘ume no ame’ (‘plum rains’). Even ripe the fruit is inedible until it has been preserved in salty, sour liquid, similar to olives.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the nursery roof

Vanessa Proctor
from Wishbone Moon

summer solstice
the measuring tape reels back
into its case

Carolyn Hall
from Montage

setsugen ya majiwarazu shite wadachiato

autumn night –
the sound of two white plates
touching

Yoshiko Yoshino, tr. unknown

through my stethoscope
the rumble
of the 8:15

Jon Iddon
from Stepping Stones

foghorns –
we lower a kayak
into the sound

Christopher Herold
from Montage

drought
my ears have lost
the creek

Sandi Pray
from Wishbone Moon

late-rising moon
each rock in the stream
has its own sound

Burnell Lippy
from Montage

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

sweetness
oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

warriors
the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

im-mi-grant
the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

我味の柘榴に這す虱かな
waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!

Issa

Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.

Load of bull

beading
in a bull’s eyelashes
spring drizzle

Paul Chambers
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1 (2020)

I’m reading Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain’s secret wilderness by Paul Evans (Rider Publishing, 2015) and was pleased to be safe in my bed when reading this description of a tense bucolic encounter after the author allowed his attention to wander.

**

He may not have been the biggest bull but he seemed massive to me. A head the size of a washing machine, huge neck and shoulders, long back, all deep russet red and rounded muscle – a brick shithouse of a beast. I looked into his eye.

This eye was unlike the oxeye daisy, which is really a pastoral joke in which the ox is prettified and conforms to a bovine ideal of cud-chewing reverie and disinterested stare. He was also not the snorting, charging, angry bull of cartoons. He was watching me closely with his robin redbreast-coloured eye, perhaps with a flash of gold in it. The eye lay at the forward edge of a body that could flatten a wall, not with a furious charge but with a mindful harnessing of colossal weight and strength of will. He was considering what to do. This bull was dangerous.

He began to eat, ripping up hanks of grass with his tongue whilst walking slowly but never diverting his eye from me. This grazing was subterfuge, getting me to think he was not charging while slyly gaining ground. I had heard of bulls working out how to kill someone and this felt premeditated. Perhaps it was payment for some mistreatment he had experienced; perhaps his hormones were pumped by the cows and his blood was up; perhaps something had woken inside that boulder of a skull, some wild bullness was taking over from thousands of years of domestication. It was going to be existential for both of us.

***

The stand-off fortunately ends peacefully. The author, heart pounding, manages to assert the farmer’s ‘ancient claim’ to authority and sends the bull on his way.

spring fever
the farm gate swung wide
for the bull

Michele L. Harvey
from The Heron’s Nest 19.4 (2017)

This in-your-face haiku was written by Issa in 1812:

山吹にぶらりと牛のふぐり哉
yamabuki ni burari to ushi no fuguri kana

dangling
in the yellow roses
the bull’s balls

Translator David Lanoue says: “Here, as often in Issa, we find a startling juxtaposition. Fearlessly and without self-censorship, he presents what he sees. And also, as often is the case, after the initial shock of the image wears off, we find deeper connections to ponder. The bull’s testicles and the roses, after all, are sex organs.”

While researching for a forthcoming post, I discovered that in Japanese literature ‘yellow roses’ are understood to be yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica), not a rose at all and without any thorns! (Which was worrying me a bit about the image above …)

vacation’s end
sunlight catches the ring
in a bull’s nostrils

Polona Oblak
from The Heron’s Nest 20.4 (2018)

‘Boy on Ox’ is a woodblock print by Ogata Gekko, made in about 1890-1910. Image: Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dr Eleanor Z. Wallace

Like Paul Chambers’ haiku that opens this posting, American poet Richard Wright subverts the typical view of a bull as one of uber-masculinity.

Coming from the woods,
a bull has a lilac sprig
dangling from a horn

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Japan holds regular bullfights (togyu), held in front of paying crowds, which are a recognised folk custom. Unlike Spain however, there are no matadors and picadors; the bulls simply lock horns with one another and push. The bouts are run along the lines of sumo wrestling matches and no animals are put to death as part of the spectacle. Indeed, it seems the bulls are fed well and treated better. Read more here. The Choju-giga scrolls, painted from the mid-12th century to the end of the 13th century, are the earliest record of bullfighting in Japan.

small country town
the bull’s rosette
in the butcher’s window

Pamela Brown
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

noon sun
the bull
in a knife’s reflection

Mary Weiler
from Presence 55 (2016)

It’s in the detail

One of the most common remarks I make about a haiku I’ve particularly enjoyed is that it’s ‘well observed’ or ‘nicely observed’, meaning that I appreciate the detail that either makes me look afresh at something I know well or offers me something brand new to ‘see’ and think about.

Haiku are all about observation, switching on all of our senses, and yet … It’s easy to sketch out an idea but harder to be diligent with the editing process to try and realise the full potential of a poem. Just now I have six ideas and part-written haiku jotted on the back of a piece of a recycled paper – it’s not often I have this many haiku written in the space of a day or two so I need to get on while that part of my brain is working!

The haiku featured today have all arrested my reading when I’ve come across them recently. It’s in the detail ….

morning snow
the footsteps from a grave
size 4

Lew Watts
from Presence 66 (2020)

winter lamb
a little ma
in its baa

Francine Banwarth
from Frogpond 43.1 (2020)

What I love about Francine’s haiku is that it works delightfully just as it’s written, plus there’s a twist in that ‘ma’ is a Japanese word denoting white/negative space and is a technique used in haiku. I have seen the technique described by Alan Summers as: … not putting all of the information into the writing, and using space as a way to  suggest there is more to see, ‘look closer between the lines, and even between the words’.

a gentle tug
of the magician’s silks …
crocuses!

Claire Everitt
from Presence 66 (2020)

calendar page
     a tiny November
          in the corner of December 

Laurie D. Morrissey
from Modern Haiku 50.3 (2019)

stars at dawn:
the clatter of small change
on the coffee shop counter

Chad Lee Robinson
from his e-book Rope Marks (Snapshot Press, 2012)

higgs boson
my eyelids
feel so heavy

Gregory Piko
from NOON 16 (2020)

The big, wide world

New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2 on May 14, which gives us more freedoms – shops and cafes can open, we can socialise in groups of up to 10, etc – but it’s still restrictive. I suppose the fear is that if we move to ‘normal’ too quickly a second wave of coronavirus will break over us and we’ll have to go back to our self-isolating bubbles, which might be hard to do once they’re fully popped.

Our political leadership has been exemplary over this period – decisive and clear – but  chaos is creeping in as we move into the lower Alert Levels. Too many people were out and about last weekend, despite Level 3 restrictions not being that different from those of Level 4. People queuing for junk food/coffee too close together, hundreds of people exercising/strolling on public footpaths. Sad and aggravating at the same time.

So not quite freedom, not yet. And now that I’m used to being at home all day and every day I’m finding it hard to get my head into the space beyond my own front gate!

Here are some haiku that celebrate the world outside that gate.

what would it hurt
to open the door
windflowers

Mimi Ahern
from Windflowers (Red Moon Press, 2020)

bobbing up the riverbank
the dust of a rabbit
skipping stones

Marion Moxham
from number eight wire (Piwakawaka Press, 2019)

the night sky
away from the campfire
our small words

paul m
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

lakeside geese –
my map takes off
in the wind

Martha Magenta
from Presence 63 (2019)

Since I chose this haiku of Martha’s to use, I’ve heard of her death from cancer. Hopefully, she’s flying free now too.

field of dandelions
thousands of wishes
go unused

Adelaide B Shaw
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

herd of deer
my road through
their togetherness

Mary Stevens
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1 (2020)

beach innings
three driftwood stumps
and a dog at mid on

Tony Beyer
from number eight wire

morning glory –
gently the postman
opens the gate

Robert Gilliland
from Another Trip Around the Sun

prairie canola
a hitchhiker cradles the name
of a far port

LeRoy Gorman
from Presence 66 (2020)

Confinement

I sent out a ‘how are you’ email to friends around the world, have heard back from most of them, but haven’t yet replied to anyone as I feel there’s nothing to say. The story remains the same – Alert Level 3 seems very much like Alert Level 4, except there’s more online shopping to be had and the possibility of purchasing hot food. There’s another jigsaw puzzle on the table … did more gardening … did the housework (again) … played cards with the other two members of the household (again) … watched some stuff on TV/DVD (again) …

It feels as if my internal battery is running low and nothing is giving me much joy. Six weeks of being largely confined to my own property (city section) is wearing thin.  Hopefully, this week we may know when the ‘remain in your bubble’ directive will be lifted but gatherings, including clubs, may still be restricted.

I have a friend who’s keen on astrology and regularly makes decisions large and small based on what she ‘reads’ from her charts. She warned me at the end of last year that 2020 was going to be difficult. All year. Then watch out for 2024!

Searching out haiku to feature always improves my mood, so let’s do it! This selection speaks to me of confinement, so just to prove I’m not losing the plot, the next posting will be haiku that somehow say ‘freedom’.

windswept beach
my father’s voice at the other end
of a tin-can phone

Lucy Whitehead
from Windflowers anthology (Red Moon Press, 2020)

longest night
in the self-checkout lane
just me and this machine

Victor Ortiz
from Windflowers anthology (Red Moon Press, 2020)

shorter kisses
longer quarrels –
winter solstice

Eric Ammann
from A Haiku Mind (Shambhala, 2008)

dusting
her little vases
this is my devotion

Owen Bullock
from number eight wire (Piwakawaka Press, 2019)

glowing embers
I tell her a story
she already knows

Rick Tarquinio
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

to-do list
the pear
ripens

Patsy Turner
from number eight wire (Piwakawaka Press, 2019)

april showers …
weeding
the bookcase

Julie Warther
from Another Trip Around the Sun anthology (Brooks Books, 2019)

music box winding down
waiting
for 
the
last
.

Catherine Moxham
from number eight wire (Piwakawaka Press, 2019)

Carnegie free libraries

Writing about the Mechanics’ Institute libraries (see below) reminded me that I’ve also come across a Carnegie Library or two.

The Carnegie Library in Port Townsend, Washington state, USA, built in about 1913. The building and its 1990 annexe were refurbished in 2014. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the richest man of his age, built his first free library in 1883 in Scotland, the land of his birth and, as his fortune multiplied, decided to share the love by donating libraries that were – unlike the Mechanics’ Institute versions – entirely free. No annual subscriptions, no borrowing fees. Under Carnegie’s terms all persons over 14 years of age residing in the borough should be able to take out one book free per week, with those paying a subscription able to borrow a further two books.

In total he and the Carnegie Corporation were responsible for 2509 libraries in the United States, Britain and Ireland, Canada, Australia, the Caribbean, Fiji and New Zealand (which ended up with 18 libraries to Australia’s four).

The Carnegie Library in Suva, Fiji photographed on June 6, 1950 by Whites Aviation Ltd. The library opened in 1909 and is still in use today. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library

Carnegie hadn’t become wealthy by being a fool so there were a few rules and regulations. After some shoddy construction and poor designs came to his attention, he issued standard building plans or required that all local plans and speci­fications be vetted by his staff before construction. Following completion of the building, a council was required to send him photographs showing how his money had been spent and that construction complied with what he had approved.

Still, it was a pretty big gift horse that was, naturally, looked in the mouth by a few …

At least one library in New Zealand, Hastings, was called to account after a local resident wrote to Carnegie complaining about the charges. These appear to have then been dropped, only for the council to be caught again after the library building was destroyed in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. The council applied to the Carnegie Corporation of New York (which Carnegie had endowed in 1911) for funds to rebuild the library. The Corporation declined, noting the council had not abided by the conditions of the original grant.

The last Carnegie library in New Zealand opened in Marton in 1916 – one of only two original Carnegie libraries in this country that is still in use (the other is in Balclutha). That year Carnegie received a report concluding, after the author had visited 100 Carnegie libraries, that money would be better invested in supporting the training of library personnel, which is what happened from 1917.

Read a NZ Geographic article about Carnegie and his libraries.