Blergh

For weeks I’ve been like the guy in The Matrix, dodging the bullet of late winter illness. First Haiku Husband went down, then Haiku Teenager, but me, no. Stayed well, stayed active. Until yesterday. Blergh. Today is rainy and dark which suits how I’m feeling.

mizubana ya hanano saki dake kure nokoru

my runny nose –
everywhere but on its dewdrop
the twilight fades

– Ryunosuke, 1892-1927
from The British Museum Haiku (edited by David Cobb), 2002

Ryunosuke is regarded as the father of the Japanese short story. Read more about him here.

An empty sickbed:
An indented white pillow
In weak winter sun

– Richard Wright, 1908-1960
from his entry at the Terebess Asia Online website

But this isn’t a death-bed illness, just some days of feeling miserable and sneezing fit to bust! And maybe a cough setting in. It will pass and I’ll be as good as new again, just have to be patient (heh) and let the darn thing run its course.

signing my will
on my hands a smell
of growing things

– Sandra Simpson
from Building a Time Machine, NZPS anthology, 2012

Woman of Words

Thrilled to make the acquaintance of the Woman of Words artwork in Wellington last month – a tribute to Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand’s greatest writer, by sculptor Virginia King that was unveiled in 2013. Read King’s story about the work here, including the detail of references within the work.

The seam on the face is deliberate, a nod to the masks that KM often wore or felt she wore. Isn’t the ‘shopping list’ hair just a perfect depiction of a woman’s mind? Photo: Sandra Simpson

Not long before our trip to Wellington, I bought a copy of Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand by poet and Mansfield scholar Vincent O’Sullivan, a collection of photos of KM or from her era with commentary and KM quotes that brings to life her time and milieu in this country. Mansfield was born in Wellington in 1888, leaving for good to live in London in 1908 and dying in Fontainebleau, France in 1923. She is known for her short stories (she also wrote poetry but it hasn’t stood the test of time) and one novella, The Aloe, a longer version of Prelude, that was edited and published after her death by her husband John Middleton Murry.

In Wellington we walked part of the way to the Pencarrow lighthouse (didn’t have enough time to do the whole track) and on the way out and back stopped in Day’s Bay for nourishment. For me, Day’s Bay is essential KM territory so imagine my delight when I spied a sign that said ‘Katherine Mansfield House’. Haiku husband found a park and we walked back to it, and lucked upon a chatty workman.

It was being renovated after a storm, he said. Read a 2013 news report about that here. Nothing original left, he said. And how right he was.

The O’Sullivan book contains a photo of the cottage which was built in 1906 for the Beauchamps (KM was born Kathleen Beauchamp), a tiny, single-storey dwelling, although the family had been going to Day’s Bay for summer holidays since the 1890s.

The book also includes a quote from her journal in 1907: “I sit in the small poverty-stricken living room, the one and only room which the cottage contains, with the exception of a cabin-like bedroom filled with bunks, and an outhouse with a bath and wood cellar, coal-cellar complete. On one hand is the sea, stretching right up to the yard; on the other the bush growing close down almost to my front door.”

The Day’s Bay house under renovation. The single-storey section to the left may have been the original cottage. The front door was in the centre between the windows. The porch appears to be the same. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Today, the sea is still at the back door and the only road in and out of Day’s Bay around the coast to Wellington is virtually at the front door.

As the morning lengthened whole parties appeared over the sand-hills and came down to the beach to bathe. It was understood that at eleven o’clock the women and children of the summer colony had the sea to themselves. First the women undressed, pulled on their bathing dresses and covered their heads in hideous caps like sponge-bags; then the children were unbuttoned. The beach was strewn with little heaps of clothes and shoes; the big summer hats, with stones on them to keep them from blowing away, looked like immense shells. It was strange that even the sea seemed to sound differently when all those leaping, laughing figures ran into the waves.

  • From At the Bay by Katherine Mansfield (published 1922)

Read the whole story here, courtesy of the Katherine Mansfield Society.

Detail from the Woman of Words artwork. At night the sculpture is lit from within. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Good reads

I’ve been enjoying a couple of good books so thought I would share …

The Deep End of the Sky is Chad Lee Robinson’s award-winning collection from Turtlelight Press (click on the link for ordering details if you’re in North America, otherwise find out about ordering through The Book Depository which includes free shipping). Chad runs a chatty blog with the same name as his book.

The haiku are about the American prairies – Chad is a native of South Dakota – and capture the spaces and silences of the landscapes and lives there.

roadside stand
cornhuskers talk
with their hands

– Chad Lee Robinson

The wraparound cover image is perfect and the typeface, paper and internal images give the book something of a vintage feel. The haiku aren’t old-fashioned in the sense that they use well-worn images or the language of past decades. No, they’re old-fashioned in the best sense of having integrity, honesty, character and wisdom.

my body thinner these days I hear more of the wind

– Chad Lee Robinson

I have a soft spot for haiku that express the truths of working on the land so, as you might imagine, I have been thoroughly enjoying this slim volume.

watermelons
the weight of our grunts
breaks an axle

– Chad Lee Robinson

Hard to believe that this is Chad’s first book – I have been admiring his haiku for years. He is a very assured writer.

Roberta Beary, meanwhile, is one of the bravest poets I know. If she sees something she doesn’t like she speaks up but she also doesn’t shy away from examining her own life and writing about what she finds there, or from using traumatic events to create poems – read an interview with Roberta about some of that process in creating Deflection.

Deflection is a new collection of poems, some of which are haiku but all of which are inflected with a haiku sensibility – close observation and pared-back language (see here for purchase details).

with knife in hand
my son’s lover dissects
the last white peach

– Roberta Beary

The collection also includes some haibun (prose + haiku) and these add another layer of perception to a collection about the process of grief and grieving – Roberta lost her mother and nephew in quick succession, and had cared for her mother for 5 years as she had been steadily lost to dementia.

autumn coolness enters a hand long held in mine

– Roberta Beary, from the haibun Nighthawks

Deflection begins with a poem, 57 Varieties, that features a woman for whom “the switch is off”, and ends with What Remains, a haibun that contains this final paragraph:

You leave us with one last story. It is 4 o’clock in the morning. A police car sets its revolving light on a mother’s house. The shadow of two men appear. The front door opens. One man is a policeman. This is where the story ends. The other man is a priest. This is where the story begins.

To which, I can only inadequately say, wow! The choppy sentences perfectly convey what happens when dread and shock knock on the door, how ‘unreal’ reality becomes in a heartbeat, how all the mess and clutter and busy-ness of our daily lives become dust in our mouths and we are left with only elemental pain and grief.

Deflection is full of powerful writing by a poet at the height of her powers, do check it out.

Sharp blades drumming

Yesterday turned into a wet day (much, much worse further south on the island so not complaining) so I dived into the video store and hired some DVDs.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a delightful documentary looking at the work (which it turns out is also the life) of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who has three Michelin stars for his nine-seater restaurant in a Tokyo railway station. A food writer says dining there may take 15 minutes – which probably makes it the most expensive restaurant in the world. Although no mention was made of whale meat, there was plenty of discussion about tuna. Anyway, it seemed serendipitous to discover this haiku, new to me.    

                     whale-meat market 
sharp blades
 
drumming

– Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

The translation is by Stephen Addiss and appears in his book The Art of Haiku (Shambhala Publications, 2012). There are amazingly sharp blades featured throughout the film.

.貰ふたよ只一切のはつ松魚
morauta yo tada hito kire no hatsu-gatsuo

my portion
just a tiny slice …
summer’s first bonito

– Issa, written in 1824

Translated by David Lanoue and from his Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828). This note also appears: Shinji Ogawa explains, “Bonito swim along the Black Current (or Japan Current), from the Philippine Sea to the northern sea around Hokkaido. They pass near Tokyo (Edo) in spring [old calendar = summer] on their way north. They return to pass Tokyo in the fall on their way back to the south.” In haiku, bonito is a summer season word.

Horse Mackerel and Prawns, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Towards the end of the film Jiro, who was abandoned by his family when he was seven years old, and his older son Yoshikazu bemoan the small numbers of fish available, and that the quality is more variable than in the past. They believe part of the problem is the proliferation of sushi bars throughout the world (I had the impression they didn’t much care for the conveyor belt outfits).

桜えびすしに散らして今日ありぬ
sakura ebi sushi ni shirashite kyoo arinu

cherryblossom shrimps
sprinkled on my sushi —
what a fine day!

Hosomi Ayako (1907-1997)

Translated by Gabi Greve and taken from her World Kigo Database page for Raw Fish, which includes this note: The shrimps are a speciality of Suruga Bay, Sagami Bay and a few others, where they are caught and dried on the shore, with Mt. Fuji in the background … Eating them brings the pleasant feeling of spring, even in winter.

Bowl of Sushi, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Mid-winter evening,
alone at the sushi bar —
just me and this eel

– Billy Collins, from Modern Haiku 35.3 (2004)

ひとみ元消化器なりし冬青空
Hitomi moto / shôkaki narishi / fuyu-aozora

eyes used to be
digestive organs —
winter blue sky

– Yukihiko Settsu (1947-1996)

Translated by Keiji Minato and taken from his essay Notes on Modern Haiku, section 3.

Gochisōsama deshita! (Said after a meal by those who have enjoyed eating it – I hope you like / enjoy these haiku as much as I have.)

Choosing carefully

Gion alley –
I follow the tsunami
on her kimono

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 9 (Japan)

Obi detail seen near Kyoto Station. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When I saw this obi (the waist sash around a kimono) I knew that one day I would use it in a haiku – it just seemed so different to the others that I had seen on my all-too-brief stay in Kyoto, which were mostly flowers, butterflies, leaves and embroidered balls. This obi design seemed so very strong, almost masculine (had it belonged to the wearer’s father?), and it appears to be depicting something rough and tough, rather than something delicate and pretty.

When I came to the word choice for my haiku, tsunami seemed to me to contain more possibilities for readers than, say, typhoon –  after a quick online check the latter turns out to be a Chinese word (taifu in Japanese). The editor of NOON lives in Japan so, whew!

Gion is an old area of Kyoto, best known for its geisha (called geiko in Kyoto). Westerners seem to think Gion is something akin to a red-light area but geisha are not prostitutes, rather highly trained entertainers who can be hired for an hour or a night (although I have played on the Western misunderstanding in my haiku).

Trainees (maiko) are taught to sing, dance, play a musical instrument, understand Japan’s highly nuanced etiquette and be good conversationalists. The one my group met had no questions for us after we had questioned her about her training and background, and the older geisha accompanying her advised (in Japanese) “next time have something to ask them”.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (1760-1849). Image: Wikipedia

Made in about 1830, this woodblock print, often known simply as The Great Wave, was the first in the artist’s Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji and is now one of the best-known pieces of Japanese art in the world. Adding to the popularity of this print at the time, was its extensive use of the new synthetic colour pigment Prussian blue, which gave a greater range of shades of blue and a greater depth of colour.

her kimono sleeve
brushes
the first blossom –
spring wind

– Sandra Simpson, Famous Reporter (Australia, 2010)

Patiently posing during Haiku Pacific Rim in Australia in 2009 (amid the lingering affects of a dust storm) was Japanese poet Mariko Kitakubo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

John O’Connor 1949-2015

It is with sadness that I write about the passing of my friend John O’Connor of Christchurch, a leading figure in haiku in New Zealand. Read something of his life and about his work here.

John was an extraordinarily able poet and his appreciation of my work meant a great deal to me … although I was able to tease him after his judge’s report for last year’s NZPS Haiku Contest. In it, he wrote: “To go further [with your haiku] have a look at the Poetry Society’s website – it has plenty of excellent advice put together by Sandra Simpson, one of our leading haiku poets” … but he omitted to choose one of my haiku for the (lengthy) prizelist! We decided we were both red-faced, as he genuinely thought there was something by me among his choices. It was always good hearing him laugh.

obit page –
the face of an old friend
stares out

– John O’Connor

                        Looking back through mist – 
unable to see who passed.

– John O’Connor, after Shiki

In our last phone call just a few days before he died, we did plenty of laughing. I will miss his friendship and his kindness but, above all, I will miss the poems he had still to write.

Top of their game

Much excitement this week as two superb books by two superb poets arrived in my letterbox.

First to land was The Bone Carver by Ron Moss of Tasmania, published by Snapshot Press in the UK, and what a fine looking volume it is. Ron is also a talented photographer and painter, and the cover image is one of his own photos – I can’t believe this is his first collection as he seems to have been writing at the top of his game for ages.

Ron Moss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

valley mist …
running my finger over
the curve of a twig

– Ron Moss

It’s that “curve” that elevates this from a good haiku to an excellent haiku, isn’t it? I don’t often ponder word choice when I’m writing but this poem is a good kick on the shins to remind me to pay attention to all aspects of my work. It contains a vivid sensation (running my finger over) and the nice soft (misty) “v” and “f” sounds.

April 17 update: Ron has just emailed to advise The Bone Carver has today been named as the winner of a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award! Well done, that man.

The other book I was delighted to receive yesterday was the doors all unlocked by Carolyn Hall of California, published by Red Moon Press, another poet I admire greatly.

Carolyn Hall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

unlabelled shapes
from the back of the freezer
winter stars

– Carolyn Hall

Anyone who has a freezer should recognise this poem, “unlabelled shapes” is a perfect description of … well, what? Pieces of meat, vegetables, fruit? Something which at the time we thought worthwhile to save and enjoy on another day but, being human, thought we would always recognise or didn’t have a marker pen to hand (or it’s been there so long the marker’s worn off). The “winter stars” leads me back to the package not being a neat rectangle. I like the humour of this.

I thought it might be fun to find haiku on similar themes in both books – for me it’s always interesting seeing what poets do with the same idea – but then I thought, what the heck, let’s just have another from each. Ladies first, this time.

colourless wind
the ashes
that don’t scatter

– Carolyn Hall

from someone’s baby a smile that knows me

– Ron Moss

Both are regularly published in The Heron’s Nest – Ron was voted Poet of the Year for 2014 by readers, with one of his haiku elected as Poem of the Year. Read those results here. Carolyn was Poet of the Year in 2011 and was first runner-up in 2008. In the current issue a haiku by Carolyn is the Editor’s Choice. the doors all unlocked received an honourable mention in the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards in 2012.

I’ve recently been gifted a copy of fresh paint, the towpath haiku society anthology for 2015, edited by Roberta Beary and published by Red Moon Press. It’s a small book, pocket sized, that is lovingly produced and a nice thing to have, especially as I’m introduced to poets new to me.

merry-go-round all lit up      the galaxy

– Kirsten Deming

waiting room
how this blood test
is a poem

– Jimmy Aaron (Peach)

The towpath haiku society, founded in 1995, is based in the Washington DC area and named for the C & O Canal (Chesapeake & Ohio) that links Washington DC with Cumberland in Maryland – 184 miles (296km) – with the towpath these days a popular walking and cycling trail.