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.

Butterflies, books & glitches

I wrote a post yesterday after I got home from a casual shift at my old work place – a stupendous piece of writing, insightful and witty (says she), but which has been lost to the world thanks to a piece of software. When I started to panic I checked WordPress forums and, sure enough, there were others who thought the automatic “draft saved” message that flashes up every so often would have, well, saved a version to the WordPress server.

Turns out not to be so if you’re using the new version (beep, beep, boop) in which to create your masterpiece – it saves it to your browser, except that for many people it doesn’t! So, here I am, back in the old version of editor because this “unimproved” version does actually save a draft to WordPress.

Right, where was I …

After thinking that we would not raise any monarch butterflies this year, the past 10 days or so have seen at least one hatch every day. Once the predatory wasps changed their diet, around the end of February, we suddenly had little gold-spotted green chrysalis hanging all over the place.

We had tried moving caterpillars to a covered swan plant but they just seemed to disappear, very few made it through to butterfly stage, so wasps must have been getting in and out without being noticed.

Freshly hatched monarchs are such a wonder with their vivid colours and markings – and quite scratchy feet too if you guide one on to your hand to release. Maybe these late-season hatchlings will be the butterflies that overwinter and start the life cycle process again in the spring.

sun-soaked chrysalis
no one sees
the effort

– Julie Warther, from The Heron’s Nest 2014 anthology, volume 16

Photo: Sandra Simpson

snowmelt
a chrysalis unlocks
its code for wings

– Lorin Ford, from the big data anthology for 2014,
originally published in paper wasp

The latest Heron’s Nest anthology arrived in my letter box this week – 176 pages of great reading. As well as collecting all the haiku published throughout 2014, the volume includes the Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award winners and judge’s comments, and Readers’ Choice awards.

Here’s another haiku from it, one to mark Easter …

stained glass
the way christ responds
to march sunlight

– Robert Epstein

Kokako 22 also arrived by post recently and is another nicely produced edition. Co-editor Margaret Beverland surprised me at the beginning of the week by saying that New Zealand subscribers are in the minority! This is our only journal dedicated to haiku, tanka, etc – the only place where we don’t have to explain our haiku or add a link – so it’s worrying that Kokako isn’t more strongly supported in New Zealand. Or maybe the problem is that the haiku community in this country is dwindling. Are there new writers coming on? Make yourselves known! Read subscription and submission details for Kokako here.

                ironing after midnight the creases in her face

– Andre Surridge, Kokako 22

I also enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek haiku, boy, haven’t I been here more times than I care to remember!

contest results
golden flowers swirl
down the gutter

– Barbara Strang, Kokako 22

But the drought has broken! I was notified last week that I’ve won this year’s Free XpresSion Haiku Contest (Australia). Skippy jumps and hand claps!

planning her eulogy      jars of carefully labelled seeds

– Sandra Simpson

I’ve also had a few acceptances dating back to around the beginning of the year – A Hundred Gourds (March and the coming June issue), Speed Bump journal (January and the coming April issue), Wild Plum inaugural issue, is/let (March 9 posting) and a forthcoming edition of NOON, among them.

is/let and NOON both look for “progressive” or avant-garde work, which is not a style  that comes naturally, although does happen occasionally, so pleased to have work with both of them.

h  ill   stop
hear  tin  m  years
wind        swords

– Sandra Simpson, is/let

An email at the beginning of February advised that some of my work had been named as a Finalist in the RaedLeaf Haiku Contest in India and would be published in an anthology. Great, except the contest closed on August 6, 2014 so this was a long time to wait for notification – 6 months – and I then had to ask which poem/poems had been selected as they hadn’t said.

The February email says “You may share your works elsewhere a month from the publication date which will be duly notified to you”. And I haven’t heard a word since – and that’s now 9 months, plenty of time for gestation, so here’s one of the haiku.

my mother’s pallbearers
all tall men –
rain just when we need it

– Sandra Simpson, RaedLeaf anthology (forthcoming)

Big data

The latest edition of the Red Moon anthologies is out – 148 poets in the haiku section, plus “linked forms” (renku and haibun) and essays. The annuals purport to contain the best English-language haiku published in any given year and, speaking on my own behalf as the editor for the South Pacific region, editors read widely to source their nominations.

Big Data is $US17, plus postage, available through the Red Moon Press website.

Here’s a sampler from some of the male poets:

distant thunder
whatever else
he was my father

– Dave Russo, US

sky the stars haven’t used
a life longer
than Napoleon’s

– Gary Hotham, US

wondering
who my neighbour murdered
sickle moon

– Brendan Slater, England

Included in the book is a haiku by Ron Moss of Tasmania in Australia. Ron last night launched a new book of his work, the bone carver, at an event in Hobart. It has been published by Snapshot Press and you can find purchase details there. He’s an exceptional poet – and artist – so it would be money well spent.

Another exceptional poet with a book in the pipeline is Chad Lee Robinson of Pierre in South Dakota (also in Big Data). Chad has started a blog, The Deep End of the Sky, which is the name of his forthcoming collection.

The Heron’s Nest runs a reader vote competition each year to decide the favourite poem and favourite poet of the year – yours truly won both titles in 2014 (ahem) – with Ron C Moss (yep, the same fella) taking out both titles this year.

old horses
days of endless rain
in their eyes

– Ron C Moss

Go here to read a commentary on the haiku (scroll down). And go here to read the full list of winners. I made it into the Other Popular Poets list, hurrah. The Heron’s Nest produces a paper copy each April, a volume of all the work that has appeared online the year before. It’s well worth purchasing and you can find the ordering information here.

Junicho fun at THF

There’s a junicho (12-verse renku) starting at The Haiku Foundation – the call for a hokku (first verse) has just gone out. I’m leading the poem so do please come on over and join in!

There’s an introduction to the junicho form available on the site, so no need to feel shy. The Renku Sessions are designed to be a learning process. Be nice to see some familiar “faces” there.