Haiku and the Great War

If you’re interested in the beginnings of haiku in the West, you may care to go and read Part 1 of a 2-part article I have written for Haiku NewZ.

This first part covers the beginning of World War 1, the vogue for Japonisme, the emergence of haiku in France, and the authors of early haiku in English.

Read Snapshots: Haiku in the Great War here.

Part 2 is being published to coincide with Armistice Day on November 11.

Recently published

painted snow falling
on painted branches –
a scent of camphor

Sandra Simpson, Presence 52

‘Snow at Zojoji Temple, Shiba’ by Kawase Hasui, 1925.

bamboo cutters
washing in green water –
a scent of tuberose

Sandra Simpson, Wild Plum 1:2

I recently bought some tuberose bulbs so must get out and plant them. A large jar of blooms was just inside the front door of our palatial room in Bali last year, a magnificent scent in the evening. The bamboo cutters were also seen in Bali, washing in a water channel after a day’s work.

prayer circle
the time it takes dust
to settle

Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 18.3

When I wrote the above haiku I hadn’t consciously appreciated that we are all dust (or waiting to be dust) but it struck me as I read it again now. I was being deep and didn’t even realise it!

mango juice –
a taxi driver updates me
on the cricket

Sandra Simpson, Kokako 23

The cricket haiku was written during a visit to Dubai in March, when the Cricket World Cup was being played in Australia and New Zealand. The Bangladeshi and Pakistani taxi drivers were all glued to games. Great fun talking to them.

Now, the Rugby World Cup is being played in the UK.

That’s the lot for now, although I have had acceptances for another five publications, very exciting!

Zine Craft workshop

My new job as publicist for this year’s Tauranga Arts Festival is going swimmingly and although I don’t intend to use this blog to overly promote that event, I thought I would mention a book-related workshop that may be of interest to people in New Zealand.

Dr Sydney Shep of Victoria University is leading a Zine Craft workshop on Saturday, October 31 from 10am to 3pm. Don’t know what a zine is? Read on …

Take a piece of paper, fold it, write and/or draw on it, photocopy it and, hey presto, you’ve made a zine, one of the world’s most dynamic forms of publishing.

“They started as short magazines, which is where the name comes from,” says Sydney Shep,  the director of Victoria University’s Wai-te-ata Press, “but they’ve become a popular medium that doesn’t require any degree of finesse to produce and have emancipated people in the process.”

Sydney will be leading the Zine Craft workshop at the Tauranga Arts Festival in October and says no prior skill or knowledge of book-making is required to join the class.

“We’re not going to be making a leather-bound book,” she says. “I hope to give participants a few skills so they can conceptualise a number of book forms.”

Although a book is generally “a codex between two boards”, paper can also be used to create concertina, carousel, star and tunnel books that become a part of the story.

A book of haiku made by John Holmes, the 2012 printer-in-residence at Otago University, for the When North Meets South exhibition. Photo: Ruth Arnison

“It’s just paper being folded and bound, but an amazing range of things can be produced. It’s a great opportunity to show the diversity of what a book is and what it means,” Sydney says.

“It’s a chance to make, a chance to think about the making process and a chance to work in forms that people may not know exist.”

Alan Clarke shows his tiny hand-made book of haiku and a proof sheet of pages at Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Christchurch in 2008. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sydney is also speaking at the festival, joining Harry Ricketts, the long-time editor of the quarterly review New Zealand Books, on November 1 to talk about how books have managed to not only stare down the electronic age, but thrive.

“There are more books being published today than in the 1990s,” she says. “It’s just that publishing is now an industry living in two worlds – there are certain kinds of information we want delivered quickly but we still love books as objects. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.”


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.

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

– 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.

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).

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)

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.)