Midwinter Tales

Today, June 21, is midwinter in the Southern Hemisphere and on Friday, June 24 we will have our first public holiday to mark Matariki, or the Māori New Year. The rising of the star cluster Matariki, also known as Pleiades (ancient Greece), Subaru (Japan) and the Seven Sisters, was for Māori a time for remembrance of those who have died in the past year, celebrating the present and looking to the future. Observation of the stars were used to predict aspects of the coming year, such as the weather and the likelihood of a good harvest. Click on the link to read more about the traditions of Matariki.

the afternoon full
of swooping birds –
first day of matariki

Sandra Simpson
Kokako 23 (2015)

the price of kumara on the rise matariki

Sandra Simpson
Kokako 26 (2017)

Read more about kumara, the sweet potato brought by early Polynesian settlers to New Zealand. This year it’s the price of cabbage that’s making the news, thanks mostly to the tornado that ripped through market-gardening areas in Horowhenua in May.

Having the year start in midwinter is, of course, natural for those in the Northern Hemisphere, but for the rest of us, our calendar year starts in high summer. Having lived north of the equator for several years, all I can say is that celebrating Christmas, particularly, in winter makes much more sense.

winter starlight
the sound of the tuning fork
goes on forever

Lorin Ford
naad anunaad anthology (2016)

third trimester
scanning the cloudy night sky
for the twins

Judson Evans
Fire in the Treetops anthology (2015)

Right on cue yesterday, the temperature fell dramatically during the afternoon with an icy feel to the air.

its own slant
on the weather

Marion Moxham
number eight wire anthology (2019)

solstice supper
the slow path
of the can opener

Brad Bennett
The Heron’s Nest 24.2 (2022)

winter solstice …
the reverse side
of her needlepoint

Julie Warther
Another Trip Around the Sun anthology (2019)

For the next few days the Australian Haiku Society is hosting a Winter Solstice String, open to poets from anywhere in the world. Click on the link to visit the site.


The Fire of Joy

I have been dipping into The Fire of Joy: Roughly eighty poems to get by heart and say aloud, the final book by Clive James, published the year after his death in 2019. Read an obituary for this multi-talented man, born in Australia but for most of his life domiciled in England.

One of the poems included is Basho in Ireland by Billy Collins, which opens with these stanzas:

I am like the Japanese poet
who longed to be in Kyoto
even though he was already in Kyoto.

I am not exactly like him
because I am not Japanese
and I have no idea what Kyoto is like

The haiku being referenced is by Basho (translation by Robert Hass):

even  in Kyoto
hearing the cuckoo’s cry
       I long for Kyoto.

Clive James comments:

“Early in the poem the trick [faux-naivete] falters, when he claims not to know what Kyoto is like. Five strokes on the computer keyboard would give him pages of information about what Kyoto is like. (We have entered the age in which, in relation to anything at all, total ignorance is impossible; which makes feigning it a lost cause.)

“I have actually sat on a wooden bench at the edge of the Moss Garden of the Ryoan-ji in Kyoto and seen how the raked gravel approximates the movement of the waves as they crash motionlessly forever towards the rocks. I might have done better to have seen it on a computer screen, where I would have been less likely, as I sat in mystic contemplation, to have been assaulted by the voices of other Westerners who had also come a long way to look at it yet seemed to have missed the implied requirement for silence and reflection.”

Part of the stone garden at Royan-ji. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Billy Collins’ poem finishes like this:

which reminds me
of another Japanese poet

who wrote how much he enjoyed
not being able to see
his favourite mountain because of all the fog.

The haiku referenced here is likely this one by Issa, translation by David G Lanoue, who notes that according to Makoto Ueda, the poem refers to a scenic lookout on Yushima Hill in Tokyo:

for three pennies
nothing but mist…

Clive James comments, “By now in my own life, I have reached the point where Collins’ second unnamed poet is the ideal speaker: the one who wrote how much he enjoyed not being able to see the mountain because of the fog. The poet was saying, surely, that he had got to the point where he didn’t need the mountain any more because seeing the fog was enough.”