A Regional Voice

With the free online Haiku Down Under on the near horizon, I’ve been thinking about regional voices in haiku. A presentation I’m looking forward to is ‘A Showcase of Haiku from Aotearoa New Zealand presented in English and Te Reo Māori’ with Sue Courtney and Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) on October 8 at 1pm (NZT).

Te wero is the challenge made to the visitors by the hosts during a powhiri.

I don’t know whether this senryu is included among the translations done by Vaughan, but my ponderings on a regional voice led me straight to it.

powhiri –
women sit behind the men
guessing who farted

Karen Peterson Butterworth
Third place, NZPS Haiku Contest 2004

If we take it line by line, I hope non-New Zealand readers will begin to get the vertical axis as described by Haruo Shirane in his essay Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson & Modern Haiku Myths. “In other words, there were two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems … If Basho and Buson were to look at English-language haiku today, they would see the horizontal axis, the focus on the present, on the contemporary world, but they would probably feel that the vertical axis, the movement across time, was largely missing.” I believe the vertical axis also includes traditional cultural elements, as these carry us back into the past and across time.

(Next day update, pronunciation guide: poh-fi-ree.)

In Karen’s haiku L1 sets the scene by using a single, yet rich word full of cultural significance. A powhiri is a formal welcome of visitors/strangers on to a marae or meeting place. There are protocols to be followed by hosts and guests, including a kaikaranga (woman caller) who begins the karanga (call or summons), to which the manuhiri kaikaranga (visitors’ woman caller) responds. The intent is to remove the tapu (taboo) from the visitors to keep the marae safe (this is a simplistic explanation of the purposes of tapu and tapu-lifting). A powhiri also includes speeches, songs and food so that one word carries a lot of freight.

After the karanga and challenge, visitors are slowly led into the wharenui (meeting house), which itself is a ‘living record’ of the people it represents. Men sit at the front and women at the back. I have been told that this is the modern take on the old custom of male warriors protecting women by having them at their backs. So there’s some clarity around L2. The fact the women are sitting behind the men is not accidental. (Please note that this seating custom may vary by iwi, but is what I have experienced in Tauranga Moana.)

Non-Maori women can find this ‘relegation’ hard to take – along with the fact that on almost all marae women do not have the right to participate in the formal speeches. Instead, so I’ve been told, while the women are in the kitchen making food for a crowd that day and the day before, they discuss things, network, make decisions, and “tell the men what to say”. How true this is, I don’t know but I like the subversion of it.

Which brings me to the big smile of L3. Yes, the men may have the privilege of having their voice heard on the marae, but the women aren’t impressed by that one bit. Someone farts, they’ll say.

… Basho believed that the poet had to work along both axes. To work in the present only would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai was, by definition, anti-traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. Rather, it depended upon the past and on earlier texts and associations for its richness – Haruo Shirane

Karen’s poem, for me at least, has pleasant echoes of a much earlier one which as Haruo Shirane says, gives it a richness.

letting rip a fart –
it doesn’t make you laugh
when you live alone

Karai Senryu (1718-90)

And, yes, Karai Senryu (river willow), real name Karai Haciemon, was the originator of the senryu poem.


Poems for a Momentous Occasion

A man with a bouquet of flowers waits to view the cortege carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in Ballater, a village in Scotland, near Balmoral Castle where the Queen died on September 8. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Floral Tribute

Evening will come, however determined the late afternoon,
Limes and oaks in their last green flush, pearled in September mist.
I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks,
Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.
A promise made and kept for life – that was your gift –
Because of which, here is a gift in return, glovewort to some,
Each shining bonnet guarded by stern lance-like leaves.
The country loaded its whole self into your slender hands,
Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century’s weight.

Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.
Lily of the Valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower
Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained
Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence
A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day
Breaks uncrowned on remote peaks and public parks, and
Everything turns on these luminous petals and deep roots,
This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness
Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.

Simon Armitage, Poet laureate (UK) has written Floral Tribute to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Glovewort is an old name for lily of the valley.

Queen Elizabeth II at the 1967 North of Scotland Gun Dog Association Open Stake Retreiver Trials in the grounds of Balmoral Castle. Photo: Central Press / Getty Images


The alder boughs hang heavy,
Red weighs the rowan-trees
That line the well-loved path which climbs
To Lochnagar from Dee

And knows at last the open hill,
Those ancient wind-honed heights
Where deer stand shy and sky-lined,
Then vanish from living sight,

Where grief is ice, and history
Is distant roiling skies,
Where weather chases weather
Across the lands she strived

To serve, and served supremely well,
Till the call came from afar:
Back to the country kept in her heart,
the Dee, and Lochnagar.

Kathleen Jamie, Makar (national poet) of Scotland, has written Lochnagar to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II.