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.

Down Under haiku news

The Haiku Down Under team have put together an exciting programme for the online event that takes place from October 7-9 so pop over to the website and have a look – and while you’re there make sure you register for this FREE set of talks and workshops. It’s a wonderful chance, especially if you’re in New Zealand or Australia, to strengthen community bonds, network, learn and, given the subtitle of ‘poetry from the edge’, do something different.

A journal with a notable Australian focus is Echidna Tracks which is currently issuing, day by day, its ninth edition with the theme ‘journeys’.

scattering sunset
a wedge
of black swans

Gavin Austin

curled up
in a kingfisher’s peep
the river’s weave

Nathan Sidney

a blizzard of petals —
we all laugh
in the same language

Sandra Simpson, published today (Aug 7)

I enjoyed this ‘Australiana’ tip of the hat to Robert Frost, while shivering at the thought of a snake, particularly a dangerous one.

coastal taipan . . .
I backtrack along a road
best not taken

Lorin Ford

The Australian Museum says about the coastal taipan snake that it is often regarded as the most dangerous snake in Australia. They are extremely nervous and alert snakes, and any movement near them is likely to trigger an attack. Read more here. New Zealand, like Ireland, is snake free so to me all snakes are threatening.

The results of the NZ Poetry Society International Haiku Contest are out and I was delighted to receive a Commended award in a strong field. See all the chosen haiku and comments by judge an’ya here.

parish churchyard —
words for eternity
lost to a thrush

Scott Mason (US), First

spring nesting
a streak of straw
across the sky

Anne Curran (NZ), Highly Commended

waning moon
no longer sure where the end
of my tether is

Sandra Simpson (NZ), Commended

autumn crocus
I’ll always regret I was away
the day you bloomed

Julie Schwerin (US), Commended

Fever dreams

I effectively lost 2 weeks last month due to Covid. Firstly, having to start isolation when Haiku Husband tested positive, and then coming down with it myself a few days later. While HH’s illness was fairly bad, mine was mild. I was relating all this to a haiku friend overseas who answered that I must have written some new haiku. Wrong! The couple I managed over my few days in bed resemble a fever dream so odd are they.

journal closed
I fall asleep
to steady rain

Ferris Gilli
from Gratitude in the Time of Covid-19
The Haiku Hecameron

a thunderstorm
& then you hear
the kitchen clock

John Martone
from NOON: An Anthology of Short Poems (2019)

on the sickroom wall
the shadow of leaves

Sandra Simpson
from Kokako 5 (2006)

The Covid variant most New Zealanders are experiencing now is highly transmissible so although we were isolating from one another inside the house, Haiku Son eventually tested positive too … and, perhaps because he’s young and strong, was barely ill with it. Fortunately, we’d had time to stock up on tinned soup, eggs, frozen meals, pain relief, etc before we were all ill, and HH’s work dropped off extra RAT kits. When we felt like eating again we didn’t have to do much to make something that could pass for a meal.

starlings in her voice a winter’s worth of worry

Francine Banwarth
from Wishbone Moon anthology (2018)

his cough
in our air

Margaret Peacock
from Haiku 21 anthology (2011)

winter of owls
who will I know
in the obits

Sue Colpitts
from THF Daily Haiku, Aug 3 2021

As the older occupants of the house slowly began to recover, we discovered we were both left with low energy levels, which are still impacting us a bit, and a ‘flat’ feeling. Almost a month later I still have a wracking cough, which HH and HS didn’t get.

Haiku poet and editor Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) lived with the tuberculosis that killed him from about 1888, spending the last 6 years of his life largely bed-ridden. In early May 1902, 4 months before his death, Shiki began writing an essay series, ‘Byosho Rokushaku’ (‘Six-Foot Sickbed’), which was serialised in the newspaper Nippon:

A six-foot sickbed – this is my world. And this sickbed six feet long is too big for me. Sometimes I have only to stretch my arm a bit to touch the tatami, but at other times I can’t even relax by pushing my legs outside the covers. In extreme cases, I am relaxed but am tormented by such terrible pain that I’m unable to move my body so much as an inch or even half an inch. Racked by pain, anguish, shrieks, morphine, I search for a way out, helplessly craving a little peace on a road that leads to death. Read the full article by Ren Ino this piece is excerpted from (Journal of Philosophy and Ethics in Health Care and Medicine, No. 13, 2019).

Again and again
from my sickbed I ask
‘how deep is the snow’?

Masaoka Shiki
from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse (1964)

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.”

Still life in colour

They were sitting in La Barantine in Bruntsfield, at one of the two tables that gave a good view of the passers-by on the pavement directly outside. It was at such an hour of the morning that the sunlight, slicing over the high roof-tops, cast a square of buttery light on their table. Before them were two steaming cups of milky coffee, their foamy surfaces decorated with a delicate fern-leaf pattern. Vuillard or Bonnard might have painted this scene, thought Isabel: the tables, their covers, the display case of delicacies – it was all a tiny island of colour and comfort that would not have been out of place in an intimiste painting: Man and woman in a cafe, morning, perhaps, or Mme Dalhousie prend du cafe avec M. Stevenson. She liked the titles given to paintings; they could be so pithy and poetic, first lines of an incomplete haiku.

– from The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus, 2016)

Le journal illustre, now known as Woman Reading, was painted by Impressionist Edouard Manet in Paris in about 1880 and forms part of the Mr and Mrs Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection at the Art Institute Chicago. Image: Art Institute Chicago

winter evening
an unbought brioche
under glass

Jennifer Popolis, The Wonder Code (2017)

early evening rain –
the man at the bar
folds his paper into quarters

Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 15.3 (2013)

tea ceremony —
it begins & ends
with an empty cup 

Stanford M Forrester, The Signature Haiku Anthology (2020)

Le Déjeuner des canotiers or Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-August Renoir dates from 1881. It is now owned by The Phillips Collection in Washington DC. Image: Wikipedia

the coffee turns
to wine

Tom Clausen, The Wonder Code (2017)

river dripping
from both the oars
one last wish

Sharon Pretti, Another Trip Around the Sun (2019)

near evening …
willow shadows return
to the river

Mohsen Farsani, The Wonder Code (2017)

Lilliput Libraries

A nice piece of serendipity this morning when I heard the irrepressible Ruth Arnison being interviewed on National Radio about Lilliput Libraries – I came across my first one, number 251, recently on Stewart Island / Rakiura.

The Rakiura Lilliput Library is next to Beaks and Feathers in Oban. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ruth started the Lilliput Library project 8 years ago in Dunedin as a personal endeavour, although has since passed it on to the various communities while still co-ordinating it. Number 302 has just opened in Invercargill, and the project has extended to Queensland. Listen to the interview here (15 mins).

I was delighted to find a book I wanted to read, and even happier to be able to replace it with one I had enjoyed.

Ruth was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal in 2018 for her services to poetry and literature, which includes Poems in the Waiting Room (ended last year) and Step Sisters. The interview includes her thoughts on the importance of reading for children.

I’ve posted about cute community libraries before, after seeing one in Iran and one in the United States.

More recent publications

Kokako 36 has arrived, looking smart with a colour photo by Tim Roberts on the cover – not sure, but it seems more natural to me when I turn it the other way up! A cry from the heart in the editorial by Margaret Beverland.

“The submission guidelines ask that you send 8 pieces only. Most subscribers adhere to this. However, there are one or two who do not, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot get 1 haiku, 7 tanka, 2 sequences and 4 collaborations to add up to 8 …” The trials of being an editor. Under-paid (ie, not at all) and under-appreciated. Read subscription details for Kokako, which is produced twice a year.

Here are some sound-value haiku I like from this edition, plus one of my own.

attuning to lockdown
a lady-bug’s wings
skim the venetians

Graham Bates

summer solstice
the song sparrow side
of the pond

Brad Bennett

still morning –
the plum blossom
loud with bees

Cathie Bullock

headland mansion –
across the estuary
a peacock’s cry

Sandra Simpson

UK journal Presence 72 – double the ‘age’ of Kokako – is another recent arrival. I’ll offer some movement haiku as a selection, plus one of my own from this edition that doesn’t fit the theme. Read subscription details for Presence, which is produced three times a year.

windless morning
dandelion seeds rise
with the big top

Richard Tindall

crows sort the river stones winter sun

Glenn G Coats

charcoal sky –
a hint of restlessness
in the mares

Hazel Hall

summer heat –
in my head I write
your death notice

Sandra Simpson

Recent publication

Delighted to have a haiku on a signboard that is being displayed in the Golden Triangle area of Washington DC until early May. The recent contest drew more than 2,900 haiku with 200 selected to go on signboards. See the winning haiku and, if you want, all the signboards at the website. The theme of this year’s contest was ‘Reboot and Rebloom’.

The results of the 2021 Morioka Haiku Contest (Japan) were announced this year and I was fortunate enough to receive an Honourable Mention.

rolling the pebbles
around in my hand –
magpie song

Sandra Simpson

The winning haiku and their commentaries are here or go to the last two pages here to see all the selected English haiku.

I’ve clearly had magpies and their song on my mind as the following haiku appeared in the summer edition of a fine line, the magazine of the New Zealand Poetry Society.

still no rain –
a magpie lands on the fence
and quardles

Sandra Simpson

If you’re a New Zealander reading this, you might well spot where my inspiration for this second haiku came from – The Magpies by Denis Glover. The Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is widespread in New Zealand, a thuggish bird with a beady eye!

A new edition of The Heron’s Nest was released on March 1, and contains one of my haiku.

weeding the garlic
still time
to put things right

Sandra Simpson

I very much like the Editor’s Choice for this quarter, click on this link to read the commentary:

autumn unfolding a plaid shirt in the country store

Barrie Levine

And today the latest Red Moon Anthology, string theory, arrived from the US, not long after it was posted. The international mail service seems to have at long last ungummed, hurrah! A copy is $US20, plus postage.

The anthology, which surveys the best English-language haiku published in 2021, is always a good read and also contains haibun, linked forms and some essays (disclaimer: I am one of the nominating editors). I’m also the proofreader and mention it only because of this clever haiku by Roland Packer of Canada – take your time with it, it’s not an error!

srokte raehb …
teh cregaveir fwolols
hre maennig

The Australian online journal Echidna Tracks 8 has been unfolding by the day from December 1 until March 18. I had two haiku included in this open theme edition, here’s the one that appeared on March 12.

abandoned station –
a jaunty tail
on the dust-drawn cat

Sandra Simpson