The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

sweetness
oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

warriors
the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

im-mi-grant
the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

我味の柘榴に這す虱かな
waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!

Issa

Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.

What is love?

A moving prose poem about love by the ever-erudite Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, from Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers (Polygon, 2013). His paragraphs are not usually this long!

And it did not matter who or what it was that we loved. Auden said that when he was a boy he loved a pumping engine and thought it every bit as beautiful as the ‘you’ whom he later addressed. We loved people because they were beautiful or witty or smiled in a way that made us smile; we loved them because they spoke or walked in a certain way or because they had a dimple in exactly the right place; we loved them because they loved us or, sadly, because they did not love us; we loved them because they had a way of looking at things, or because there was a certain light in their eyes that reminded us of the sunlight you saw caught in a rock pool on a Hebridean Island; or because they wore a kilt or black jeans or a Shetland sweater or could recite Burns or play the guitar or knew how to make bread or were kind to us and tolerated us and our ways and our stubborn refusal to stop loving them. There were so many reasons for loving somebody else; so many; and it made no sense to sit and think about whether it was a good idea or not because love was like a bolt of lightning that came from a great cumulonimbus cloud that was far too great for us to blow it away; and it struck and we just had to accept it and get on with the business of trying to exist while all the time there was this great wave of longing within us like a swell in the sea, one of those great rolling waves that comes in off the Atlantic and hits Ardnamurchan and cannot be fought against, because fighting love like that is hopeless and you should just go under and let it wash over you and hope that when you come out from under the wave you will still be breathing and that you have not drowned, as people could – they could drown in love, just drown.

Although I don’t bother with the retail aspect of Valentine’s Day, it is nice sometimes to reflect on love, this strangest – and strongest – of emotions and today is as good a day as any.

unfinished sampler
the small hearts
not yet crossed

Holli Rainwater, from Another Trip Around the Sun anthology

Newly in love –
so many things I
refrain from mentioning

Phillip Rowland, from Stepping Stones anthology

harvest dance –
the way I still fit
your arms

Sandra Simpson
from Building a time machine (NZ Poetry Society anthology, 2012)

a shooting star –
in love, not knowing
where it will lead

Madoka Mayuzumi, from Haiku Love anthology

Merry Christmas & Haiku Wishes

My very best seasonal greetings to all those who pop in to and read this blog – some of you will celebrate Christmas, some won’t, but I hope that if you live somewhere that has a holiday just now that you have a peaceful and safe time, and a healthy, prosperous and productive 2020.

Here is a selection of seasonal haiku which I hope you’ll enjoy.

long wait backstage –
the evil giant reads
a self-improvement book

Catherine Bullock, number eight wire

moonlight
the pear tree
turns to tinsel

Shirley May, number eight wire

Christmas Eve –
the neighbour comes round
to borrow some data

Owen Bullock, number eight wire

number eight wire: the fourth New Zealand haiku anthology was launched in March, one of the highlights of my haiku year (I’m co-editor). We have only a few copies left but we’d love to have no copies so if you’d like to read more haiku by New Zealand writers (70 of them of all ages), please read the ordering details here.

Christmas Eve
searching for the beginning
of the Scotch tape

Alan S Bridges, Another Trip Around the Sun

sleigh bells
the hayloft rustles
with deer mice

Debbie Strange, Another Trip Around the Sun

Another Trip Around the Sun: 365 days of haiku for children young and old, edited by Jessica Malone Latham, was published by Brooks Books in November. Click on the link for further information.

the Christmas
after we told him
artificial tree

Joe McKeon, A New Resonance 10

Christmas light test
trying to untangle
last year

Deborah P Kolodji, A New Resonance 4

The New Resonance poems have been taken from the reading done at this year’s Haiku North America conference – How I Found my Voice Again – which celebrated every poet  in the biennial collections that gather new voices in haiku and are published by Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press. The reading, which featured some of the poets present and others represented by Julie Warther, was filmed. Click on the link above to see/hear it. The most recent iteration of the series is A New Resonance 11.