The smell of haiku

The power of scent to raise a memory has been scientifically proven, as has the link between scent and emotion, one that perfumiers strive to tap into. This article in The Harvard Gazette explains the science: Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours go directly to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory – and the oldest parts of the human brain.

And although we list taste as one of the five senses, science says that everything we taste is by way of being smelled. No sense of smell, no sense of taste.

Here are some haiku I think convey the sense of smell very well, even if they almost all use the word ‘scent’! I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part look at haiku that engage with the senses beyond sight, I’ve had fun putting it together.

fallen eucalypt …
the scent
cut into stove lengths

Jo McInerney
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

gentle rain
scent of the seedbed turning
a deeper brown

Katrina Shepherd
from Before the Sirocco (NZPS, 2008)

yellow roses
at Uji the fragrance
of roasting tea leaves

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

The translator’s note to the haiku, written in 1691, is that as yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica) have no fragrance, they must borrow smells from the roasted tea.

Uji was once one of the most important tea-growing areas in Japan. Read more here. It’s interesting to note that although the yamabuki plant is not a rose, its name is often used to mean ‘yellow rose’ in Japanese literature!

migrating geese –
her scent finally gone
from my pillow

Stephen Toft
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

in the alleys
orange blossom scent . . .
the rest escapes me

Luci Cardillo
from Autumn Moon 2.2 (2019)

otoko kite heya nuchi suisen no nioi midaru

a man enters
the room, disturbing the scent
of daffodils

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

two boys giggle
as he enters the bike shop …
onion seller

Alan Summers
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

family reunion
bad breath
has a name

Roberta Beach Jacobson
from H Gene Murtha Senryu Contest, 2019

summer breeze
setting aside the book
to smell her hair

Makarios Tabor
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1, 2020

 

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 sound of haiku

We are surrounded by sound all our waking (and sleeping) hours, some of it pleasant (birdsong), some of it discordant (emergency sirens). These haiku seem to me to use sound in interesting and sometimes inventive ways.

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner
resonates

Dee Evetts
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

pissing into a steel trough the muted boom of the bar

Stuart Quine
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay
from Stepping Stones (BHS, 2007)

furu oto ya mimi mo su-nara ume no ame

a falling sound
that sours my ears
plum rain

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

The translator’s note for this haiku, written in 1666, is: What the Japanese call ‘ume’ is most often translated as ‘plum’ … but the fruit more closely resembles the apricot. Because the fruit ripens from mid-June to mid-July the rains of this time are called ‘ume no ame’ (‘plum rains’). Even ripe the fruit is inedible until it has been preserved in salty, sour liquid, similar to olives.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the nursery roof

Vanessa Proctor
from Wishbone Moon

summer solstice
the measuring tape reels back
into its case

Carolyn Hall
from Montage

setsugen ya majiwarazu shite wadachiato

autumn night –
the sound of two white plates
touching

Yoshiko Yoshino, tr. unknown

through my stethoscope
the rumble
of the 8:15

Jon Iddon
from Stepping Stones

foghorns –
we lower a kayak
into the sound

Christopher Herold
from Montage

drought
my ears have lost
the creek

Sandi Pray
from Wishbone Moon

late-rising moon
each rock in the stream
has its own sound

Burnell Lippy
from Montage

Random bookshelf haiku

I was so impressed by one set of haiku bookshelves I saw on my recent US journey that I decided to pull mine apart and start again … unfortunately, the pulling apart has happened and not much else!

So, just to spur me over into the books, I have decided to post some haiku chosen at random from random books in random piles.

my husband gone –
from the bluest of skies
spring snow falls

– Takeshita Shizunojo, 1887-1951
from Haiku Love, editor (and translator of this haiku) Alan Cummings (The British Museum, 2013)

The poet was born in a rural community in Kyushu and worked as a schoolteacher and, following her husband’s early death, a librarian. Her poetry, the book says, often drew upon images of life in impoverished rural Kyushu.

winter moon the church bell an octave below

– Lorin Ford
Presence haiku journal, number 55 (UK)

Lorin Ford lives in Melbourne, Australia, and was the haiku editor for the recently closed online journal, A Hundred Gourds.

separating itself
from a tangerine
the cabby’s voice

– Michael Fessler
Modern Haiku 45.2, but I met it in the Haiku 2015 anthology, edited by Lee Gurga & Scott Metz (Modern Haiku Press, 2015)

Spend yourself now!
Spring winds blowing
before cherries bloom.

– Noa, 1397-1471
from Haiku Before Haiku
translated by Steven D Carter (Columbia University Press, 2011)

Noa, the book says, was a Buddhist monk, painter, renga master and renga steward at Kitano shrine, curator for the Ashikaga shogunate, and of Sogi’s Seven Sages of Linked Verse.

frost moon
pairing his wool socks
from the dryer

– Carolyn Hall
from her collection Water Lines (Snapshot Press, 2006)

wild boars too
are blown along:
autumn windstorm

– Basho, 1644-1694
from Haiku Animals, editor Mavis Pilbream (The British Museum, 2010)
translated by DL Barnhill