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.

Load of bull

beading
in a bull’s eyelashes
spring drizzle

Paul Chambers
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1 (2020)

I’m reading Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain’s secret wilderness by Paul Evans (Rider Publishing, 2015) and was pleased to be safe in my bed when reading this description of a tense bucolic encounter after the author allowed his attention to wander.

**

He may not have been the biggest bull but he seemed massive to me. A head the size of a washing machine, huge neck and shoulders, long back, all deep russet red and rounded muscle – a brick shithouse of a beast. I looked into his eye.

This eye was unlike the oxeye daisy, which is really a pastoral joke in which the ox is prettified and conforms to a bovine ideal of cud-chewing reverie and disinterested stare. He was also not the snorting, charging, angry bull of cartoons. He was watching me closely with his robin redbreast-coloured eye, perhaps with a flash of gold in it. The eye lay at the forward edge of a body that could flatten a wall, not with a furious charge but with a mindful harnessing of colossal weight and strength of will. He was considering what to do. This bull was dangerous.

He began to eat, ripping up hanks of grass with his tongue whilst walking slowly but never diverting his eye from me. This grazing was subterfuge, getting me to think he was not charging while slyly gaining ground. I had heard of bulls working out how to kill someone and this felt premeditated. Perhaps it was payment for some mistreatment he had experienced; perhaps his hormones were pumped by the cows and his blood was up; perhaps something had woken inside that boulder of a skull, some wild bullness was taking over from thousands of years of domestication. It was going to be existential for both of us.

***

The stand-off fortunately ends peacefully. The author, heart pounding, manages to assert the farmer’s ‘ancient claim’ to authority and sends the bull on his way.

spring fever
the farm gate swung wide
for the bull

Michele L. Harvey
from The Heron’s Nest 19.4 (2017)

This in-your-face haiku was written by Issa in 1812:

山吹にぶらりと牛のふぐり哉
yamabuki ni burari to ushi no fuguri kana

dangling
in the yellow roses
the bull’s balls

Translator David Lanoue says: “Here, as often in Issa, we find a startling juxtaposition. Fearlessly and without self-censorship, he presents what he sees. And also, as often is the case, after the initial shock of the image wears off, we find deeper connections to ponder. The bull’s testicles and the roses, after all, are sex organs.”

While researching for a forthcoming post, I discovered that in Japanese literature ‘yellow roses’ are understood to be yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica), not a rose at all and without any thorns! (Which was worrying me a bit about the image above …)

vacation’s end
sunlight catches the ring
in a bull’s nostrils

Polona Oblak
from The Heron’s Nest 20.4 (2018)

‘Boy on Ox’ is a woodblock print by Ogata Gekko, made in about 1890-1910. Image: Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dr Eleanor Z. Wallace

Like Paul Chambers’ haiku that opens this posting, American poet Richard Wright subverts the typical view of a bull as one of uber-masculinity.

Coming from the woods,
a bull has a lilac sprig
dangling from a horn

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Japan holds regular bullfights (togyu), held in front of paying crowds, which are a recognised folk custom. Unlike Spain however, there are no matadors and picadors; the bulls simply lock horns with one another and push. The bouts are run along the lines of sumo wrestling matches and no animals are put to death as part of the spectacle. Indeed, it seems the bulls are fed well and treated better. Read more here. The Choju-giga scrolls, painted from the mid-12th century to the end of the 13th century, are the earliest record of bullfighting in Japan.

small country town
the bull’s rosette
in the butcher’s window

Pamela Brown
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

noon sun
the bull
in a knife’s reflection

Mary Weiler
from Presence 55 (2016)

Goosey, goosey …

The latest edition of The Heron’s Nest has been published and includes this haiku of mine:

low-flying geese sunlight on every leading edge

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 19.1

This was a real scene that I laboured to get right, partly in acknowledgement of all the great goose haiku that have gone before. Here is just a small sampling of the many that I like (by the way, New Zealand doesn’t have migratory geese which rather puts us behind in haiku terms). I’ve posted the first two before, back in 2014, but still love them.

stopt to allow geese crossing some idiot honks

– Janice Bostok (1942-2011)

Alan Summers has pointed out (see Comments) that my original posting using ‘stopped’ in Jan’s haiku was incorrect. In White Heron, her 2011 biography by Sharon Dean, Jan says:

“Everyone tries to correct me … I actually used the old-fashioned past participle stopt instead of stopped because to me it sounds more sudden, and I didn’t want to break the flow of the haiku for too long with an exclamation mark. Somehow that stopt allows the haiku to read shorter and quicker… In using stopt I wanted to convey to the reader that I was very definitely stopped – firmly stopped. I even had the car engine turned off.”

the sound of geese through the crosshairs

– Melissa Allen, Modern Haiku 44.1

river fog …
the sound of geese
coming in from the sea

– John Barlow, Wingbeats: British Birds in Haiku (Snapshot Press, 2008)

the first flakes of snow
drifting down the wetlands
Canada geese

– Billie Wilson, The Heron’s Nest 4.11

‘Wild Geese Returning to Katata’, one of Hiroshige’s Eight Views of Omi. Image: Wikipedia

somewhere
between bitter and sweet
migrating geese

– Michele L. Harvey, The Heron’s Nest 18.4

行雁がつくづく見るや煤畳
yuku kari ga tsuku-zuku miru ya susu tatami

the travelling geese
check it out thoroughly…
sooty mat

– Issa, written in 1807
from The Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

Translator David Lanoue offers this comment: The mat is a tatami mat made of woven straw. The fact that it is sooty implies that it belongs to “beggar” Issa.

An editor’s choice!

Lovely to be included in the Editor’s Choices for the latest issue of The Heron’s Nest. Amazingly enough – to me anyway – this is the first dragonfly haiku I’ve had published!

torpid heat the small breeze a dragonfly makes

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest, 18.3

Another nice surprise came through the ether all the way from Angelee Deodhar in India, who created this haiga:

Beautiful photo, isn’t it? My attempts at dragonfly photography are very mediocre by comparison.

The appearance of a dragonfly in Japanese haiku tradition is a signifier of autumn but as you can see from my poem, I haven’t necessarily bothered about that. It might be high summer, it might be an Indian summer, you figure it out!

a round melon
   in a field of round melons
          – resting dragonfly

– Robert Spiess (1921-2002)
from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years

Number one on a list of 14 ‘fun facts’ about dragonflies is this: Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches (5-12cm), but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet (61cm). Read the rest of the list here.

the dragonfly
on mother’s gravestone
something of her

– Jane Reichhold (1937-2016)
from A Dictionary of Haiku: Second Edition

We have a ‘giant’ dragonfly in New Zealand (Uropetala carovei) which has a yellow and black body that can be up to 86mm (3.4 inches) long, with a wingspan up to 130mm (5 inches). Read more about it here and listen to a radio talk about it and our other large dragonfly here (11 minutes 30, not all dragonfly). And no, I’ve never seen one.

.とんぼうのはこしているや菊の花

tombô no hako shite iru ya kiku no hana

the dragonfly
takes a crap …
chrysanthemum

– Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)
translated by David Lanoue and from his website Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

Another Issa haiku to finish – the cartoon by talented Canadian Jessica Tremblay from her Old Pond Comics collection.

Plum blossom season

“Blossom” is synonymous with spring but, traditionally, “plum blossom” in Japanese haiku is a signifier for late winter and, as that’s where my part of the world is at, it’s timely to shine a small spotlight on this flower.

Probably my best effort at plum blossom. Artwork: Sandra Simpson

Several years ago I joined a Chinese brush-painting class where we worked through the “four gentlemen”, starting with bamboo before moving on to orchid, chrysanthemum  and finishing with  plum blossom.

Our teacher, Sally, had a magnificent scroll painting of plum blossom she had bought in Hong Kong. It was enormous and masterfully done. Painted images of plum blossom often show snow on the branches too, reinforcing the late winter season.

billingtonplum - Copy

Billington is the first plum variety to crop and these blossoms were out with the magnolias in a Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

home village
all the potholes
patched with plum blossoms

– Ernest Wit, Asahi Haikuist network, February 1, 2013

捨扇梅盗人にもどしけり
sute ôgi ume nusubito ni modoshi keri

abandoned fan –
I return it
to the plum blossom thief

– Kobayashi Issa (tr David Lanoue)

Read more of Issa’s plum blossom haiku.

fuji5lakes9 - Copy

Plum blossom in Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I visited Japan in April 2012 and while the cherry blossom was opening in the lower areas, in the higher country we were still in late winter. This photo was taken in the Fuji Five Lakes national park (Fuji-Goko).

Gabi Greve, writing about plum blossom on her World Kigo Database website, says plum blossom viewing was a popular pastime, particularly in the Heian period (794-1185), but was done more on an individual basis than by the big groups who undertake cherry blossom viewing – red plum blossoms  remind the viewer of the coming spring, while white blossoms are a reminder of the snow that may still be about or still to fall.

plum blossoms everywhere …
I should go south,
I should go north

– Yosa Buson

While looking for haiku for this post, I came across this one in Haiku Before Haiku by Steven D Carter (Columbia University Press, NY, 2011):

plum branches –
umbrellas taking shape
in the rain

– wife of Mitsusada (1583-1647)

A note with the haiku says the wife of Sugiki Mitsusada was “often called the first female haikai poet” … so I did a little online research and found this from Far Beyond the Field, Haiku by Japanese women, compiled by Makoto Ueda:

The earliest documentary evidence for female authorship of haikai is  … Enokoshu (The puppy collection, 1633), which collected verses  written by poets of Tei-mon, the oldest school of  haikai. [It] contains works by a person identified only as “Mitsusada’s wife”. Of the 178 poets represented in the anthology, she was the lone woman. That statistic, and her being listed under her husband’s name, suggest the kind of status to which women were confined in haiku circles during this seminal period.

Read a sample from the book.