Haiku doldrums

My writing has taken a back seat lately – and not just the back seat in a car, the back seat in a big bus! – so as the days lengthen I’m trying to kick start the brain and limber up the ‘haiku muscle’ in a variety of ways.

New books

I’ll write something more about the first two soon but can recommend all of them – and in my experience reading good haiku is invaluable towards writing good haiku.

Scott Mason is one of my favourite haiku poets so when he sent a note to say he has a new book out, imagine my delight. But it’s not quite a collection of his own work or at least not only a collection of his own work for Scott has produced a magnificent volume based on his thinking about haiku. If you’re quick The Wonder Code has a special pricing offer available until November 30.

The book is divided into themed chapters about haiku, each with a selection of poems previously published in The Heron’s Nest, followed by a ‘Solo Exhibition’ of his own work.

  slave burial ground
a mourning dove
         we can only hear

– Scott Mason

Carolyn Hall, another of my favourite haiku poets, has produced her fourth collection, Calculus of Daylilies, which doesn’t appear to contain a dud! Wish I knew how she did that – and how she makes many of her haiku so darn relevant.

cockleburs
the court reaffirms
open carry

– Carolyn Hall

Read more about cockleburs (Xanthium strumarium), a plant native to the Americas and eastern Asia.

The last of my new books I discovered by accident, reading something on the net that led to something else where I clicked on … well, I can’t remember now but the upshot was small clouds by Iza Boa Nyx, a 2016 collection of haiku, tanka and prose that is dedicated to her mother Jane Reichhold and which examines Jane’s sudden death and her ensuing grief and mourning.

It would be easy for the book to be maudlin and self-indulgent, the poems primal screams of pain. But the author has produced a slim volume that is essentially a series of linked haibun, although nowhere is it described as such. The prose acts not only as head-notes for poems that would otherwise be untethered on the page but also holds the book together as the story progresses from “At midnight she told me that our mother had killed herself” to “The peace of knowing that this life is all that it will be is echoed in the late summer heat that seems to stupefy even the lizards”.

cumulus, nimbus
cirrus, stratus and fog
all kinds of clouds
in the week of your wake
not knowing what to say

– Iza Boa Nyx

Recent publication

Presence 59 has wound its way from the UK recently and, as always, is packed full of good reading.

right where
the universe goes
fireflies

– Gary Hotham

an owl’s empire
the flecks of light
in snow

– Alan Summers

meteor night –
shaking the star chart
out of its folds

– Richard Tindall

wet spring –
in a box by the fire
a small bleat

– Sandra Simpson

Not so recent, but something I’d not seen until now …  the results of the last Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Haiku Contest include an Award for this combination of my own image with my own haiku (there’s also a section where supplied photos act as prompts for haiku).

waka-ama haiga - Copy

I took the photo standing on the lawn of a friend’s home in Apia, Samoa. The waka-ama guys paddled one way, then the other – and catching sight of me dug deep, then howled with laughter, stopped paddling and waved! Waka-ama, or outrigger canoes, are used throughout the Pacific as sea-going vessels although in Aotearoa New Zealand the outrigger gradually disappeared. These days, waka-ama has also become a team sport.

You have until November 30 to enter this year’s Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Contest so get going!

And I’ve had my first haiku appear in Akitsu Quarterly, a print journal edited by Robin White in New Hampshire, US. Among them is

burn-off season –
riding home on the back
of a grey truck

– Sandra Simpson

Writing with a buddy

We’re going at our own pace and exchanging whatever we have. We can comment, or not, on the other’s haiku, we can chat about the weather, we can leave the exchange for days … the main thing, for both of us, is that we’re actually writing, instead of worrying about not writing. Fingers crossed.

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Top of their game

Much excitement this week as two superb books by two superb poets arrived in my letterbox.

First to land was The Bone Carver by Ron Moss of Tasmania, published by Snapshot Press in the UK, and what a fine looking volume it is. Ron is also a talented photographer and painter, and the cover image is one of his own photos – I can’t believe this is his first collection as he seems to have been writing at the top of his game for ages.

ron

Ron C Moss. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

valley mist …
running my finger over
the curve of a twig

– Ron Moss

It’s that “curve” that elevates this from a good haiku to an excellent haiku, isn’t it? I don’t often ponder word choice when I’m writing but this poem is a good kick on the shins to remind me to pay attention to all aspects of my work. It contains a vivid sensation (running my finger over) and the nice soft (misty) “v” and “f” sounds.

April 17 update: Ron has just emailed to advise The Bone Carver has today been named as the winner of a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award! Well done, that man.

The other book I was delighted to receive yesterday was the doors all unlocked by Carolyn Hall of California, published by Red Moon Press, another poet I admire greatly.

carolyn

Carolyn Hall. Photo: Sandra Simpson

unlabelled shapes
from the back of the freezer
winter stars

– Carolyn Hall

Anyone who has a freezer should recognise this poem, “unlabelled shapes” is a perfect description of … well, what? Pieces of meat, vegetables, fruit? Something which at the time we thought worthwhile to save and enjoy on another day but, being human, thought we would always recognise or didn’t have a marker pen to hand (or it’s been there so long the marker’s worn off). The “winter stars” leads me back to the package not being a neat rectangle. I like the humour of this.

I thought it might be fun to find haiku on similar themes in both books – for me it’s always interesting seeing what poets do with the same idea – but then I thought, what the heck, let’s just have another from each. Ladies first, this time.

colourless wind
the ashes
that don’t scatter

– Carolyn Hall

from someone’s baby a smile that knows me

– Ron Moss

Both are regularly published in The Heron’s Nest – Ron was voted Poet of the Year for 2014 by readers, with one of his haiku elected as Poem of the Year. Read those results here. Carolyn was Poet of the Year in 2011 and was first runner-up in 2008. In the current issue a haiku by Carolyn is the Editor’s Choice. the doors all unlocked received an honourable mention in the Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards in 2012.

I’ve recently been gifted a copy of fresh paint, the towpath haiku society anthology for 2015, edited by Roberta Beary and published by Red Moon Press. It’s a small book, pocket sized, that is lovingly produced and a nice thing to have, especially as I’m introduced to poets new to me.

merry-go-round all lit up      the galaxy

– Kirsten Deming

waiting room
how this blood test
is a poem

– Jimmy Aaron (Peach)

The towpath haiku society, founded in 1995, is based in the Washington DC area and named for the C & O Canal (Chesapeake & Ohio) that links Washington DC with Cumberland in Maryland – 184 miles (296km) – with the towpath these days a popular walking and cycling trail.

Butterflies, books & glitches

I wrote a post yesterday after I got home from a casual shift at my old work place – a stupendous piece of writing, insightful and witty (says she), but which has been lost to the world thanks to a piece of software. When I started to panic I checked WordPress forums and, sure enough, there were others who thought the automatic “draft saved” message that flashes up every so often would have, well, saved a version to the WordPress server.

Turns out not to be so if you’re using the new version (beep, beep, boop) in which to create your masterpiece – it saves it to your browser, except that for many people it doesn’t! So, here I am, back in the old version of editor because this “unimproved” version does actually save a draft to WordPress.

Right, where was I …

After thinking that we would not raise any monarch butterflies this year, the past 10 days or so have seen at least one hatch every day. Once the predatory wasps changed their diet, around the end of February, we suddenly had little gold-spotted green chrysalis hanging all over the place.

We had tried moving caterpillars to a covered swan plant but they just seemed to disappear, very few made it through to butterfly stage, so wasps must have been getting in and out without being noticed.

Freshly hatched monarchs are such a wonder with their vivid colours and markings – and quite scratchy feet too if you guide one on to your hand to release. Maybe these late-season hatchlings will be the butterflies that overwinter and start the life cycle process again in the spring.

sun-soaked chrysalis
no one sees
the effort

– Julie Warther, from The Heron’s Nest 2014 anthology, volume 16

snowmelt
a chrysalis unlocks
its code for wings

– Lorin Ford, from the big data anthology for 2014,
originally published in paper wasp

The latest Heron’s Nest anthology arrived in my letter box this week – 176 pages of great reading. As well as collecting all the haiku published throughout 2014, the volume includes the Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award winners and judge’s comments, and Readers’ Choice awards.

Here’s another haiku from it, one to mark Easter …

stained glass
the way christ responds
to march sunlight

– Robert Epstein

Kokako 22 also arrived by post recently and is another nicely produced edition. Co-editor Margaret Beverland surprised me at the beginning of the week by saying that New Zealand subscribers are in the minority! This is our only journal dedicated to haiku, tanka, etc – the only place where we don’t have to explain our haiku or add a link – so it’s worrying that Kokako isn’t more strongly supported in New Zealand. Or maybe the problem is that the haiku community in this country is dwindling. Are there new writers coming on? Make yourselves known! Read subscription and submission details for Kokako here.

                ironing after midnight the creases in her face

– Andre Surridge, Kokako 22

I also enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek haiku, boy, haven’t I been here more times than I care to remember!

contest results
golden flowers swirl
down the gutter

– Barbara Strang, Kokako 22

But the drought has broken! I was notified last week that I’ve won this year’s Free XpresSion Haiku Contest (Australia). Skippy jumps and hand claps!

planning her eulogy      jars of carefully labelled seeds

– Sandra Simpson

I’ve also had a few acceptances dating back to around the beginning of the year – A Hundred Gourds (March and the coming June issue), Speed Bump journal (January and the coming April issue), Wild Plum inaugural issue, is/let (March 9 posting) and a forthcoming edition of NOON, among them.

is/let and NOON both look for “progressive” or avant-garde work, which is not a style  that comes naturally, although does happen occasionally, so pleased to have work with both of them.

h  ill   stop
hear  tin  m  years
wind        swords

– Sandra Simpson, is/let

An email at the beginning of February advised that some of my work had been named as a Finalist in the RaedLeaf Haiku Contest in India and would be published in an anthology. Great, except the contest closed on August 6, 2014 so this was a long time to wait for notification – 6 months – and I then had to ask which poem/poems had been selected as they hadn’t said.

The February email says “You may share your works elsewhere a month from the publication date which will be duly notified to you”. And I haven’t heard a word since – and that’s now 9 months, plenty of time for gestation, so here’s one of the haiku.

my mother’s pallbearers
all tall men –
rain just when we need it

– Sandra Simpson, RaedLeaf anthology (forthcoming)

 

Friday haiku, autumn

A couple of weeks ago I went to a low-key poetry reading in a local bar – one eminent national poet and a local poet reading a few pieces each. Part-way through I realised how long the poems were, which made me smile and think, I love haiku.

Why?

  • It’s not a book but it’s a story worth hearing
  • There’s room for imagination
  • It knows when to be quiet
  • It understands the power of a single word
  • It doesn’t outstay its welcome.

There are more ideas that can be added to this list, but you get my drift.

Over on Haiku NewZ there is an occasional feature called My Favourite Haiku where various poets and editors choose (some of) their favourites and write a little about them. The following haiku was in the selection of Beverley George, an Australian writer and editor.

sowing seeds
I open my hand
to the autumn wind 

– Maria Steyn

If I was to make a selection today this would surely be in it

reminding me I am dust this shaft of sunlight

– Andre Surridge, Fear of Dancing (Red Moon anthology, 2014)

Good news! Melissa Allen is again blogging her haiku and haibun at Red Dragonfly. Melissa is one heck of a writer and I suggest you check her work out. Here’s her selection of favourites on Haiku NewZ.

the sound of geese through the crosshairs

– Melissa Allen, Fear of Dancing

I’ve been loaned the Japanese Haiku 2001 anthology, edited by the Modern Haiku Association. It’s hard to know how true these English haiku are to their originals but reading any contemporary haiku from Japan is a gift.

eating a persimmon
darkness builds inside me

– Rinka Ono (1904-1982)

In a brief bio note, Mr Ono is credited with mentoring many haiku poets who became major figures in Japan.

someone’s silhouette
on the bathroom door –
a cyclamen

– Hakko Yokoyama (1899-1983)

Mr Yokoyama was director of a hospital, owned a private clinic and was an elected city councillor, as well as being president of the Modern Haiku Association.

And, finally, an autumn haiga by Ron Moss of Tasmania. View it here. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a haiga is a combination of haiku (or tanka) with art – these days that can be anything from a traditional brush and ink painting to a computer-generated digital image. Ron also makes art to go with selected haiku in each edition of A Hundred Gourds.