Haiku of the moment, Part 2

American poet and editor Scott Mason has produced, in The Haiku Hecameron, another outstanding hard-cover collection to follow his delightful The Wonder Code (2017).

Inspired by the 14th century book The Decameron, a collection of stories told over 10 days by 10 young people who were isolating to escape an outbreak of plague in Florence, Mason offers 100 days’ worth of reading (each day a double-page spread) of work by 100 poets with the subtitle, Gratitude in the time of Covid-19.

full moon
my daughter reads me
a bedtime story

Vanessa Proctor, Australia

While the majority of the collected works are haiku, the book, which is dedicated to English poet Stuart Quine, who died of Covid-19, also contains haibun, linked verse and haiga.

“Attending closely to what is (and who are) immediately around us constitutes our most basic act of respect,” Mason writes in his Introduction. “Gratitude naturally follows.”

even this spring
embracing the drain-spout
a burst of daffodils

Penny Harter, USA

early days –
a lone goose picked up
by the skein

Sandra Simpson, New Zealand

Later, Mason writes: “Ultimately this collection could be read as a time capsule from a highly unusual chapter of our very recent past … For months now we’ve been at sea – all of us in the same boat. These works welcome us home.”

closer & closer
the mountain’s silence coming
into view

Gary Hotham, USA

attic sunshine
there is nothing
we want to get rid of

Marcus Larsson, Sweden

Mason’s Introduction is dated “June 2020” but waymarking emails to contributors shared the rigors of trying to print and dispatch pre-orders around the world with all human endeavour slowed down, if not stopped. However, the post finally came through and my copy arrived in mid-October.

The vast majority of the haiku are about personal experiences that coincided with or were created by the time lockdown offered and although a few overtly mention coronavirus and its associated vocabulary, Mason has, I think, got the ratio nigh on perfect.

do-it-yourself masks
complete strangers sharing
a secret smile

Michele Root-Bernstein, USA

time for a walk
I explain coronavirus
to my dogs

Rosa Clement, Brazil

Until the end of November, Mason is offering a generous deal – buy two copies and receive a third free (all must be shipped to the same address). To place an order visit the website and scroll to the bottom.

Quarantine stories

Haiku poet and editor Scott Mason has been inspired by the 14th century book The Decameron, a collection of stories created during a plague outbreak in Florence, and come up with The Haiku Hecameron which will feature 100 haiku poets whose work reflects a spirit of gratitude for something that remains right (possibly even wondrous) in the world of the poet’s present-day experience.

Submitting poets must have had work appear in an edited haiku journal (print or online) in the last three years. Work must be the author’s own and not previously published (in print or online) or under consideration anywhere else.

Submit: Please send only one submission. A submission may comprise up to a total of three of the following, in any combination: Haiku; Haiku sequence (up to 100 words including title); Haibun (up to 100 words including title); Haiga (minimum resolution 300 dpi). Send submissions by email to Scott Mason with the subject line ‘Haiku Hecameron’. Haiga should be in jpg format as an attachment. All other work should be provided in the body of the email. Include your name, pen-name name (if used), and your location (town or city; state, province or region; country).
Deadline: April 17 (International Poetry Day). Acceptance notifications by May 17.

The goal is to have The Haiku Hecameron available in late July 2020, approximately 100 days after International Haiku Poetry Day.  Contributors and submitting poets will qualify for discounts.

Read about The Decameron and its author Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75).

* * *

I read Quarantine by Jim Crace years ago but its echoes still hover. Essentially it’s about Jesus and the 40 days he spent alone in the desert, but there’s much more to it than that. Read a synopsis on the author’s website.

Read the author’s description of the circumstances surrounding the creation of what became an award-winning novel.

* * *

Probably painted in the workshop of Gentile Bellini (d. 1507), this canvas shows the Mamluk governor of Damascus granting an audience to a group from Venice. The painting is dated 1511. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The word ‘quarantine’ comes from 14th century Venice and means ‘forty days’, the length of time ships were isolated to prevent people arriving with the bubonic plague. But the practice of isolation for medical reasons goes back much further. Read the fascinating Wikipedia entry on quarantine.

* * *

Karantina is a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and is named for the quarantine station (lazaretto) built in about 1831 (during Ottoman rule) to house and isolate travellers arriving by sea. Between 1700 and 1848, plague raged 41 times in the empire’s Levant province. The empire’s quarantine system pushed the plague back to its frontiers by the 1840s, although from 1821 outbreaks of cholera – equally devastating – began to occur.

Karantina’s more recent history is stained by tragedy. In 1976, early in the Civil War in Lebanon, it was the site of a massacre of some 1500 Palestinian residents – men, women and children – by Christian militia.

Today, the suburb is known for its lively nightclub scene and concert hall. Funny how history gets overwritten, isn’t it?

* * *

Shakespeare apparently had a productive period in quarantine, so here’s hoping we stay well and do too.

Haiku, a visitor & an explanation!

I am very excited to have my haiku featuring on the Mann Library Daily Haiku website, one a day for the month of August. Click on the link to read the current one, and then ‘previous’ or ‘next’.

For more than 10 years Tom Clausen, the instigator of the Mann Library Daily Haiku series, posted a daily haiku in the elevator of the old Mann building at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York state). Since his retirement, he posts them online. Featured poets are by invitation only, so it’s an honour to be included.

Tom’s essay, A Haiku Way on Life, featured on Haiku NewZ in 2007. Click on the title to read it.

Presence 64 has arrived from the other side of the world (UK) and includes three of my poems.

winter palace –
a light rain falls
on the bridal party

– Sandra Simpson

As you might guess this one was written after visiting St Petersburg last year and was pretty much a scene from Palace Square. The melancholy of Russian history – and what a history it is – seemed to filter quickly into my consciousness.

Canadian poet Michael Dudley is visiting New Zealand and was in Katikati last week where a few of us joined him for a walk round the Haiku Pathway. It was a delight to have him share his insights into the poems we met – his acuity and sensitivity to the words and surroundings enriched our outing considerably. Read about Michael and his extensive recent travels in this piece from an English-language Montenegro newspaper (February 12, 2019).

Visiting the Haiku Pathway in Katikati are, from left, Bob Edwards, Margaret Beverland and Michael Dudley. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Michael asked me why my boulder poem

wading birds
mark low tide with
chinese characters

used lower case for the word ‘chinese’ (and it’s not unknown for editors to inquire as to why I use lower case on proper nouns). So … I believe we humans and our activities should be viewed on a par with ants and trees and birds. We should not think we stand any higher and, in fact, our propensity to see ourselves as ‘rulers’ of the Earth has caused, is causing and will cause immeasurable damage and problems for all the inhabitants of this beautiful blue planet.

US poet Scott Mason this week sent a link to this great interview (43 minutes) he did for public television in America and, I was delighted to hear, he thinks much the same way about our place in the world (though I don’t know where stands on capital letters!). If you don’t yet have a copy of Scott’s great book on haiku, The Wonder Code, immediately purchase one!

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.

Katikati Haiku Contest results – a judge reflects

They came in a box – all shapes and sizes of paper and card, most typewritten but one or two brave souls relying on their hand-writing. The judging for the Katikati Haiku Contest is done blind – that is each haiku entered is numbered, I see no names.

I sat down, armed with a pair of scissors, and began to read (the scissors were to cut  stand-out poems from a sheet of entries).

I sorted them, sorted them again and then re-read the whole lot for a third time.

I made piles – definite, definite maybes, maybes and, well you get the picture. The piles got shuffled. The piles got shuffled again.

The coffee table, couch and floor were decorated with strips of paper. The strips of paper got moved from one site to another. Well, several of the strips of paper … some of them stayed right where they were for the entire judging process.

Lorin Ford’s winning haiku was in the top four from the start – it’s a complex, profound and mysterious poem.

a last year’s lambskin where mushrooms gather dusk

It’s funny how sometimes there is more than one poem on the same unexpected subject in the same contest. I gave this haiku by Scott Mason a Commended:

rolling fields
    the vocabulary
           of sheep

I was equally enchanted by the Second-place haiku by Beverley George:

train journey …
the young student next to me
reduces stars to graphs

and by this Highly Commended haiku by Gary Hotham:

   floating in calm air
      too much light
for the engineer’s math

Third was Simon Hanson (an interesting statistic – all the top three haiku, three of the four Highly Commendeds and two of the six Commendeds were by Australians):

holding cover
the hare waits
for eye contact

Catherine Bullock of Waihi won the Best Local Haiku award with this great poem:

evening calm –
duck’s wake
the width of the estuary

I also want to mention this Highly Commended haiku by Beverley George – while judging the entries I went out one morning to find the snail bait around the parsley had claimed five (five!) snails overnight. I could really envisage those “stretched necks” during the dark hours:

parsley bed
the stretched necks
of snails

To read the full list of winners, and my judge’s report, go here.

Unfortunately, we had one disqualification due to haiku being entered that had previously been published. It saves red faces all round if poets keep good records and a track of what’s gone where, when and what happened to those poems (ie, while they may not have been prize winners, were they included in a contest anthology?).