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

 

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)

Recent publications

It seems I’ve got a bit of catching up to do …

hot night –
the time it takes the rat
to stop screaming

Sandra Simpson, Fourth, NZPS International Haiku Contest 2019

Judge Greg Piko had this to say about the haiku …‘hot night’ asked: What is happening to this rat in the heat of the night? Perhaps this is a rat we wanted dead. Perhaps we feel sorrow for the rat. Either way, this is a strong haiku that highlights the impermanence of life and makes us think about how lives end. Indeed, it can make us think about how our own life might end.

Two other haiku were also selected for publication in the contest anthology, The Perfect Weight of Blankets at Night, edited by Raewyn Alexander.

Five haiku were selected for New Zealand’s haiku journal Kokako 31, which came out last September. Issue 32 has been delayed by Covid-19 restrictions.

blowing raspberries
on her tummy –
the moon’s curve

Sandra Simpson, Kokako 31

gap in the fence  
I poke my head into
a world of sheep

Sandra Simpson, NOON 16 (2020)

Two haiku were selected for March issue of The Heron’s Nest

spring winds –
the falcon’s eye
black to the core

Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 22.1

The following haiku was selected by the Golden Triangle Haiku Contest for a signboard that is being displayed in this business district of Washington DC. The theme was nature in the city.

road works –
the billow and sag
of a cobweb in the wind

Sandra Simpson

Martin Lucas Haiku Award judge Matthew Paul selected this haiku for a Highly Commended:

harvest moon –
the kitchen table laid
with pieces of gun

Sandra Simpson

The prizewinners, plus another two of my poems, will appear in Presence 66 which was posted from the UK in mid-March.

The final haiku appears in the online exhibition at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Masters of Japanese Prints: Haiku (it’s about two-thirds of the way through):

summer heat –
his shaved head glistens
in the lamplight

The UK museum put up a selection of its Japanese woodblock prints and asked for haiku written as a response to the art. This one is matched with Lantern Seller by Utagawa Kunisada I (1786-1864). Kudos to Alan Summers and Karen Hoy of Call of the Page for arranging this interesting project.

Putting together these posts, which someone has described as skiting, does let me see that I am achieving something with my chosen art form. It’s all too easy to not write, not publish and not enter contests. I’d rather keep trying even if it does seem like a bit of an effort sometimes!

And to end, a ripple from the past … an email arrived on December 12 from Richard Oswin, a teacher and composer in Christchurch. Richard was asking permission to use The Gift, one of my longer poems, from Poetry Pudding (Raupo, 2007), a collection of poems for children. I had to find my copy of the book to even recall what the poem was – it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything longer than a haiku!

Richard used the poem as lyrics for a piece of music he’d been commissioned to write as a test piece for the  Auckland leg of the national festival The Kids Sing and duly sent me an mp3 file of his composition which features two vocal parts. Although I haven’t heard voices with the music, it seems quite lovely. And the whole thing is quite extraordinary!

Reader Choice voting

With a large storm approaching today it seems like a good time to knuckle down and choose my favourite 10 haiku from the 2017 editions of The Heron’s Nest. As the journal’s got larger, the choice has become more difficult – The Heron’s Nest is a beacon of excellence.

Anyone may vote, you can find the details here (scroll down, deadline January 15).

Here are four of the haiku (one from each edition) appearing on my list – no guarantees they’ll make it through though as I’m still at a top 100 or so!

feeling the silence
sink in —
moose tracks in the snow

Angela Terry, THN 19.1

where an army
swept through wheatfields
hopping sparrows

Michael McClintock, THN 19.2

late autumn
the stillness of blue
miles deep

Jenny Fraser, THN 19.3

enough mint scent
to cross the milky way
high summer begins

Burnell Lippy, THN 19.4

Thinking about haiku deeply enough to feel swayed to cast a vote is a fun way to start the year.

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.

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.

Season of goodwill … & haiku

Merry Christmas to all those who read breath – it’s been a pleasure having you along  over the past year of haiku musings. And my very best wishes for a healthy and productive New Year.

Here are a few seasonal haiku to see us on our way to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and beyond!

Photo: Menchi, via Wikipedia.

christmas eve
in the taxi cab
a scent of pine

– Tom Painting
bottle rockets 12 (2006)

toll booth lit for Christmas —
from my hand to hers
warm change

– Michael Dylan Welch
Second place, Henderson Haiku Contest (HSA), 1995

birthcry!
          the stars
          are all in place

– Raymond Roseliep
from haiku mind by Patricia Donegan (Shambhala, 2008)

summer solstice –
the flock passes into darkness
one by one

– Sandra Simpson
A Hundred Gourds 3.4 (2014)

Christmas eve
in the courtyard below
a flutter of wings

– Pamela Miller Ness
The Heron’s Nest 3.5 (2001)

Christmas night
the lights on the house opposite
blink      blink blink         blink

– Sandra Simpson
Prune Juice 19, 2016

shaving foam
Santa in my mirror
waits for wishes

– Alexey Andreev
Presence 56 (2016)

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.

Postcard from Juneau

Had the great good fortune yesterday to spend a day with Billie Wilson, in her home town of Juneau, Alaska. Billie and husband Gary kindly cleared their diary for us and were great hosts showing off their picturesque home area, otherwise known as the state capital of “The Last Frontier”. On our side, it was wonderful to spend time with honest-to-goodness locals and hear stories and experiences that only long-time residents can tell. (Three bears on the deck with their snouts pressed against the glass while Billie and Gary were watching TV!)

Billie and I also had time to talk haiku (like that was never going to happen)! Like me, she’s seeking to win back some time for writing (among other things Billie is an associate editor for The Heron’s Nest and Events/Registry editor for The Haiku Foundation). Sitting and thinking, we agreed, are an essential part of the haiku process (at least for us) and we both increasingly feel we have to “schedule” such time, which is exactly what we don’t want to do.

whalebone
from a beach near Savoonga –
winter rain

– Billie Wilson, First place in the Henderson Award, 2003

Savoonga has an interesting history, including a famine from 1878-80 that severely affected the native population. Read more here.

retreating glacier –
how long since we’ve heard
the black wolf’s song

– Billie Wilson
from Haiku in English: The first hundred years (Norton, 2012)

It’s probably difficult to live in Alaska and not have an environmental focus to your work. It’s an amazing place full of stunning vistas and can be surprisingly like New Zealand! Read more of Billie’s work. She may be the only regularly practising haiku poet in Alaska, although Billie has – and continues to try – to foster interest in her community.

billie

Billie Wilson (left) and Sandra Simpson at the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau. Gary mentioned how far the glacier has retreated in the 50 years he’s been living in Alaska – the lake that is now the glacier terminus wasn’t there in 1958. Photo: Keith Frentz

that whale I could have touched
surfaces again
in my mind

– Billie Wilson, from a 2012 Per Diem feature at THF

Something we were out of step on was our coughing – we didn’t once manage to get it going in unison, though goodness knows we tried!

Recent poems

Lovely surprise this morning – the results of the new European Haiku Prize landed in my inbox. No monetary reward, unfortunately, but I had a haiku selected in the Distinguished Poet category (a Commended?) which will appear in the contest anthology.

tea from a rough bowl
             we open the window to rain

– Sandra Simpson

Tea-time at Eikando Zenrin Temple in Kyoto. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Staying at a traditional Japanese hotel is a lot of fun – especially when it includes an onsen (in Kiwi parlance, hot pools). Fresh tea and a small ‘cake’ is brought immediately after you’ve arrived in your room and served at the low table. My favourite tea ‘cake’ is the chestnut-paste square, known as tochi-mochi (栃もち), which is, naturally, an autumn treat.

Tochi is Japanese for horse chestnut but – as we should all know – horse chestnuts are the ones that can’t be eaten because they’re toxic. The clever Japanese, though, have found a way around and you can read about that here.

This haiku was written last year while staying at the Yumoto Fujiya Hotel in Hakone and is pretty much as it happened.

Farewell to A Hundred Gourds, an online journal that I shall miss greatly. Lorin Ford has been an excellent haiku editor and her final selection is well worth a read – including three of my own humble efforts. The archives will be available for the foreseeable future so do have a look if you don’t already know this publication.

bull kelp
sliding in and out of sight
a fur seal

– Sandra Simpson

Fur seals frolicking in Otago Harbour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

NZ fur seals were almost obliterated by the coming of people to these islands – the few the Maori left were soon hunted down by European sealers after their skins and blubber. Read more here. Fortunately, sanity finally prevailed and in 1978 kekeno became a protected species. They are now the most common seal sighted and their numbers are growing. Read more here.

Finally, two haiku in the latest issue of The Heron’s Nest, a red-letter day!

cumulonimbus —
the slow grind of continents
beneath my feet

– Sandra Simpson

I’ve had this one around for a little while, but couldn’t get any recognition for it so entered it into an online kukai* that I belong to. One of the participants, whose work I admire enormously, said: “Coming from California I have written many haiku on earthquakes and unsteady ground, and even this knowledge of grinding continents. I will stop. L2 and 3 say it perfectly. The contrast between the smooth glide if clouds is wonderful.” Woohoo!

So I sent it off again, and what do you know? The haiku was written while on a ginko** at Te Puna Quarry Park.

*Kukai = peer-judged contest or workshop. Poems are entered anonymously and participants vote for their favourites (you can’t vote for your own), offering constructive comments as to why they like a haiku or why they think something doesn’t work.

**Ginko = a group walk to observe, take notes, make word sketches and write haiku. Often a kukai at the end.