Lost in translation

I thought I’d share with you my first dream of the year – a tradition in Japan. But although I knew I had been dreaming on the night of December 31, I couldn’t remember what on earth it was when I woke! So I’ve been scratching my head ever since, trying to come up with something momentous, portentous or just plain interesting for my first post of 2016 …

Why do we treat one day (January 1) as being different from the day before or the day after? As being a day of significance? For those of us in the southern hemisphere the undercurrents of the pagan celebration to mark ‘the light coming back’ are lost in translation – we’re in the middle of summer.

This year I have promised myself, quietly and out loud, to focus more on my writing. What I have learned from the past couple of years is that I need a certain amount of calm in my life to do that and at times in 2015 I couldn’t write a single decent line, let alone a complete haiku.

To help re-immerse me in the world of haiku, I bought two books before Christmas – A Vast Sky, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (all published between 2000 and 2014), edited by Bruce Ross, Koko Kato, Dietmar Tauchner and Patricia Prime; and John Carley’s Renku Reckoner, the distillation of his writing and thinking on this ancient verse form.

I’m dipping in and out of them both so don’t have much to report yet, except that as I already know several of Carley’s essays, I know he is a delight to read. A Vast Sky includes a good selection from Japan, so that’s interesting, while the other ‘interesting’ thing is that the editors have more haiku included – 3 each – than most other writers. Only Richard von Sturmer of New Zealand is accorded equal status. Most poets are represented by a single haiku, while a few have 2. There is no information in the General Introduction by Bruce Ross as to how the selections were made.

The anthology is ambitious in scope but, sadly, there is no mention of who has translated the various haiku from their original languages (presumably Kato for the Japanese section, but only one translator is acknowledged for one haiku in the Europe section). So let me give my personal thanks to the translators for allowing me to read haiku from such diverse sources.

tussen regenschermen
wandelt een natte hoed
eenzam door de straat

between umbrellas
a wet hat walks the street
all by itself

– Willy Cuvelier, Belgium

itanoma ni cho no utsureru gokusho kana

on the wooden floor
a butterfly reflected –
so terribly hot

– Masako Yamanishi, Japan

vintersolverv
tyngden
av gamle argumenter

winter solstice
the weight
of old arguments

– O. G. Aksnes, Norway

year’s end
her skipping rope
too short

– Maria Steyn, South Africa

John Carley, RIP

News has come that John Carley (born 1955) has died in England, on January 1. John had had a serious illness for four years, something he bore with good humour and fortitude. I feel privileged to have known John, even if only by email and through shared writing online.

His communication skills were second to none and he was one of the best teachers I have met. Thanks to him, my interest in renku is ongoing. He was also the best sabaki (renku leader) I have come across, patient, thoughtful and with the ability to see the whole poem even as we worked through its mysteries. His decisions were invariably sound and based in an expert knowledge of renku.

His love of linked verse saw him invent the four-verse yotsumono, and he celebrated the form with a collection written with several authors, myself included, in The Little Book of Yotsumonos (Darlington Richards, 2012). The same publisher is bringing out the hard-copy edition of The Renku Reckoner, John’s life work, and taken from his now-defunct website of the same name. Thanks to a pdf version being available earlier, Vanessa Proctor has reviewed TRR on Haiku NewZ.

John’s free e-book of haiku, nothing but the wind (Gean Tree Press, 2013), is available from the Calameo website or from The Living Haiku Anthology.

At my invitation John led a small team of us to write a 20-verse nijuin for entry into last year’s Einbond Award. We were up against a tight deadline and a trying period health-wise for him – he not only led us right through the poem but in his summing up said: “This is far and away the best poem I’ve ever been involved in. And all those thousands of words of renku theory are worth less than one good exemplar. If I have a style, this is it. Thank you. J”

No, thank you John … and we won! (Icing on the cake, as he reckoned he’d taken some risks with verse choices considering it was a competition entry, and an American competition at that.) Read Early Morning Heat.

There are several articles by John on Basho, renku, kigo and other topics available online (Haiku NewZ, A Hundred Gourds, etc) and I urge you to seek them out and read them.

I feel like I’ve lost a mentor, a guiding light and a dear friend. I can’t imagine what his family must be feeling (typical John, though, he arranged for an email to be sent to advise of his death) and my thoughts and good wishes are with them and with the others, like me, who mourn him.

new year’s day –
a single shaft of sunshine
across the penines

(for JEC)

– Sandra Simpson