The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

The sound of haiku

We are surrounded by sound all our waking (and sleeping) hours, some of it pleasant (birdsong), some of it discordant (emergency sirens). These haiku seem to me to use sound in interesting and sometimes inventive ways.

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner
resonates

Dee Evetts
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

pissing into a steel trough the muted boom of the bar

Stuart Quine
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay
from Stepping Stones (BHS, 2007)

furu oto ya mimi mo su-nara ume no ame

a falling sound
that sours my ears
plum rain

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku, written in 1666, is: What the Japanese call ‘ume’ is most often translated as ‘plum’ … but the fruit more closely resembles the apricot. Because the fruit ripens from mid-June to mid-July the rains of this time are called ‘ume no ame’ (‘plum rains’). Even ripe the fruit is inedible until it has been preserved in salty, sour liquid, similar to olives.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the nursery roof

Vanessa Proctor
from Wishbone Moon

summer solstice
the measuring tape reels back
into its case

Carolyn Hall
from Montage

setsugen ya majiwarazu shite wadachiato

autumn night –
the sound of two white plates
touching

Yoshiko Yoshino, tr. unknown

through my stethoscope
the rumble
of the 8:15

Jon Iddon
from Stepping Stones

foghorns –
we lower a kayak
into the sound

Christopher Herold
from Montage

drought
my ears have lost
the creek

Sandi Pray
from Wishbone Moon

late-rising moon
each rock in the stream
has its own sound

Burnell Lippy
from Montage

Wishbone Moon

Wishbone Moon, edited by Roberta Beary, Ellen Compton and Kala Ramesh (Jacar Press, 2018), 104 pages.

This anthology of women’s haiku features 108 poets from around the world – eight from New Zealand (including me) – and is dedicated to the memory of pioneer American haiku poet and feminist Marlene Mountain (1939-2018).

The editors themselves nicely span the globe and all are highly esteemed poets and editors – Roberta Beary (living in Ireland, American by birth), Ellen Compton (US) and Kala Ramesh (India) – while contributors come from five continents.

A brief “editors’ introduction” appears on the back cover of the book and explains that the poets appearing in the anthology were invited to submit work for consideration – there was no open call. “We asked the nominees to send us their very best work. We did not suggest a theme or topic. We wanted to showcase work representing the haiku aesthetic at its best…”

Wishbone Moon is billed as an “a groundbreaking anthology of haiku by women”, but it seems to me that it’s groundbreaking only in the sense this the first women-only haiku anthology. The poems themselves, while of a high standard and very readable, aren’t particularly experimental (with a couple of exceptions) nor “in your face” feminist.

Critics may well argue that an anthology of women writing about any old thing might as well be an anthology of writers of any gender. Do women intrinsically have a shared view of the world – no matter where they come from, their age, education or economic class? Do women have insights that other genders don’t possess?

There are plenty of haiku in Wishbone Moon to prove that, naturally, women write on any topic. (Try covering up the names in any quality haiku journal and see if you can discern the author’s gender with any certainty.)

communal riots –
trying to find myself
in the ruins

Iqra Raza (India)

a yellowing
of leaves on the oak …
I turn fifty

Anne Curran (NZ)

cowlick
some part of me
still wild

Annette Y Makino (US)

evening dusk
geese above the meadow
on the way to somewhere

Riet De Bakker (Belgium)

But there are also plenty of haiku that detail women’s life experiences.

casual embrace –
suddenly conscious
of my breasts

Harriot West (US)

miscarriage
my little girl
names her sister

Marianne Paul (Canada)

now we can talk 
of what might have been –
menopause

Geethanjali Rajan (India)

mastectomy
the surgeon’s word massive
in my mouth

Ruth Yarrow (US)

I’m always happy to read outstanding work and Wishbone Moon has that in spades by both new (to me, anyway) and established names.

tasting the word husband for the first time

Agnes Eva Savich (US)

petition for divorce
the period 
in every sentence

Anna Mazurkiewicz (Poland)

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald (US)

full moon –
the singers’ faces
turn skywards

Amanda Bell (Ireland)

However, I find the layout of the book unfortunate and wish it had been otherwise as the paper is a lovely weight and has an attractive silky feel, while the cover is a model of understatement.

There are three poems per page but they don’t have room to breathe, being concentrated in the top half to two-thirds of the page with, oddly, the rest of the page left blank. It feels unnecessarily crammed, especially as the author name, em dash and country of residence below each haiku is the same size as the poem. The other odd choice was to right justify all the right-hand pages. It works all right for single-line haiku but this isn’t the way they would have originally been written.

the leap
that pulls a muscle …
housefly

Elaine Andre (US)

Each contributor has a bio note, but there’s no index to show which authors appear where (I don’t mind this – perhaps it was intended as a democratising effect or to make sure readers actually read every page rather than heading to a particular name).

So don’t buy Wishbone Moon for its looks but do buy it for its contents. The poems are honest, sometimes startling, sometimes funny, sometimes wistful – but always top-notch.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the roof

Vanessa Proctor (Australia)