e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

A haiku challenge about bonfires.

As usual Carpe Diem has given us an interesting challenge. The post containing it deals with the burning of ornaments at a fire festival. This is about leaving the old and taking on the new.

Fire is the medium for getting rid of whatever is holding you back. I think many religions, particularly Pagan ones, have a fire festival with this theme.

My haiku for this challenge is:

The New Year bonfire;
its white smoke rises skywards.
The flames warm my hands.

Juxtaposition – a new haiku challenge

Carpe Diem has started a series on haiku writing techniques. The first one is on ‘juxtaposition’. Reading the explanation, I realise that I’ve done this often in the past without naming it.

Having a name for something makes it easier to detect and to use properly, so I’m very grateful to Chèvrefeuille for his tutorial and the name.

The following is a haiku I wrote last year.

Soft rain, cloud-barred sun,
rainbow spanning the sky. Below,
the sandcastle crumbles.

Post-Christmas thoughts

Today is twelfth night (at least where I come from) and as I was taking down decorations and sorting cards, I was stopped by a lovely picture of poinsettias.

It occurred to me that the holly and the ivy (and I have several nice pics of them this year) are very well established with poems and carols to call their own, but what about poinsettia? These days it’s found its way into Christmas big time – on cards and wrapping paper; for sale in florists and supermarkets; but it doesn’t crop up in the choirboys’ repertoire.

A bit of googling found me a number of websites with short poems and one with a charming legend as well. One surprise was from Queensland, Oz which shows that poinsettias aren’t just for December (although what they’re doing in Australia in June I’m not sure).

None of these poems are as well-known as the holly and ivy ones and, as far as I know, none has been set to music, but at least the flower’s contribution to our Christmas iconography has been recognised in print.

I decided to add my own two pence worth to the recognition.

They remind me of
home, your poinsettias;
red stars of Christmas.

Happy Winter festivities

Most religious groups have a winter festival, and I wish all my readers joy in whatever their’s is. If you’re not religious or don’t have a festival coming up, I still wish you a happy winter-time.

The whole world gets a New Year in a few days. I hope your celebrations go well and that 2015 is all you want it to be.

I probably won’t have time to blog between now and January, but I will make time to read your posts.

The poetry of postage stamps

AJ864Recently I’ve been sticking Christmas stamps onto envelopes. I really like this years UK stamps – tiny pictures of people having fun in the snow. Other national post offices do their own, so we have a gallery of seasonal good wishes open to us.

As I was sticking I wondered if anyone has written poems about these tiny art-works. They ought to. Not only are stamps often artistic, they are sometimes valuable, give people employment in making, collecting, selling, and are the crowning necessity for your letters.

I only found one in my Google search, The Postage Stamp. by a poet called Herbert Nehrlich. It’s less about communication or art than a tragicomic love story.

Poets, however, have done quite well in stamps. There have been many stamp issues commemorating the AJ865great and, usually, dead poets.

I also found, on the Amazon site, a book entitled Chinese Classical Poetry Postage Stamps Pictorial. Sadly there is no other information, not even a cover image.

I decided to celebrate these small pieces of art with a haiku, a suitably small poem.

Art and function
in one little rectangle
of glue and paper.

The edges of the poetic – wine writing

Bring me wine, but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape;
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape
Suffer’d no savour of the earth to ‘scape.

From Bacchus by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Recently in a restaurant I read the wine list while waiting for my meal. The descriptions were evocative and almost poetic.

Like poets, wine writers invent words where the dictionary fails them. Wine can be cedary (tastes like cedar smells), ageworthy (should be kept longer) or Madeirized (oxidised). They can alliterate beautifully. Is your tipple heavy, herbal or honeyed? or is it focused, flabby or fruity? I suppose it might even be floral. My wine, of course, has finesse.

A browse around the web suggests that, although wine descriptions use many terms, the writer can’t say just anything – there is a recognised terminology. It’s a very descriptive terminology and I think that’s why it sound poetic: it raises a realistic image in the mind of the reader.

There are a lot of poems about wine, but so far I’ve found none that actually use the wine writers’ way of saying things. To write such a poem without it sounding snide or silly would be quite a challenge.

The power of poetry to prolong a generation – an envelope full of verse

Yesterday I received my quarterly mailing from the Poetry Book Society. This time the book was When God is a Traveller by Cover ArtArundhathi Subramaniam, who writes in English but lives in India.

As always, there’s something appealing about the slim book of verse with an exotic title; something that encourages both reading and thinking. Inside the colourful cover I love the way the poet uses the page, laying out her poem to enhance it’s meaning and to guide the eye to the emphasised bits.

I haven’t had time to really study this book yet, but already I’ve found my favourite poem: ‘How Some Hindus Find Their Personal Gods’. The process is logical and sensible:

It’s about learning to trust
the tug
that draws you to a shadowed alcove

The seeker recognises the god as he who is

… content to play a cameo
in everyone’s life but your own.

Isn’t this kind of recognition at the heart of all spiritual experience?

Along with the book and the Bulletin I’ve also received a booklet, Next Generation Poets 2014: a selection of poems from writers who might be the leaders of poetry in the future. This is part of a major campaign by the Society to bring to their work to the public. They define the next generation poets as having published their first collection within the last decade. As might be expected, the photos and brief bios in the booklet indicate that most of the poets are quite young, though a few could describe their ages as ‘late youth’.

I wonder if someone who published their first collection at the age of 90 would still be of the ‘next generation’. I like the idea of this strange extension of life. How long does a ‘next generation’ last? Perhaps in twenty years time their spirit can look down from Heaven (or up from the other place) and watch budding poets reading their collection.

Surrounded by darkness

Recently I bought a copy of One Hundred Poems from the Japanese: poems selected and translated by Onehundredpoemsfromthejapanese_300_504Kenneth Rexroth. Years ago I borrowed this book from the library and loved it, but at the time I didn’t have spare money to spend on books.

Reading these clear and heartfelt short poems is to wander in a different world: a world of underground passion, verbal precision and appreciation of small things, many with wide implications.

My favourite so far is:

I go out of darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.

This has the human condition so right in so few words: where do we come from? where do we go?

The original was written by Izumi, who I suppose is the same person as Lady Izumi Shikibu. She was a lady in waiting at the Imperial court in the tenth to eleventh century. Apparently writing poetry was a popular activity for courtiers at the time.

Would that the fashion had spread and endured. If our political scene contained more poets who knows what it might achieve.

 

Cover art from New Directions publisher.

A new Carpe Diem challenge.

In a recent post the Carpe Diem site introduced a new-to-me poet, Tomas Tranströmer. We are given a Tranströmer haiku as an inspiration. The season word is ‘frigid’ which makes it definitely winter.

I’m not sure how close I’ve come to the model. but mine is winter too.

Willow trees lean over
the moonlit river, where ice
glitters like starlight.

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