e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Poetry”

More deeply into haiku

Stepping Stones coverI’ve started to read Stepping Stones: a way into haiku by Martin Lucas, a former president of the British Haiku Society. I was very sad to learn that he has recently died. He leaves behind much influence and inspiration for those who enjoy haiku.

This book is not a technical ‘how to’, apart from the introduction which concentrates mostly on the important differences that the Japanese and English languages force on haiku. It is an anthology of modern English language haiku with a commentary on each one.

The commentaries encourage a deeper and more thorough reading of the poems by questioning and speculating about the context and significance of each of them.

For instance, on the haiku about the actions of a monk while swimming in a river by Steve Dolphy, some of the questions to consider are: was he alone or with other monks? was he wearing his saffron robes or had he stripped? was his ducking under the approaching oar hasty and fearful or calm and dignified? Of course, we don’t know. Each reader must ‘see’ the scene for themselves and arrive at an understanding accordingly. In another, by Andrew Detheridge, about clinging to a donkey’s tail we are encouraged to ask the circumstances: a children’s game? a moment of disorientation? a real donkey or a paper one?

Considering questions like this has made me take note of how selective a haiku writer is. The points important to the poem are abstracted from a much more complex scene.

A lot is left up to the reader. This is one reason haiku don’t contain judgements – the reader’s response should not be coloured by someone else’s opinion.

I am learning a great deal from this way of looking at an individual poem – more as a reader than a writer. But if we can’t read properly, how can we write?

Sunflowers and the sun

Carpe Diem has set us a lovely challenge this time. The prompt is ‘sunflowers’ – very evocative and open to many interpretations.

Fields of sunflowers;
each tracks the sun, east to west.
Nightfall will stop them.

A different haiku challenge

The Carpe Diem site has several different challenges. The one I’m trying today is to complete a haiku given the middle line.

The given line is:

mists over the foreign highlands

Extra restrictions are that it must follow the classical form and use one more kigo (season word) for Autumn. ‘Mist’ is a classic Autumn word.

I looked up some kigo words and found them inspirational.

Now it is twilight;
mists over the foreign highlands
hide the harvest moon.

Although we only have to produce two lines, this challenge isn’t easy, but on the Carpe Diem site are links to a number of amazing poems it has inspired.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love roses?

Roses

No two roses
are the same, but all are born
twinned with beauty.

Haiku challenge on ‘Shallow Water’

Today Carpe Diem has given us a double challenge. To use the prompt ‘shallow water’ and to relate to an Australian legend of the Dreamtime.

The Carpe Diem website has the full legend of Mirragan, the Fisherman, and Gurangatch, the creature he fished for. Well worth a read for an exciting tale and an insight into another culture.

Here is my attempt at this prompt:

Night! The shallow stream
is black. Only the star-eyes
of Gurangatch shine.

Haiku challenge from a ghost

Carpe Diem has given a complex challenge this time. It includes some imagined ghost writing by Basho.

As usual there are some inspired haiku to read based on his examples. The subjects are more diffuse than usual, but mainly revolve around spring.

I have followed the trend:

Each day a little
longer than yesterday: spring
grows into summer.

Redundancy and discount

I recently discovered that our language is full of obsolete words, threatened with removal from dictionaries and other places where words gather to be noticed.

drysalter coverAren’t they still needed? Can one write a historical novel without frigorific or charabanc? And how about the poets? Michael Symmons Roberts recently won the Costa Prize with a book called Drysalter, another threatened word.

I wonder sometimes how this rationalisation is managed. Perhaps the dictionary editors call the words into the office, one at a time, and tell them quietly, with overtones of regret, that they are no longer needed. Redundant! Having experienced the shock of the ‘we don’t need you’ moment, I can sympathise with those lackadaying words.

What sort of payout do they get? I’m not sure what the current requirement is, but if it’s a week’s pay for every year of work, then after a few centuries jargogle is going to get a good whack.

Does he have a leaving do? Or does he rush home and invest his money becoming self-employed, with an ad in Yellow Pages? Later he’ll send out flyers to historians and poets offering his services as a scene setter or a new rhyme. He’ll mention his hourly rate:

Anent this bargain price; ’tis discounted if you twattle me on Twitter.

Cover art from Goodreads.

Writ on water

Poets' graves in RomeThe BBC website today has an article about the Protestant cemetery in Rome. Among the numerous rich and/or famous people buried there is John Keats, who died at twenty-five.

It is so sad that he didn’t live long enough to know how popular his work would become and how his genius would be appreciated. He felt he was leaving no mark on the world.

Never one to deny what he saw as truth, he asked for this epitaph on his gravestone:

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Reading that made me wonder how we could describe those of us who write electronically. ‘On water’ doesn’t quite cover it; ‘on ether’ is a bit fanciful.

I do sometimes wonder what will happen to the billions of words written daily in websites, blogs, social media and others. Will they withstand any test of time? Does material stored on a hard disk slowly fade, first to a stuttery whisper and finally to a white hiss? Will the future be saddled with inaccessible diaries and letters on unreadable DVDs? If so how will future biographers manage?

Now that some of the material has taken to radio waves I picture it floating around the world and out into space to eventually saturate the galaxy with the thoughts of people who will be millenia dead by that time. Will future historians leap into faster-than-light spaceships and pursue the words of the famous across interstellar emptiness?

Keats’ works have proved durable, but part of that is that they were committed to paper.

Public domain picture from Wikicommons.

 

 

Tennyson had many words for it

castle

Hohenschwangau from Neuschwanstein

Now that the stately home visiting season is upon us, my mind has turned to those most fairytale of stately dwellings, the castles. In Europe we’re blessed with a lot of them – this is IMHO one of the most beautiful – floating in its valley surrounded by mist and trees.

There is far too much poetry about castles for me to attempt to look at it, but I’d like to share some of my favourite lines from Tennyson’s The Princess: The Splendour falls on Castle Walls. The picture painted is so vivid.

The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.

He understood that a castle isn’t alone, it has a location and, if the old time builders got it right, the building and setting enhance one another.

For the rest of the poem see The Poetry Foundation website.

Those little things we love to jump in

Today’s haiku challenge from Carpe Diem is ‘puddles’.

Puddles are friendly little things; didn’t you love to jump in them when you were a bit younger than you are now? I did, and I also loved their mirrorness when they reflected the surroundings, particularly me as I leaned over them to look (I was a vain child and always enjoyed my reflection).

But puddles are junior members of a big family and may be practising to grow up like their big brothers – floods. After all the rain we’ve had, floods are on a lot of minds in southern England, so I find puddles a very apt prompt.

Carpe Diem gives, as usual, some wonderful examples of haiku to inspire us. Here is my result:

Falling rain all day,
uneven pathway – puddles
reflecting moonlight.

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