Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 July, 2011, Bertrand Russell Room, Conway Hall.
BHS will have a stall (information, bookstall, film and website shows) at the arts and crafts festival organised by Bunkasai.
Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 July, 2011, Bertrand Russell Room, Conway Hall.
BHS will have a stall (information, bookstall, film and website shows) at the arts and crafts festival organised by Bunkasai.
Leaves to a Tree Haiku Group meets every third Sat in January, April, July and October. Contact the convenor Diana Webb before attending, email: dianawebb46 (a) gmail . com
The adjudicators were Lynne Rees and Jeffrey Woodward.
The winners each receive £125.
up again in the night, its not only you men. stagger to the bathroom, knees & other joints welded refusing to straighten, must look like a stick insect, did i seriously write a humorous poem once about the signs of ageing? nothing remotely risible about this body, one minute youre rocking & rolling till all hours, next youre nothing more than a remnant of pink fabric thats lost its stretch, a deflated balloon, a dried up old leaf…
feet shuffle me back to bed. that you love? he mutters between snores, no. marilyn monroe i reply, one of our many mantras, every couple has them, at least the memorys still working, something to smile about after all.
Old Rocker is an exquisitely crafted haibun: the prose, the haiku and the title all resonate with each other to create something more than their individual parts. Remove one of those elements and the haibun’s overall effect is diminished.
The fragmented syntax of the prose effectively mirrors thought process while the lyricism of the haiku contrasts the prose syntactically and complements it linguistically. The haiku link and shift beautifully to and from the prose and the overall theme of ageing is reinforced by both haiku, explicitly in the first and implicitly in the second, without repetition. The title plays with the reader on a number of levels: it highlights the theme of ageing, references a phrase in the prose (rocking & rolling) to further knit those two elements together, and also suggests the image of an old rocking chair, a symbol of both old age and comfort.
And I am comforted by this haibun, both as writer and reader.
I admire the precise concrete imagery that is emotionally convincing and the reciprocation of form and content evident in the choice of syntax. I also admire the construction: the haiku feel consciously placed and contribute to the overall dramatic development. The reader shifts between stream of consciousness and more focused reflection as the narrator shifts between movement and stasis, from walking to the bathroom for the necessary pause, then back to bed and a second moment of reflection in the closing haiku. It would not be an exaggeration to say I am in awe of the final haiku. These 10 ordinary words encapsulate the haibun’s theme and extend it too, but also, for me, invoke Basho’s crow, although here the settling is replaced with an element of resistance. In that one word beat, we can read struggle, measuring time, and perhaps even winning some ground.
I read the haibun again, and again. I find myself ‘rocked’ by the rhythms and language, its pathos and bathos; its insights that expose and embrace truth.
“A pagan Christian”, she confesses. Chunky Celtic jewellery. Ear rings that dingle-dangle. A long purple skirt and a brightly coloured top. What estate agents call “a well presented property”. Limited liability retail flirts — she and I.
So, the four of us have actually made it to the here and now. Miscellaneous surgical scars; repair jobs here and there; irreplaceable parts wearing out; one sort of pain or another. The 1930s not quite lost in history. But of course, no one here feels old.
Tossing her well-coiffed black hair, she fronts an animated discussion to do with Mary Magdalene. We each have our own agenda — well known to the other three after all those years. I chuck another log into the stove
My wife disagrees. Enjoying himself, her husband waves one foot in the air and sucks on his empty pipe. Stirring the pot I play the innocent.
To mellow the mood we break open the Leffe Abbey Belgian beer. “Roasted barley malt gives the beer its deep brown colour and fantastic combination of sweet caramel yet bitter taste.” A Georges Brassens disk “La Chasse aux Papillon” (“The Butterfly Hunt”), and everyone begins to luxuriate.
Swilling the remains of our beer in the bottom of the glass, we round off the evening with a sing-song. Mai Pope’s Swansea syncopation of “Bread of Heaven”. “Guide me O thou great Jehovah pilgrim through this barren land…”
In the porch light, her husband’s silver quiff. And his firm handshake.
Nagata Koi (1900-1997): outstanding Zen haiku poet of old age.
Translation by Margaret Mitsutani and Naruto Nona.
Two elderly couples of long acquaintance are reunited. It is unclear if they meet frequently or if this evening marks some special occasion, perhaps a celebration of the circumstance signalled by the title, of the “four of us” having “made it to the here and now” of another decade with the “1930s not quite lost in history.”
While the general scene is one of a convivial gathering of dear friends, a palpable tension underlies each gesture and remark. What at first seems casual is revealed as calculated. The polished conversation of the couples is transparent and no disguise for the rivalry that has long animated their friendship. This contest revolves about the male narrator and the other man’s wife, about their “limited liability” flirtation that is tacitly acknowledged by all parties. Is it significant that this other woman describes herself as a “pagan Christian” and later introduces the topic of Mary Magdalene — not with any abiding devotional interest, it would seem, but simply for the slight provocation of her question, “Whore or virgin?”
The erotic undercurrent of this haibun is largely cerebral. The reader may readily surmise as much from the epigraph, a haiku by Nagata Koi, whose “aged butterfly” hints at the diminished powers — sexual and otherwise — of the narrator and his companions. Full confirmation of this is offered at the haibun’s conclusion; the lively party of four have together reached the “bottom of the glass” of their Leffe Abbey ale, the playful French recording of Georges Brassens has concluded, and their collective energy has shifted to singing along with a Maldwyn Pope rendition of the hymn “Bread of Heaven”:
What a sober turn of events! But their short reunion, too, has come to an end and the bleak night beckons where our aging narrator, by porch light, receives
There were 54 entries from five countries. Thanks to all who took part and many thanks to Lynne Rees and Jeffrey Woodward for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of reading and selecting the winning haibun, and writing their reports.
The adjudicators were Dee Evetts and Clare McCotter.
The two winners each receive £125. The runners-up each receive £50.
The winners are Scott Mason and Doreen King
The runners-up are Ernest J Berry and John Barlow
It is widely recognized that two or more judges of a contest will rarely pick the same poem(s) as being the best. The most obvious reason for this is our divergence in experience and taste. To lay some of my own cards on the table: I lean away from pictures of nature, however felicitous these may be—and especially those involving such stock-in-trade features as blossoms, snowflakes, dragonflies, cicadas, reflections, shadows, and the moon. Meanwhile I tend to admire haiku that can best be described as sinewy. If that sounds too anatomical or too abstract, I can put it differently. When encountering a poem I want to be woken up, alerted, tugged at—in some way that I will never quite forget, and that becomes vicariously a piece of my own experience. I hasten to add that the two modes indicated above are not mutually exclusive. Of the poems that I have chosen this year, one involves snow and the other the moon. It is not a checklist that we have in hand—or in mind—but something more in the gut.
I am known in my household for declining to watch any film that features exploding cars. (Fortunately the trailers for such movies give me graphic and ample warning.) However, had I been too rigid in my prejudice then I might have missed the excellent “Michael Clayton” starring George Clooney, in which an exploding car is central to the story. And this is the point of my anecdote: it was central, not gratuitous.
This earned undisputed first place for me notably because of the way language is consummately matched to the subject. It is that rarity, a large poem achieved with a handful of words. We shift from a vista to an object to a state of mind implied. The second line, with its multi-syllabled “kaleidoscope” raising our expectations, seems to offer escape (or at least distraction) from the predicament presented in the first—and then after all not. With just one more word it ends, perfectly, right there. But paradoxically we are not yet done. For this third line takes us back to the first with an effective and satisfying circularity. It is this evoking of a closed universe that gives the poem its singular scope and resonance.
From a strong final group of four I was compelled to choose the above as the runner-up. There are so few truly erotic haiku, and this is one. How do you convey nakedness, anticipation, desire, without using any of those overworked words? Like this. Make it specific, and you make it real. Of course, good choices are still required: a fresh way of expressing faint moonlight, the focus on sound, and an unexpected verb. That “hitting” shocks the ear, and expresses impact in more than one sense, not least the visceral.
A friend recently asked me what I looked for in a haiku. My reply — I’ve no idea — was deemed a less than satisfactory response. Nevertheless, that vague amorphous space of no idea seems a good starting point when judging a writing competition, especially one concerned with a form that has at times been beleaguered by a merciless prescriptivism. That said, the 493 entries in the British Haiku Awards 2010 encompassed a heartening variety of voices and styles. Thank you and well done to everyone who entered the contest. Many of the haiku were exquisite, many compelling, and many of publishable standard. There were also haiku that I felt would be rejected by editors. In this group there were numerous pieces that contained the germ of an excellent poem. Hopefully they will be reworked into something that will find its way into print, something a little leaner, a little more lurcher, a little less labrador.
After an initial reading of all the entries I had a provisional shortlist of 44. A second reading whittled this down to 33; a third expanded it to 46, and so it went! Despite the difficulty and undoubted arbitrariness of selection there were, however, haiku that snared the eye and the ear on first encounter. One such piece was:
This structurally perfect haiku could easily have been a winner rather than runner-up. It is flawless, beautiful and conventional, but it also incorporates room for speculation. The opening line is subtly ambiguous. The pink sunset river is at once a gorgeous image and something that could be interpreted as sweet and sugary, a cloying, syrupy, sticky space from which the heron must ‘pull away’. Demonstrating the visual acuity of the poet, the second line is an excellent description of movement. Herons do indeed ‘pull away’ when leaving water. And this heron is pulling away from a rose coloured fluidity that suggests warmth and familiarity in order to fly to the cold glittering edge of everything.
The haiku just discussed has been described as flawless. I do not know if the same can be said of the following. Yet, it is the winner:
This haiku has depth. At its centre is the concrete, highly symbolic and erotically charged image of the well. And it is not just any well, rather one from which the moon has been hauled. This is a remarkably compelling image. It flexes the brain and, as one hauls that bucket of moonwater up out of the earth, the biceps. The poem is revenant. It has returned to me numerous times during the past week. Like the circle of gold in the well it will continue to return.
The almost 500 entries came from the usual wide spread of countries of origin, in the following proportions: England 61%, USA 11%, then Wales, Scotland and Ireland at 5%. Australia made 3%, followed by New Zealand, Japan, Romania and the Netherlands with 2%. Finally we had Canada, Germany, Malta and Spain at 1%. (to the nearest whole %). Thank you all for taking part.
Many thanks are due to Dee Evetts and Clare McCotter for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of selecting the winning poems and providing their reports.
Haiku originated in Japan, but latterly it has become popular in an increasing number of languages and countries. Yet virtually everywhere where haiku has established itself – and that includes Japan itself – you will find people hallmark it differently. Some see haiku mainly as a kind of poetry, a literary phenomenon. For others, it is a source of philosophical inspiration and in some way helpful to their chosen life style, possibly inspired by Zen. For others still, it is the specific genius of Japanese art that attracts. Readers/writers of haiku often share something of all three viewpoints.
Followers of haiku also debate whether the Japanese haiku experience (defined in socio-cultural, literary, linguistic and environmental terms) is too exotic to be assimilated by the West, and they argue about the validity of supposed Japanese ‘rules’ on how to make haiku – even though there has never been unanimity in Japan itself about such principles, and the view of haiku available to most people in the West is one clouded by translation and the mind-sets of those who did the translating.
These are the reasons why it is unlikely, either now or at any time in the future, that there will ever be an absolute consensus of what haiku means to the informed person..
This lack of a consensus has not deterred Western writers, though. They have used such knowledge as they had and their own artistic intuitions, so that after 40 years one may talk of Western traditions and Western styles which have a certain validity independent of Japanese haiku. Some might wish to make a case for the relevance to haiku of the ‘six common principles’ of the Imagist poetry school (see Appendix).
In the West, the following attributes are looked for to recognise and judge haiku, but they will vary in their significance according to the person’s standpoint and interests:
The argument about what makes a haiku has shifted largely from form to spirit. But there is still much discussion about what that ‘spirit’ is.
The more traditional view is that the haiku poet, by an act of surrender, becomes aware of things impacting on his consciousness and is enabled to present them with heightened, selective objectivity. These observations occur in the course of actual, ordinary life and are recorded with an effort to efface the self.
People (particularly those who follow Zen) are prone to interpret these observations as ‘moments’ of satori (that is, enlightenment, when the observer recognises life for what it is.) The corollary of this, for the Zennist, is that only actual experiences qualify as matter for haiku, and these should not be modified to serve artistic ends.
Dee Evetts articulates a different view: “For many years I held the view that a haiku poet was in some way cheating if he/she wrote poems drawing upon the writer’s imagination or fantasy rather than from real life. At first glance this looks like a clear enough distinction, yet what about the role of memory, of literature, the media? How about the combining of two separate moments, or allowing one event to suggest another – or even using imagination to modify or build upon an actual experience? My view today is that what really matters isn’t the source material or inspiration, but the degree to which the poem comes from a place of genuine feeling, not from tinkering around with ideas or ideals. This is related to the Japanese concept of makoto, often translated as ‘sincerity’, but for our purposes more usefully expressed as ‘the truth of the poet’s heart’.” In fact, some of the most inspirational Japanese haiku were imagined, e.g. Buson’s (1716-1784)
Today, there are actually ‘fringe’ groups that promote fantastic, surreal and sci-fi haiku:
Representatives of modern/avant-garde haiku in Japan are on record as saying that there is no such thing as ‘haiku spirit’, only the spirit, or intuition, of individual poets who have steeped themselves in haiku.There is a blanket rejection, however, of aphoristic, didactic or judgmental verses. Although the haiku form has been used to write adages and epigrams, these offend against the principle of “Show, don’t tell” which most writers of haiku adhere to, with or without modification.
When the present tense is used in haiku, as it generally is, it signifies a single observation or occurrence, not a habitual one or a generalisation; but it may nevertheless seem to have some representative quality. Some feel the present tense lends a sense of immediacy and the poet “actually being there”, even if he/she isn’t actually mentioned in the poem (as in Buson’s poem above).
Those ‘close to the consensus’ come across generalisations in Japanese haiku poetry, and don’t much like them, e.g.
A very few writers take the extreme view that haiku are ideally created in situ and should not be retouched; those with a strong conception of themselves as poets tend to agree that reconsideration and too much retouching can destroy the raw charm of a haiku; but in order to enhance the literary effect, a more or less indefinite process of reworking is acceptable (as it was to Bashõ) providing the poet clings to the original perception.
The aim is to offer readers, drawing on their own schemata of experience, the chance to ‘feel themselves into’ the recorded observation, and (without any explicit statement of feelings by the poet) to share an emotional experience resembling that of the poet.
The desire for ‘presence’ does not preclude allusion. One of haiku’s achievements is to relate present and past (as represented by literature, legend, history), hinting at the transience of the former and the enduring quality of the latter, so that our living experience fuses in a constant paradox.
For some writers, ‘presence’ can be achieved at second-hand, via media such as TV (see Lenard D Moore’s haiku, quoted in section (D), as a probable example.)
Concrete images, not abstract words, carry the meaning and create the emotional tension and atmosphere in haiku. Two (not so often, more) images juxtaposed in the space of a few short lines, freely associated, without any positive syntactical link, allow a possibility of comparison which can be stronger than simile.
To create or enhance such juxtaposition, the Japanese language provides the poet with an array of words (kireji) which ‘cut’ the haiku into opposing sections – 12 syllables matched with 5, usually. These words are like ‘verbalised punctuation’, generally with a hint of emotion or of attitude. “Haiku is grasped with all five senses, not by logic … in order to jump over the gap between logic and the senses, unique Japanese rhetorical techniques such as kireji and kigo (‘season word’) were invented.” (The Matsuyama Declaration, 2000.) One is reminded a little of Keats’s “negative capability” and his rejection of “irritable reaching out after fact and reason.”
Juxtaposition and ‘cutting’ are of fundamental importance, and some would go so far as to argue that the ‘cut’ haiku is almost inevitably superior to one that reads like a sentence. To achieve a caesura, poets writing in English use punctuation marks (the dash is popular) or simple line-breaks without punctuation.
Ambiguity has always been a prized feature of haiku.
Using juxtaposition instead of conjunctions (such as because) opens up the possibility of different interpretations, and allows the poet to escape from imposing his own.
Adjectives are used sparingly in haiku. Any choice of attributes is more or less subjective and felt to be a bid to get the reader to agree with the writer. It ‘closes’ the transaction between poet and reader/auditor. ‘Open-endedness’ (‘the half-said thing’) is a cherished characteristic of haiku. Many of the best haiku have an unexpected ‘twist’ in the tail, ranging from outright shock to a satisfying surprise at the discovery of something one “knew all the time, but did not know one knew.” (R H Blyth)
Traditionally, Japanese haiku have been intimately bound up with almost ritual celebration of the endless cycle of the natural seasons, specifically as they occur in Japan. This has led to a widespread belief that haiku is ‘a kind of nature poetry’, but with populations becoming more and more urbanised, industrialised and cosmopolitan, this is not a description of haiku that most practitioners of the art would now be happy with.
For the Japanophile, the rather circumscribed traditional subject matter may have enduring appeal; but modern haiku has broadened out to encompass any subject in daily life, e.g. war and sex. At their best, both set their sights above ‘mere’ description to some engagement between the external world of things and the internal world of the haiku poet’s mind. The dominance of the human condition in Western literature no doubt urges us further in that direction.
It is nevertheless important not to project human viewpoints and values onto things – effectively, to patronise them. For this reason, the English haiku poet is keen (even more keen, it seems, than his Japanese counterpart!) to minimise personification and anthropomorphism.
Japanese poets, in line with ancient convention, still typically include an acceptable ‘season word’ (kigo), taken from a respected almanac (saijiki), as the key image in each haiku they write. By drawing on a fund of common associations, the poet places his/her current observation in the continuous flow of Nature and Time, thus evoking a great deal that there would be no need to say explicitly, even if there were space. Recently, numerous freethinking poets in Japan have relaxed the stranglehold of the saijiki by advocating the use of ‘topic’ words or ‘keywords’ with a more vague ‘seasonal feeling’, or indeed, drawn from human affairs, with no such feeling at all. Nowadays there are many ‘seasonless haiku’ written in Japan.
In the West, opinion about the need for seasonal reference is sharply divided. There are poems with strong reference to particular moments in the natural year, some with fainter reference, and some with none at all.
Some of the matters that influence the way a haiku poet writes, or sets a haiku down on paper, are merely taste. The Orientalist may have notions of taste which are exotic. Taste is influenced also by the house styles of various publications. Haiku is subject to ‘fashion’ as are other arts.
This is therefore an area of ‘each for their own’. Notwithstanding this, there is broad agreement among people of all viewpoints that haiku should be ‘light’ and not ostentatiously poetic. (‘Lightness’ is a reference to the last stage in the development of Bashõ’s aesthetic, when he set great store by karumi. It does not mean that haiku aspires to be ‘light verse’, flippant; rather, that the haiku poet should be able to present all aspects of life, both joyous and tragic (even his own death!), in a sober, interesting, but disinterested way.) It has come in the West to also mean that the appreciation of haiku should not be demanding intellectually, but produce an instant meaning and impact on one or more of the senses.
Everyday words that come to mind naturally are favoured in haiku; anything at all ornamental risks distraction and prejudices directness. At the same time, we need to avoid clich. Onomatopoeic words are prized. Word order is straightforward, syntax is frequently incomplete. Brevity is essential.
But brevity isn’t everything; it does not in itself make a haiku.
Those who approach haiku primarily as poetry will feel that various common techniques of English poetry (alliteration, assonance, enjambment, rhythm, melody) have a part to play, though none of these should attract too much attention to itself. Even rhyme may occasionally be used without detriment to taste, but it tends to glare. These are matters each poet is entitled to settle for him/herself, using personal taste in a pragmatic way. Titles as such are avoided – they may compromise the open-endedness and brevity, narrowing the context whilst lengthening the poem. However, ‘headnotes’ which establish little more than time and place of composition, or explain some esoteric background point, are considered acceptable, though not much used at the present time.
The use of similes is frequently questioned, but implied similes are not uncommon. Haiku poets can expect criticism and the need to plead a special case if they use like or as … as. They must be prepared to put their hands on their hearts and say, sincerely, that there was no other way of recording the perception/experience truthfully, i.e. use of the simile had nothing to do with the poet’s vanity.
The less punctuation, the better, seems to be a general view. Experiments with lay-out are justified, but like other things, current taste rules out anything too ostentatious.
Structure is important in haiku, but in a stress-timed language like English it cannot be reduced to a simple matter of counting syllables. (In Japanese, long vowels count as two and the letter n on its own as one.)
Some regard the form of 17 syllables (divided 5-7-5) as sacrosanct, as if it had some indefinable poetic or spiritual justification, or was ordained by literary history. The fact is, the form derives from nothing more mysterious than inbred Japanese phrasing, found in statements as unpoetic as police notices and TV commercials. In Japanese, the 5-7-5 pattern is inherently mellifluous and consequently easy to remember. But even in Japan there is a growing proportion of haiku written in other than 17 syllables (usually less). For example, Santõka’s teppatsu no naka e mo arare, rendered in English by John Stevens as: hailstones, too / enter my begging bowl, counts as twelve.
Poets writing in English have to find an equivalent that suits the natural cadences of their own tongue. (This may, on occasion, turn out to be 5-7-5 syllables.)
The majority of those who write haiku in English have come to feel that a haiku length of less than 17 syllables, with something like 6 or 7 beats overall, typically in three phrases with the middle line a little longer than the other two (i.e. with extra syllables and possibly an extra beat) sounds ‘natural’, ‘right’, ‘light’ and ‘enough for our purpose.’ To insist on 17 syllables, willy-nilly, may result in the ‘half-said thing’ becoming the ‘too-much-said thing’.
On the other hand, some haiku poets choose to write 5-7-5 as a discipline and a challenge to do so spontaneously, whilst maintaining ‘lightness’.
Senryu are superficially similar to haiku, but do not employ season words or aim at seasonal feeling. They don’t make use of ‘cutting’ in the way haiku do. The tendency is towards a single observation rather than juxtaposition, and an avoidance of ambiguity. Senryu is also more detached than haiku; for this reason, use of first person is far less common.
The focus of senryu is on human behaviour – actions, rather than things. Without generalising in an overt way, they pinpoint our foibles and fallibilities in an ironic or satirical sort of way. We are shown how absurd we are all liable to be. (Blyth, quoted earlier as saying that haiku ‘tell us what we always knew but didn’t know we knew’, said that ‘senryu touch all our most sensitive spots and tell us the very things we do not wish to know.’) Although haiku may be gently humorous, senryu are characterised by a sharpness of wit that haiku avoids.
For most Japanese there is, for cultural-historical reasons, an almost unbridgeable gap between haiku and senryu. Because of our traditions in the West, this kind of compartmentalisation is unsustainable. The majority of Western writers produce haiku and senryu indiscriminately. Some would admit to finding senryu much more interesting than haiku; others might feel haiku go far deeper than senryu. The West has also taken the lead in producing a kind of hybrid – a senryu that gets under the skin, and may even, as in the following example, include the kind of seasonal reference we associate with haiku:
We may say, then, that senryu and haiku enjoy equal esteem in the West and are not always clearly distinguishable.
In conclusion, ever since Bashõ, who encouraged it, haiku poets have felt the need to serve an apprenticeship and, when established, perhaps then contribute to the liveliness of haiku by developing and broadening its scope, without compromising its essential characteristics, attributes and qualities. Haiku is not a fossil. It is also not a toy.
© British Haiku Society, 2002
The British Haiku Society celebrated its 20th anniversary with an event at Daiwa House.
After enjoying a sushi lunch in front of a display of 20 years of BHS happenings, members were treated to a set of lectures and the unveiling of the BHS’s new educational website, http://www.anotherkindofpoetry.org.uk.
More photos can be found here.
The Winning Haiku:
It is difficult to imagine a haiku more highly commended: more simple, intuitively direct, and imbued with the spirit of Zen. From the first line, the consciousness is upon the immediacy of the here and now, seen in the keen perception of an ambient silence. The second line, “before the dreaming,” suggests what may be an aversion to falling asleep, possibly suggesting a troubled mind that might be anticipating a sleep of nightmares. With the sudden touch of a warm paw from what might be that of a beloved pet that may have been lost, instantly the lone, somber mood changes into a thankful joy. Whatever the case, it is left to our imagination. The genre of haiku welcomes a reader’s suggestive participation.
A close second:
I was very impressed with the poignancy of this haiku. The ephemeral nature of life, as reflected in the old dog’s eyes, is moving. The eyes are where life collects: age, intelligence, the amount of suffering, or lack thereof. Visually, the final line conjures snow or even barren trees. Whatever “deep winter” may mean to the reader, it is symbolic of death. Death, like deep winter, seals the last line tightly into the first two and we understand.
The following three haiku are highly commended (in no particular order):
crossing the pause
in the shouting
the cat takes my side
her book closed,
she listens —
the geese are returning
I commend the immediacy, and the here-and-now concentration. Each reflects the poet’s own immersion within the Eternal Now – the province of both haiku and Zen.
In adjudicating this contest for the first time, I have derived much pleasure from identifying and then thinking about the half dozen poems from which I made my final selection. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the British Haiku Society in this capacity. It is worth noting how unusual this contest is, in having two independent adjudicators and thus two overall winners and sets of runners-up. In my opinion this more accurately reflects the reality of how widely (and variously) excellence in haiku may be perceived, thus providing a refreshing breadth in the combined results.
The Winning Haiku:
Economy in writing is not merely a matter of brevity, but just as much a question of aptness. In this poem the first line evokes a scene and an occasion as luminous as any personal memory of our own. A piano stands in a room near an open window, with a spring or summer garden beyond, from which a bee has strayed. Then in the second line the stopping of the metronome says everything needed, without belabouring things. It brings to mind Raymond Roseliep’s sublime he removes his glove/to point out/Orion. As with his poem, here also a simple action conveys so much. What exactly that is, we might debate endlessly; in my view it most of all concerns regard. Neither the bee, nor the music – not the piano itself – is to be treated casually. Each will receive singleness of attention, while through this even-handedness they become connected, and achieve unity.
Highly Commended Haiku (in no particular order):
of the allnight
attending to the taste
of peppermint tea
she says something
I don’t catch
my wife down there
lost in lotuses
neon buzz: One could read this either as depicting a deserted crossroads, or as the location for a café or bar – and be entirely satisfied with both interpretations, as well as their differing moods.
leaf storm: The poet neatly captures one of those small yet potentially critical dilemmas that arise between people: in this case whether to let it go, or ask her to repeat what she said.
cemetery kiosk…: “Attending” is the pivotal word here, suggesting that the place and the occasion have sharpened the poet’s perceptions.
the heat…: There is a wonderfully indolent and almost bawdy quality to this poem, combining as it does the sultriness of the weather with conjugal affection.
After the record number of entries last year, this year has seen rather fewer entries than usual. There seem to be no obvious reasons for the fluctuation.
There was the usual wide spread of countries of origin, in the following proportions: England 46%, USA 17%, Scotland 8%, Croatia 6%. Then came Ireland and Australia at 5% followed by Canada, New Zealand and Japan at 3%. Finally we had Wales, Sweden, Serbia and Romania at 1%.
Many thanks to James Hackett and Dee Evetts for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of selecting the winning poems. Thanks are also due to Diana Webb and Phillip Murrell for their work in selecting the 50 poems for the initial short list.
We gathered at one o’clock at Park House in Leatherhead for this ‘expedition for beginners’, organised by Diana Webb. There were fifteen BHS members, one ex-BHS member and sixteen other interested people, in groups designed to have an equal mix. Diana provided a very useful set of notes for everyone. This included quotations helpful in encouraging an openness to and awareness of special ‘moments’. There were also 24 haiku as examples for beginners and some extra notes on generally accepted features of what haiku should be.
Having read these with a bit of discussion we were ably guided by Tony Marcoff on a walk beside the mill pond and around marshy meadows. Tony, like Diana, is a resident of Leatherhead and was able to supply interesting information on the walk and the town. The pace was perfect for walking, talking, jotting and identifying the flora. Then back to Park House for rest, refreshment and further jotting.
The second walk headed over the bridge and along the river Mole. On this stretch there were small weirs and wooded islands reminding me how very green Surrey is. Remarkably, all this is very close to the centre of Leatherhead – a wonderful resource for the inhabitants … and us. Crossing the river we headed back along a road for a short way and then through a magical sloping garden with lavender lanes running down to the river again. One particular spot gave the best view ever along the river with a weeping willow in the distance.
In the evening about forty people gathered in the Green Room of Leatherhead Theatre. Firstly eight of us read our own mid summer haiku in turn, interspersed with the sounds of the flute (Steve Mason) and various other musical and percussive instruments. This was followed by a programme of readings from fifteen BHS members including haiku, haibun, renku and tanka.
The evening ended with expressions of pleasure from the audience and some addresses were exchanged. Diana’s organisation and Tony’s sensitive guidance made the afternoon and evening a very pleasurable experience and a great success.
On Sunday seven of us walked to Bockett’s Farm, a place where the public can see the working of a farm more closely and meet the animals. We passed fields of cultivated elder bushes and had good views over the valley. We walked back a different way and after a pleasant time in a pub garden we parted company, well pleased with the weekend.
Diana informs me that of the 32 people on the afternoon walks, 26 have so far sent her haiku written on, or from the experience of that day. She hopes to put together a small booklet to catch the sense of that particular afternoon on the footpaths around Leatherhead. This would include one haiku per person from everyone who has sent some in.
Report by David Steel, photos by Andrew Shimield
Calling all BHS members! That is, fully paid-up members only. It is time for you to submit your entries for this year’s Members’ Anthology. The theme this year is ‘earth’, but the word earth is not to be included in the haiku. The Deadline for receipt is 1st August 2009. Send up to 4 unplublished haiku, marked Members’ Anthology on the envelope, to Ian Turner, 14 Bushell Place, Avenham, Preston PR1 3TQ, UK. Or email: ianturner50 (a) btinternet . com. If you want a reply to snail-mail submissions, you must include an SAE (in UK) or two IRCs (rest of the world).