Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reflections on a month of intense poetry writing

So two years ago Adam Byatt and Jodi Cleghorn, on a lark, decided to hold a month of intense poetry writing.  The idea was to get people(themselves included) to write poetry without too much emphasis on being perfect.  To give people who may not write poetry regularly or at all, the motivation to try.  So much of writing culture and perceptions about writing focus on the finished product, the end of a long and often hidden process that leads some to believe that the work comes in a flash of inspiration, whole and perfect. 

So to make the event manageable participants were encouraged to write poems that could fit on a regular post-it note, to take a picture of said poem written on a post-it note and/or in situ with the the object that provided the inspiration. Then, this being the social media age, to share it on Facebook, Blogs or Twitter. 

The motivation from year one resulted in launching me as a serious poet.  Moving from a couple of early pieces published on curated websites, to being included in a print anthology and receiving two paid publications.

This year I decided to push the boundaries a little more and educate myself on Haiku.  So, up until a month ago, all I really knew about Haiku was what I had learned in grade 4 and what a quick look on wikipedia will grant you ie 17 syllables over three lines broken 5,7,5  about nature.

I promptly fell down a rabbit hole from which I haven’t yet and might not want to, emerge from.  Haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry have a depth to rival anything I have studied in Western literature.  The history of the form itself I could lose myself in years.

In concentrating on Haiku I found Jane Reichhold’s work invaluable.  I have mentioned her book before but you should also check out her webpage

I mentioned that Haiku is a little more expansive than 5/7/5. There are indeed a number of ways that Haiku can be written, there are a number of guidelines or rules, some of them contradictory.  Then there’s some hair splitting over season words, whether it's Haiku or Senryu. It can be a bit paralysing for someone testing the form out, but Reichhold’s relaxed and sensible approach gave me confidence.

I’d wager that it’s almost impossible for me as a Westerner with no knowledge of Japanese language to create a traditional Haiku.  That being said there are techniques and guidelines that I have tried to stick to because, well if you are going to play a game of poetry, you need to stick to some rules. 

Foremost among these is the fragment/phrase split.  Each of the poems below should be split, aurally into two parts.  Second, as you will see, I have kept them on three lines(mostly).  Although the Japanese tradition, I have read, is to have it on one line, and some western poets do this, I think the greater reading public see words presented as they are below and begin to think Haiku immediately and depending on their knowledge, know then what to look for in terms of technique.  Third, in terms of syllable count; at some point in the month I tried writing to 12 syllables(being closer to the original Japanese sound units in terms of conveying information) or less.

There were a range of techniques applied at different times to the content and notes can be found on what I was attempting if you go back through the other posts.  But here are the Haiku in order of publishing from earliest to latest.

 

...midday heat
magpies walk in shade
- water song

 

fallen star
dies in blinding flash
inspiration

 

cool gusts
answer summer prayers
sand in my eye

 

night wind
rattles the house -
unsettled thoughts

 

my feet discover
presents on the lawn
- kangaroo

 

breaking fast -
old
tastes
new

 

to-and-fro
mud wasp marches
stop
to-and-fro

 

pond to hive
a procession of bees
-water bombers

 

dead gum tree
heron perches
lost

 

white wings
from darkness drop
silence

 

two beats
a magpie takes flight
cutting air

 

tender hand
seeks hollow in the dark
Oh! your armpit

 

weaver
catches with gold
its dreams

 

late summer
taste of morning rain
on my tongue

 

aircon
rattles in silence
students work

 

butterflies
churn my stomach
new class

 

distant bell
this ronin wakes to a new
master

 

rain clouds
in young man's eyes
storm brewing

 

in flight wagtails
dive and dog the raven
spitfires

 

faded cat
on old armchair
well worn love

 

city lane
hardness beneath a
painted smile

 

warm bed
the toilet a long march
winter dawn

 

tomatoes
between gold and red
lips well met

 

mouse breath
from my ginger cat
twilight kiss

 

windmills
pull the hills along
autumn fog

 

on a street sign
croaks a frogmouth
autumn dusk

 

work of art
these termite trails 'neath bark
a page inscribed

 

hedge afire
with a thousand blossoms
summer's last rain

 

So on reflection I found the choice to investigate Haiku rewarding, and going by the response on Twitter and Poetry Zoo others enjoyed the poetry as well.  The plan is to tinker with these above and perhaps release some of them in eBook form.  I also have some creative ideas for meshing Haibun with Speculative Fiction.

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