Friday, February 21, 2014

Loving Haiku

Oh Dear! It seems we have come to the end of another cycle of Tinywords, which means it will be several weeks at least before my next fix! It may leave me feeling like this...

"Noh" Tinywords Mask
However I should definitely be able to survive because I have just this week purchased a Kindle version of a marvellous haiku book by David G. Lanoue called "Pure Land Haiku The Art of Priest Issa", and which I have just linked to my Amazon store.

For less than the price of a coffee I have already received more enjoyment than any cup of coffee has ever brought me - and I am only a quarter way through!

David Lanoue obviously loves his subject (after all, he has translated all 10,000 Issa poems and has published over a thousand of these in his other book, "Issa's Best", as well as sharing one each day on his Issa website - also linked in my sidebar). He brings a genuine understanding of Issa and sympathy for all the aspects of his life, and an enthusiasm for his poetic output that it is positively contagious.

Reading this book has really rekindled my love of haiku. It has revived my own efforts at writing haiku: reading someone like Issa in translations such as those of Lanoue sets my brain into a sort of "haiku mode" all day, and I find myself naturally thinking and breathing in haiku throughout, and spontaneously finding those haiku moments that for so many months had been missed by me.

I'm left feeling more like this:

And Lanoue provides an excellent examplar for a haiku commentator to follow. Here is a brief exerpt, following a discussion of a series of haiku involving sparrows, of his commentary on the following:

"flying in and out
of the prison ...
baby sparrows

The prisoners are unseen, but we feel their presence - and feel for them. Issa brilliantly juxtaposes bondage and freedom, guilt and innocence, stasis and movement, sorrow and joy, society and Nature. The baby sparrows flit easily over walls and through barred windows, but the human beings inside them know no such freedom. With deft understatement Issa intimates pathos in the scene. He says nothing overt about emotion yet gently tugs at the reader's heartstrings.
They aren't Japanese, but these sparrows are free
Lanoue refers to earlier commentators of Japanese into English, including Blyth, Henderson and English-language haiku advocates such as Higginson, and while respectful of them, is quite prepared to disagree with them on the basis of his own deeper and more extensive experience of Issa's opus. For instance Lanoue has a keen sensitivity to ninjo in the poetry of Issa. This Japanese term means "human emotion or compassion". According to Lanoue,
"Depending on context, English equivalents of ninjo include sympathy, kindness, humanity, and human nature ... the ability to feel sincerely for others [that] is believed to be an essential ingredient of one's humanity"

Monday, February 17, 2014

Returning to verse

My previous post was almost a year ago now!

I wish my absence from this blog had been because of an incredible artistic retreat, retracing Basho's travels perhaps, or that I could report I was returning having completed some great course of study, or with a vast new store of knowledge to share.

Unfortunately, the absence was due to a chaotic year with personal and professional storms which - sad to say - drowned out poetry in a sea of urgency.

That is not to say that the year has been without wisdom gained. Shortly after my last post I was privileged to enter an email correspondence over several months with the superb haiku poet, Polona Oblak, who kindly provided something of a masterclass on some of my verses, as well as sharing her own, and thereby gave me incredible insight into the labour and artistic ruthlessness required to produce such high quality verse. I had intended (and still do) to share in greater detail the lessons Polona imparted to me. But the time and effort require to produce a quality post to do justice to her has been not available to me since then. Instead, I will reprint the poem of my own, inspired by the correspondence with Polona, which was published on Tinywords in July last year:

magpie calls
the verses we exchange
by email

For several months after I last posted, I instead enjoyed the routine of reading, reflecting, and commenting on the poems of Tinywords - something which provided me with an escape - at least for a brief period each day - from my other work. And I have come to realize my particular gifts may not lie in the direction of writing haiku myself. But what I particularly have come to enjoy - and received much positive feedback about - has been the commentary I leave in response to other people's poems.

Of course, I have still been writing sporadically. Haiku is about experiencing the world around us, being attentive to moments. It is about living mindfully. Balancing left and right halves of the brain. But stress does not make for sensitivity. It focuses the brain on solving problems and avoiding harm. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us to change our focus, and last week a work colleague provided that shake up which brought me back to Tinywords, and to haiku.

My posts will therefore generally be more focused and brief, sharing my commentary on haiku that move and inspire me. It will include many more contemporary poets from the Tinywords site, as well as reflections on the works of the Japanese masters from my library.

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