Ramesh Anand’s Shelves

spring cleaning
the shelves
of boxed grudges

Modern Haiku, 47.1., 2016

© Ramesh Anand (India)

The first two lines seem ordinary, but the third line brings depth and layers. What are “boxed grudges” exactly? You can’t see a grudge physically… not quite exactly. But objects can carry emotional value.

Maybe the poet has an old friend or family member that he used to be close to, but their differences became too much, and they became enemies or their relationship got strained. The box could be filled with objects used by this person, or by the poet at the time he was close to this person, or even that specific objects remind the poet of that person.

So, the poet is cleaning in spring, as is tradition, and happens upon this box. When the poet looks at it, the memories of that relationship pour into his mind. He might reassess the relationship and forgive the person he has a grudge with, or he will resume the grudge. But by the tone of the first line, I think the poet is reassessing his feelings, and may be considering forgiveness. Spring is a time of flowering, and maybe their relationship will flower again, like a cycle of seasons has passed and spring has been revived.

I like the structure of the haiku. The lines are set appropriately to give the greatest surprise and lets the readers come to heaviest part at the end. If the haiku was written as:

the shelves
of boxed grudges
spring cleaning

…it would have less impact. I also enjoy the sound of the haiku. The letter “s” leads us to imagine the sound of a box being opened, or the sound of a broom. There is also a pleasant tone made by the “l” sound in “cleaning” and “shelves.”

But perhaps the most interesting thing about this haiku is the poet’s liberal use of metaphor. In haiku, we usually imply metaphor, not state them exactly. However, if used tastefully and naturally, metaphors such as “boxed grudges” can create greater feeling and meaning. The naturalness of the metaphor in this haiku shows that the poet is mature, and knows when to break the “rules” of haiku.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

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Ed Baker’s Surprise

Biographical Sketch

American haiku poet and artist Ed Baker was born in Washington, D.C. on 19 April, 1941. He received his BA in English/History from the University of Maryland in 1967 and his MA from Johns Hopkins University in 1971. Ed described himself as being happily divorced, the father of two adult children, and as an “everyday writer,” “everyday artist,” and “everyword reader,” having to his credit over 2500 watercolors, 75,000 poems, and 500 3-d pieces.

Ed lived in Takoma Park, Maryland, and his poetry and artwork, including haibun and haiga, appeared in many journals: Athanor, Frogpond, Odysseus, Hummingbird, South by Southeast, Modern Haiku, Lilliput, Bongos of the Lord, mojo risin, Iconoclast, Calvert Review, RawNervz, Liquid Ohio, Moonset Journal, Haigaonline, World Haiku Review, Origin, Longhouse, Simply Haiku, and Moonset. He also wrote 19 books. His list of books is at the bottom of this post.

Ed Baker’s style of writing and painting is probably best described in a review to Ed’s book Stone Girl E-Pic, where John Mingay writes that the author maintained “an artistic integrity that’s pure and traditional… an admirable integrity that’s attributable directly to calligraphy, collage and minimalist writing. Though, how could it be otherwise? The electro-mechanical drone of a computer would be hard to reconcile with an artist for whom, ‘Everything comes out of silence and goes back into silence.’”

Ed Baker died after surgery on 28 March 2016.
[adapted from The Living Haiku Anthology]

Haiku Commentary

tulip
surprising
snow

(South by Southeast 10:2 (2003)

© Ed Baker (USA) (1941 – 2016)

Only three words, but sometimes that’s all you need. Despite there being so few words, there are two parts: “tulip/surprising snow,” or “tulip surprising/snow,” or even a one-part poem as “tulip surprising snow,” indicating that the tulip is surprising the snow or the snow is surprising to the tulip, i.e “tulip-surprising snow.”

Depending on which way you read this haiku, you get different interpretations and feelings. In “tulip/surprising snow,” we have a contrast or comparison of a tulip and unexpected snow, it could be a tulip in late spring or early autumn, and suddenly it snows. The tulip, bright and garnering awe, compares strongly to sudden snow.

In “tulip surprising/snow,” the poet may have seen a tulip amidst snow, and that sure would have been surprising to see. It brings the reader into the moment. Sometimes the moment is all a haiku needs.

With “tulip surprising snow” and “tulip-surprising snow” we have personification, which is allowed in haiku if done tastefully.

In regard to sound, the letter “i” and “s” show the strongest presence. To me, the “i” sound brings more sharpness to the imagery, and the “s” sound creates the effect of someone stepping on the snow.

But with all these ways of reading, I primarily see it as “tulip/surprising snow.” In a sense, it is a blend of seasons (though two seasonal references should not be made in haiku, this haiku instead shows a particular season and its relation to another). What Baker has done is realize how seasons are not so different from each other, and show how winter can be expressed in spring, and vice versa. It brings a sense of oneness, and also a sense of exceptions. Definitions usually fall apart when you look at something close enough.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

A list of books written by Ed Baker:

  • Butcher of Oxen (Doxie Press, 1972)
  • The City (Red Ochre Press, 1972)
  • This Wood (Red Ochre Press, 1982)
  • Hexapoem I, II, & III (Red Ochre Press, 1994)
  • Nine Perfect Ensos (Red Ochre Press, 2000)
  • Shrike (Tel-Let, 2000)
  • Song of Chin (draft #12) (tel let, 2005)
  • Wild Orchid [w/sumi-e by Fay Chin] (tel let, 2002)
  • Things Just Come Through (Red Ochre Press, 2005)
  • Twenty-Four Ways of Seeing [w/sumi-e by Fay Chin] (tel let, 2002)
  • Okeanos Rhoos (Johns Hopkins, 1972)
  • RESTORATION LETTERS: correspondence 1972-1978 (Cid Corman-Ed Baker)
  • RESTORATION POEMS: 1972-2007 (Country Valley Press, 2008)
  • Stone Girl E-pic (Leafe Press [paper], 2011)
  • G OO DNIGHT (Moria Press [paper], 2009)
  • Points/Counterpoints (Fact-Simile Press [paper], 2010)
  • DE:SIRE IS [book 1 of trilogy] (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press [paper], 2010)
  • She Intrudes [book 2 of trilogy] (Modest Proposal Chapbook Series [paper], 2011)
  • ARS POETC HER [book 3 of trilogy] [forthcoming from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press [paper], 2013)

Elisa Allo’s September Wind

the fūrin tinkles
in September wind—
there’s still time

© Elisa Allo (Italy)

(published previously on tanzaku.wordpress.com )

Let’s first understand what a fūrin is: a Japanese wind chime. The fūrin has a bowl-shaped exterior, the zetsu (the clapper) on the inside that makes the sound, and a strip of paper that is hung from the zetsu. With these three parts, the fūrin is able to create wondrous sounds that remind people of summer.

From ancient times in Japan, it was believed that when a strong wind blows, an epidemic will spread. So, the tradition developed that, in order to avoid epidemics and to ward away evil, a bronze wind chime in the shape of a bell called the fūtaku should be hung near the house. They were also hung in temples to create a peaceful atmosphere.

But the epidemic in this haiku is probably referring to the season itself. The end of autumn is at hand and winter is around the corner. The trees are becoming bare and signs of vegetation dying are all around.

The last line is open-ended. Its ambiguity lends us multiple interpretations. Time for what exactly? It is not said, but the reader can fill in his or her own ideas. Maybe the haiku points to appreciating what is at hand, admiring the precipice of autumn in all its colors, revering what is dying. There is still time to enjoy nature’s beauty before the bareness of winter comes.

Another interpretation could be of a spiritual nature. Despite our wrongdoings and our life events, there is still time to become saintly.

Yet another interpretation could be that the haiku is stating that time is still present, whereas in winter, time seems to stand still in the covering of snow and the bitterness of the cold. Also, the tinkles of the fūrin could wake the sense of the poet to the moment, each tinkle a new moment.

I am sure you as readers can come up with many other interpretations. However, it is important to consider the mood of the haiku. Not only is the last line optimistic, but also the word “tinkles” gives off a positivity.

The letters “s” and “t” feature strongly. The “s” sound creates the effect of trees whistling in wind, and the “t” sound produces the effect of tinkling.

I believe this haiku is calling us to see the light in the dark, and to be appreciative of what is around us by being in the present moment.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Mutamagawa’s Fart

the great monk’s fart
totally forgotten

– Anonymous

(From the Mutamagawa, an anthology of senryu in 1750)

Most senryu were written anonymously in the 1700s in Japan because of their often explicit and personal nature. In senryu, no one and nothing is safe or sacred enough to escape being written about in a critical or joking way.

In this instance, we have a humorous senryu about a senior monk. Though the first line is funny, the second line has overtones of spirituality, believe it or not.

The last line is an invitation to a riddle: why was the great monk’s fart totally forgotten? Well, in Buddhism, you are supposed to live in the present moment, and be beyond thoughts of the past and future.

There is a story of a man who shouted obscenities at the Buddha, but when he learned that it was the Buddha who he spoke to crassly, the next day he met with him. He said, “I’m sorry for saying all those bad things to you the other day.” And the Buddha replied, “What do you mean? I live in the moment.”

This senryu is expressing this teaching, albeit in a silly way. It even shows how great the monk really was as a teacher if his students could forgot about his fart.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

 

 

 

Christina Sng’s Path

forest path
tracing the veins
on her hand

hedgerow #94, October 2016

© Christina Sng (Singapore)

What I like most about this haiku is its juxtaposition and the pivot in line two.

In haiku, there are usually two parts. The two parts here are “forest path” and “tracing the veins on her hand.” Despite there being no punctuation in this haiku, in English, lines can be a form of punctuation. In Japanese, they have kireji, or cutting words that act as punctuation. However, they are mostly used in poetry, and not in common written Japanese.

Anyways, it is a great observation to compare a forest path to one’s veins on one’s hand. Both weave, but both run to reach a destination through which one can to get the essence of something. It is the heart, and the depth of the nature. We take paths into the forest to go further away from what humans have made, and yet the poet makes an apt comparison between a forest path to the depth of nature and our own veins. Maybe this juxtaposition is also pointing out the similarity between the trail made by human hands, and the hands themselves.

The pivot line is genius. The second line can be read as a part of both the first and third line. It can mean the forest path, with its overhanging vegetation, is touching her hand and traces the veins on it. It could also mean that the way she traces her veins on her hand (with a pen, or simply with her finger) is similar to the forest path. Indeed, we have a forest within us, branching out as nerves, or as thoughts and memories, or as the magnitude of our soul.

Sonically, the “f” sound in “forest” and “veins” give the haiku more weight, and the “a” sound in “path” “tracing” and “hand” supplies a sense of awe.

A haiku that brings many images to one’s mind and many associations, in only eight words. It has a spiritual aftertaste, and gives off a mystical atmosphere when read. That is one of the gifts of haiku: they may seem matter-of-fact, but often express more than what can be said in long prose.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Yokoi Yayū’s Heat

the well digger
comes out into the floating world—
the heat!

Yokoi Yayū (1702–1783) (Japan)

Before we get into this senryu, let’s take a look at the poet himself. Yokoi Yayū was a Japanese samurai best known for his haibun, a scholar of Kokugaku, and haikai poet, though he was also an expert in tea ceremonies and martial arts.

He learned haikai from Mutō Hajaku and Ōta Hajō. Hajaku and Hajō were pupils of Kagami Shikō, a leading disciple of Matsuo Bashō. Mori Senzō, a student of old Japanese literature, compared his hokku to senryū, and said they were not as interesting as his haibun. Yayū has been described as a master of haibun, and Nagai Kafū called Yayū’s haibun a model of Japanese prose.

Though Yayu was highly respected for his haibun, we are going to go over one of his senryu, or short poem pondering the foibles of human nature.

There is something in this senryu that some readers might not be familiar with: the floating world (ukiyo). What is it? Well, the floating world is a term that describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan (1600–1867). The floating world culture developed in Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo), which was the site of many brothels, chashitsu, and kabuki theaters frequented by Japan’s growing middle class. The ukiyo culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

The term ukiyo (when meaning the floating world) is also an ironic allusion to the homophone ukiyo (憂き世 “Sorrowful World”), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release.

So, like many words used in literature, “floating word” has at least two connotations. This open-endedness is one of the main features of senryu and haiku. It is important to have an open interpretation in senryu and haiku, as there are only a few words used, and you want readers to get the most they can from those words.

The juxtaposition in the senryu is intriguing because “the heat!” can mean at least two things. It could be the heat from the day and the feeling of being in the now when struck with that heat. On the other hand, it could be a play on the idea that hell is hot, (where the well digger was digging), and he came up to the surface with a surprise that the same heat that hell had was present on Earth. In a sense, the poet is hinting that hell is on Earth, and that it is not so supernatural after all. This idea of hell also coincides with both definitions of the floating world.

As you can see, senryu, though often humorous, can also have a lot of depth and introspective ideas. Senryu are more about conveying thoughts, and haiku are more about conveying a mood, and ultimately the human heart in connection with the natural world. Each genre has its place in literature, and can equally stir us towards being better people.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

 

Kaji Aso’s Dancing Crabs

crabs

dance crabs
under the full moon
until you become a skeleton

© Kaji Aso (1936-2006) (Japan)

Before discussing this haiga (art plus poetry), I will supply some biographical information about the artist and poet.

Kaji Aso was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1936. He received an BFA in Painting and MFA in Printmaking at the Tokyo University of Art. But he was not only an artist; he was also a teacher, singer, adventurer, poet, and philosopher. All those who speak of Kaji Aso use the words “renaissance man” to capture his many accomplishments and his boundless spirit.

In 1972, he founded the Kaji Aso Studio Institute for the Arts in Boston, MA. Here he brought together Japanese and western culture: visual art, music, poetry, philosophy, theater, and good food. He also designed and built the first Japanese teahouse in Boston, where he presided as tea master. For thirty-three years, Kaji Aso was also a professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His art is part of the permanent collections of many museums around the world, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo;  the Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Museum of Czechoslovakia;  the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow and Padua Museum of Fine Arts, Italy. Thirteen of his works are registered as Japanese National Properties.

As a talented tenor, Kaji Aso performed opera and Italian and Japanese songs. He ran in thirty-six Boston Marathons and led kayak expeditions down some of the longest rivers in the world including the Mississippi, the Nile, and the Volga.

Although haiku was just one of his many special gifts, Kaji Aso very often expressed the wisdom of his beliefs in haiku and did a lot of haiku illustrations. He organized and took an active part in many seminars and lectures about Japanese art, haiku, sumi painting and calligraphy. With countless awards and publications attributed to him, he can be rightly called a legend. [Adapted from The Living Haiku Anthology]

Commentary

In the art, we can notice the moon at the top, with the haiku written in an accented way to take in the haiku slowly. The crabs below the haiku are shown dancing by the dots below them. This type of painting is not exacting, but rather an approach is taken to capture the spirit of what is seen. This relates to wabi-sabi, allowing imperfections to be and seeing the beauty in them. Sumi art is more of a sketch of life, rather than an exact showcasing of it.

Though the art seems simple, we can get a poignant feeling from it. I perceive joy and austerity in the blots and lines of the ink. It gives off vibrations of spirituality, but also a pure simplicity that makes one joyful when viewing it.

The feeling the art exudes compliments the mood of the haiku. Though the art does not show the crabs as skeletons, it shows their dancing and allows us to feel the mysticism of the haiku more.

In terms of the haiku, each line is striking and wakes one up to the moment. Though the haiku can be taken literally, I believe it has a spiritual mood.

Crabs are a reference to different seasons, but most commonly, they reference summer. It would make sense that they would be dancing if it is summer.

The full moon has so much symbolism in Japan that it is hard to define it in a few short lines. But the full moon can mean complete enlightenment, the absolute truth, and even specific mystical beings. In the context of this haiku, I feel the full moon is in a sense luring the crabs into a mystical experience, and that the poet suggests the crabs to give up the attachment of their bodies. The poet recognizes the crabs as seekers of truth when they dance under the full moon, and is instructing the crabs as he would students of Zen or other forms of spiritual practices. There is no sense of division of the human and natural world in the mind of the poet.

We get a contrast of the full moon and the skeleton. This juxtaposition, though it seems obvious after a few readings, does not seem apparent quickly. This is because the starkness of the moment described is so strong, that the reader does not consider the aesthetic of it at first.

A masterful haiga by an enormously talented artist and poet.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)