Posted in Haiku

Francesco Palladino’s Footsteps

autumn forest
lost in the sound
of footsteps

© Francesco Palladino

What I enjoy most about this haiku is that it has multiple interpretations, in multiple ways. You can read it as the autumn forest that is lost in the sound of footsteps, or the narrator lost in the sound of his or her own footsteps. Also, the word “lost” has many overtones. It could mean physically lost, emotionally lost, or being in an ecstatic spiritual state, i.e. lost in the music. This kind of openness in haiku is highly valued, as it gives readers more to ponder and to feel.

But with the word “autumn,” we can infer that the word “lost” is used more in a melancholic vein. And in this sense, I think the author is saying that with each step, the crunch of leaves and fallen material in the forest is being crushed under his feet—that sound brings up a sense of compassion. Not only has the dead or dying material fallen, it is now being crushed.

Though this is something that happens in our everyday life in autumn, we often do not consider the preciousness of life and how we treat it. Ancient cultures thought of animals and plants as brothers and sisters—and most of us, as modern people, have lost touch with this feeling and kinship. This haiku, in my mind, is a subtle calling for us to remember and reinstate that collective consciousness.

This haiku can also be simply about portraying that sadness that prevails during autumn. With dead and dying material being crushed under the foot of living beings, the sadness of the atmosphere increases. Sometimes a haiku is about delving into a feeling strongly, and experiencing it to its full extent. There is a saying that if you want to conquer pain, become one with it.

In terms of sound, the letter “o” plays a pivotal role. I believe it enhances the melancholy mood of the haiku and allows us to read the haiku at a slower pace, which in turn makes us more aware of the feeling behind the poem.

A display of compassion and pensive feelings, this haiku is effective in its simplicity and reference to autumn.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

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Posted in Haiku

Rajna Begović’s Yellow Leaf

Background on the Poet

Rajna Begović was born in Skopje, Macedonia on the 4th of October, 1939. She worked as a physician. Rajna was a member of the Haiku Society of Serbia and Montenegro, and her work has been included in a number of haiku collections, journals, and anthologies. She was the recipient of many national and international awards for haiku, waka, and haibun. Rajna proved to be a very talented and sensitive poet, choosing words carefully to express her feelings, her opinions, and the ever-present connection with nature in our daily life. She also wrote aphorisms, short stories, and classical poems. She lived in Belgrade, Serbia. Sadly, Rajna died on the 15th of August, 2011.

[Adapted from The Living Haiku Anthology]

Commentary

A yellow leaf flies in
through the open door
of an ambulance

Žuti list ulete
kroz otvorena vrata
bolničkih kola

(Second Place, Ito en, 2006)

This is one of those haiku that you feel and figure out immediately, but can have a lasting impact on you. As if begging to be cured from its maladies, the yellow leaf “seeks” help from humans by flying into an ambulance’s open door. However, the leaf got there from the wind, not by its personal intentions.

But this trick of the mind is important in haiku. By personifying the leaf, without stating it directly, we as readers open our hearts to the leaf, and in consequence to nature in autumn.

Although the leaf does not have personal will and consciousness to help itself, we should not be blind to the suffering of it. I believe this haiku calls for readers to keep their hearts open—even to something we may sweep up as a chore.

Also, the yellow leaf is in a sense a metaphor for the ambulance: usually yellow, contains suffering, and is being whisked away (in the leaf’s case, by the wind).

Sonically, the strongest sound running through the haiku is the “o” sound. I believe this sound provides the sense of motion of the leaf as if goes into the ambulance.

And like many fine haiku, there is a surprise ending, or something to catch us off guard to bring us into a different state of consciousness.

A great example of compassion in haiku, the physician Rajna Begović showed her work environment through a special lens.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

 

Posted in Tanka

Billy Antonio’s Hills

the verdant hills
of his childhood
he scratches
his growing
bald spot
© Billy Antonio (Philippines)
Second Place, Annual Tanka Contest at Mandy’s Pages

Before I provide commentary, let us see what the judge of the contest, Christine L. Villa, said about this tanka:

The poet’s perfect choice of metaphor proves that humor can be used effectively in tanka. The verdant hills implies lushness which is in contrast to his growing bald spot. To emphasize the decreasing loss of hair, words are placed in descending order. A hint of annoyance about the poet’s aging is implied with the word “scratch”, but using humor in this tanka shows us his/her acceptance of this human condition. I enjoyed the surprise ending. Brilliant tanka!

[Source: http://www.mandys-pages.com/contests/annual-tanka-contest/192-atc2016-results%5D

To add, I would like to say how relatable this is. Men all over the world must feel this way, but don’t express it. To have poetry that is instantly relatable is always a plus for readers.

Also, note how fresh this tanka sounds compared to the court tanka of old. With the exception of the word “verdant,” the tanka is direct, rather than dependent on flashy lyricism. This makes for a much more communicable tanka and one that connects to the masses easily.

I also enjoy how the two last lines interact. It is expressing a paradox: emptiness is growing. But as we know, there is no space that is completely empty, and maybe he is reflecting that in older age, he has gained something within to compensate for that physical emptiness.

In terms of sound, the letter “l” in the first two lines give a sense of dignity to his childhood, and the letters “t” and “o” make the bald spot stand out more.

Combining humor with reminiscence and optimism, this tanka showcases a feeling that many have, but often do not put into words, helping readers come to terms with their own aging.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

Posted in Haiku

Ryōkan Taigu’s Thief

Background about the Poet

Ryōkan Taigu  (1758–1831) was a quiet and eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Ryōkan is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.

Ryōkan was born as Eizō Yamamoto in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in Japan to the village headman. He renounced the world at an early age to train at nearby Sōtō Zen temple Kōshō-ji, refusing to meet with or accept charity from his family. Once the Zen master Kokusen visited the temple, and Ryōkan was deeply impressed with his demeanor. He solicited permission to become Kokusen’s disciple. Kokusen accepted, and the two returned to Entsū-ji monastery in Tamashima (now Okayama Prefecture).

It was at Entsū-ji that Ryōkan attained satori and was presented with an Inka by Kokusen. Kokusen died the following year, and Ryōkan left Entsū-ji to embark on a long pilgrimage. He lived much of the rest of his monastic life as a hermit. His decision to leave Entsū-ji may have been influenced by Gentō Sokuchū, the abbot of the temple. At the time, Gentō was aggressively reforming the Sōtō school to remove perceived ‘foreign’ elements, including kōan. The scholar Michel Mohr suggests Ryōkan may have been in disagreement with Gentō’s efforts.

He was originally ordained as Ryōkan Taigu. Ryō means “good,” kan means “broad,” and Taigu means “great fool”; Ryōkan Taigu would thus translate as “broad-hearted generous fool,” referring to qualities that Ryōkan’s work and life embodies.

Ryōkan spent much of his time writing poetry, doing calligraphy, and communing with nature. His poetry is often very simple and inspired by nature. He loved children, and sometimes forgot to beg for food because he was playing with the children of the nearby village. Ryōkan refused to accept any position as a priest or even as a “poet.” In the tradition of Zen, his quotes and poems show he had a good sense of humor and didn’t take himself too seriously.

Ryōkan lived a simple life, and stories about his kindness and generosity abound. In 1826, Ryōkan became ill and was unable to continue living as a hermit. He moved into the house of one of his patrons, Kimura Motouemon, and was cared for by a young nun called Teishin. “The [first] visit left them both exhilarated, and led to a close relationship that brightened Ryōkan’s final years.” The two of them exchanged a series of haiku. The poems they exchanged are both lively and tender. Ryōkan died from his illness on the 6th day of the new year 1831. “Teishin records that Ryōkan, seated in meditation posture, died ‘just as if he were falling asleep.'” [Adapted from Wikipedia]

Commentary

left behind
by the thief—
the moon at the window

– Ryōkan Taigu

The story behind this haiku is that one evening, a thief visited Ryōkan’s hut at the base of a mountain only to discover there was nothing to steal. Ryōkan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away. Ryōkan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

I feel this haiku refers to the fact that a thief cannot take away what is truly valuable: our spiritual growth. The moon in Buddhist poetry often symbolizes enlightenment. So, Ryōkan maybe saying he wished the thief sought for his enlightenment instead of material things.

Ryōkan could also be referring to the fact that the thief had forgotten the beautiful, serene moments of life, such as a viewing the moon without a thought of trouble. When we do wrong things, our minds are clouded with guilt. In this case, the haiku takes on a more melancholy mood, with a sad compassion for the plight of the thief.

The greatest thing about this haiku, in my opinion, is that it leaves readers in a state of awe and sense of spirituality that is hard to express. I think with this haiku, even in translation, Ryōkan has achieved the highest that a haiku can give its readers: an awakening.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky