Scattered Leaves

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). I should point out that Chatterjee centre-justifies his haiku, but WordPress has an annoying way of cancelling that out. So, apologies for the layout changes – the poems read equally well left-justified!
Hopefully, we will eventually hit the road, so here’s wishing everyone a good summer, and thanks, as always, for reading. Now, here’s the review:

Kanchan Chatterjee, Scattered Leaves

Authorspress, Q-2A Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi – 110 016, India, 2020
68pp, $15, ISBN 978-93-89615-53-1, http://www.authorspressbooks.com

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end


Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:


dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo


after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Within this space, Chatterjee appears to live a quiet, sometimes lonely, life:

    

single, my status
in the hotel register …
deepening autumn

hotel parking …
a Nissan comes drenched
in spring rain

Of course, depending on how we read ‘hotel parking’, perhaps the hotel is the site of a secret rendezvous.

Many of the poems reference well known Japanese haiku, with rice planting songs, settling crows etc. However, Chatterjee is at his best, and most original, when he considers his own search for identity:


winter moon
a man eating two rotis
is what I am

Two rotis might well be an indulgence, but I don’t think the poet is passing judgment; this is a poem of self-acceptance. Later, there are hints that he becomes romantically attached:

             

Pink Full Moon
a faint sound of bangles
from next door

well then dahlink!
let’s go out and become
sunflowers

The first haiku seems to offer a tantalizing and erotic glimpse of a woman, possibly his future bride. The second (and final poem in the book) is affectionate in its use of the colloquial voice, and suggests the couple’s future is as bright as the sunflowers. It’s a good poem to end on, leaving us with a sense of hope and optimism.



Julie Mellor

In Kyoto …

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

(Basho, trans. Jane Hirshfield)


Well, not Kyoto. Hebden Bridge actually. But Hebden evokes the same feelings of longing in both me and my husband as Kyoto did for Basho.
We camped there for a few days this week in the sweltering heat. We’re lucky enough that a local farmer lets us pitch on his land, with the use of the outside loo attached to the farm. Everything else is back to basics, which is part of the charm. Farm eggs for breakfast, a walk into the town to get a coffee, a walk by the river to stay cool. We often talk about moving there, but I’m quite rooted to my home town too, plus our jobs are here. And I suppose if we moved to Hebden it might not seem so special after a while. So, I’ll stick with that feeling of longing, or yearning, or nostalgia (we’ve had so many good times there). All of which brings me the haiku by Basho which I’ve been looking at as part of a task set by the Yorkshire and Lancashire Haiku group (who have kindly taken me under their wing). What follows are a few translations of Basho’s poem, plus my own version:

Kyo nite-mo Kyo natsukashi ya hototogisu (1690)

Kyo though-being-in Kyo long for : cuckoo

(Henderson’s translation)

  1. Henderson’s version of the haiku:

A Cuckoo in the Old Capital

In Kyo I am,
and still I long for Kyo –
oh, bird of time!

(‘A Cuckoo in the Old Capital’ is Henderson’s title)

in An Introduction to Haiku: an Anthology of Poems and Poets From Basho to Shiki, translations and commentary by Harold G. Henderson (Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958)

Henderson points out that by the time this poem was written, Kyoto’s heyday was long past, and its glories were overshadowed by Edo (Tokyo). He also explains that, in this poem, hototogisu is written with characters meaning ‘bird of time’.

  1. Stryk’s version:

Bird of time –
in Kyoto, pining
for Kyoto.

in Basho: On Love and Barley – Haiku of Basho, translated by Lucien Stryk (Penguin 1985)

3: Kern’s version:


even in the capital
nostalgia for the capital –
woodland cuckoo

in The Penguin Book of Haiku, translated and edited by Adam L. Kern (Penguin 2018)

In Kern’s notes, he says the cuckoo is often a sign of longing for home. Although Basho is ‘home’ (physically), emotionally he yearns for the past, and a capital that no longer exists. The yearning might even be for an idealised capital, one that never really existed. Kern adds: ‘Those travelling far from home hearing the plaintive song of the hototogisu coming from deep within the forest supposedly become seized with nostalic (natsukashi) feelings …’

  1. Hirshfield’s version:

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

translated by Jane Hirshfield
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48708/in-kyoto-

I found it hard to pick a favourite, although once I’d read the translator’s notes, I felt it was important to know the phrase ‘Bird of Time’ in relation to the cuckoo. I did have a go at my own translation, but there are so many versions already, it was hard to bring anything new. In the end, the cuckoo or Time Bird is present only in its call, which becomes ‘the call of the past’.

In Kyoto
longing for old Kyoto
ah, the call of the past

The link below has a detailed discussion of Basho’s poem with a number of other translations:

https://hokku.wordpress.com/2021/05/26/bird-of-time/

Simon Armitage does haiku

Interesting to hear that Simon Armitage has been spending the last year writing haiku. This week, in The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed (Radio 4), he talked to Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess and wrote her a ‘sheep’ haiku. If you want to catch this episode, you can hear it on BBC iPlayer.
Sheep aside, I started to wonder what is it about lockdown that seems to have turned people on to haiku, not just the poet laureate, but lots of other people, writers and otherwise. Perhaps at first sight, haiku are small and manageable – anyone can have a go (and why shouldn’t they?). The tools are minimal – pen and paper. And of course there was more free time for a lot of us, especially during the first lockdown. There’s also that hard-to-define, spiritual element about haiku which seems to offer something life-enhancing. I’m reading a book about James Hackett at the moment. Apparently, he considered himself ‘a life worshipper, not an apostle of poetry or art’. Maybe this is what haiku demands, that we foreground living.
Back to Simon Armitage. In the episode I’ve mentioned above, he reads a fantastic poem about the wildflower yellow rattle, as well as airing his ‘sheep’ haiku, which I’ll own up to not liking quite as much. Not that I’m in a position to judge, and nor do I want to, because I’m glad Armitage has taken up the haiku baton. It might get more people interested in the form. In the meantime, I’ve transcribed his poem below so you can read it for yourself (I’m hoping I’ve got the line breaks and spacing correct).

wire wool tumbleweed
sheep drifting across high moors
clouds grazing the sky

Wire wool and tumbleweed in the same line, both describing something else in the second line – that’s a hard trick to pull off in such a small space without it looking too forced. I like the use of the verb ‘grazing’; it’s unusual, and metaphorical of course, but maybe it’s just a little too ‘literary’? Remember last week’s post, that Kerouac quote – ‘haiku should be simple as porridge’? I’ll leave you to ponder. Nevertheless, it’s great to have a big name poet in the UK working in this form and I’m keen to hear more of his haiku.

Paul Russell Miller, The Wild Beyond Echoing: James Hackett’s Haiku Way (Grandad Publishing, 2021) – £10, plus p&p, available direct from the author: pr.miller@live.co.uk

Simple as porridge

I’ve heard a few people quote Kerouac’s idea that haiku should be ‘simple as porridge’, but it wasn’t until I started reading The Dharma Bums (first published in 1958) that I realised Kerouac puts the words into the mouth of his character Japhy Ryder (based on the poet Gary Snyder). Maybe there’s a whole discussion to be had about Kerouac’s intentions here. Although the ‘simple as porridge’ mantra is quoted with much seriousness by haiku poets, in the context of the novel (well, this section at least) it could be read as comic. Either way, I love it for its directness, and as someone who eats porridge most mornings, it serves to remind me that good writing doesn’t have to be fancy or smart, just plain and truthful. Here’s the extract – see what you think:

Night Coach by Marco Fraticelli

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Marco Fraticelli’s Night Coach (Guernica Editions, 1983) this week. The book was published in 1983, so I’m playing catch up (as I am with haiku publications in general) but after reading Drifting, I wanted to get to know Fraticelli’s work a bit more. And reading Drifting beforehand really enriched my reading experience of this collection. Night Coach contains some beautiful haiku. Many are love poems, some tender, some erotic, and the illustrations by Marlene L’Abbe are spare and powerful, perfectly complementing the text. For me, one of the best pairings of haiku and image is this one below:

There’s also a sense of loss countering this passionate affair, as in:

Funeral sermon
In my wedding suit …
Falling asleep

The irony of wearing the wedding suit to a sad occasion is heightened by ‘falling asleep’, an admission of fallibility that makes the situation both poignant and humorous. In fact, rereading the poem I start to create a backstory, asking myself why is he tired? Is it the relationship/ affair that is tiring him out or is it grief? Maybe it’s just boredom, in which case what was his relationship with the deceased? I like poems that open out in my mind and this, without being in any way ambiguous.

The inspiration for the later collection, Drifting, came from Fraticelli’s discovery of some letters in an abandoned house, and there’s a sense of walking through some of those empty rooms in one or two poems in Night Coach. For example:

A religious calendar
In the dead man’s room
And maps pinned to the walls

There’s just enough here to hint at a narrative, while leaving space for the reader to construct their own. A small number of the Night Coach poems do appear in Drifting, for example:

Moonlight on ice
The farmer carries heavy rocks
In his dreams

I’m tempted to say that the word ‘heavy’ might be superfluous here, but it does add emphasis – there’s a sense of burden, of exhaustion, of getting nowhere, and that cold ‘moonlight on ice’ lights up the scene, as though we’re watching the man’s struggle. Well, that’s how I see it anyway! I m glad I’m better acquainted with Fraticelli’s work now and I hope you feel the same.

And finally – I had a few problems uploading photos to the blog today – not the first time the ’tiled gallery’ function has got stuck. I found the old version so much easier to use!

Drifting

The weekend before last I attended the British Haiku Society’s Spring Gathering. Had the event been ‘live’ I might not have been able to make it, but because it was on Zoom, I was able to attend both sessions (three hours, Sat a.m. and Sun p.m.). There was an interesting range of topics and I enjoyed being introduced to new books that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
Recently, I’ve been trying to thin out my book pile, and I’ve got rid of a few poetry books that, for whatever reason, I don’t think I’ll go back to. I’ve even managed to sell three on eBay for a small profit! Of course, the chances are that whatever space I’ve created on the book shelf will soon be swallowed up. However, one thing I’ve decided to do more of is make use of libraries. I ordered Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Dharma Bums’ last week, and this week got an email saying it was ready to collect. No charge as it was in the area. I’m impressed by the speed of that. No doubt for collections of haiku I’ll have to make a request outside my local area, so the wait will be longer. After all, haiku is a niche area to say the least.
Another great resource is The Haiku Foundation’s digital library. After a presentation at the Spring Gathering, I wanted to read ‘Drifting’ by Marco Fraticelli. Luckily, there it was, in the archive. Not that I’m a big fan of reading on the screen, but the instant availability won me over. Drifting is a collection of diary extracts by a woman called Celesta Taylor (written between 1905 and 1916) compiled by, and coupled with, haiku by Marco Fraticelli. As such, the collection is a haibun narrative, a poignant examination of love and loss set against a backdrop of financial hardship, domestic drudgery and ill health. This might sound too downbeat, but the writing is beautifully pitched and there’s a sense of lightness in the haiku that functions as a counterpoint to the bleak reality of Celeste’s lot. The extract below gives a flavour of the book, and I hope it whets your appetite enough to follow the link and read it for yourselves – Drifting. And because I still like to buy a book or two, I indulged myself and managed to buy a reasonably priced copy of Fraticelli’s ‘Night Coach’ (Guernica Editions, 1983) which I’m looking forward to reading when it arrives.

by the canal

coffee by the canal
the time it takes
for goslings to swim past


Just had a lovely weekend break camping in Hebden Bridge. Beautiful sunny days – despite sun cream and hat I still managed to get sunburn! The nights were chilly of course, but we had plenty of blankets. We don’t use a campsite but pitch in a farmer’s field with use of the outside loo and tap. Very basic but all the better for it. Eggs for breakfast from the farm (laid by white star hens) then boots on and out for a walk.
We did a few good routes this time, taking in Hardcastle Crags and, across the valley, Stoodley Pike. Coffee by the canal was a great way to relax in between, and the Fox and Goose, a community owned pub just out of the centre, was as friendly and welcoming as it always is. Due to lockdown we haven’t visited Hebden as frequently as we would have liked this year, but it was good to be back and spending time in some of our favourite places. Despite many changes, it’s a town that, for us, never loses its charm.
I took the recent edition of Blithe Spirit with me and read most of that, in between walking and scribbling. The haiku (above) was actually inspired by a pair of Canada geese chaperoning 11 goslings down the canal. Of course, by the time I’d rooted about in the rucksack for the camera, the moment had passed. Capturing the ‘haiku moment’ is hard enough, but pairing the poem and the photograph is even trickier. Admitting to this to myself resulted in the haiku below, and I think the poem is stronger for it.

photographing the well
failing to capture
the sound of water

Clearly, one way of being more spontaneous would be to use a mobile phone, but I don’t – I realise this is increasingly unusual. I don’t know many people who don’t use a mobile and when I say that I don’t, people are surprised. There’s no doubt that as an artistic tool they can yield some fantastic results (I’m thinking of Dave Bonta’s Woodrat blog where there’s a real sense of depth and thoughtfulness and the words often take you outside the photograph). What I notice and admire about Dave’s work is that strong sense of connectedness with his subject matter. The photographs are always unusual, and then there’s that extra surprise that he manages to get in the haiku, which moves the whole thing up another level. I’d also add that Dave’s level of productivity is enviable – daily posts of such high quality. Inspirational!


rain-washed gritstone

rain-washed gritstone
early light
tipping the clouds

My blogging has become a bit sporadic over the last few weeks. Partly, I’ve not felt I’ve had much to say, but then I have to remind myself that by just sitting down to do the work, words flow.
So, it’s raining outside, heavy and persistent, though now and then the sun seems to be trying to come through. The small apple tree we planted a few years ago is full of rain-soaked blossom and the starlings are darting to and fro as if they’ve got plans. A pair of blackbirds keep tamping the grass and pulling up worms, no doubt taking it in turns to feed their young, although the nest of chicks I photographed for my last blog post succumbed to the attacks of a magpie.
I realise both haiku and lockdown have made me focus more on nature, and things close at hand. No bad thing really. There’s lots to see around here. Nature and the weather are constantly changing, so there’s always something new to discover. Lately, I’ve been trying to learn the names of wildflowers (I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been able to identify more than a handful). What I’ve really enjoyed is finding out the variety of names for one single plant. Plant names can be quite local, and it’s fascinating to find alternative words for wild flowers you already know, almost like learning another language. One wild flower I’ve had fun with has been stitchwort (below).

Stitchwort, aka devil’s corn, bird’s tongue, lady’s lint, May grass, break-bones, addersmeat, moonflowers, poor man’s buttonhole … I could go on. I said above, it’s like another language; what I think I mean is, it’s another layer of language, one that can be placed over your existing knowledge – and new words yield new meanings, so needless to say, some of these names have found their way into the haiku I’ve been writing.
Alongside the writing, there’s been some reading too. I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. and I have a few more still on my wish list!
This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!





Self isolation

Once again, I’ve been self isolating, after some cases of Covid in the class I support at the local primary. And once again I’ve found it really hard! Luckily I’m well, and my lateral flow tests are negative, so I should be happy enough, although working online all week and not not being able to go out, really doesn’t sit well with me. Acceptance, I keep saying to myself!

One good thing, however, is that it’s given me time to appreciate the garden, and the number of birds that are flitting about at the moment. There are lots of sparrows, like the one pictured above, busy nesting in the conifer hedge (and the roof space of the house). Their chitter has replaced the sound of children for a while and I’ve found myself listening to them more closely. There are visiting goldfinch too, and a blackbird’s nest in the hedge, quite a robust nest I have to say, pushed up between one of our conifers and the neighbour’s fruit cage. All of this has given me some diversion from the monotony of online marking, although it hasn’t inspired me to write many poems. I’ve scribbled odd things in my notebook though, and maybe this is a haibun, although I don’t think the haiku is strong enough:

… looking out of the patio windows, the grass pale because it hasn’t rained, and earlier, a goldfinch picking away at the curly branches of the twisted hazel. A cool breeze lulls the pine in the neighbour’s garden, cone-tipped branches, the place where the magpie likes to hop about, serious and concentrating on his next big find – a blackbird’s or a sparrow’s egg – and there’s a house sparrow, dipping and sipping the water from the birdbath, freckling the patio with droplets…

self isolation
picking up a dead fly
by its wings

Originally, I had a haiku about sparrows in the birdbath but that didn’t really convey the mood I was in (I’ve done a lot of housework this week, just to try and keep moving about, and the dead fly relates to that)!

To end on a lighter note, here’s the blackbird and its chicks. It’s a shame my finger somehow got in the way, parting the hedge, plus there’s the mesh of the neighbour’s fruit cage in the background, but it was fantastic to get so close. I didn’t want to go back and disturb the nest again, or alert the magpie to the fact that there are some young chicks nearby, so I’ll stick with these photos for now.

Counting down the days until I can go out for a walk again!
Stay safe everyone.

following the river

Not sure if this haiku needed an ellipsis at the end of line 2, but in the end I decided to go with it. Partly it’s informed by reading and reviewing Kanchan Chatterjee’s Scattered Leaves for Presence magazine. The review will appear in the next issue, so I won’t say anything about the book on the blog until it’s been out a couple of months. However, I can say that Chatterjee is liberal in his use of the ellipsis, which prompted me to use them in some of my haiku.

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

(taken from Allan Burns’ Where the River Goes, Snapshot Press 2013).

I love the spare use of language in this poem, the plain-spoken and utterly clear image of following the river’s path, the sense of freedom it suggests, but also the possibility that we’re not free, that the river must take the course dictated by the lie of the land, and therefore we can only take certain paths as circumstances allow. There’s a sense of adventure too – rivers are beautiful to follow, and yet they can be difficult as well. Sometimes the river bank has eroded and the path falls away. We turn back, or we scramble on. Either way, it’s spring and there’s that feeling of optimism that comes with longer daylight, birdsong, milder weather. Wills’ haiku opens with a single verb; it’s hard to pare writing back further than this. By leaving out the subject, we can place ourselves in the poem (I am going) although it’s equally possible to read the haiku as ‘the river is going’. Either way, the journey this poem evokes is at once truthful and metaphorical, as much about stillness and contemplation as it is about movement. For me, this is one of those poems that stays with you. I often hear it in my head when I’m out walking. I don’t walk by the river much, but when I do, it’s the River Don, which starts its course just a few miles up the valley from where I live. The photographs, above and below, were taken further downriver near Deepcar, where the river widens and the remains of old iron works can be seen along the way.