Category Archives: haibun

Comments on Rejection

I had a rejection email a couple of days ago, which was quite good as it had several notes with it. In general it gives me plenty of information about what the editor is thinking, though actual “improvements” are not quite so plentiful. I will act on the suggestions, as they took time and effort to produce, but like several other of my published pieces, I will also write the one i want to write and try again. Poems are, after all, only words and, as I have said before, I have plenty of words to write another one. It’s not like every poem published depletes the stock of words for the rest of us.

The three main points are that I should show, not tell. Last time I sent something to that magazine the comment was that I should have shown the house being built. There was, in the entire poem, no mention of a house being built, and in real life no house was built. The editor imagined it as a result of the poem. This is both good and bad, and after reading up I found that telling is sometimes necessary. It’s one of those things you find when you have contact with editors – inconsistency, grey areas and matters of opinion. Usually, I tell too much and gradually edit it out as I condense the poem. However, this can take months and I wrote the poem in question in three days. The problem wasn’t so much telling not showing – it was rushing things and  not editing properly. I’ll hold my hand up to that one.

Then there was the question of certain phrases and whether they were “poetic” or necessary. One of them was a metaphor that linked with other things in the poem, but that wasn’t noted. I’m obviously too subtle. Another was a phrase that most of you would have recognise a my speaking voice. I tend to write as I speak and I don’t always sound like Shelly or Frost. This irks me slightly a it’s like I’m being edited out of my own poems. It’s happened with others too, so this isn’t unusual.

Finally, the suggestions seem to have reduced the poem to a short paragraph with a tanka at each side. Whether this is by accident or not, I’m not clear. Over the years haibun have become shorter. I presume the same is true for tanka prose, though I admit I didn’t pay much attention to them until I started to write them. It seems to be a particularly American thing – a few lines of prose and a quick poem, usually with a tangential connection to the prose, referred to as “link and shift“. What they don’t tell you is that there are other ways of connecting the two elements.

I will stop there, lest I go on to explore other areas where editors may have blind spots dictated by fashion. I’m very close to 500 words now, which is a long post on a subject that is mainly of interest only to me.

My Orange Parker Pen

A Haibun about Jigsaws and Dementia.

This is my entry for the British Haiku Society Haibun Competition. It was either successful (because it was  honourably mentioned), or unsuccessful because it didn’t win. It has been mentioned on the website and is in the latest edition of Blithe Spirit, and the final haibun is quoted, so I presume it is now OK for me to reprint it. It is the second haibun I have written, featuring Dad and jigsaws. As some people have written books and plays about such things I suppose two haibun is not excessive, but it does worry me that I go back to old subjects – at what point does it become boring. That’s the reason I’ve generally (but not entirely) avoided COVID – we are all living through it, how many poems do we need?

Falling Into Place

years pass
children become strangers
—his new world

Jigsaws became an important part of our lives. First, as conversations became more difficult, we used them to pass the time. Later we used them to stimulate Dad’s thinking and slow the progress of the condition. Finally we used them to measure his decline. A man who once ran a company struggled with a jigsaw designed for a toddler. My sister bought new ones as they were needed, each with fewer pieces than the one preceding it.

He had been an active and successful man, and thousands of events had formed his life. Gradually they faded away. This frustrated him in the beginning but as he sank into the strange new world of dementia he came to accept it as a comforting place. I was happy to see him become contented. Then, one day, he asked me who I was.

the mirror cracks
a fractured smile
released


When we cleared his room my sister picked up the nine-piece jigsaws and suggested we donate them to the care home. She checked with me.

You don’t want them, do you?”

Not yet.” I say.

Haiku and Haibun

I have had a couple of pieces published online recently.

One was a haiku in Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021. You can either go down from the top – I’m about 154 down, or work up from the end – I’m about 35th if you start at the bottom. Ther are so many

The other is in Drifting Sands, and is available here.

I like being in online journals because I can share the links and show off.  I also like being in printed journals, because I like seeing myself on a page, and admire the editors who keep the tradition of print journals going. In the next month or two I’m going to sort out my subscriptions. I think the least I can do is subscribe to 12 different journals. It’s not as if I smoke or drink anymore. All I need to do is spread them out a bit so that I don’t land myself with a big bill one month. Christmas is always a bad time because so many subscriptions to different things fall due at the end of the year. Don’t they ever stop and think about this? Why put all the subscriptions at the most expensive time of the year?

Of course, there’s a certain amount of self-interest at work here, and I will be supporting journals that I’m in, or want to be in. I’m a realist, not a saint…

Meanwhile, I have a few pieces from print journals that are probably old enough to be reprinted on the blog. I’ll sort them out in the next week or so.

 

Me and Roger McGough

I’ll go back a couple of days for this one.  I had an email yesterday. As is customary I have had three haibun rejected by the editor who always rejects me.  He thinks there were some interesting points but they aren’t quite there yet. He has been thinking that for around two years. I have submitted to him half a dozen times and have failed to find favour every time.  Two years of being “not quite there yet” seems like a long time – in that time I have had haibun published in six other journals.

I don’t mean I should be accepted very time I submit, or that the rejecting editor is wrong. Even the magazines that generally accept me don’t do so without the odd rejection, and once in a while I get a hard time from one of the editors demanding changes I don’t always want to make. When that happens, I get annoyed with myself for not writing to a high enough standard. That’s not difficult to cope with.

However, when you are consistently turned down by one editor you reach a point when you have to wonder if it’s worth the effort, and whether he is looking for something I can’t produce.  I’ll probably try a few more times, because each rejection is one more for the year’s list. I’m supposed to be aiming for 100 rejections and have only made 22 submissions so far this year. I’ve been a bit lazy recently, so need to up my game. It doesn’t do me any harm to get a few rejections because it does make me sharpen up, the only proviso is that I want to send stuff out that has a chance of success, and that takes time. Recently it has been taking longer than usual.

Anyway, that’s a rejection, and the lessons to be learned from it. I will now go back by another day.

My copy of Acumen arrived. I has two of my poems in it. They were shortlisted in February and accepted in March, so it’s been a while. I have become so used to the rapid internet world of most haibun magazines that this seems a long time. It’s the 100th edition and is bigger than usual, and is very glossy. To say I was pleased with myself would be an understatement.

When I opened it I found there were quite a few famous poets in there, Mimi Khalvati was on the opening page and Roger McGough was about half-way through. I’m right at the back, but it doesn’t matter, I’m still in a magazine with some famous poets. I’ve been in magazines with some notable haibun writers too, but none of them as famous as Roger McGough.

It took a while for me to calm down after that, which is why the Saturday rejection bounced off me, and why I’ve had to wait until now to write about it. It’s probably very un-Zen to be too excited about this sort of thing, so I also had to watch out I didn’t upset any passing haiku practitioners with my unseemly showing off.

Reading, writing, wittering on…

This is a post I wrote this morning. I arrived at work slightly earlier than usual and found there were only two parcels to pack, so that was soon done. I don’t access WP from the work computer, as I don’t want to blur too many lines, but I do sometimes check my emails, so I emailed this to myself.

After posting last night, I spent some time looking at poetry to see what I could do to improve. First stop was  a magazine that usually rejects my work. The editor does give me advice from time to time, which only increases my confusion. I don’t always understand what they say to me, and I definitely don’t understand why things identified as faults in my work are acceptable in the work of others. I found several examples and spent half an hour studying them for clues as to what makes them publishable when I am not. I looked at all sorts of things apart from the writing and the content, including subject, voice and style, and I couldn’t se what the successful pieces had that I didn’t. I’ll have a go in a few months and see what I can see.

Better informed, but mystified, I moved on. If I keep seeking, I am sure I will find something to explain it, and even if I don’t , I am bound to learn something and improve, simply by looking at things in greater detail.

It’s that pond again. The haibun that it inspired was eventually split in two. One half was published. The second half formed the basis of another haibun I am still working on.

I found two by someone from the UK and decided to look him up. I do that sometimes. He writes in several forms and has published nearly a thousand pieces in 20 years. He belongs to two writers’ groups, reads in public and plans all his poems out. I’m already sensing several differences in our approach. I don’t like the idea of writers’ groups, don’t like speaking in public, and although I do think of planning I rarely do any. I say “rarely” but if you were to pin me down on detail, I may alter that to never. But I do sometimes thing of planning, which is nearly the same. However, despite the differences there is one similarity – we keep writing, learning and submitting.

My normal planning process is to think “I’m going to write something.” I may have to look at that again.

At that point, or some defined point in the future (generally after eating or watching TV) I write. Then I write some more and try to add something at the beginning that is also mentioned at the end. If you do that it looks like you had a plan. Then I take all the bad words out – long words because they are just showing off, adjectives because they are frowned on in poetry, and clichés – shards is one of the main ones that people go on about but myriads, hosts and cerulean are also unwelcome.

Then I leave it to rest. Some of my published work has been resting for a couple of years, with a gentle nudge and a prune now and again. Sometimes I add a bit, but mostly it’s a process of reduction. Then one day I send it out into the world. It often returns. So I cut, shape and send it out again. If it comes back too many times, I think about reusing bits of it.

It’s sometimes difficult to judge. Some poems go out four or five times and are eventually accepted. Others go once or twice and get parked. It all depends on how much confidence I have in them. One went out five times before being accepted, another was accepted on its fourth attempt (four days after being rejected by another magazine).  As Chuck Berry said ” It goes to show you can never can tell.”

An attempt at artistry

 

Where Roses Fade – a Haibun

This was first published in Drifting Sands Issue Six, December 2020. I was looking through the book where I print out my published pieces ( a trick my father in law taught me – when you need a boost, you can always flick through it). I discovered I’m actually several months behind with it and started poking around the internet. I quite liked this one when I first wrote it, and I still do. This isn’t always the case.

I probably linked to it from the blog when it was published, so apologies if you have seen it before.

Here is the link to the full issue.

 

Where Roses Fade

Thirty years ago, I rambled through the Leicestershire countryside and saw villages which had collections of crumbling farm buildings and odd nooks of unruly weeds. Stands of tall nettles often concealed rusty machines, and rosebay willowherb blazed in the sun. Now they are tidy, and iron butterflies decorate the fronts of houses built where real butterflies used to feed. They have become development opportunities, and gaps have been filled. Small neat houses and barn conversions proliferate, with block-paved drives and shiny cars. Drinks are taken, and conversations held, where pigs once grunted and chickens scratched. Snouts, though, are still rammed firmly into troughs.

tidy
but the roots of weeds go deep
unnoticed

 

Comma Butterfly

Jentacular Spectacular

I imagine that all proper writers are currently walking in the countryside, writing , or at work wishing they were doing either of the other two. I am having my customary Monday off, and sm wasting my time playing Nine Men’s Morris on the computer.  However, I have taken a grip of myself and am now writing after squandering most of the last 100 minutes on games and emails and checking eBay.

The post has just arrived so I will pick that up and on the way back I might as well put the kettle on. I’m not expecting anything good in the post so it will only be bills and circulars, but any displacement activity is welcome to a keyboard loafer.

On the way to the kettle I noticed we had a single wrap left in the bag. We have been keeping a few in as they stop us running out of breadlike substances for packed lunches. One isn’t much use though, They make a very good substitute for an oatcake so I thought while I was waiting for the kettle to boil I might as well stick a bit of bacon in this one and thus clean up the kitchen a bit. I added mushrooms, because we have quite a lot of them too, four small tomatoes which are going a bit soft, and a spring onion, cut in half and then sliced lengthways. When cooked and wrapped it did indeed make a passable substitute for an oatcake. I now feel much more able to face the day and do some work.

My Orange Parker Pen

The post wasn’t quite useless, as it contains my copy of Poetry Review. The outer, which looks like it is compostable, though it doesn’t actually say so, contains the magazine plus a number of extras – a copy of Poetry News, which I normally skim and recycle, a flyer for the Winchester poetry Prize, which I won’t enter, a Bloodaxe Catalogue and the Winners’ Anthology for the National poetry Competition. I’ll read the Bloodaxe catalogue and dream about being in it, and I’ll read the anthology so that I can feel affronted that, once again, I didn’t even make the long-list. However, after my recent success in the BHS competition I am content.

Can anyone answer a grammar question while you are here? Is it a Winners’ Anthology, as it doesn’t belong to them, or is it a Winners Anthology because its’s an anthology by more than one winner?

You can read the winners here.

And, of course, there is Poetry Review. It’s a serious magazine full of serious poems. It contains essays, translations and reviews. I confess that I don’t always read it all. I’m going to read some of it before lunch, then I’m going to write Limericks. Once my mind is receptive to lightness again I have haiku to write, as I am suffering a haiku deficiency and my haikuless haibun collection is crying out for closure.

 

 

Ups and Downs

It was another day of manic activity as we kept getting orders from the new sales initiative. I quite like the active days, though it would be nice to have a little variation in pace.

The day started off with my second failed blood test in two weeks. I am consistently coming in too high and actually climbing as they seek to adjust the dose downwards. I’m not sure why this is happening but I suspect it might b because I started making an effort to do things properly. Instead of drifting on and forgetting to take my pills or taking them late, I am establishing a routine and I wonder if this means I have effectively increased the does without meaning too. I’m not taking supplements, I haven’t changed any medication and I haven’t ben eating huge amounts of green vegetables, which can all affect it. Whatever has caused it, the slow reduction by one tablet a week, as they have done this week, isn’t going to see it corrected any time soon.

Yesterday, I had an email headed “Congratulations”. Normally I’m wary of them because they usually contain details of how lucky I am to have been chosen to launder the estate of a deceased African politician. Presumably, the way things have been going, they will soon be inviting me to launder the estates of corrupt Tory supporters who have amassed illicit millions by making PPE for the NHS.

This one was from the British Haiku Society. I entered their annual competition and the results are out. According to the results there were 587 haiku, 164 tanka and 71 haibun entered. I am one of the top five haibun. I wasn’t 1st or 2nd but I did get an Honourable Mention which means I have a certificate and a free book.

The strange thing is that  the one I did all the work on made no impact but the successful one was one which had only been returned by an editor the week before. I tweaked it a bit, in line with his comments, and sent it off to the competition. It just goes to show, as I have said before, that I am not a good judge of my own writing.

 

Twelve Ideas

Lat night I wrote a list of ideas when I was looking for subjects to write about.  I ended up with eleven, which grew to twelve when I decided to write about writing a list of things to write about. Ideas, as I may have said before, are not difficult to come by. I could probably have thought of 20-30 more, but I find that having too many ideas is not always a good thing. If you have too many the quality tails off and you never get to the end of the list.

I meant to start using them last night but by the time I’d written the blog post and edited work in progress, I ran out of energy. This morning I started with some reading and commenting and have just looked at the list un front of me.

Twelve ideas became ten because two are undecipherable. That became  eleven when I remembered what one of them was, and twelve when I decided that writing about bad handwriting could replace the idea I couldn’t read.

As I said, I don’t lack ideas, just the ability to turn ideas into results. I think I may have told you we once had a meeting on the farm and someone said, with a perfectly straight face, “My talent is having ideas, rather than doing things. If you want any ideas I have plenty of them.”

If you’ve ever been on a committee I think you probably agree that talk and ideas are never in short supply. One person putting one idea into action, that’s what’s in short supply.

On that subject, what happens next? Well, I have twelve ideas. You are reading the result of one of them. Four of them have moved on to be the prose sections of haibun. Three of them now have lines of poetry attached. Two of them will become blog posts. One, I have not developed, but will do. The twelfth, which was going to be about the trials of being a prince with a trophy wife and a massive trust fun, doesn’t really appeal. I am going to cross that one off. Sometimes you realise you just don’t want to develop an idea.

The next stage is typing the haibun prose and the first drafts of the blog posts. Some results will be good, some not so good. It’s all a process of natural wastage. Eventually twelve ideas will be turned into a few finished pieces and the rest will be used as spare parts for other things.

 

Haibun – Another Place, Another Time

This is a haibun that was published in The Haibun Journal. It’s a print journal and I wasn’t able to link to the haibun at the time as they don’t appear online. I thought its time had come, because  the Six Nations Championship is underway so the subject of rugby seemed appropriate. It’s also a bit of light relief at a time of lockdown and news about irrelevant royalty.

It is set in Mrs Botham’s Tearoom in Whitby. They don’t generally have a harpist, but they did on this particular visit.  I enjoyed eating crab sandwiches whilst listening to harp music. In my mind the haibun is dedicated to the two ex-players in the tearoom who both smiled and whispered to their long-suffering wives when the tune started.

I learned a lesson in persistence for this submission. I submitted three haibun and had one accepted, which is general practice as most magazines only take one haibun per writer per issue. Sometimes, of course, they don’t take any.

One of the rejects was sent out straight away with a quick spruce up, I agreed to a couple of edits and it appeared in an online journal shortly after. The other was sent out three more times before being accepted last week..

I think this is the only time I’ve managed to place an entire submission of three – normally I give up if one keeps coming back.

Botham’s Whitby

Another place, another time

We climb the stairs to the tearoom above the cake shop. The presence of a stairlift reveals much about the age of the clientele.

In the subdued lighting, we move back to a time of elegance. People pour their tea from plated teapots emblazoned with the teashop name. Hot water jugs are de rigeur. In the corner a harpist plays.

The tune she was playing was, my wife said, with a note of warning in her voice, called The Ash Grove, but I remembered it better as a traditional rugby song about the Mayor of Bayswater. He had, as I recall, a pretty daughter. Judging by several strained expressions around the place, I was not the only one. It was like a trumpet call to an old warhorse.

wives’ fixed smiles
the husbands remember
past glories

First published in The Haibun Journal October 2020

 

Botham’s, Skinner Street, Whitby

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Stairlift at Botham’s tearoom, Whitby