Category Archives: haibun

Old Oaks of Sherwood Forest

Some Haiku

I’m always a bit worried about posting poetry because it’s not really a poetry blog. It seems a little unfair to force people to read poetry if they haven’t signed up for it, particularly as people feel obliged to be nice. That’s why I rarely post poetry that hasn’t been published elsewhere first. At least that way, it has been filtered by a proper editor and should be OK.

However, a while ago I did say that I would post a few, so here are a few haiku and senryu to start.

Three lines and a web of rules/definitions/restrictions don’t really suit me. I’d love to be a competent writer of haiku, but I’m locked in a circular system with them. I find them difficult so I don’t write many, and because I don’t write many I don’t improve. It’s also why I struggle with haibun too, as I can write the prose, but can’t nail the haiku. They are, as I say in an unpublished essay on writing haiku, slippery. Give me a tanka, with five lines and freedom from restrictions and I find it a lot easier. The same goes for Tanka Prose, the clumsy name for the Haibun equivalent that uses a tanka in place of the haibun.

I suppose if I were a serious poet, I would accept the challenge of haiku but I actually write for the pleasure of seeing words do things, not because I like difficulty.

Here are a few with a vaguely Christmas/Winter theme. The first has been adapted from a senryu that originally had the first line “Birthday” but it still works.

Christmas
bright paper packages
-the disappointment of socks

Failed Haiku April 2022

melting snow
rooks stalk
the dappled field

Presence Issue 69

a robin
sings from the blackthorn
we queue for the shop

Wales Haiku Journal Spring  2021

lighter nights
the bus passenger smiles
on his way home

Presence Issue 72

I put them in two columns to make the layout slightly more interesting, but it has the effect of altering the formatting for the ones that  are in the second row. Many people do centre their poems so I think I can get away with it. I tried using three columns but that involves right hand justification and that definitely looks odd. I’m sure there’s another way to do it but I’m not sure I have the spare thought capacity to devote to it at the moment. I have ten poems to submit before in the next 38 hours and they aren’t cooperating.

Robin of Sherwood

A New Record

I sent a group of poems out yesterday evening, and had an acceptance later that night. It’s a new speed record for an acceptance, and probably a sign that I’m not the only one champing at the bit after a few days off.

There is one more set of submissions to send off before the end of the year (or within the next two days, to put it another way, though that sounds a bit more desperate). I am just about on top of that, but as soon as that ends I am straight into a month with five more submissions needed. That’s quite daunting as this hasn’t been a productive month and I have little left to send.

I thought I had plenty down on paper but when i looked again a few weeks ago I realised I had quite a bit written, but nothing finished. A good number of the pieces had bits missing as i struggled to find the right words and I’m still no closer finishing them. This isn’t unusual and most of them will eventually be completed. It’s just that if I get myself in the position of being unable to finish I often find it can take months to get it right.

I’ve been going through things tonight and have tinkered with several I’ve also cut a couple substantially because both language and thoughts were sloppy. None of them are actually finished yet, but I have four weeks until they really need to be sent. Fortunately I have another selection in draft form – either as notes or in on paper, so I have not yet run dry.

Pre-Covid I had myself organised so I was able to send things out on the first day of a submission window opening. I always feel that puts you at an advantage. Submit early and you only have to be good. Submit late and you have to be good, and be better than the people who submitted earlier.

Since Covid, and my several months of inability to write, I have not yet caught up. I will, but it won’t be this year.

My Orange Parker Pen

Note to self – Parker Pens seem impervious to my attempts to earn money, or free pens, from product placement.

Poetry in Translation – The Trouble with Tits

At one time I was fascinated by foreign languages, but frustrated by my lack of talent in learning them. What I should have done, while I still had the intellect, was to have learned them in a more structured way. I had a friend who wanted to do languages at University and he used to give himself a target to memorise a list of words each week. If only I had learnt then what it took me another forty years to realise – talent isn’t necessary, and hard work  will always beat it.

At the back of my mind, since looking at haiku in translation, I have become convinced that writing haiku in foreign languages isn’t difficult. It can’t be, because there aren’t many worlds and there are no complicated ideas. This is strange, as I make hard work of them in English, so really can’t imagine they are less difficult in a foreign language. Such thoughts are often born from a position of ignorance, so I’m probably going to alter my position on that subject.

Also at the back of my mind, in that portion where the world is a strange place and reality has little to do with my thoughts, is a vague thought that even if you are a native English speaker, that isn’t enough to enable you to write haiku for Americans.

For one thing, the guidelines generally given fro writing haiku are often ignored by American editors so I don’t have a clue what they really want.

And for another, you have the “two nations divided by a common language” problem.Take birds, for instance. As I look out of my window, I see Blue Tits and Great Tits in reasonable numbers. This is not a family of birds familiar to the American reader. They have chickadees. In any case, I tend to steer clear of tits in poetry, as the ambiguity of the word tends to encourage smutty levity and the proliferation of limerick type verses.

Until the Great War they were known as titmice, if you look in older bird books. This is just one more area where the war encouraged the decline of society – the others being votes for women and the popularity of the wrist watch. Life was much easier when women let us think we were in charge and where watches were commonly worn in waistcoats. The decline in standards can, I am convinced, be blamed on the decline of the waistcoat. You don’t need a watch pocket if you have the infernal device strapped to your wrist, and without a waistcoat all you are left with is a gravy-stained shirt. No waistcoat, no gravitas.

Back at the poetry/ornithology interface, how do you get round the chickadee/tit problem? Tits have one syllable, chickadees have three. You can’t just slip in one word as a substitute for another. In haiku syllables are important. In a poem limited to 17 syllables, adding two is a difficult task. Three syllables are a sixth of the poem. Do that calculation for a sonnet and it’s over two lines. That is significant length. At least with the goldcrest/kinglet translation there is no syllable problem. You might be OK translating chickadee and long-tailed tit, but who in his right mind is going to try to get long-tailed tit into a haiku?

Anyway, Julia is 125 miles away, visiting Number One Son in his new Norwich home, and I am already thinking about a Chinese takeaway. Or possibly a curry. One thing I’m definitely not thinking about is salad. So, I’m going to leave it here, and start behaving like a bachelor. Loads of TV featuring archaeology and machinery and no diet. And definitely no washing up until it’s twenty minutes from Julia’s estimated return.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gold!

Is it really that time already? Friday night, another week over and time to make the sandwiches for tomorrow. It’s tuna tomorrow. More healthy fish.

We packed up a little early so the owner could get home and do some computer bidding on the Ellerby hoard. You may have seen the news report that was on the news. Julia has just been through to tell me it has been on. Here is a copy of the sale catalogue. It was a pot of gold coins from  merchant family that had lived in a house in the eighteenth century – they came to light a few years ago during renovations of the kitchen floor.

We have “14 gold guineas” coming into the shop tomorrow. if you read the Ellerby story the expert from Spinks refers to his expectation that the hoard was going to be brass tokens. I’m sure that’s what ours are going to be. A number of retailers in Victorian times made tokens that looked like old guineas and we often get them brought in as gold. We will just have to see.

There was a cloud burst of surprising violence this afternoon, though they always sound like that when you work under a flat roof. It was about as bad as the one that soaked us yesterday. This seems to be the motif of the moment. Consequently there were lots of leaves in the gutters on the way home, and lots of pedestrians being soaked by passing cars. I was careful and didn’t splash anyone, so my conscience is clear. I had to laugh at one lot. They were using our forecourt and blocking our exit when we left the shop. As they sorted themselves out a car went past on the main road, hit some standing water and soaked them. It wouldn’t have happened if they had not been badly parked and I’m afraid I did let out a small triumphal “Yesssss!” as it happened.

The Haibun Journal arrived today. I’m not in it, so I had to try not to be too critical as I went through it. It is, as usual, very good, and my writing hasn’t been up to scratch recently, so I can’t complain. However, it is starting to get like a few other journals – same group of writers, same trend towards snappy verse. One of the problems is that the editor is a great writer of haibun but he never uses his own work. This is in contrast to American journals where editors and volunteer helpers always get one of their pieces included automatically. This was a surprise to me when I first saw it, and  still seems strangely immodest.

One Third Guinea George III

The header picture is a George I coin, but I’m not sure now if it is a Guinea or a half or quarter Guinea. A Guinea is 21 shillings, or £1.05. It was supposed to be a con of 20s but the gold from west Africa was purer than other sources, and the gold value fluctuated, so the coin’s value was  varied  but was eventually fixed at 21s. Race horses are still auctioned in Guineas.

Smugness, Success and the Art of the Humblebrag

Warning – this post may contain smugness and inappropriate levels of self-satisfaction. I have also invented a new (to me ) form of humblebrag –

Do you realise how much time it takes emailing editors to thank them for accepting your work? I’ve had to do it three times in the last three days and it’s hard finding time to actually write the poems.

That’s. of course, an exaggeration, as i’d be happy to spend all day thanking editors, and in truth it only took about ten minutes in total. I tend, like editors to have a fairly standard reply, because after “thank you” there isn’t much to say.

The story is that I have spent the last few days hammering away at the keyboard. I did this because I am lazy and disorganised and only work when under threat of a deadline. Even then, the “work” of writing poetry doesn’t compare to cleaning out a chicken she in November, or cutting lawns in the middle of summer. Anyway, I managed six submissions in the last  four days (they were written but not finished.

One had an acceptance within 24 hours. I have already written about that. This morning I had an email to tell me someone had accepted three poems from yesterday’s submissions (which is a high level of editor industry and well beyond the call of duty. This evening I switched the computer on and found two more had been accepted. That had taken several days, which is still stunningly speedy considering editors also have day jobs and get piles of poetry sent to them.

Obviously, I’m happy and grateful, and, as you may have noticed before, success is a double edged sword, as I start to worry about repeating it. However, it goes deeper than that. It’s 12 months since I had cellulitis and the associated sepsis, and about eleven since I had Covid. It has taken all that time for me to get going again and to feel I am back up to standard.

Unknown Stories – a haibun

This is an example of a haibun, following on from yesterday’s post. The eldest (tallest) daughter is my grandmother. She isn’t holding his hand, as mentioned in the poem, but it is the last photograph. For more information see The Carus Brothers at War (Part 1), or The Carus Brothers at War (Part 2) or The Carus Brothers at War (Part 3).

It was first published in The Haibun Journal April 2022.

Unknown Stories

last photograph
in it my grandma holds
a soldier’s hand

In 1920 the Great War was over, but the grieving continued. The British Army exhumed four unidentified bodies from the major battle areas of the Great War. After four years of fighting there was no shortage of choice. There are differing stories about the secretive process, and nobody knows exactly what happened. However, we do know that on the night of 7th November 1920, a General, either blindfolded, or with his eyes closed, selected one of them.

That body became the most celebrated British soldier of the war – the Unknown Warrior. He lies in Westminster Abbey – the only tombstone in the Abbey where nobody is allowed to walk. He is buried with a Crusader’s sword, a gift from the King, in a coffin made from an oak tree that once grew at Hampton Court. The Americans gave him the Medal of Honor and, in 2020, his hundredth anniversary, the Poet Laureate wrote a poem for him.

The remaining three were reburied by the roadside under cover of darkness. They were eventually found by a Grave Registration Unit and moved to a cemetery, as were thousands of other wayside graves. For them, there was no grand ceremony, just a stone marked, like thousands of others, “Known unto God”.

a poppy cross
each year her eyes filled up
two minutes pass

What is a Haibun?

I was asked recently, in the comments, for a definition of a haibun. The quick answer is that it’s some prose with a haiku. As answers go, that’s accurate, but not particularly useful.

It’s likely, if you look back at old poems, that it doesn’t actually have to have a haiku. However, try convincing an editor of that.

A haiku is a very short poem that, over the years, has attracted a lot of rules. In Japanese it has 17 “on”, which are sound units. They are not the same as syllables, though they were originally treated as if they were. In Japanese “haiku” has three “on”., but only two syllables in English. Originally we were told to write haiku in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. If you check on the internet, you will still be told that. This is wrong.

We are now allowed to use lines of different length and told that 13 syllables is probably about right. We aren’t supposed to include ourselves or poetic devices in haiku and they are supposed to have a season word, talk of nature and a cutting word to differentiate the two parts of the haiku. They like to have two parts – one being what you saw and the other (usually the last line), something that acts as as a contrast. If they talk of human nature, they are senryu, but for haibun purposes they are much the same. They also have simplicity and various sad, wistful feelings attached to them. As I say, short poem, a lot of rules.

Strangely, a lot of the “rules” started off as guidelines and, in the minds of various editors, become rules.

My Orange Parker Pen

Then you get the prose. It should be terse and haiku-like, because it then mirrors the haiku. Or if you read another well-respected poet, it should be different in style from a haiku, as the same style will make it boring.

The haiku should be different from the subject matter, and should “link and shift”. Or, according to another well-known haibun writer, that’s not correct. and is based on a misunderstanding. No, I can’t explain “link and shift” properly. And considering the experience of all the poets and their different views, I can’t tell you exactly what a haibun is either,

Tanka prose is slightly easier to understand. It’s a tanka (five line poem) and prose. There are fewer rules and less discussion about tanka prose, so it’s easier to write. You can concentrate on the writing instead of worrying about hitting the targets imposed by various, contradictory, rules.

Finally, the poem and prose can be placed in different ways. This can be poem and prose or prose and poem. It can also be prose, poem, prose or poem, prose, poem. Or other ways. As usual, there are Japanese words for all these things. And, as usual, I can’t remember them.

That’s a vey short, simple and not exactly neutral explanation. I’ll post a few poems and links over the next few days.

Orange Parker Pen

Day 140

I’ve just been looking at a recent haibun, which I had thought I might reprint it in the blog. When I looked at it I found that, despite it being accepted and published, and despite my various edits and improvements before submission, it still has faults. It’s strange how that happens. There are at least two corrections needed in the space of 200 words. I suppose this will always be the problem with written work. It seemed finished when I submitted it, but the faults are clear and jarring.

Looking at it with fresh eyes shows more clearly what an editor may see when looking at my work. They aren’t even complicated faults – one being a fault with rhythm and one being a repeated word.

The piece I have used, could be better, and I have had a couple of thoughts for improvement, but nothing leaps out at me immediately. I’m now wondering about the idea of leaving everything for an extra three months before submitting it.

 

Quiet Corner

As a child, I attended a village school where the playground shared a wall with the churchyard. On one side of the wall we played and shouted. On the other, a line of small mossy memorials marked the graves of babies. Having grown up knowing that I had a sister who had died before I was born, I accepted, as did most people, that babies died. Years later, staring in wonder at my firstborn, I would think about those stones again, the tiny bodies that they covered, and from a new perspective, the parents.

snail shells
the song thrush uses gravestones
for an anvil

First Published Blithe Spirit February 2022

Day 104

I fell asleep in front of TV. The fire was on and the chair was comfortable. What more can I say?

I had three non-acceptances yesterday – one from a magazine and two from a competition. After doing well in competition last year I had hopes again for this year, and my entries were, I thought, better than last year. The winning entries, unfortunately for me, were also better, and far better than mine. Such is life. The magazine rejection was not unexpected.

That leaves me at nine acceptances and three rejections for the year, which is still satisfactory. Even better, I have a number of poems which are now free for resubmission to other places – this is my writing system and it is good to get it back into operation. After the double illness last year the system stopped, as I lost the continuity. It’s good to have some material in reserve again.

Beach Huts – Southwold

I think I’ve probably covered this before, but a lot of my acceptances have had several rejections before they succeed. Many of the successes, to be fair, are very different from their original form – forged in the heat of rejection, if you like.

Inevitably they become shorter and often assume the form of a short prose piece followed by a haiku. I don’t remember the proper Japanese term, but it has developed over the years, even over the few years I have been writing them seriously, and is almost the standard form.

I find it a bit dull, when there are some many other structures, but that’s just how it is. Sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to be published in an American magazine unless you adhere to this form, and to several other fashionable ideas. What were guidelines a few years ago, are almost rules now.

On Dunwich beach

Of course, the older rambling prose interspersed with multiple haiku can be pretty dull too. They used to be known as “pearls from mudbanks” haibun – flashes of brilliance concealed in a heap of words. I’ve read a few of them this month too, and they can be great, but often aren’t. That was the style I used to write fifteen years ago. None of them were published. After a twelve year rest I came back ith shorter haibun. I’m now trying to make them longer.

And thus we come to a crossroads. Do I alter my writing style to fit fashion, or do I carry on doing what seems right and wait for fashion to change?

I have ambition to improve, and write better, but no particular inclination towards fame and fortune, so i can afford to wait. After all, as I’ve said before, I write because I enjoy it and only submit to magazines because it’s a form of quality control. It’s nice to know that I’m writing to an acceptable standard, but I try to take a balanced view of rejection. A couple of years ago I used to compose acerbic replies to editors in my head. These days I just shrug and edit.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Day 35

I had an email today, and I’m happy. For the next month I am going to be on the front page of contemporary haibun online. It feels a bit like being famous, as I’ve actually heard of the other two who are on there. However, to drift back from dreams of fame and success for a moment, if you are reading this in March, you will ned to use this link as I fade back into obscurity and gradually become part of the clutter at the back of the internet.

I’ve just realised that I’m back in drifting sands haibunI had been rejected for the last two issues but manged to pull something out of the bag for this one. It was mainly written before I became ill in the autumn and I managed to get it polished just in time. Same with the cho submission. Now I just need to get back in my stride for the spring.

I’ve developed some bad habits while I’ve been taking a rest from writing – spending too much time on eBay for instance, and thinking about the problems of the world. I need to get back to poetry and away from real life.

Last night Julia kept twitching in bed, and every time she did so, the covers acted like bellows, drawing cold air across my shoulders and waking me up. It wasn’t all bad, because as I lay awake I invented a new way of keeping warm at night.

Unfortunately, in the cold light of dawn, I realised that the Reheating Hot Water Bottle  wasn’t going to be a goer. It would have been OK in the 1920s when it would have been fine to link a container of water to the mains electricity, using that braided brown flex favoured by our grandparents. But Julia doesn’t think they would allow it now. She also points out that electric blankets are easier and safer and if I feel cold in bed maybe I should buy one and stop waking her at 6am to discuss my ideas for new inventions. I’m afraid she isn’t always open to new ideas, like the one I had about her adding “the famous poet” after every mention of my name. I mentioned that after showing her the cho page. She’s not keen . . .

The top picture is one of Simon Wilson, the famous poet.It’s the unedited version of the one in cho and you can clearly see that my “office” includes a microwave, a kettle and a coin cabinet.