Category Archives: haiku

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 83

Who would have thought that I would have managed a post roughly every 24 hours for 83 days. And who would have believed that Day 83 would seem so much worse than 24th March? It does though, doesn’t it?

We put an engraved American coin up for auction last week and someone wrote to ask if we would accept £40. It was tempting, but would have been unfair on people who had viewed it and were wanting to bid. It made £9.99 so we lost £30. However, we retained our integrity, and I feel better about that than I would about taking £40.

Blossom is out and I am still having trouble sleeping properly.

Looks like this is just becoming a random load of thoughts. I admit that my posts are seldom well-crafted pieces of tight writing with a unifying thread and a satisfactory conclusion (apart from it being satisfactory that it has ended), but this is disjointed even by my standards.

I just had a letter from an editor. I submitted seven pieces. Three were accepted. Neither of the two I thought were my “best” work made the grade.

Last night I read a haiku magazine and I reckon that fully 50% of them fail to be good haiku according to generally accepted guidelines. This shows the flexibility of guidelines, the capriciousness of editorial opinion, and how bad mine must be if I can’t even get one in to a magazine where half of them are flawed.

When I get cremated I want them to stencil “Could do better” on my coffin. Those words accompanied each school report I ever had, and continue to follow me to this day.

The pictures of blossom are from a few years ago, and probably in April, not March.

I just found that you can search your photos by subject, if you’ve titled the pictures – an area in which I am deficient. It’s taken me over 2,600 posts to find that out.

Blossom at Wilford

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Day 30

In terms of creativity and industry things haven’t worked out that well. In other ways it has been  a pleasant and relaxing day. This qualifies it as a tick in the “good day” column of the celestial ledger, and I am now bringing it to a close with a smile on my face.

Normally I like to approach a deadline with plenty of material already written and refined. My deadline is 31st January which is tomorrow (for the next 22 minutes, when it will become “today”.

Fortunately, last time I had a rejection all the ten haiku had been written a few days before submission so I was able to look at them again and make improvements (I know I ought to give time for them to mature, but it always seems like I don’t have enough). I’m hoping that one will be acceptable this time round.

Submitting to editors is an art and not a science. What works with one editor doesn’t necessarily work with another and many of my poems have been accepted after two or three rejections. The best example I have is my haibun about Philip Larkin. I’ll add it at the bottom of post if I can find it. That haibun went out four times and came back four times. I tinkered a little each time to tighten it up, but didn’t change it too much. The fourth time it came back I sent it out again the next day and had it accepted in two days. Which goes to show that you can never tell what is around the corner. I have seen interviews where established writers have sent out poems a lot more than that. I don’t have that sort of confidence. After three or four failures I usually retire them.

However, I’ve been trawling through them today, looking for pieces that are good enough to send out. I’ve found three, polished them, and sent them out and am now looking for three more. After that I just need to write ten tanka in the next 23 hours and I’m laughing.

There are several more deadlines that I decided to ignore. One journal has been rejecting me constantly since a change of editor, for instance, and another is fond of heavy-handed editing. I’m going to give them a miss this month and catch them next time they come round.

In fact, I’d better get back to work – ten tanka won’t write themselves.

Later, far too much later on a work night, I have all three of the next batch of haibun assembled, and I realised I forgot the Larkin piece. I will search it out tomorrow.

 

Day 18

Day 18 passed in much the same way as Day 17, but without the element of anticipation that you get after a Sunday off. In that respect it was very much like Day 11. I expect that Day 25 will be similar.

It was also like Day 17, in that I have a few ideas for writing, but didn’t do much about it. The trouble with giving days numbers is that the passing of time is much more noticeable and there is nowhere to hide. “Next Wednesday” is quite a friendly place, in a soft and woolly future. “Day 26” is much sharper, and leaves you in no doubt that you have seven days to do something, and that when it arrives the deadlines are only five days away (the days leading up to Day 31 are going to be interesting.)

I bought 500 items on eBay last night. They were very cheap, just pennies each and will, eventually, help finance my collecting habit. Julia will be delighted when she finds out and will no doubt be keen to congratulate me on my financial acumen and the purchase of more clutter. That’s why I’m letting her know via the blog. I don’t want to be in the room when she finds out. I could, I suppose, conceal this from her, but she will eventually notice a big box of plastic tokens no matter what I do.

When I have  a few minutes I will prepare more posts on collectables to leaven the musings on mortality, boredom and the passage of time. However, despite all my attempts to put it off, I need to go for a blood test now. It’s not procrastination if you put it off because you have to do something important.

I had some haiku turned down yesterday, which means I am currently running with one acceptance and one rejection so far this year. The editor sent a longish email and included a useful link to help me do better. The problem I find with haiku is that although they are small poems they come with a lot of conventions attached (some call them rules, though this isn’t quite accurate) and I never quite manage to remember them all at the same time. It’s a bit like that hypothetical over-filled bookshelf – you put a book on one end and one falls off the other. That’s my brain . . .

The picture is a small Royal Artillery sweetheart brooch carved from mother of pearl. They are generally from the First World War usually, I’m told,  made in Palestine. I include it as it’s a new picture and illustrates my inability to stop collecting things.

Crepuscular rays at Rufford Park

Back to Normal

Things are about back to normal now. I am still sticking to one sandwich for lunch and work seems OK, though I’m still having difficulty remembering where things are. This isn’t helped by the fact that the owner decided to “tidy up” while we were all off (he spent some of his isolation time working in the shop), Why he thinks that moving stock into random places without telling anybody is an improvement, I do not know. However, it’s his time he’s wasting, not mine.

My legs are still a bit weak after weeks of enforced rest but I am making progress on that.

I struggled to submit anything in September, but did manage a few things (mainly things that were already written and just needed tidying). I have three poems in Cattails this month – pages 86, 89 and 133 if you fancy a look.

I have also had acceptances from three other magazines (though only one will be available online) and will no doubt mention it again when it is published.

At one point, when I was really struggling to string words together, I actually thought I’d run to the end and would never write again. Fortunately that passed off after a week, as I don’t know what I’d do to replace it. At the moment I’m not writing much because I mainly work, eat, watch TV and go to bed early. I’m still sleeping off the Covid.

It is probably time to prepare a plan to make sure I spend my time wisely. However, for now I will just sleep.

 

 

A Pleasant Surprise, a Haibun and another Senior Moment

Today, the 19th of September 2021, I had  pleasant surprise. I opened up Drifting Sands Haibun and found my haibun on the front page. I added the date because it will change over time. We are due for a new issue soon and it will change. But for a short while, I was there. Forgive my unseemly glee, but after being accepted a number of times it is difficult to set a new target, and getting to the front page of Drifting Sands was one that I had set myself.

For those of you reading this too late to see it on the front page, you can try here. Don’t get too excited, I think I posted the link before. It’s just the one about the crow and the ants.

Now, I know you are all wondering what I have done in the matter of Senior Moments. Well, some months ago, I had trouble with my emails, and nearly missed some emails from an editor. We managed to sort that out, but didn’t actually find the cause. Last week I finally started looking at my submission diary (remember I have been ill/lazy for a month) and realised that I should have had some contact from editors. I checked up and found that I had a haiku in a magazine. This was a surprise, but more evidence of the fact that I wasn’t getting emails, or I would have known it was being published.

This set up a panic reaction, because I don’t want to miss the chance of publication, or have editors think that I am rude or inefficient. I am both, but I don’t want people to think it . . .

I have just spent my afternoon writing to the editors who may have emailed me, explaining what happened. It’s a tricky email to write (three times) because there is always the chance that they may not have thought me worth responding to.

Earlier in the week I started to realise what I had done but, prodding around with my email controls in an unstructured and ill-informed way, managed to make it worse. Anyway, I have finally found the answer and corrected it.

I had reset my spam controls a couple of months ago to block a particularly irritating advertiser. In doing so, I had also added gmail to my list of blocked domains. This was clearly a bad move. However, it is unblocked now, explanations have been sent and I am a wiser man.

 

 

Words . . .

I’ve been learning new words this week. The best was logorrhoea, from Derrick. It sounds worse than it is and merely means wordiness or “extreme loquacity”. I would have said sesquipedalian myself, had I been in sophisticated mood. Or motormouth if I had been in my normal mode, though the meanings are slightly different. The advantage of sesquipedalian is that I can spell it. The advantage of logorrhoea is to be found in my rhyming dictionary. There is , literally, an embarrassment of riches to be found in there (though I had already managed the less tasteful ones without the help of the dictionary). My only reservation is that the dictionary omits pyorrhoea. It does, however, include pizzeria Tanzania and Ikea.  When I finally get round to it that’s going to be a heck of a Limerick . . .

I also learned prosimetrum,  It’s a word that is so little used that my spell checker doesn’t recognise it. It’s a piece of writing that combines prose and poetry. Yes, I was reading about haibun in an attempt to become a better writer of them. More specifically, prosimetrum is a form where the verse dominates. The form where prose dominates is versiprose. This seems the wrong way round to me, but that’s what Wikipedia says and I can’t find anything to contradict it, mainly because I can’t find anything when I search for versiprose. I’m suspicious that someone is just making words up.

You have to wonder how much knowledge is necessary before you can start to write something. As I’ve shown, I can write prosimetrum without knowing what it is. I can, after all, not explain the niceties of the Otto Cycle, but I have been successfully driving cars for the last 45 years.