Tag Archives: poetry

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

Some thoughts on Long Covid

I made six submissions last month, all apart from one were in the final week of the month. This month I have only two submissions to make, and have made them both already.

This is a welcome return to what I consider normality. Twelve months ago I was able to make the month’s submissions on the days the submission windows opened. Illness intervened and I found myself entering a period where I was mainly editing work that was already written, and I was struggling to complete it and submit for the end of the period. After six months I started writing new poems again, and it is only this month that I have managed to get far enough ahead to submit closer to the beginning of the period.

I could have submitted sooner, but have become lazy in the last year.

The advantage of submitting earlier in the period is that (in my theory, at least) you establish yourself as the favoured candidate, and later submissions have to work harder to push you out.

The advantage of submitting later is that you (probably) have more time to let the piece mature (unless, like me, you are struggling to keep up) and you get answers quicker, as decisions are made within days of submission rather than waiting until the end of the month.

In years to come, the mythical PhD student I always think I’m writing for, will be able to read this post and add it to the list of Long Covid symptoms – difficulty in writing new poetry. I didn’t write anything new for several months after Covid, and even struggled to knock the existing writing into shape. I then spent a long time struggling to write anything new – resulting in missed deadlines and lots of last minute submissions. Finally I managed to find some form and, for the last month, have finally started writing with fluidity again. The plan for next month is that I will submit as much as possible in the first week of the month, using things which I am finalising now.

What a difference a year makes.

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.

Resolution and 8 Years on WP

Well, we managed to work out how the little toerag in London pulled off his scam. Or nearly pulled off his scam. It was the buyer, not the local postman who was at the bottom of it. I won’t say more as it might become a police matter. Let’s just say that despite the work we did in the shop, and the Post Office did, eBay came close to undoing it all. At mid-day it all seemed to be over, with the evidence we needed, and eBay promising to put a stop to the fraudulent claim and ban the buyer. An hour later they emailed to say that after more requests from the buyer they had found in his favour and refunded the £500, leaving us out of pocket to the tune of £500 and a £500 coin. After another hour on the phone they agreed we were in the right and it looks like we will be OK. However, the disorganised way they have carried on gives me little confidence.

The other big news of the day is that I have had a haibun accepted by CHO, or Contemporary Haibun Online. It’s the first one they have taken in about three years and represents a lot of persistence. I don’t just talk about persistence, I do actually practice it. I’ve not been producing a lot and I nearly didn’t send anything this time, but I did, and less than 24 hours later I had an acceptance. This is editing at a high level of excellence. It might be three years before I get another one in, so I’ll enjoy the moment.

Finally, I had a message from WP a few days ago – seems I’ve been here 8 years now. It seems like a long time but, to put it in context, I’m currently wearing boxer shorts which are older than that. It tool me several weeks after registering to find the nerve to write something. Now look at me, it’s hard to stop me wittering on about something every day. Even if that something is about another dull day in the shop. At least today was a bit more exciting.

The header picture is guinea fowl sheltering under a picnic table during a rainstorm, the first picture I posted on WP.

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 219

Two acceptances today – one where the editor told me they thought a touch of punctuation might be in order. I agreed with them – I had looked at putting a dash in that very place but then decided, in the interests of simplicity, to leave it out. Nice to find I’m synchronised in my thinking with and editor. I bet if I’d put it in they would have suggested leaving it out. That has happened before.

The second was for a members’ anthology. They asked for 3-5 submissions. If you send five you are guaranteed that one will be accepted. I didn’t see the point of that, as I send them in to be tested, so I sent three. One was accepted, so I passed the test.

So far, so good. I still have a couple waiting for decisions, and really should get on with writing more. My literary legacy won’t write itself.

I had what I though was probably an adverse reaction to medication last night. If I say it was a digestive upheaval you can fill in the details for yourself. I didn’t get a lot of sleep  and still felt actively ill in the morning so, regretfully, I took the day off. It was lunchtime before I got downstairs and after 2.00 before I felt like doing anything. That activity took the form of writing a rather dull explanation of what a haibun is (I was asked a couple of days ago) so I left it when Julia returned home in favour5 of drinking tea and watching TV.

Mint Moth

I’m feeling better now, though slightly resentful that I told the doctor I didn’t want to alter the medication. I don’t think their medical education, despite being long, is very flexible. When a patient tells you he doesn’t want more pills as a known side effect is digestive disruption, and he already has trouble like that from another set of pills, I think it might be a good idea to listen and work out a different solution. But what do I know?

Mint Moth

Pictures are Mint Moths – I was discussing them with Helen earlier.

Day 170

I’ve been thinking about a subject for today’s post. It really ought to be a lengthy one as I have time on Sunday and most of my other posts are a bit short. I’ve also been thinking about poetry. So, poetry, a blog post and plenty of time to write it. Sounds like a perfect cure for insomnia.

Poets writing about poetry are really only interesting to other poets. And that isn’t guaranteed. There are worse things, I suppose. Accountants writing about accountancy isn’t going to be a riveting read either.

I will narrow the scope of my post slightly. Let’s talk about writer biographies as they appear in poetry magazines. I don’t mind the ones that run to two lines (though I’m not sure why the editors who specify that sort of length just don’t tell the truth and say they clutter up the magazine and use space that should have poems in it).

My standard bio is: Simon Wilson has been a poultry farmer, salesman, antiques dealer, gardener and instructor on a Care Farm He now works in a coin shop and wishes he had tried harder at school.

It is not always well received by editors but is, I suspect, more acceptable to than the version I would like to send: Simon Wilson likes writing poetry and thinks you should read it and mind your own business about his private life.

This train of thought started because I made the mistake of clicking onto a site with a variety of poet biographies. One of them was very motivational – a well-known poet and editor talking about his early days and less than positive start.  It is helpful to see how other people improved and coped with rejection.

The ones i don’t like are the ones that are full of self praise, particularly the ones that give a long list of publishing credits and include magazines that have been out of production for five years.

Speckled Wood

Maybe I should just have done my review of TESCO’s Buttery Spread.

To be fair, it does spread. It also comes in a handy plastic container.

Those are the two positives. Whether it’s buttery is an entirely different matter. It contains buttermilk which, as I recall, is what you are left with after you use the buttery bits of the cream to make butter. The word “butter” in this context makes as much sense as it does when you use it in butterfly. Neither of them contain butter and neither of them makes a particularly pleasant addition to a sandwich.

Now the photos make sense don’t they?

 

Day 135

The morning is now over and I have spent it having a lie in, eating porridge, repairing a strimmer, catching up on reading and . . . er . . . that’s it. I am currently writing the first few lines of the blog whilst waiting for the kettle to boil (having received shouted instructions from the garden.

It has just boiled, so I will do as I am told and hope to be back with you soon.

Farmer Ted, the knitted bear assistant

Later . . .

I read some of the Haiku Society of America mentorship booklet, which I found hard going. It’s more or less a writer bio followed by three haiku and with a few kind words about the mentorship scheme.

Or, if you look it up on Google, it may be the Human Slaughter Association Mentorship programme. I have a limited capacity for reading haiku (though it is less limited than my capacity for reading them), and don’t like video conferencing or workshops, so you will be more likely to see me discussing humane slaughter than haiku. I confess, and have never hidden the fact, that I am not a fan of haiku and only write them because I need them for haibun.

After a few pages of that, I decided to have a go at Ribbons, which is the magazine of the Tanka Society of America. I joined last week and they have already sent me a magazine. Even better, it is full of tanka.

There are some magazines I read that just feel like home, and others that don’t feel comfortable. Ribbons is comfortable, as is The Haibun Journal. There’s nothing much to see on that last link, as they don’t do anything online. I merely add the link to prove it exists.

While I’m talking about magazines and societies, I should mention that there are other good magazines, and that my definition of bad magazines is based on my own personal view rather than a proper procedure. I find it so much quicker just to form an unreasoning prejudice rather than a balanced view.

I will also say that I don’t like the process that the societies all seem to adopt, of running memberships from Christmas to Christmas. It’s a bad time of year to extract money from people and when they all do it at the same time it forces a decision on some people. Well, on me. I know there are reasons for this, but you would think that at least one would do it differently, just to make it more convenient for members. I suppose when the rest of your members are highly paid and successful (as all the writer bios indicate) nobody else ever finds themselves short of money.

Gatekeeper butterfly

I decided just to add random feelgood photos to this one. The top one may, in hindsight, fulfil that purpose for vegans.

Day 123

Day 123 comes and goes. I have two more poems accepted, pack parcels and make hash for tea. Things happen on the news and I am advised to try jackfruit by a friend.  Those are the essentials of the day.

There were 12 Spanish poppies out this morning, which comes close to doubling the number of blooms for the year. I have stopped counting, despite my original intentions, because the flowers seem to last longer this year and I( am having to make sure I don’t double count. I will deadhead again tomorrow and see how many heads I remove.

I may try some tinned jackfruit. I’m not particularly bothered, but it will mean I can put a stop to conversations like the one I had tonight. It’s fashionable, and it’s on a lot of cookery programmes, but it doesn’t really fill a need for me. It’s a bit like samphire – I tried it several times and then forgot it. I don’t like the taste and I don’t see why it has to be imported when we have plenty growing on the coast. It’s full of nutrients and it’s good to have some variety in my diet, but deep down, I don’t like the taste. You can add asparagus to that list too. It’s OK, but if I’m honest, I eat it for variety rather than pleasure.

We started eating more avocadoes for the variety, but we like avocado. This makes up for the carbon footprint involved in importing it. Global warming, as far as I know, hasn’t helped us grow avocadoes in the UK.