December 31st 2015

After the snow storm, another warm spell.

·
my heartbeat—
····melting
····with the evergreen’s snow
·

The clouds were low in the valleys throughout the day. Driving to the south I drive over a mountain ridge. The evergreens were touched with a frosting of snow and the birches were radiant.

·

last
····day of the year—even I can touch
········the clouds

·

I wonder what the new year promises? I have some poetry to finish and maybe a novel. Every year I think I’ll work on my novel, but I never do. The evening is stark, blacks and whites, the road and the snow, the trees and mists, but joyful.

Though there’s not much for me in New Year’s,  “Auld Lang Syne” chokes me up. In a strange way I’m a depression era baby, raised by WWII parents. I associate New Years with big band music, which I love, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby (never Frank Sinatra—who does absolutely nothing for me), Abbott & Costello, etc..  My family stories are of the first automobiles, the first telephones, rail travel, and one room schoolhouses. I occasionally use expressions, like “Sally off the pickleboat”, that haven’t been current for half a century or more.  So when New Years comes around I’m nostalgic for the 40’s & the movie ‘White Christmas’.

55: December 25th 2015 | bottlecap

a tiny something

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for the last few weeks. Here and elsewhere readers question the significance of haiku: just how much weight to give a poem sometimes presented in one line and that traditionally avoids our own history of metaphor and narrative.

The best I can do is to communicate what I love about the form. I’m writing a novel, off and on again, but longer works don’t come easily to me. I’m a natural-born minimalist. The less paper you give me, the more my talents take fire. The haiku is my playground. Every word counts. There can be no redundancy.

It’s the brevity of the haiku that makes the best of them great literature. And it’s the great poets who turn the haiku’s allusiveness to their advantage, using a few words to suggest a multitude of human experiences. In a sense, the fewer the words, the greater the potential complexity.

Sometimes I like to imagine haiku as a moment of tremendous compression where the poet’s experience is focused into a kind of singularity; where the reader, in reading the haiku, passes through and outward into an ever opening realm of interpretation. I’ve always thought of poems, and haiku especially, in terms of light cones. And so I’ve borrowed a little from physics to illustrate:

Basho's Light Cone

While the illustration rings true for any work of literature, I think it’s especially apt as a way of illustrating the interpretive compression latent in the best haiku. The bottom cone represents Basho’s life in time and space. All of Basho’s life experiences are gradually focused over time and space into an evening when he heard a frog’s leap into the water—into the singular expression of his famous poem. Without all of Basho’s life experiences preceding this moment, the poem wouldn’t have been possible. At the nexus of the poem’s creation, Basho’s “life cone” ceases and our interpretive readings expand the haiku indefinitely.  In the book Basho and his Interpreters, the variety of reactions and interpretations to this haiku go on for almost three pages—and the commentaries are themselves comprised of extracts from more expansive readings.

The point of all this is to argue that the art of haiku is in finding that sweet spot that is the literal, the suggestive, the symbolic and even the metaphorical.  Consider the following haiku by the fourth great master of Japanese haiku, Shiki:

full of spring
rotten oranges
how sweet!

The haiku may initially strike the reader as trite or trivial. But think about the Shiki’s ‘life cone’. If the reader looks back just a little he or she will discover Shiki’s ever increasing and terminal illness when he wrote this haiku. Every day he was suffering from fever and thirst. The haiku assumes a richer association that we can apply to our own lives and in ways that might have astonished Shiki—or Basho for that matter.

And that brings me to my own haiku. I wasn’t born knowing how to write them. Their significance was a complete mystery to me, but I was fascinated and intrigued by them. How could these diminutive slipknots become the defining literature of an entire culture?

As I was returning to my room after a summer’s course in poetry at Bennington College, I saw a single, bright red something on an otherwise perfectly green hedgerow. I was distracted by it. I was drawn to it. Was it a slip of paper that had fallen into, or been blown into, the shrubbery? Why was it still there?

It wasn’t until I almost stood over the swatch of color that I saw what it was, a single leaf, among all the hundreds of other leaves in the hedgerow that, for one reason or another, had died—inasmuch as a leaf may die. It had turned a brilliant red. Seeing what it was was a strange shock. In an instant (which is the way with enlightenment I’m told) I understood haiku and wrote my first:

among
the many, many leaves, the red
··········leaf falling.

That was over twenty years ago. And then earlier this year I received an email from India asking if this haiku could be used as part of a memorial. The memorial is meant to honor Jarbom Gamlin, the former Chief Minister of the State, and the request came from his surviving brother, Moji Riba. I couldn’t imagine a more humbling request.

 

I never would have imagined that this haiku, the first I’d written and before the existence of the world wide web, would mean so much to another half way round the world. But this is the argument I would make for haiku, these tiny little somethings. Their brevity, in the hands of the right poet, is what lends them their power. They only ask a willingness of the reader to look beyond the words and for the willingness to let them expansively open in the reader’s life and imagination.

I only wish I could read them in the original Japanese.

古池や蛙飛こむ水のおと

Furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

December 29th 2015

The winter’s first snow—about five inches; but less like a snow than pellets of ice. The brook immediately behind our house is hemmed in by the ice and snow, a narrow channel that makes the cold water run all the quicker.

·
stepping
····in her mother’s steps—one trail
·········· in the snow

·

Remembering when my daughters were younger. So much easier in deep snow, when you’re little, to follow in another’s steps.

·
after
····the snowstorm—the crows are still
·······black

·

When all else is white, even the evergreens. Juncos visited under the bridge, looking for fallen sunflower seeds.

·

53: December 29th 2015 | bottlecap

December 28th 2015

I cheat. I continually edit my haiku, yesterday’s especially. I think I’ve made it much better.

I just discovered, after an idle search, that 212 ‘new’ haiku by Buson were recently discovered. Given that Buson is considered one of Japan’s three great poets—the discovery is akin to discovering new Odes by John Keats or sonnets by Donne.

I live in hope that a new Cantata by JS Bach will be discovered, or a new concerto.

But besides dreaming on art by greater minds than mine, I drove down by the river to look at another job. There was enough sun for shadows and a tint of gold to speckle the gray trees. After so much rain, there were clear pools and ponds.

·

reflected
····in the water—not even the winter’s
········sky

·

As though the landscape still waited for the first snow with perfect stillness. I almost wondered where the mosquitoes were, and the peepers. Still no sign of winter.

·

52: December 28th 2015 | bottlecap

·

  • I’ve gone back and numbered my haiku—the numbers appended to the dates. Yesterday was my 50th. I’ve also added the category A Haiku Year in the event any reader wants to see all the haiku under one category heading.

December 26th 2015

·

Readying for the first winter storm, we stacked the last firewood, put away and secured tarps and cleared the driveway for the snowblower. Tomorrow will be rain, but Tuesday may bring several inches of snow.

·

stacking
····the winter’s firewood—my next
············haiku

·
And I begin to think there’s little difference between the ordering of words in a poem and the wood in the woodpile for next winter’s burning.
·

50: December 26th 2015 | bottlecap

December 25th 2015

·

We spent the day at home. My daughters and a friend, in Vermont no less, flew kites in a strangely warm December wind. They went to the hilltop next to the house. I watched their silhouettes until the kites tugged them from view.

·

even kites—
····tugging my daughters toward another
·················horizon

·

49: December 25th 2015 | bottlecap

December 23rd 2015

·

Today we traveled north to Montpelier, the smallish capital of Vermont—a largish town rather than a city. When Basho recounted his journey in Narrow Road to the North, he often wrote about utamakura—famous landmarks, religious and historical, often made famous by previous poets. I can’t think of any utamakura in Montpelier.

So I’ll create one.

·

December
····heatwave—the abandoned boxcar’s new
··············graffiti

·

There’s a seldom used railroad track that goes through the heart of Montpelier. Though there are signs forbidding pedestrians, the railroad bridge is used by everyone as a shortcut—including me and family.

If I were to convey my understanding of the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, an abandoned railroad track might be the place I’d start. There’s an abandoned boxcar just a few steps off main street. The rails have been cut from the main track and I’ve always wondered about it.

But now, at least, Montpelier has an Utamakura. Go look for it when you visit. Once, with my kids, we walked on the tracks, balancing on the rails all the way to the co-op. Maybe I can do it one more time, one more summer or two, before I lose them to the wider world.

·

47: December 23rd 2015 | bottlecap