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blackberries

blackberries

“Blackberry winter” is a new season to me, but this colloquial expression is used in south & midwest North America. It refers to a cold snap that often occurs in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom.

Timing for blackberry blooms varies depending on the weather in your area and the variety. But in the warmer climates (USDA zone 7 and south) blackberries start blooming from mid-April to early May.

blackberry blooms

blackberry blooms

In cooler climates, like Paradelle, blackberries begin to bloom in late May and are not ready to harvest until around mid-July. Though the frost-free date here is May 15, there will be no blackberry winters here. It is more likely that in April our fruit trees, like apples and peaches, will get nipped.

Some people believe that a blackberry winter helps the blackberry canes to start growing.

Another blossom that can get hit with a cold snap in our region is the cherry blossom.

The cherry blossom is a mainstay image of spring in haiku poetry. Japanese cherry blossoms and the tradition of flower gazing, or hanami, has inspired poets for centuries.

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossoms

cherry blossoms scatter–
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

without regret
they fall and scatter…
cherry blossoms
~ Issa

Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
~ Basho

Drinking up the clouds
it spews out cherry blossoms –
Yoshino Mountain.

Petals falling
unable to resist
the moonlight
~ Buson

Cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park, NJ

Washington D.C. is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan before the World Wars as a gesture of friendship. It is far less well known that Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C.

But if you are in that warmer climate and you get a late cold snap so that a little “winter” hits during spring,  you have “blackberry winter,” although there are other names for this weather anomaly: “dogwood winter,” “whippoorwill winter,” “locust winter,” and “redbud winter” are all variations.

As with the different nature-oriented names for the Full Moons that are based on locations, these names are based on what is blooming in regions during the typical spring cold snaps.

In rural England, this is called “blackthorn winter”because the blackthorn in hedgerows blossoms in early April. In Finland, this is a common occurrence in April or May. They call it takatalvi, meaning “back winter.”

Last weekend was Palm Sunday.  This week is usually a time of the year when my mind blooms. I wrote this a few years ago.

Palm Sunday

Moveable feast this Passover and Easter week.
No palms here but crocuses, wood hyacinths,
jonquils, cherry blossoms, a first bee buzzing.
Yew Sunday, Branch Sunday, triumph and victory
contained in a seed, bud, pollen, flower.

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issa

Yesterday was the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. He was  born in Kashiwabara, Japan in 1763. He is one of the masters of haiku.

Haiku packs so much into 17 Japanese characters in three distinct units.

Here is one by Issa that seems appropriate for Father’s Day this weekend.

if my father were here –
dawn colors
over green fields

What do the green fields of dawn have to do with is father? How would you fill in that unfinished thought “if my father were here” for your own life? The empty spaces in haiku often hold the meaning.

Issa spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. He was a lay Buddhist priest of the Jōdo Shinshū sect. He is known as simply Issa which was his pen name meaning Cup-of-tea.

Where there are humans
you will find flies
and Buddhas

Along with Bashō, Buson and Shiki, his poetry helped popularize the haiku form in Japan and later to the world.

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

He was no slacker. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku.

In this world we walk
on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers

Issa liked writing about the commonplace. He wrote 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs and about 230 on the firefly.

Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble.

I like Bashō’s haiku too, but he only wrote about 2000 in all

Kobayashi Issa died on January 5, 1828, in his native village.

This dewdrop world –
is a dewdrop world,
and yet, and yet…

MORE

The Kobayashi Issa Museum:Issakan in Nagano, Japan

Issa’s Haiku

Landscape with a Solitary Traveler

“Landscape with a Solitary Traveler” – Yosa Buson

Yosa Buson was a Japanese poet and painter and, along with Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa, Buson is considered among the greatest poets of the Edo Period.

He was born in the village of Kema in Settsu Province (now Kema-chō, Miyakojima Ward in Osaka city). He moved to Edo (now Tokyo) at age 20 and learned poetry under the tutelage of the haikai master Hayano Hajin.

After Hajin died, Buson moved to Shimōsa Province (modern-day Ibaraki Prefecture) to follow in the path of Matsuo Bashō.

Like Bashō, Buson traveled through the wilds of northern Honshū to see the land that inspired Bashō’s famous travel diary, Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior). He published his notes from the trip in 1744, marking the first time he published under the name Buson.

A sample poem of his:

隅々に残る寒さや梅の花
Sumizumi ni nokoru samusa ya ume no hana

In nooks and corners
Cold remains:
Flowers of the plum

At age 42, he settled in Kyoto and began to write under the name of Yosa, which he took from his mother’s birthplace (Yosa in the province of Tango).

Buson married at age 45, had one daughter, and remained in Kyoto where Kuno. From this point on, he remained in Kyoto, writing and teaching poetry at the Sumiya.

keisei wa
nochi no yo kakete
hanami kana

Courtesans come out
to see the cherry blossoms
as though they were betting on their next life
(translated by W.S. Merwin)

Another name change occurred in 1770 when he assumed the haigō (haiku pen name) of Yahantei (Midnight Studio), which had been the pen name of his teacher Hajin, but his poems are collected under the name Yosa Buson.

I like this poem of his that imagines nature as calligraphy.

Ichi gyô no kari ya hayama ni tsuki o in su

All in one line, the wild geese
and the moon in the foothills
for a seal

Buson died on this day, December 25,  at the age of 68 and was buried at Konpuku-ji in Kyoto.

As with most of the great classical haiku poets, he wrote a final deathbed poem. Since it was recorded that he died in the night, before dawn, I view his poem as a hopeful vision of the next place in his journey.

Shira ume ni akuru yo bakari to nari ni keri

The night almost past,
through the white plum blossoms
a glimpse of dawn.



The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa

cherry blossom ani

Cherry blossoms are a staple of the haiku poets as a sign of spring.

3 poems by Basho

Leafless cherry,
old as a toothless woman,
blooms – mindful of its youth

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Kannon’s tiled temple roof
floats far away –
clouds of cherry blossoms

(Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

3 poems by Issa

cherry blossoms scatter –
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

cherry blossoms
under every tree
a Buddha on display

on the paper amulet
cherry blossoms
scatter

(inmons are paper charms or amulets sold at Buddhist temples)

 

Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Washington D.C is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan more than a hundred years ago. In my home state of New Jersey, we have the cherry trees of Branch Brook Park in Newark which actually has more cherry trees than D.C.  Every spring, residents and visitors can see the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States there.

Branch Brook Park has more than 2,700 Japanese cherry blossom trees that burst into full bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that features various events for visitors of all ages.

The park itself is historically unique for being the first county park in the United States opened to the public. It was designed by the famed landscape architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City.

The neighborhood on the east side of the park, Forest Hill, is Newark’s most affluent and is the setting for the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Basilica, the fifth-largest cathedral in North America.

From April 5-13, the park hosts its spring festival under pink petals. (see essexcherryblossom.com)

I started a new daily writing practice for 2014 that I call WRITING THE DAY.

The idea is simple – and not totally original – to write a poem each day.

I wanted to impose some form on myself each day. I love haiku, tanka and other short forms, but I decided to create my own form for this project.  I wanted to do shorter poems and I thought about the many Japanese forms that I enjoy reading and writing. The haiku is the form most people are familiar with, and it is a form that gets far too little respect in the Western world,

People know that form as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But that’s an English interpretation, since Japanese doesn’t have syllables.

bridgerain400The main inspiration for me is the tanka form which consists of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. Even in that short form, the tanka has two parts. The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (“upper phrase”) and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (“lower phrase”).

For my invented form, ronka, there are 5 lines, each having 7 words without concern for syllables. Like the tanka there is no rhyme.

My own ronka will focus on observations of the day as seen in the outside world and the inside worlds of dwellings and the mind.

From the haiku form I will try to use techniques like having seasonal words to show rather than tell – cherry blossoms, rather than “spring” or April.  Haiku also don’t include the poet or people as frequently as we do in Western poetry.

I am calling the form ronka – obviously a somewhat egotistical play on the tanka form.

wave crossing

William Stafford is the poet who inspired this daily practice the most for me. Stafford wrote every morning from 1950 to 1993. He left us 20,000 pages of daily writings that include early morning meditations, dream records, aphorisms, and other “visits to the unconscious.” He used sheets of yellow or white paper and sometimes spiral-bound reporters’ steno pads.

I already write every day. I teach and writing is part of the job. I do social media as a job and for myself. I work on my poetry. I have other blogs. But none of them is a daily practice or devoted to writing poems.

When Stafford was asked how he was able to produce a poem every morning, he replied, “I lower my standards.”  I like that answer, but I know that phrase “lowering standards” has a real negative connotation. I think Stafford meant that he allows himself some bad poems and some non-poems, knowing that with daily writing there will be eventually be some good work.

Read the poem, “Mindful,” by Mary Oliver and you’ll get a nice explanation of at least part of the motivation for doing this daily poetry practice – the joy I find every day in some thing, perhaps rather small, that I feel some need to record so that I will remember it in times when things seem less joyful. The poem comes her collection, Why I Wake Early, whose title fits right into the William Stafford writing practice that also inspired my project. She writes about the outdoors – crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears and deer – and that is at least a third of what I expect my poems to have as inspiration. But I will be less disciplined about waking up early.

Now, I have been Writing the Day for 19 days and I don’t know if I can sustain the practice every day for an entire year. But, I know it is more pleasurable than resolving to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time online or any other of the common New Year’s boxes that so many people put themselves into in January.

mountain’s red leaves –

the setting sun

returns to the sky

Swallows

Swallows (Photo credit: L’eau Bleue)


when did they go?

all the swallows’ nests

empty

It feels like autumn tonight.

Today is my birthday. One of those big ones.  With a zero on the end.

Even if it didn’t feel like autumn outside, it feels like it inside.

I like autumn, but you know that summer is over and that winter is not far away.

I was reading some haiku early this morning and these by Kobayashi Issa were the ones that lit up on the page.

even the pine tree I planted

grows old –

autumn dusk

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