Today I discovered senryū, thanks to Ellen Grace Olinger (a blogging poet I’ve followed for a few years) and, through her, Charlotte Digregorio. (Of course whether those Japanese characters in my title line are correct I do not know).

Haiku

Recently I wrote a post about my dissatisfaction with my attempts at haiku, and sadly most of the attempts of others other than Japanese poets (who I have no way to judge). Now it is clear to me that many that I have read, even most, are closer to sanryū than haiku and one reason, at least, for my dissatisfaction.

Haibun and ‘senbun’

It also explains in part why I am having difficulty keeping my daily diary for my current travels as haibun, which require at least a closing haiku. It seems to me that it will be easier, and more appropriate, to sometimes close with senryū rather than haiku, but the result will not then be haibun. Maybe I can call them senbun.

Senryū

A screenshot of the haiku and senryū page on the Shadow Poetry siteThe ‘English’ senryū, follows the syllable count of a haiku – 5,7,5 (the only form which interests me) – but is “usually written in the present tense and only references to some aspect of human nature or emotions. They possess no references to the natural world and thus stand out from nature/seasonal haiku” (Shadow Poetry). What seems to me a good start to understanding haiku is also on Shadow Poetry.

This also makes clear why 17 syllables in English is not equivalent to 17 Japanese kana (the Japanese writing system) characters (Japanese syllables), though I prefer to follow this ‘rule’ when attempting haiku. One of the characteristics of haiku which draws me to them is the discipline involved in writing them, and part of this discipline for a Japanese poet is following the rule of 5,7,5 kama characters. Throwing this discipline aside because kama characters are not equivalent to English syllables seems to me a lame excuse. The result may be great short poems but to me they have lost some of the appeal of haiku.

With all this in mind I may succeed better in turning my rough diary notes into acceptable haibun or ‘senbun’. I’ve only succeeded with July 29th and 31st (under menu heading ‘Dusty2RomaniaII’) so far though the consequences of the appalling weather since we left Holland have had a large part to play too.

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俳文

First haibun written in the open notebook, with Japanese characters for ‘haibun’ on facing page

This is my first attempt at haibun.

Discovering an old ‘diary’ of my first two months in Romania, in 1993, bringing to mind events and emotions I had entirely forgotten, and reawakening those I had not, I had the urge to record my forthcoming visit to Romania in some form of diary. But Romania, particularly the northern area known as the Bucovina, has had such a life-changing effect on me a normal ‘travelogue’ seemed entirely inadequate.

Haiku and haibun

My love of haiku is well documented on this blog, I even endeavour not only to write them but to experiment with them, so haibun – a mixture of sparse prose with haiku – seemed the ideal form in which to attempt a ‘diary’ of my latest visit.

Though this is my first venture into the ancient Japanese world of haibun, albeit necessarily in a westernised form, I cannot resist experimenting. So, just as my haiku sometimes became what I called ‘picture haiku’, some of my haibun may become ‘picture haibun’.

#0 because the journey has not yet begun. A trial run if you will. My aim (I won’t say ‘hope’, a word I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary) is that they get better as I journey through the forty seven days.

Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently

Ilkley Literature Festival logoLast evening our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe was ‘performing’ in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ with the title Every leaf tells a story. I had intended to read my first attempt at a ‘fairy tale’, inspired by one of the two delightful daughters of one of our members. We each were allotted 4 minutes. When I offered to stand down having ‘done the fringe’ last year, to give newer members a bit longer, that wasn’t accepted. So when my fairy tale turned out too long I thought I’d read part of it. I could not get that short enough while retaining the sense so I did, as John Cleese famously said in Monty Python, “something completely different” – a short presentation about tanka. What I did is below, followed by the full fairy story. For the second fairy tale, already written, inspired by the younger of the two sisters (who took second place in the club’s ‘Young Writer Competition’ last year), you’ll have to wait till sometime in December.

My three-and-a-half minute ‘fringe’ presentation

I sometimes write haiku; last year I read some in our fringe presentation. Less often I write tanka. Both are short Japanese poems. Tanka: tan – short; ka – poem, or song. Tanka are rather like sonnets in that both have a strict structure and in each the first part might suggest a dilemma, the second proposing a resolution. Autumn – nature – is an ideal subject for all three forms. Love is another.

In the sonnet it is the ninth line which signals this change of mood. In the tanka, the English version of which has five lines of five, seven, five, seven, seven voice sounds, or syllables, 31 in all. Ideally the first three lines should stand alone, as should the final three lines. So in the tanka it is the third line which is the pivotal line.

I had a dilemma this evening: our club membership has grown so much over the past year that each participant has only four minutes. My autumn fairy story, one of two fairy tales, inspired by one of two young ladies, sisters, in the audience this evening, is too long for today. That’s the dilemma. Solution, present a tanka and publish my first fairy story on my blog tomorrow where the first young lady can read it as she cannot hear it this evening as I originally intended.

The second story, inspired by her younger sister, I intend to read at our Christmas presentation in Ilkley Library.

Here’s the tanka prompted by my dilemma:


autumn tale written
too long for this fringe reading
fairies won’t be timed
so settle for a tanka
blog sleeps   waiting for Mia

Here’s another written specifically for this evening’s theme:


colours leached from sky
clouds grumble grey   tinted rain
caught by leaves and fruit
apples flushed red invite bites
delight swaps from eyes to tongues

 

A haiku is like the first three lines of a tanka, just 17 syllables. But you have to squeeze the same rules into just three lines. Here’s an autumn one I wrote when I noticed the leaves were firmly on the trees when they were all down at the same time last year:


autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries


Fairy tale – When Dreams and Leaves Dance. Title proposed by Linna, Nelle and Helmi in Latvia

Sitting before the open door on a warm autumn day, Mia carefully traced the outlines of the three fallen leaves she had collected, flushed with the russets and yellows of early autumn.

Removing the leaves from her drawing paper, she began carefully to draw the tracery of veins, thinking of the colours in her paintbox and how she might mix them to match the beautiful colours in the leaves, some dramatic, some subtle. One leaf, with strange curly edges, was a medley of green, yellow and russet; another, rather fat with a pointed tip, was bright yellow; the third, much slimmer, was still green and white from summer though the green was flushed with yellow.

A sudden draught of wind seemed to lift the leaves but, as the draught stilled, they remained upright and two of them began slowly to pirouette, the broad bases of the stems straining down till they resembled the foot of a ballet dancer ‘en pointe’. The third leaf settled with his broad stem base firmly on the table.

Mia watched entranced as the leaves began to dance together before the curly edged one took a mighty leap to the floor, seemed to beckon to the two on the table at which they floated down like feathers to join him. Seeming to acquire two legs in place of the single stem, the three leaves ran to the open door. As they reached it they turned and, curling their pointed ends repeatedly, were clearly urging Mia to join them. She climbed down from her chair and took a couple of paces towards the door. As she moved forward the leaves appeared to grow, the curly edged one becoming quite a bit taller than her, the slim one a little shorter and the more rotund one about the same height.

Mia looked back towards her chair and realised the leaves had not grown; she had become tiny. Trembling with fright, she was ready to run back into the house and even more frightened when the fatter one appeared to speak: “Don’t be frightened; you will grow again when you go back.”

But you’re trembling as much as me,” Mia protested.

Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m always doing it when there’s a little breeze. By the way, my name’s Aspen, though some people call me Quaking Aspen because I’m often trembling. Let me introduce you to my friends; the beautiful slim one is Willow and that mighty fellow is called Oak.”

Come on,” urged Aspen. “There are many more of us who’d love to meet you.”

Pulled by Aspen on one side, Willow on the other, Mia stopped as she saw a carpet of hundreds of leaves with scores of different colours. It was here she had picked up the three leaves she had been drawing earlier. But now there were even more colours, all shades of yellow, brown, red and green.

As she watched a little breeze stirred the leaves and soon they were all upright and pirouetting just like her new found friends had done on the table.

Come on, come on, come and join us,” several of them called.

I don’t think I can do that, pirouetting like that,” Mia answered.

Of course you can,” said Oak as he wrapped himself around her and began to spin her. Faster and faster she span till, lifting one foot off the ground and lifting the other till she was on her toes, she was surprised to realise she could pirouette just like the leaves. She was spun from Oak to one of the other leaves, then another, then another, until she was quite out of breath. “Oh, that was fun,” she gasped as she sat down among the dancing leaves, who one by one sat down too.

Let’s have a story,” called one. “Yes, yes,” many answered. “Who will start?” asked one with a different shape to Mia’s new friends, with five points like half a star.

She’s a really good story teller, her name’s Maple,” said Aspen to Mia, “but everyone can tell a story. There’s usually a big argument about whose story is best.”

Mia stood up. “Look, I’d love to hear your stories but I must go back or I’ll be missed and my mum will panic. Can I come another day to listen to your stories?”

Oh please do,” the sitting leaves chorused.

You’re right,” said Aspen, you will be missed and that will never do. Come on, lets go. Oak and Willow will come back with us and no-one will know unless you tell them about us. But they won’t believe you, so that’s alright.”

But first we want to give you something to remember us by, something which will help you with your art,“ said Aspen. “Look, it’s on the ground right in front of you. It’s for you but you must keep it a secret. Even if you tell about us you must never mention what our gift can do.”

Looking down Mia saw a tiny acorn, like no acorn she had seen before. It sparkled with dozens of ever changing colours.

Go on, pick it up. It’s for you. It will always tell you how to make the colour you want but remember, you must never tell anyone it can do that. If you do, it will lose its power and become an ordinary acorn.”

Now, let’s go back. Put us on the table, climb back on your chair and nobody will know you’ve been out.”

Joining ‘hands’ the four friends danced back to the door and as they went inside sure enough, Mia grew to her former size and climbed up onto her chair as the three leaves appeared on the table and lay down just as they had been before they began to dance.

Mia, Mia wake up. You’ll fall off that chair and hurt yourself.” Mum’s voice was a little worried. “Wow, I’m not surprised you’re so tired. Those paintings of the leaves you collected are really beautiful. I don’t know how you managed to make all those colours.”

The leaves took me to the woods and showed me how they get their autumn colours. They are called Oak, Aspen and Willow. And they can dance.”

Come on, you’ve been dreaming. Did you learn the names of the leaves at school or did you look for them on internet?”

No, they told me their names. They are so clever; you know, every leaf tells a story.”

Oh well, if you say so. But your painting is really beautiful. Now, come into the kitchen, it’s teatime. You’ve been dreaming for sure.”

Mia climbed down from the chair, taking a last glance at the three beautifully coloured drawings. Had she been dreaming? Opening her hand, the tiny acorn sparkled at her …

… and she smiled.

§

I haven’t yet got a title for this story. Can anyone suggest an enticing one?

My haiku which have been posted on this blog over the past five years or more have been collected together, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. They will be put on a page under the ‘haiku’ tab; until now that has had all the posts put in the ‘haiku’ category, which may not all have contained one, just ‘talked’ about them. It will hopefully make more sense. I’ll also put tanka there, few.

Five pictures of grumpytyke stages

Seven pictures of grumpytyke stagesFive pictures of grumpytyke stages

The first haiku below is not mine; it is probably my favourite, the one which first prompted me to try my hand at writing them. It was on a blog called ‘five reflections’; as far as I know it no longer exists. All I can do now is thank the author for many hours of pleasure he began, both reading others and attempting my own.
The pictures are a bit of fun with the 5-7-5 sequence which I posted soon after seeing that first haiku.
Each haiku has under it the title of the post and the date it appeared on my blog. The title is a link which will take you to the post. Very rarely do I post just a haiku; usually there’s some background. Some might not make much sense without it (eg ‘picture haiku), which probably means they are not very good haiku.
If you feel like wandering through them sometime I’d love to know which you like most (if you like any!) and why.


from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

Haiku – my eyes become yours
June 23, 2012

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from one year to three
from Shipley to Banbury
skiffle liberates

Picture haiku
June 23, 2012

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how does someone blind
who cannot see the sky’s blue
create this art work?

Inspiration from blogs and blindness – creativity in food, photography, haiku and writing

July 5, 2012

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take inspiration.
visit the God particle
on a pedal bike

The God particle and inspiration for a would-be creative writer
July 7, 2012

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celestial ships
from another universe
fantasy Yorkshire sky

Sky picture haiku
July 8, 2012

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my long fallen friend
hacked down from your majesty
rest awhile with me

Trees – picture haiku
July 9, 2012

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one destination
straight … curious meander
we wonder … and wait

Picture haiku – life
July 12, 2012

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imagine … differ
climb out of the commonplace
halt … think free … proceed

Haiku – three word prompt – no picture
July 15, 2012

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soul guide … hand taken
serene work on graceful curves
symbol stories writ

Picture haiku – an egg from Bucovina
July 20, 2012

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Earth to earth … to dust
twist … scream … turn … yet now return
games in the graveyard

grass is greener where?
bare footed … treading careless

leaving litter here

A pair felt in a graveyard
July 29, 2012

§

biscuits cut from sky
baking in the summer sun
heaven gives …  look up

Picture haiku – sky biscuits in Iasi, Romania
August 3, 2012

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chirruping crickets
all else mute they look to dawn
winter waits … restore

Haiku – no picture this time

August 9, 2012

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a deep thought minute
click to click is time enough
the wind raged … sea calmed

Picture haiku: time cures all
November 29, 2012

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madness frozen out
bones interred together … warmed
peace … buds in waiting

Picture haiku – Daily Prompt: Through the Window
January 29, 2013

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witches tread with care
beware our bouquet … spiky
healthy human food

Picture haiku – Washburn valley, Olympus OM4
June 5, 2013

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green satiated
winter songsters’ sanguine store
shiver prophesy

Picture haiku: rowan
October 20, 2013

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This post does not include a haiku but charts my journey since I began to try to write them

Haiku – a journey through seventeen syllables
October 28, 2013

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white snow dying … grey
children’s faces sad … silent
birds sing … dreams of spring

haiku: snow
January 22, 2015

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office rules to rest
laid among timed paper clips
writing in my head

haiku – writer’s retirement
February 6, 2015

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time travel … from chat
to chat in another time
anaesthesia

anaesthesia – haiku. Hernia repair
May 30, 2015

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leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted … yet to fall

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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distant memory
fighting to recall your face
dementia kills me

sublime poetry
in lyrics of a sad song
speaking to my soul

appegios sooth
minor chords provoke … sometimes
love flows in … and out

The thrill of seeing your writing in print
June 20, 2017

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autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries

A special day doing nothing special. A haiku
October 6, 2017

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tanka

snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair

Performing again! A tanka and a short story
November 19, 2016

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river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

A trip to the English Lakes
April 21, 2017

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i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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View from our front window

View from our ‘front’ window. Most of the trees are still largely green. Few leaves have fallen

The obvious signs of autumn are coming late this year. Most of the leaves are still on the trees, even the horse chestnuts, usually the first to undress, have kept their clothes despite the high winds of the past few days though there are quite a lot of conkers down. Maybe that’s only because the children have been throwing sticks up to bring them down. Last year the trees were almost bare at this time; this year most of them are still green. Even the acer outside our window is only a little rusted.

On the other hand, the berry trees – rowan, hawthorn, etc – are particularly laden with their red feasts. Not for long I think. Blackbirds seem satisfied with six berries for each meal; the crows, flapping to stay on the thin branches, take far more. They might wish they had been less gluttonous if the harsh winter foretold by the berries occurs. Or maybe they just know I’ll keep the bird feeders full from the first frost.

The temperature is down, only 17degC in our flat first thing in the morning. As the energy supplier has recently hiked the price by 12.5% we’ve resisted putting the heating on yet. If the sun stays out it will get up to 19degC in our sitting room/kitchen, which has large windows facing south. The bedroom, facing north, will remain cool.

Wharfe Valley

Some of the near white drystone walls dividing green fields in the Wharfe valley between Burnsall and Grassinton

The ‘white’ drystone walls glistened in the sun

With bright sun yesterday morning we decided to take a ride up the beautiful Wharfe valley, which gets wilder the further up you go. We didn’t go far, only as far as the village of Grassington but it’s a lovely ride from Bolton Abbey past the Barden Tower , closely following the river, to Burnsall then Grassington (I’ve put a link on the placenames for those don’t know the Yorkshire Dales, or you can google them). Though it’s much visited there’s not really much special about Grassington unless there’s a festival on but the surroundings are wonderful. The autumn colours we expected on the way were in short supply. The ‘white’ drystone walls were a substitute delight in the sun.

The touristy shops beckoned but we just settled for some ‘Thirst Aid’, proclaimed on a blackboard outside a small coffee shop, which was suggested would help with the “steep” climb (not really). Just two tables outside in the narrow street on an even narrower pavement but the small space had beckoned to the sun and seemingly trapped it. The declared “outrageously good coffee” was excellent.

So, a day doing nothing special but, arriving home, Petronela and I agreed it was a ‘special day’.

Haiku

autumn comes tardy

nature’s paintbox still half closed

birds gorge on berries

The trees are just beginning to colour for autumn; the rowan berries are ready. pictured today from our sitting room window

The trees are just beginning to colour for autumn; the rowan berries are ready for the birds. Pictured today from our sitting room window

She’s done it again: Ruxandra, the wonderful leader of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, has persuaded the organisers of the prestigious Ilkley Literature Festival ‘fringe’ to let us loose on stage again following our debut last year. Each of us will have a spot of around 5 minutes to read our contribution in a one hour programme. The overall theme will be autumn. I’ve still to write something so any ideas from you wonderful writers/bloggers out there will be gratefully received.

Most of my followers are far away from Ilkley but, just in case, we’re on at Church House, Ilkley, 7-8pm on 14 October. Entry is free.

Haiku and short story

Last year I mixed some haiku with a short story for my contribution (if you have the stomach for it you can see a video clip on a post I did following it). I’ll probably do the same again. In fact I already have a haiku which might fit the theme, though it was written as part of answering the given theme of ‘Reflection‘ for a club meeting last year. For that I experimented with several different kind of poetry – including a first attempt at writing a Shakespearean sonnet – as well as a short short story. I inflicted it on those of you following me at the time in a post.

Here’s the haiku I might use:

leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted     yet to fall