for a moment of joy or moments no one pays for, i give myself a ‘jornal’. this makes me rich. try it.

For World Poetry Day: Transformation by haiku (a commentary on Basho at Notes from the Gean)

on a bare branch

a crow settled down

autumn evening


(trans. by Jane Reichold)

“How true!” was all I could say of these lines, the first of Basho’s that I have read– my introduction to haiku. The spare lines also stunned me yet they opened up spaces akin to meditation. Perhaps, I had thought, I should read it slowly as in praying and I did. The passing scenes I’ve seen in drives had suddenly turned into an immediate moment and I, in it. I recognized the feeling; it also happens when a painting or performance draws me in.  Of course, I was reading a poem and I understood it or so I had thought.

I can’t recall from what collection I read ‘on a bare branch’ among the few books I found at the Enoch Pratt Library eight years ago in Baltimore, where I was then staying. I had just stumbled on haiku, surfing the web for poetry and clicking on the page of Baltimore haiku poet Denis Garrison.  Browsing through the posted works, I thought how easy to do it and so, with the spunk of an ignoramus, I wrote one, responding to his submission call. He sent it back with kind words. It had possibilities, he said, and he even rewrote a line. How encouraging!

I had just ended a long career in media and journalism and on the daring of a friend, had taken up fiction writing in New York and later, poetry—dreams that long hovered in my hard working years. I thought haiku would come as easily as both, which I tackled the way I had wielded words in thick gray slabs. I had studied American, English and continental literature in the Philippines, a country closer to Japan, but had not been aware of haiku until then. And so, I wrote a few more of what I thought was haiku, imitating how Denis demonstrated it and sent these again; I received an outright rejection that miffed me. Yet his advice (or was it a command?) for me to read up on haiku goaded me up the marble steps of the Baltimore library.

The haiku shelf nestled in an alcove of special collections on a mezzanine. The small table felt almost intimate. The few haiku small books felt ancient in my hands, the pages fragile. I could not take them home. I had to take scrap paper from the librarian’s desk to write on. Only Basho’s ‘bare branch’ remains among bales of my notes and haiku drafts. I’ve read more of Basho and volumes of other haiku poets since. I’ve learned that the simplicity and immediacy of the ‘bare branch’ that entranced me had also deceived me. Haiku, after all, is a centuries-old art.  I realized I might never get to an iota of what makes it what it is. But haiku has transformed me since.

Nature and I have turned into lovers, for one, as if I’m seeing clouds, the sun and the moon for the first time, or flowers and birds. Yet, as a child, I prowled bamboo groves and shaded streams to catch dragonflies and wait for the kingfisher’s shadow. As an adult, I walked on streams of blossoms shredded by the wind, relishing fragrances and dreams. I used to throw open our windows for the full moon for me to bathe in. I thought I had shed them off when I left home for North America where I finally live the four seasons with blossoms like daffodils and cherry blossoms or trees that inflame in the fall like the maple that I used to know only as words in poems and songs in a borrowed language from an implanted culture I memorized as a child. But haiku has lent me ways to see things simultaneously through the past into the present, as well as from a pinhole as in a bee wading in pollen to the vastness of a punctured moonless summer sky. I leap from image to thought and feeling simply and exactly losing myself in what a moment presents like how I felt reading ‘bare branch’ the first time.

Some writings on Basho especially in his later haiku identify such a moment as Zen. As a Southeast Asian, I know Zen. It’s part of my heritage. But how come I’m ignorant of haiku? It must have been our destined Western colonization that encrusted our Eastern beginnings with layers of European and American culture, hence, blocking it. In an unfortunate historical accident when Japan occupied the Philippines during World War II, my parents could have learned haiku and passed it on to me. Instead, those years inflicted so much pain that I grew up with my mother’s family trying to survive a pall of sorrow from my grandfather’s execution by the Japanese Imperial Army. Japan, for me, represented the horror of cruelty. Then came haiku. I hadn’t thought of that sadness I inherited when I first started reading on it, delighting even at Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi (Back Roads to Far Towns) leading me by inroads to Japan.  When the Fukushima tragedy struck last year, I plunged into it, writing a haibun about families being rescued and some haiku, finding myself in tears. I realized a healing has crept deep in me, of which my grandfather must have had a hand.

From my first imitations of Basho, I kept writing haiku that I later found out from rejections were but fragments. Yet two flukes won for me awards in 2007, one from a growing volume of fragments that I kept tweaking as a single entry to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, the other, another failed haiku I expanded as free verse for the Passager Annual Poetry Award (Baltimore, MD). These fired me to keep on. I haunted more sites on the web, picking beds for my haiku. Peggy Willis Lyles, my first editor, sent back my submission to The Heron’s Nest, the first journal I dared to submit with kind sweet comments yet I pushed more; until she died none of my haiku made it (one later did with Fay Aoyagi who took over Peggy’s contributor’s list). Werner Reichold of LYNX, on the other hand, loved my first submission. Still, more rejections from other journals pounded on me to give up.

But my prose and free verse had started to crackle with a ‘textured richness’ as one editor described it–obviously influenced by my practice of writing haiku—and made it to literary journals. I’m writing less of both these days, finding in haiku the closer bridge to pure image and thought—more of my haiku, a few tanka, haibun and haiga have been published in other journals since. I’m also reading less of descriptive texts, dropping the first sentence if lacking the synthesis in a line like haiku. I can’t hope to fully know all I must or even write a perfect haiku but I step into its waters everyday and steep myself in its calmness, its virtue that first drew me in.

Notes from the Gean, 3:4 March 2012 pp. 61-62


March 21, 2012 Posted by | comment, haiku, poetry, reflection | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

abducted fireflies (haiga7 for 19 Planets Art Blog)

haiga7 for haiga-a-day made with clip art on Microsoft Publisher

abducted fireflies
glowing in its eyes

Another post for Rick Daddario’s haiga-a-day challenge at 19 Planets Art Blog, which I created from a clip art on Microsoft Publisher.

And what’s behind the image of the frog? This…

Noticing what could be unseen or merely imagined, magnifying the significance of what would be otherwise, some speck lost in the swarm of air particulates, this is what poetry, especially haiku, does to me. My mind cannot seem to work within limitations of space and time, or even sensations. What’s beyond a simple object in a single moment becomes a truth that breaks through thought barriers. Take the frog.

Basho has immortalized its break out of anonymity with his famous haiku, ‘old pond’. Reading it again and again, one steps into the monastic peace of an old pond until a frog that one hardly notices among stones, plops, and animates the peace with the sound of water. In a moment, the old pond turns into a universal moment of any moment that once was lifeless, suddenly, breathing from the unexpected.

My haiga is hardly a takeoff from Basho’s frog. It does not have the quietness of it, nor of the objective quality that identifies the poet as the observer but in whose mind, reality is arranged into three lines that total into a truth. While an observation as well, mine is less objective in that I state what I suppose in what I see, namely, the glow in a frog’s eye–seen especially in the dark. Knowing what it feeds on, I imagine fireflies and connect it with that glow. In reality, it is far-fetched as we know that anything creatures eat ends up far from the eyes, in the stomach. If a glow ever shows in the eye, it is that of satisfaction. But what I have done here, or think so, anyway, is tweak reality and made it slide into poetic thought, some other truth.

September 16, 2011 Posted by | comment, haiga, haiku, poetry, reflection | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

morning tide/seashore/high tide (my last post at NaHaiWriMo for now)

morning tide—
the heaving waves

washed off burdens
lapping at our feet

billows and clouds
fading as dreams—
high tide

NaHaiWriMo prompt: seaside, seashore 07/16/2011
*the only one I posted on the site

I’m taking a breather from writing haiku on the NaHaiWriMo FB site to rethink on where I am and where I’m going with this genre. My writing a haiku has been taking me longer and longer, more tedious because the more I’m learning about what makes a good one, the more conscious I am of each word I put down. I feel that this process is taking a toll on the intuitive way I write poetry as most of the lines I write do seemingly write themselves out in one breath. Not so, with haiku that I want to work; yes, it comes easy when I’m ‘haiku-ing’ for myself or in this blog but when I begin to be conscious of ‘judging eyes’, I falter and fail and I write what for me and often I’m not wrong, a ‘lame’ or ‘yikes’ haiku.

I guess I should try to learn more, read more from Basho who lured me into the art in 2005 when I found a collection of his haiku, honestly the first I ever read having been schooled in continental literature, at the Enoch Pratt Library main library in Baltimore. Perhaps, I should reflect more on how his haiku often turn out as a meditation like in the famous ‘old pond’ where the frog’s splash fractures the silence to remind him that in the stillness of a pond, there is sound, there is life that brings him back from the ether to the frog.

But not wanting to lose my haiku-writing cells, I’m still writing with the prompts privately and continuing with my haibun memoir, some of which or excerpts of which I’ll post here once in a while.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | haiku, poetry | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

deep in a pool (tanka though still not sure)

deep in a pool
a school of tadpoles wriggling
inveigles my thoughts
of a summer evening
to fall in love with a frog

It’s strange how thoughts take on an unintended form or lines simply write themselves out as if they simply ooze out of fingertips like this tanka-ish reflection. The image emerged from a ginko walk at the Chinese Buddhist Temple in Richmond we of the Vancouver Haiku Group had a month ago. The ‘pool’ is the bonsai pool but not tadpoles, instead a school of gold fish darted through moss covered stones. So why the frog? I had thought of Basho and the frog then out of nowhere or perhaps the stillness water always brings on in me as in that morning while gazing at the depth on the pool invited the frog to my lines…how strange and unexpected thought processes can be sometimes.

April 16, 2011 Posted by | poetry, reflection, tanka | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

rose hips

rose hips–
my laughter among the bushes

There’s that “ache”, again!

“Yes, it seems to be a constant in my lines. I think in my poetry as in my being–because it’s from where our thoughts rise–pain, real or imagined, balances my leaps of joy. It keeps me aware of how flitting life is, beauty is, how un-changeless yet at the same time how much in constant flux this universe is; hence, how treasured each moment must be.”

That and what follows are from comments I’ve pulled out from my posts regarding the “sadness” and the “ache” in my haiku and other poems.

From Jenne Andrews at re my lyric poem, The Birthing, “there is an ache here and in your other poems i’ve seen that is so potent…”

From Patrick Gillespie at on my haiku winter beach, “One feels that there’s some sorrow in the relationship. One also wonders why, on a cold winter’s day, they are walking so close to the waves…”

From my reply to Patrick on winter beach, “Yes, Patrick (and Jenne), this sad feeling persists in my poetry. The Japanese aesthetics you couldn’t quite recall, when you wrote your comment on my ‘three tanka’ (qarrtsiluni), is not only “wabi”, as I replied but, “wabi-sabi”. I think it is its metaphysical sense that flows into my poems.

As described by Leonard Koren in his book, “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” (Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, California, 1994 that I recently found in a used bookstore, McLeod’s on Dunsmuir St here in Vancouver, a space so tight one could get caught in an avalanche of books, all gems, much like Strands in New York), the metaphysical basis, which he begins with the question, “what is the universe like?” is “Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness…While the universe destructs it also constructs. New things emerge out of nothingness…In metaphysical terms wabi-sabi suggests that the universe is in constant motion toward or away from potential.”

It’s a state of mind I seem to have been aware of as long as I can recall. I have always felt rueful about beauty, and always cried, when absolutely uplifted by works of art especially music; I still do both. I have characters in my short stories and my novella, who sense that at the height of happiness there awaits an equal in the depth of sorrow: my female protagonist in my novella-in-progress (editing and rewriting), “Lovers of the Interior“, exemplifies this thought. But that’s another story–a swing away from haiku!”

I do wish that I could veer away from it more often and walk close to Basho who said that haiku should be light as in shallow water (do I recall this right?) Even Shiki who was writing close to his death could still write with a sense of humor as in this haiku (1901 from Kimiyo Tanaka, Shiki team at haikuworld)

full of spring
rotten oranges
how sweet!

Perhaps I should meet up with Mutusumi often, the Japanese friend who pushed away my “dark” haiku and helped me search for “the wing in my heart”, an experience I hope to post soon!

January 18, 2011 Posted by | haiku, poetry, reflection | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments