I'm the author of several books of poetry, including Ice Mountain: An Elegy, Breakdown: Banjo Poems, and Odes to Tools, but my real work is at my long-running literary blog Via Negativa, where I'm currently creating erasure poems from every entry of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. I'm also the editor and publisher of Moving Poems, a blog showcasing the best poetry videos on the web.
A few evenings ago, I was sitting on the folded-up futon reading when I looked over and noticed the chair in the corner piled high with trail maps, also looking very settled in and cozy. After a few overly verbose attempts I settled on the wording here. The next day I took a snapshot that sort of worked, but I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic — probably because I’d left the house with the intention of finding an image to accompany the haiku. This direct approach rarely works for me in videopoetry either. Then yesterday, just capturing images that spoke to me on their own, I came up with what would, I realized this morning, make a much better haiga.
I just love the long shadows this time of year. (Those are gray squirrel tracks, by the way.)
From this morning’s walk, an exercise in extreme minimalism. White oak (Quercus alba) is named for its pale bark.
I’m not sure it’s possible for a haiku to get this short without relying on some kind of double meaning. Snow White works for me as a resonance here both because of the fairy-tale quality of a wet snowfall and because the trees are in a kind of deathless coma.
I’m hoping that the self-reflexivity of type that’s white than the snow rescues the text-image combo from humdrum literalism.
And now for something completely different. Someone shared this image on Twitter last night, and for some reason I was transfixed and saved it to my hard drive. It turns out to be the central panel from a 15th-century triptych by Hans Memling, Christ with Singing and Music-Making Angels. (Click through and check out all the cool Renaissance instruments!)
Sure, this is a photoblog, but my recent dabbling in haiga makes me want to branch out a little. This morning I opened the image on my laptop in GIMP (which has lots of fonts but a pretty awkward text-editing tool), tilted my head back, and gazed up at the corner of the ceiling. Good thing I’m not big on housecleaning.
Purple stripes on property-line trees in Pennsylvania mean “private property – keep out.” An earlier version of this haiga shared on Instagram had the line “stripes on the trees,” but I thought it really doesn’t need the definitive article.
In making haiga, as in videopoetry, there’s a struggle to avoid merely illustrative images and create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Here’s one attempt to do that with a photo and haiku that arrived nearly simultaneously. Too clever? Possibly, but haiku is supposed to be light. Obviously there’s a great deal of disagreement on what lightness means, but all the masters wrote funny haiku at one time or another. And of course science has shown that neighboring trees do in fact communicate, so while cartoonish it’s not completely outlandish.
As with yesterday’s post, the image and words arrived in quick succession, but this time without any punniness. This is an example of the kind of haiku I really aspire to write: open rather than closed down with over-cleverness. (That said, when a clever haiku occurs to me I’m not going to not share it. Life is too short to take oneself so seriously, and I refuse to completely turn my back on the origins of the haikai spirit in parlor games. The more Zen approach that Basho encouraged is not incompatible with the spirit of play.)
I notice that this is the third haiga in a row where the haiku pivots on a pun (here, junco/junk). This is a departure for me though in placing the text in the dead center, foregrounding it primarily to knit together an otherwise not terribly impressive image. But is the match of text to image too literal?
This came out of a haiku-gathering walk yesterday in which I was seeing photos and hearing words almost simultaneously, deep in the participatory magic of original making. So I’m putting my misgivings about literalism aside and trusting in the process.
I should add that I don’t know for sure that these junco feathers are the result of gray fox predation—it could’ve been a red fox, coyote, barred owl, etc. I have seen small fox tracks in the vicinity and our neighbor’s game camera recently captured a gray fox so we know at least one is around. So I think this is easily covered by poetic license.