Dangerous Pavements – Irish Haiku

Irish haiku.  It may sound like an oxymoron but there is no more contradiction in the term than there is in American haiku. And, as I have discussed in various posts, there is an array of poems and poets that can be classed under that rubic from Richard Wright, who wrote thousands of these short poems in the last years of his life, through Allen Ginsberg, who created a form of haiku know as American Sentences, to Jack Kerouac,  who created his own form of American haiku which he called pops. The Irish haiku developed later and tends to be more restrained. The prominence of haiku in Irish poetry today is due, in large measure to the Russian-born Anatoly Kudryavitsky, editor of Shamrock Haiku Journal and compiler of the haiku in the classic anthology, Bamboo Dreams (Doghouse Books, 2012). In his introduction he asks and answers  the question: should we speak of an Irish haiku tradition? One can argue that the concerns of haiku writers and the poetic devices they choose to use are similar all over the world, and have been since the times of Basho. This doesn’t prevent us from customarily defining such schools of haiku writing as Japanese, American, Australian, English, French, or – dare we say it? – Celtic. And it isn’t the local subject but rather the poetic traditions of the locality that matter. This determines the way the poets work with the material, not to mention that the material itself may vary a lot, as the nature can be strikingly different in various parts of the world. Despite the variety of English-language haiku being written in Ireland, the Irish haiku movement is much closer to the Celtic stream than to the English one, or simply should be regarded as a part of the former. E.g. the Irish haijin often use indirect metaphors, which is rather typical of Celtic haiku – and of Japanese, of course. Seamus Heaney, who has probably written the classic Irish haiku (see below) stated in The Guardian of 24 November 2007 that since the times of the imagists the haiku form and the generally Japanese effect have been a constant feature of poetry in English. The names of Basho and Issa and Buson have found their way into our discourse to the extent that we in Ireland have learnt to recognise something Japanese in the earliest lyrics of the native tradition.

 

IRISH HAIKU – A PERSONAL RESPONSE

My attitude to the traditional haiku in English is somewhat like that of Marianne Moore towards poetry; I, too dislike it.  Some of my reservations are explored on the post devoted to erotic haiku. Reading it, however, with something less than contempt, I can find in Irish haiku, if not a place for the genuine, a place, beyond all the Irish fiddle-fiddle,  for the wry, the witty, the evocative and, sometimes, the artful. In some, those of Francis Harvey and Pat Boran, a strong sense of place and landscape adds to the evocation. Paul Muldoon is often disdained by the purveyors of the classic haiku, but his use of rhyme and contrast brings a classic epigrammatic sensibility to bear on the Japanese form. Pat Boran also uses rhyme and has offered, as quoted below, a prosodic approach to the genre. My favourite Irish haiku is that of Seamus Heaney, quoted below in two versions, one from the Bamboo Dreams anthology (with accompanying photograph) and one from his Seeing Things (Faber and Faber, 1991) collection with the title 1.1.87.  The latter I tweet on New Year’s Day every year.

 

Irish Haiku – Brief Poems

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

Patrick Kavanagh wrote a single haiku, probably not suspecting that it was a haiku. In his haiku, the first line is actually the title of the poem. Perhaps that is why Kavanagh did not realize he had written a haiku since haiku are not known for having titles.

Corn-crake
a cry in the wilderness
of meadow

***

Juanita Casey (1925-2012)

The first Irish poet to write haiku as we know them was Juanita Casey. A travelling woman born in England of Irish parents, she spent a significant part of her life in Co. Galway. She started composing haiku in late 1960s, and a few of them appeared in her 1968 collection titled Horse by the River (Dolmen Press, 1968), followed by a few more that found their way to her 1985 collection, Eternity Smith (Dolmen Press, 1985).

Burning leaves . . .
the face once again
feels summer

***

The pickers
have left one plum . . .
Hey, wind

***

Four crows on four posts
across a field of mustard—
a chord for summoning foxes

 

Francis Harvey (1925-2014)

Francis Harvey’s poetry was firmly earthed in the Donegal landscape that was his home for much of his life. Moya Cannon has referred to him as “a Basho-like figure”.  Donegal Haiku (Dedalus Press, 2013) a sequence of haiku, inspired by his beloved Errigal, was published in the last year of his life.

Sleeping, I think of
Errigal and Mount Fuji,
The shape of my dreams.

***

Myself and my dog
skirt a mountain to avoid
a man and his dog.

***

The wind and the rain.
The wind and the rain again
and again. Ireland.

***

Snow on the mountain.
Crowsfeet and your first white hair.
The end of autumn.

***

Five crows in a tree.
The wind ruffles their feathers.
The leaves of my book.

***

I watched him that day
take his last walk on the strand.
The tide was ebbing.

***

He was so obsessed
with death he began sending
mass cards to himself.

***

Not a breath of wind.
The vanity of clouds
in the lake’s mirror.

 

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

1.1.87 

Dangerous pavements.
But I face the ice this year
With my father’s stick.

(as it appears in Seeing Things (Faber and Faber, 1991)

 

Dangerous pavements . . .
But this year I face the ice
with my father’s stick

(as it appears in the image above)

***

The Strand

The dotted line my father’s ash plant made
On Sandymount Strand
Is something else the tide won’t wash away.

 

Michael Longley

Haiku

During the power-out
Maisie wondered: “Where is me?
I have disappeared.”

***

feathers on water
a snowfall of swans
snow water

***

Cowslip

haiku beginning with a line of Barbara Guest

The way a cowslip bends
Recalls a cart track,
Crushed sunlight at my feet.

***

More brief poems by Michael Longley are available on the Snowfall post.

 

Michael Hartnett (1941-1999)  

In his 1975 book A Farewell to English (Gallery Press, 1975) Michael Hartnett declared his intention to write only in Irish in the future, describing English as ‘the perfect language to sell pigs in‘. A number of volumes in Irish followed. 1985 marked his return to English with the publication of Inchicore Haiku, (Raven Arts Press, 1985) the first ever collection of haiku and senryu by an Irish poet. It contains 87 poems written according to the 5-7-5 format. They vary from the awful to the artful.

Somewhere in the house
a tap gushes out water –
sounds of someone else.

***

In a green spring field a
brown pony stands asleep
shod with daffodils

***

The tap drops a tear,
the bulb thinks it’s a crocus.
I am full of salt.

***

I hear a cockroach
wipe its feet and run across
the carpet’s drumskin.

 

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon’s haiku are ludicrous, in the best sense of that word. The purists may cavil at his insistent use of rhyme but it brings the haiku form into a tradition it no way resembles. Like much of his poetry, the haiku are witty and whimsical.

A muddle of mice.
Their shit looks like caraway
but smells like allspice.

***

A small, hard pear falls
and hits the deck with a thud.
Ripeness is not all.

***

Behind the wood bin
a garter snake snaps itself,
showing us some skin.

***

Like most bits of delf,
the turtle’s seen at its best
on one’s neighbor’s shelf.

***

Completely at odds.
We’re now completely at odds.
Completely at odds.

***

More brief poems and more haiku by Paul Muldoon are available on the Muddle of Mice post.

 

Dennis O’Driscoll (1954-2012)

Dennis O’Driscoll was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. His book on Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate. In each of his nine collections he has a set of short poems he has called Breviary. Some of these poems are haiku.

the blackness of
the cemetery blackbird,
its song an octave lower

***

crab-apple windfalls
at the cemetery wall
no one collects for jelly

***

Dusk

blue jeans fade
she slips
into a sequined gown

***

Snow

earth is plaster cast
a red fox trickles
down the mountain path

***

More brief poems by Dennis O’Driscoll are available on the Breviary post.

 

Pat Boran

Pat Boran’s haiku sequence, Waveforms: Bull Island Haiku (Dedalus Press, 2015), explores the flora and fauna of Dublin Bay’s Bull Island, a land mass formed by the changing currents in the bay after the construction of the North Bull Was in an effort to improve access to the port. These rhyming haiku observe the interplay of bird, human and plant life on the island, at the edge of Ireland’s capital city. The book is illustrated by the author’s own photographs of the island, taken over the course of a year of daily visits. Discussing his  compositional method, he writes, when it came to the rhythm, I wanted something that was as close as possible to everyday speech, but also something that wouldn’t push against the haiku’s natural (to me) division into three lines and, usually, two linked images or ideas. After some experimentation I found that a predominantly trochaic (heavy-light / heavy-light …) rather than iambic (light-heavy / light-heavy …) metre was the most comfortable fit.

nowhere left to hide
a lone crab scuttles between
islands of stillness

***

evening approaching
curlews stilt-walk
on their reflections

***

Two boys with a kite
made from twigs and plastic bags.
Wind shrugs: “Oh, all right.”

***

The first drops of rain
strike the concrete bathing hut –
colour once again.

***

Let the day recur;
to the watercolourist
everything’s a blur.

***

Walking the mudflats,
I pass a stranger. We nod.
And leave it at that.

***

Waves themselves, their wings
flashing silver when they turn
as one – the starlings.

***

Old man in a car
staring out to sea, Tosca
singing from the heart.

 

Gabriel Rosenstock

Gabriel Rosenstock has written poetry in the Irish language which he has also translated into English. He has also written erotic haiku some of which are available on the Nipples post.

waxy glistening of leaves
sometimes i’d come
along your thigh

***

even the butterfly
takes a rest
on the hammock

***

a single magpie
swallows a beakful
of its reflected self

***
was it a kingfisher?
a splash turns blue
into silver

***

an egret stands in a lagoon
the squelch of clothes being washed
against slab rocks

 

 

Anatoly Kudryavitsky

inside the empty shell, snail’s dreams

***

Leo Lavery

I shut the history book
and the shooting
stops

***

Michael Massey

talking it out
again
with my absent wife

***

Paula Meehan

The First Day of Winter

My head in the clouds
in the bowl of Akiko’s
mother’s white miso.

***

Joan Newman

dead pheasant
spread for flight—
maggots celebrate

***

Justin Quinn

cotoneasters in winter:
unleaved they show
skeletons of sole

***

John W. Sexton

daffodils rot
in the vase
their shadows bloom

 

 

Patrick Chapman

debutante flowers—
red and white skirts hitched up,
waiting for a bee

***

Michael Coady

ravens from the heights
throw shapes above the belfry—
deep-croak rituals

Throw shapes = dance (Hiberno-Engl.)

***

Gabriel Fitzmaurice

a rotting tree stump
in the middle of the woods
mushrooms with new life

 

 

LINKS

Haiku in Ireland – an essay in The Irish Haiku society web site.

Irish Haiku – a selection edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky

A review of Bamboo Dreams: An Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland ed. Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Another review (by Roberta Beary) of Bamboo Dreams: An Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland ed. Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Irish Haiku Society web site

Shamrock Haiku web site.

The complete Inchicore Haiku by Michael Hartnett.

A selection of haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock.

Pat Boran discusses his interest in haiku and presents extracts from his collection of haiku.

 

 

Snowfall – Brief Poems by Michael Longley

michael_longleyMichael Longley was born in Belfast in July 1939. His parents had moved to the city from London in the late 1920’s and between the wars his father had worked as a furniture salesmen. The son of English Protestants, growing up in a city riven by sectarian tensions between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, he negotiated those tensions with great skill in his early poems. He has arguably, and it would be my argument, written some of the best poems to come out of the “Troubles”, poems such as Wounds, Wreaths and The Ice Cream Man.

Although he has written long poems, such as the superb sequence, Mayo Monologues, he is drawn again and again to much shorter forms. When asked in a 1998 interview about the formal discipline that helps him produce four- and two-line poems, Longley replied, “Was it Tennyson who said that a perfect lyric inscribes the shape of an S? That sense of a gesture, you know, the way you use your hand if you’re bowing, if you’re reaching out to shake somebody’s hand, if you’re going to stroke a cat, if you’re holding a woman’s hand to take her on to the dance floor…”

The poems chosen below reflect some of the central concerns of his poetry. He has written extensively about the First World War and of his father’s role in that conflict. “Somehow, my father’s existence, and his experience, the stories he passed on to me, gave me a kind of taproot into the war.” Poems like High Wood and Into Battle (see below) reflect that concern. And a poem like Terezín extends that concern into the second world war. He has applied a classical scholar’s eye to modern conflict. His Homeric sonnet Ceasefire, ostensibly about the Trojan Wars, was printed after an IRA ceasefire and has had a seminal impact on Irish politics and poetry. “Moments in the Odyssey chimed with emotions that I would have found almost impossible to deal with otherwise: heartbreak, paranoia, bitterness, hatred, fear. Homer gave me a new emotional and psychological vocabulary.” We can see this reflected in such short poems as Paper Boats and The Parting. And then there are the love poems (“The love poem is the most important thing I do – the hub of the wheel is love…”) and the nature poems like those brief italicised poems that are placed at the end of many of his collections like mini-codas. (“I think our relationship with the natural world and with the plants and animals is the major issue now.”) That lovely little alliterative one-line poem Lost is a testament to the power of his compression. “I freeze frame moments, like a painter.”

Michael Longley continues to garner awards for his collections of poetry, produced on a regular basis. And many of these poems, as you can see below, are short, snappy and insightful. I hope you like them.

 

-8du

Brief Poems by Michael Longley

THE WEATHER IN JAPAN

Makes bead curtains of the rain,
Of the mist a paper screen.

***

TEREZÍN

No room has ever been as silent as the room
Where hundreds of violins are hung in unison.

***

LOST

my lost lamb lovelier than all the wool.

***

OUT THERE

Do they ever meet out there,
The dolphins I counted
The otter I wait for?
I should have spent my life
Listening to the waves.

***

WIND-FARMER

The wind-farmer’s small holding reaches as far as the horizon.
Between fields of hailstones and raindrops his frost-flowers grow.

***

Love poems, elegies: I am losing my place.
Elegies come between me and your face.

***

THE PARTING

He: “Leave it to the big boys, Andromache.”
“Hector, my darling husband, och, och,” she.

***

COUPLET

When I was young I wrote that flowers are very slow flames
And you uncovered your breasts often among my images.

***

NIGHT TIME

Without moonlight or starlight we forgot about love
As we joined the blind ewe and the unsteady horses.

***

A TOUCH
after the Irish

she is the touch of pink
on crab apple blossom
and hawthorn and she melts
frost flowers with her finger

***

PAPER BOATS
Homage to Ian Hamilton Finlay

fold paper boats
for the boy Odysseus
and launch them

ship-shape
happy-go-lucky
in the direction of Troy

 

-8du

CORINNA

Have you fallen asleep forever, Corinna?
In the past you were never the one to lie in.

***

feathers on water
a snowfall of swans
snow water

***

OLD POETS

Old poets regurgitate
Pellets of chewed-up paper
Packed with shrew tails, frog bones,
Beetle wings, wisdom.

***

HIGH WOOD

My father is good at mopping up:
Steam rises from the blood and urine.

***

INTO BATTLE

The Hampshires march into battle with bare knees.
Full of shrapnel holes are the leaves on the trees.

***

meadowsweet,
loosestrife
swaying along
the ditch
waiting to
cross over
at the end
of my days

***

forty two whoopers call
then the echoes
as though there are more swans
over the ridge

***

Pillows

Your intelligence snoozes next to mine.
Poems accumulate between our pillows.

***

Monarch

If I were inside you now
I would stay there for ages
Until the last migrating
Monarch butterfly had left.

***

Cowslip

haiku beginning with a line of Barbara Guest

The way a cowslip bends
Recalls a cart track,
Crushed sunlight at my feet.

***

Place-Names

I have lost my way
At last somewhere between
Traleckachoolia
And Carrignarooteen.

 

-8du

LINKS

An extensive educational resource on Michael Longley’s poetry.

A feature article from The Guardian newspaper about Michael Longley.

A recent BBC interview with Michael Longley to celebrate his 70th birthday.

An Irish Times interview with Michael Longley.

Michael Longley reads six of his poems on the Poetry Archive site.

 

michael_longley