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.

 

 

A Muddle of Mice – Brief Poems by Paul Muldoon

muldoon-norman-mcbeathPaul Muldoon (born 20 June 1951) is an Irish poet from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His father worked as a farmer (among other jobs) and his mother was a school teacher. Talking of his home life, he has said, I’m astonished to think that, apart from some Catholic Truth Society pamphlets, some books on saints, there were, essentially, no books in the house, except one set, the Junior World Encyclopaedia, which I certainly read again and again. People would say, I suppose, that it might account for my interest in a wide range of arcane bits of information. At some level, I was self-educated. 

His poetry is known for his difficult, sly, allusive style, casual use of obscure or archaic words, understated wit, punning, and deft technique in meter and rhyme. According to the Poetry Foundation website, Muldoon’s work is full of paradox: playful but serious, elusive but direct, innovative but traditional. He uses traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, ballad, and dramatic monologue, but alters their length and basic structure, and uses rhyme and meter in new ways. His work is also notable for its layered use of conceit, allusion, and wit. The cryptic wordplay present in many poems has often been called Joycean, but Muldoon himself has cited lyric poets such as Frost, Thomas, and MacNeice as his major influences. 

Muldoon is a widely (and wildly) ambitious poet. Consider his long poem Madoc: A Mystery, extracts from which appear below. It takes its title from a  Robert Southey poem concerning a Welsh prince who discovers America in the twelfth century. This strange poem narrates in 233 sections (the same number as the number of native American tribes), what might have happened  had  Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey actually fulfilled their 1794 plan to go to America  to found a Pantisocratic community (‘equal rule for all’) on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. To complicate poetic matters, which Muldoon is often doing, each one of these sections is named after a philosopher. It incorporates maps and geometric diagrams. In his Irish Poetry since 1950, John Goodby claims it is by common consent, the most complex poem in modern Irish literature … a massively ambitious, a historiographical metafiction. Critical opinion continues to be divided. The Irish novelist, John Banville, one of Muldoon’s admirers, was baffled when he reviewed the poem for The New York Review of Books: I cannot help feeling that this time he has gone too far. Muldoon’s view dismisses such readings, I quite enjoy having fun. It’s part of how it is, and who we are.

Muldoon is always going too far. It is part of his attraction and also part of what is frustrating about his work. Each time a new collection is published I buy it, read it with an initial frustration and perplexity and then find, on a re-reading,  that there is much to admire in his amazing breadth, scope and dexterity. As he puts it himself, The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us off our feet, to take our breath away. He has been compared, rightly in my view, to James Joyce. Finnegans Wake may be one of the most frustrating books ever written, but would I be without it? Perhaps William Logan best understands what is both most frustrating and most fascinating about Paul Muldoon’s poetry, he is  in love (not wisely but too well) with language itself. . . . Too often the result is tedious foolery, the language run amok with Jabberwocky possibility (words, words, monotonously inbreeding), as if possibility were reason enough for the doing. Yet Logan also offered this commendation, In our time of tired mirrors and more-than-tiresome confession, Muldoon is the rare poet who writes through the looking glass.

 

three_mice

PAUL MULDOON AND THE ART OF HAIKU

The art of poetry and the art of the haiku are not readily complimentary. Many of the best haiku writers today avoid other forms of poetry. And many of the best  poets either avoid haiku or use it sparingly and without great conviction. Paul Muldoon is different. Just as he has shaken, disrupted and reanimated such forms as the sonnet, he has done the same with the haiku.  Not only has he added his trademark use of rhyme and half-rhyme to the recipe, he has also applied his characteristic wit, humour and conceit. He favours the haiku sequence, extracts from three of which appear below. And they bristle and bustle and busy themselves with the minutiae of his daily life, operating not just on an individual level but echoing and re-echoing throughout the sequences. Muldoon has managed to take an often twee form and apply his lucid and ludic skills to invigorating and animating its triadic structure.

 

three_mice

Brief Poems by Paul Muldoon

Blemish

Were it indeed an accident of birth
That she looks on the gentle earth
And the seemingly gentle sky
Through one brown and one blue eye.

***

Ireland

The Volkswagen parked in the gap.
But gently ticking over,
You wonder if it’s lovers
And not men hurrying back
Across two fields and a river.

***

Mink

A mink escaped from a mink-farm
in South Armagh
is led to the grave of Robert Nairac
by the fur-lined hood of his anorak.

***

Asra

The night I wrote your name in biro on my wrist
we would wake before dawn; back to back: duellists.

***

Plovers

The plovers come down hard, then clear again,
for they are the embodiment of rain

***

Tract

I cleared all the trees about my cabin, all
that came within range of a musket ball.

***

The Breather

Think of this gravestone
as a long, low chair
strategically placed
at a turn in the stair.

 

three_mice

from Madoc: A Mystery

[Empedocles]

The woodchuck has had occasion
to turn into a moccasin.

—-

[Antisthenes]

Coleridge follows a white spaniel
through the caverns of the Domdaniel.

—-

[Theophrastus]

De dum, de dum, de dum, de dum, de dum.

—-

[Archimedes]

Coleridge leaps out of the tub. Imagine that.

—-

[Anselm]

De dum, Te Deum, de dum, Te Deum, de dum.

—-

[Bacon]

Through the hoopless hoop of the black rainbow.

—-

[Newton]

Until it strikes him, as if by some fluke;
this strict, unseasonable, black snowflake.

—-

[Byron]

Again stamps his cloven hoof
as he conjugates the verb ‘to have’,

—-

[James]

The pile of horse-dung at the heart of Southeyopolis
looks for all the world like a dish of baked apple.

—-

[Herrigel]

Through the hoopless hoop of an elk-horn bow.

—-

[Popper]

We last see him crouching in blood like a jugged hare.
As to where he goes? It’s a matter of pure conjecture.

 

three_mice

 

from Hopewell Haiku

II

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

——

V

A stone at its core,
this snowball’s the porcelain
knob on winter’s door.

—-

IX

Cheek-to-cheek-by-jowl,
from the side of the kettle
my ancestors scowl.

—-

XII

For most of a week
we’ve lived on a pot of broth
made from a pig’s cheek.

—-

XVIII

The first day of spring.
What to make of that bald patch
right under the swing.

—-

XXV

A hammock at dusk.
I scrimshaw a narwhal hunt
on a narwhal tusk.

—-

XXVI

I, too, nailed a coin
to the mast of the Pequod.
A tiny pinecone.

—-

XXXVIII

It seems from this sheer
clapboard, fungus-flanged, that walls
do indeed have ears.

—-

XLVI

At my birthday bash,
a yellow bin for bottles
and a green for trash.

XLVII

Sunflower with fenceposts.
Communion rail. Crozier. Cope.
The monstrance. The host.

—-

LIV

An airplane, alas,
is more likely than thunder
to trouble your glass.

—-

LVIII

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

—-

XVI

Two trees in the yard
bring neither shade nor shelter
but rain, twice as hard.

—-

LXXVIII

Fresh snow on the roof
of a car that passed me by.
The print of one hoof.

 

three_mice

from News Headlines from the Homer Noble Farm

II

From his grassy knoll
he has you in his crosshairs,
the accomplice mole.

—-

V

He has, you will find,
two modes only, the chipmunk:
fast-forward; rewind.

VI

The smell, like a skunk,
of coffee about to perk.
Thelonious Monk.

—-

X

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

XI

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

—-

XIX

How all seems to vie,
not just my sleeping laptop
with the first firefly.

 

three_mice

from 90 Instant Messages to Tom Moore

I

Jim-jams and whim-whams
where the whalers still heave to
for a gammy-gam.

XIV

A barracuda
is eating a small nurse shark.
Each smiles like Buddha.

XVII

A drunken girl blabs
how he had put in an oar
but she caught a crab.

XX

Tied to the drift rails
and flogged with a bull’s pizzle,
a sailor still wails.

LXXXIX

The glass of red wine
with which I saw eye to eye
until half past nine.

XC

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

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LINKS

Paul Muldoon’s official website.

The Poetry Foundation page on Paul Muldoon.

James S. F. Wilson interviews Paul Muldoon for the Paris Review.

John Kerrigan on muddling through Paul Muldoon’s poetry.

A selection of haiku by Paul Muldoon on the Terebess site.

An essay by William J. Higginson on Paul Muldoon and the Japanese art of haiku.

muldoon-norman-mcbeath