Sunday, April 12, 2009


The quote in today's icon is from The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (make that SIR Terry Pratchett). In case you can't read it clearly, it says "Ye can tak' oour lives, but ye cannae tak' oour trousers!" God I love Pratchett. Particularly the Tiffany Aching books. Particularly the Nac Mac Feegle (Wee Free Men). But I digress.

About haiku

In addition to the daily posts I've been putting up here for National Poetry Month, I've been engaging in my own private observation by writing a haiku each day this month. Here's one I wrote in response to a picture prompt over a 's blog (the photo for which was an open fan, interestingly enough):

buckets of water
ceaseless slow-turning wheel
shattering grain

It being April 12th, I have 11 more haiku written already, and 18 more to write. I'm not the only haiku-writer this month, however. I joined my friend and fellow poet, Liz Garton Scanlon, in the writing of haiku, and she's been posting her daily haiku on her blog. So have Susan Taylor Brown and Erin Bow. Which brings me to the first of today's quoteskims, from Erin's April 1st post:

Metaphor in haiku is difficult. Metaphor tends to take you out of the moment, whereas haiku, I find, draws you in to the moment. Or rather, draws you to either edge of the moment, and leaves the moment untouched there in its center. Untouched but held as if in hands.

Also, in English poetry, metaphor is one of the best ways to charge an image, to give words resonance beyond their literal meaning. I cannot read Japanese, but in reading many, many English translations of Japanese haiku, I have begun to suspect that Japanese uses allusion for the same effect. If, for instance, I mention the sound of a frog jumping into water in one of my haiku, I evoke for the experienced reader first Basho and his most famous haiku, and then all of its freight of the old made new, the freshness of the natural world. The word "frogpond" alone is enough to do this. The word "frog" by itself at least draws this power close. And the word "dewdrop" makes me think of the death of Issa's daughter:

it is a dewdrop world
a dewdrop world --
and yet, and yet ....

English does not have the haiku-reading culture that would make this work. But I wonder if I can make allusion work in some different way? An experiment to try.

About memorizing poetry

In a New York Times essay entitled "Got Poetry?", Jim Holt makes a case for memorizing poetry, in part quoting Richard Wilbur: "If one is delayed in a bus terminal, or sitting in a foxhole, it’s wonderful to have an inner anthology to say over, yet again, in one’s mind." His essay explains why and how he does it, and what he gets out of it. Here's a sample:

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.
That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in.

In re life in general

"You have to live the life you were born to live." The Mother Superior in The Sound of Music.

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