Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fibonacci Day for 2014!

Fibonacci Day – 2014

Guess what?  It’s Fibonacci Day.  I like to give a toast to Fibonacci poetry on this day because it is November 23rd.  Numerically that is 11/23, and 1-1-2-3 is the syllable count for the first four lines of a Fibonacci poem.  Kind of neat how that works out.

The Fibonacci form has an exuberant feeling to me.  With its irregular count it communicates a kind of spontaneity.  The overall shape of the poem is to open up as each line become longer and longer.  It is a playful form.

Here is a Fibonacci I wrote recently:

Piercing the Veil

No mist
Yet summer lingers
An old song on the radio
While I am having a scone and a cup of coffee
Slowly I wade into the stream of time to visit someone I danced with long ago.

Take a moment to compose a Fibonacci.  Here is the line count: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34, etc.  Most Fibonacci poems I have seen are six or seven lines; but a few have gone into the longer count lines. 
I like to use the opening very short lines, the first four lines with the count 1-1-2-3, to give the seasonal and/or temporal setting.  You can use words of time and words that mark the seasons; many of these are very short.  Months, for example, like ‘March’, ‘May’, and ‘June’, are good.  Some months are two syllables; April, July, and August.  Some are three count words; September through December.  You can also use terms like ‘First Month’, instead of ‘January’, so that you can set the time in the opening lines if the time is January. 

Other simple markers are things like ‘cold’, ‘hot’, ‘warm’.  Time of day is also a good topic for the opening lines; like ‘dusk’, ‘dawn’, ‘afternoon’, ‘mid-day’, ‘night’, etc.

You get the idea, which is basically to use the opening lines as seasonal and temporal designators.  With the longer lines you can then move into the more specific topic and specific focus of the poem you are writing.  In this way the poem’s focus moves from broad general strokes to the more specific.  I like the flow that such a Fibonacci produces.

Of course this is only one approach to the Fibonacci and it is in some ways linked to the esthetic I have imbibed from the Japanese poetic tradition where seasonal designation plays such a significant role.  The Fibonacci is a new form and has no weight of history behind it; there is no official Fibonacci Poetry Society or designated keeper of the Fibonacci true esthetic.  This means that when we write in the Fibonacci form we can take it whatever direction we like without feeling like we have violated an inherited tradition.  Personally, I enjoy applying some of the esthetic principles from other traditions to the Fibonacci, including the use of rhyme and seasonal or temporal placement.  Transferring these approaches from a form like haiku and tanka to the Fibonacci seem to me a viable strategy; at least it works for me.  Perhaps you might also find it efficacious. 

Just a few thoughts to share on Fibonacci Day.  






Saturday, November 15, 2014

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed, by Patricia Lignori -- A Review

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed – 108 Haiku
By Priscilla Lignori
A Review

I was not familiar with the haiku of Priscilla Lignori until coming across this collection of her haiku.  It is a small book at 100 pages, with about 80 pages of haiku.  In the back of the book are ‘Credits’ for many of the haiku which were previously printed in numerous haiku publications.  And doing a google search for her came up with a lot of references.  Somehow, though, I missed her presence in the haiku world.  It is a pleasure to make her acquaintance through this book.

The book is divided into 7 short haiku sequences.  The sequences are not titled, only numbered; one through seven, using roman numerals.  The number of haiku in each sequence varies from the shortest, sequence II, which has 11 haiku; to the longest, sequence V, which has 22 haiku.

The haiku in each sequence are seasonally arranged; that is to say the sequence of the haiku follow the flow of the seasons.  However, each sequence has a slightly different arrangement of the seasons as follows:

I        Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
II       Spring, Summer, Fall
III      Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
IV      Spring, Summer, Fall
V       Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring
VI      Summer, Fall, Winter
VII    Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

The seasonal element is central to Lignori’s haiku and this emphasis is traditional.  Also traditional is Lignori’s adherence to the 5-7-5 syllabic count.  I’m not sure, but I suspect that Lignori uses a Saijiki, or is attuned to the basic idea of a Saijiki.  Most of the seasonal haiku use key words to indicate the season, including the names of various flowers and plants, natural phenomena like icicles, and holiday references.

By a frozen lake –
I sit on a bench wearing
the afternoon sun 

On the other hand, Lignori is willing also to simply name the season:

Shaking their rattles
cicada calls come and go
with the summer breeze

Not all of Lignori’s haiku are seasonal:

They can’t be erased –
the past and my father’s name
engraved in hard stone

This haiku is placed both after and before fall haiku and it has the feeling, or tone, of fall.  This placement gives the reader a sense of seasonal continuity even in haiku where the seasonal element is not explicit. 

Lignori uses two methods for the overall construction of her haiku.  Many of her haiku are of the single sentence type.  A significant number are also in the two-part style.  The list method does not seem to be an approach Lignori finds congenial.

There is a free use of the repertoire of common poetic techniques.  Here is an example of shaping her line through a common sonic ending:

Chapped palms in winter –
a roadmap that leads nowhere
in particular

This is a nicely done two-part haiku.  The opening image of the chapped palms is juxtaposed to a ‘roadmap’, but then the image of the roadmap is undermined when its function of leading or guiding is put aside.  The overall impact is a kind of static stillness. 

Notice how the last words of each line (winter, nowhere, particular) all end in an ‘r’ sound.  Lines 1 and 3 close with prepositional phrases (in winter, in particular) and there is an understated rhyme between ‘winter’ and ‘particular’.  The overall sonic resonance adds a dimension of beauty to this haiku which I find attractive.

Here is another haiku that uses juxtaposition effectively:

The pink rose petal
placed in a sealed envelope –
a cloud in the sky

I find this haiku offers me a lot of space; I am wondering why the petal is placed in an envelope (to mark an occasion?, for a botanical study?, etc.).  The shift to the skyscape is effective; there is a movement from a sharp, detailed focus, to a much wider context.  It is also possible to interpret the cloud in the sky as resembling the petal in the envelope.  I think this is beautifully crafted.

Lignori takes advantage of metaphor and simile:

Falling icicle
shatters like a crystal glass
dropped by a waiter

This single sentence haiku is striking in its weaving together the natural and human dimensions.  The reader gets to feel the precise sound the author is referring to.

Lignori has a way of highlighting moments and beautifully shaping them for the reader:

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

This two-part haiku has a unity of mood.  It begins inside, but in the dark.  It then moves outside, giving us a landscape rich with psychic energy.  The moon is personified in this haiku as ‘watching’ in the same way that the horned owl is watching.  This, incidentally, is a winter haiku; at least I read it that way even though the moon is traditionally fall.  I get the winter feeling when I read it in sequence with the previous haiku:

Chanting a sutra –
from the corner of my eye
the silence of snow

At home in the dark –
the pale moon and the horned owl
watching from the tree

In other words, I think the seven sequences are genuine sequences and the full meaning of each haiku, as previously noted, becomes apparent by their placement in the haiku that surround a particular haiku.  Each haiku can stand on its own, but the meaning of any particular haiku is enhanced, clarified, and enriched by its placement in the sequence.  This is skillfully done and I found it a pleasing and enriching experience.

The book contains an informative ‘Introduction’ by Clark Strand who has been Lignori’s mentor and guide for both the art of haiku composition and for spiritual practice from the Zen tradition.  (As an aside, I found the print size of the ‘Introduction’ to be a little small; it is significantly smaller than the haiku.  Not a big deal, but it would have been helpful to me to have had a type size more agreeable to the eye.)  Strand has been an advocate for syllabic haiku for a long time.  Strand is the author of the haiku manual Seeds from a Birch Tree, a book that I have found rewarding and helpful for my own haiku practice.

Lignori has gone on to found her own haiku group, ‘The Hudson Valley Haiku-kai’.  Lignori’s view about haiku is presented in a brief ‘Afterword’.  It is gratifying to see this approach to haiku being passed on to another generation.

These are classical, traditional, haiku; seasonal, syllabic, lyrical, thoughtful and insightful.  I look forward to further publications by Lignori, hopeuflly in the near future.

A winter sunset –
the day’s unanswered questions
simply disappear

Beak Open, Feet Relaxed
108 Haiku
Priscilla Lignori

ISBN: 9781493549597

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Father Neal Henry Lawrence

Good Morning:

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Father Neal Henry Lawrence.  He passed away on November 3, 2004.

I have a great admiration for Father Lawrence and his books of tanka.  As far as I have been able to determine, Father Lawrence was the first English speaker to compose tanka syllabically.  I think of Father Lawrence as breaking new ground for syllabic verse in English.  And in a way, I think of Father Lawrence as the Patron Saint of those composing syllabic tanka in English.

I believe Father Lawrence published four books.  The first is The Soul’s Inner Sparkle, published in 1978 in Japan by Eichosa Publishing.  This first book was reissued in a bilingual edition, Japanese and English, but I am not sure of the date as I cannot find a publisher’s page for this reissue.  The used copy I was able to purchase has the signature of Father Lawrence; the writing says ‘To Brother Benedict’, and is dated April 8, 1999.  The volume looks to me like it was done for some kind of festival or anniversary, or perhaps as a volume to be made available at Father Lawrence’s Abby in Japan; I’m not sure.  But this reissue contains an additional essay by Father Lawrence, ‘Why I Write English Tanka!’ which gives us insight into the poetic world of Father Lawrence and his motivations for adhering to a syllabic count of 5-7-5-7-7.

The second book of Father Lawrence is Rushing Amid Tears, published in 1983, again by Eichosa.

The third is Shining Moments, published by Jane Reichhold’s Aha Books in 1993.

The fourth is Blossoms in Time, published by Suemori in Japan, in 2000.  Blossoms is an anthology of the tanka of Father Lawrence, containing selections from his three previous books, plus new tanka that he wrote between 1991 and 1998.  The book has an introduction, About the Poet, by Edward G. Seidensticker, the great translator and scholar of Japanese literature.  The book is bilingual; all the tanka, as well as the prefatory material, are translated into Japanese.  I believe that Father Lawrence was the first English language tanka poet to have his tanka translated into Japanese; both in the reissue of Soul’s Inner Sparkle and for Blossoms of Time.

There is a muted, or rather, quiet quality to the tanka of Father Lawrence.  It is rare to find a tanka in his output that uses juxtaposition; most of his tanka follow the single sentence format.  And his observations tend to be unspectacular.  For this reason, it takes awhile to perceive the lucidity and care that Father Lawrence used in shaping his tanka.  We tend to be immediately attracted to the brilliant flash of a surprising metaphor or juxtaposition.  So if you are looking for this kind of flash, you will only rarely find it in the output of Father Lawrence.

I believe that behind the tanka Father Lawrence wrote are, primarily, the steady rhythm of the Psalter, the Book of Psalms, which as a Benedictine, Father Lawrence would have recited daily.  I sense in his phrasing some of the same usages that appear in the Psalms.  Juxtaposition is not a primary tool for the Psalms, but things like parallelism are.  It is this kind of shaping that one finds in his tanka.  Father Lawrence speaks to this point in his essay, ‘Why I Write English Tanka!’, published in the re-issue of Soul’s Inner Sparkle, “I think another reason why I write tanka in English is that members of the Order of St. Benedict, which is over 1,500 years old and worldwide, are often poets and all living in a poetic atmosphere.  Every day, four times a day at prayers, we chant the psalms of the Bible and also hear them at every Mass.”  In other words, the tanka of Father Lawrence are embedded in that most influential collection of western poetry, the Book of Psalms and their esthetic is shaped primarily by that collection.

Over the years my appreciation for the tanka of Father Lawrence has increased.  They have a way of quietly growing in one’s heart and mind.   Seidensticker wrote of these tanka, “His language is graceful and imaginative . . .”  I have found this to be true.  Most of his books are available as used books online.  If you have a chance, and particularly if you are interested in syllabic tanka in English, spend some time with these contemplative gems.