How Haiku led me to Haibun and the importance of Kintsukuroi to my Writing Life

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Oh, how we need inspirational quotes and prods from friends and that nagging inner voice, to pick up the pen, or in modern parlance, sit in front of the computer and tap doggedly at the keys.

Today, when so many people are writing it is easy to be discouraged if you go down the track of comparing your offerings in a negative way. Instead of learning, experimenting, editing and rewriting, you give up because you think I can’t write like that… my book won’t be as popular as that… he/she writes so much better than me…no one wants to read what I write… I’m a poet, a short story writer, a musician, a blogger, a novelist, I don’t understand other genres… I’m not good enough… it’s too hard to change… (or is it in Robert Louis Stevenson’s words ‘the malady of not wanting’!)

Almost everyone in the creative arts, not just writers, suffers at some time on their journey from the fear of failure, rejection, inadequacy and ridicule, but we also experience the incredible satisfaction of doing what we love and when it works its akin to ecstasy! For me, as a writer, the secret is to ‘hang in there’ like a surfer clinging to a board in a turbulent sea. I also venture into unknown waters, sometimes a paddle, other times a deep dive, and most of the times I’m waving not drowning!

One of my changes of directions involved learning haiku, which led to experimenting with other forms of Japanese poetry and like most form poetry, attempting to ‘get it right/write’  can be a wonderful and creative distraction when words fail elsewhere in your writing life. I’ve shared some of my haiku in earlier posts and want to thank Nobuko Sakai, a longtime friend for introducing me to Japanese verse. Nobuko came into my life when I was sixteen and she attended my high school in 1970 as a Japanese exchange student. We have been friends ever since, visiting each other here in Melbourne, Tokyo,  and in London, England where she now lives.

Nobuko sent me The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse (1964), translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, which introduced me to the great Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa and so many others, as well as giving a potted history of 1500 years of Japanese tradition. (There is a not so glowing review of the book here, but sixteen year old me did not have the knowledge (or desire) to critique like this, I was just enthralled to discover a new world of writers!)

A more recent gift of a car load of books by a generous daughter from the estate of her mother, a local writer/artist, included Classic Haiku, a Master’s Selection (1991), a gold mine of poetry translated by Yuzuru Miura with a poet’s eye and they fit Bownas & Thwaite’s description:

(a haiku’s)… seventeen syllables should ideally – and nearly always did – end in a noun or an emotional ejaculation, and should contain their ‘season word’ (kilo) or expression hinting at the time of the year appropriate to the context.’

However, like all adaptations, if  you become involved in the poetry scene you’ll find those who insist on traditional haiku, and those who accept changes to the form, whether in syllable count or subject matter. My advice – just write a three line image, manipulate the words as best you can and say what you want to say whether it exactly fits the parameters, or not. (It’s amazing how often it does!)

A frozen puddle
trip back to my childhood
worth wet socks all day

Mairi Neil, Hobo Poetry Magazine, Issue 21. (no longer in print)

Last year I introduced myself and the class to Haibun and without becoming too pedantic about the rules I tried to combine haiku and prose to tell a story aiming for the moon, but sometimes remaining on earth:

In good haibun, the prose deepens the understanding of the poetry, and the poetry gives greater energy to the prose. The relationship is like that between the moon and the earth: each makes the other more beautiful.

Here is my first effort at haibun (it doesn’t follow the rules of some traditionalists), but was  published in Celebrating Poetry by  Karenzo Media 2014:

Visiting Singapore 1973

Mairi Neil

We crowd on deck as the cruise ship glides into Singapore harbour, a week after leaving Fremantle. The silver sun aglow in a cloudless azure sky. Skin fiery scarlet from too many hours in the ship’s pool as Singapore City wobbles and wilts in the heat.

I ache for relief
from this tantalising veil
and covet the sea

Engines thrum and screeches of gulls mask the first hint a change is on the way. Rain falls in sheets and shafts. Solid blocks of water pound the decks.

Clouds scud across sky
The veil now a fog blanket
Hiding the city.

Beneath our feet racing rivers fill deck gutters and our shoes. On automatic pilot, we slosh for cover, although there is no icy wind in this downpour.

No unsettling chill
Just instant relief
From relentless heat

Rain hammers metal, swamps furniture and people, drenching everything not covered. Metal rails hiss. Steam sizzles on the shrinking, not sinking ship. No crevice escapes. A continuous stream of trickles and dribbles demonstrates the power of this deluge.

A turmoil of grey
Idyllic tropics in grip
Of monsoonal rain

Yet, within minutes, the ship docks and the downpour stops as quickly as it began. Singapore city a perfect watercolour painting showcases sunlight and serenity. The tropical shower and haze but a dream as perspiration leaks from every pore.

I tried to write another…

Sore Feet and Soaring Thoughts

Mairi Neil

A wonderful warm spring day. A clutch of residents from the nursing home walk around the block for a dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. Two carers dressed in floral finery, not wings and halos, their guardians.

Shuffling slippered feet
Walker wheels squeak and sticks tap
Dull pleated skirts flap…

Without a sideways glance, a gaggle of schoolgirls overtake the pensioner posse. They preen and prance. Laughter tinkles, iPod cords dangle, mobile phones jingle.

A raven squawks as
strutting peacocks and tired chooks
enjoy the sunshine

The ambulatory group not seeking to collide, or slide, to the other side. Today’s challenges taken in their stride.

Smiling carers guide
stumbling feet and rheumy eyes
to avoid a fall

Gnarled arthritic hands cling to walking frames bumping over paths once traversed with prams and baby strollers. Reminiscent of bygone children’s frolics, parrots chitter overhead as magpies chortle and caper.

Pavement cracks trigger
memories. Past lives flash of
mothers, daughters, wives.

The internet is a great resource for reading haibun online. To access several fine sites go to this link and here.

Saturday Morning Sojourn
Mairi Neil

Magpies trill
Ravens squawk, and parrots squeal
In morning mist chill…

The sea breeze tastes salty and brings a whiff of fish. Eucalypts counteract the exhaust fumes from an idling bus. My footsteps tap and click to compete with the clang of bells from the railway crossing, while a pink glow tinges a pewter sky.

An absence of folk
At seven Saturday morn
Commuters sleep-in…

The Frankston train grunts to a standstill, brake fluid turning the air rancid. Carriage doors open at the touch of a button. I smile. The heating works too.

Friday night’s residue
Stale beer and body odour
Bottles, cans, litter…

Fresh air, a relief at Chelsea Station. Community gardens glisten with dew, their morning hush disturbed by eager joggers and dog walkers.

Curtains, and eyes closed
Newspapers asleep on lawns
Doorstop cats restless…

Enticing smells float from a bakery and a group of young people huddle outside the tennis courts. Their dedication triggers memories of school hockey practice.

Teasing and giggling
the scantily dressed teens
Gather for sport…

I walk towards the medical clinic, a sixth sense telling me the lightness of step justified. I chuckle and feel ageless.

I’ll return to these poems and try to salvage the essence or write a new poem because that’s what I do – keep aiming for perfection and searching for words and form to share my thoughts and observations and ‘an over active imagination’ – my Mother’s words!

And I’m grateful I came across this delightful image, which led to a discovery of another gift from Japanese culture and one I will share with my students when classes return as well as this delightful fable of its origins. The message to me as a writer is to never give up, find a home for those words, or rejig them into something different, perhaps even better, or just accept them for what they are – an expression from a moment in time – whether it be a deep and meaningful observation, a description or fanciful thought!

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As a philosophy kintsukuroi  treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. As a philosophy kintsugi can been seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.

Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

Writers know about knockbacks, shattering truths, and lucky breaks – we also know about rebuilding dreams and that often requires rebuilding or salvaging our words – I can definitely relate to Kintsukuroi in my general life as well as my writing life!

6 thoughts on “How Haiku led me to Haibun and the importance of Kintsukuroi to my Writing Life

  1. I agree with the importance of trying out new genres. It broadens our writing scope and helps us evolve. My most successful short story was first writen in the form of a poem.
    I never tried writing a haibun, but I like haikus.

    Like

    1. Brigita, like you I’ve turned poems into stories and stories into poems – sometimes when we get an idea we don’t know where it will lead! Congratulations on your many successes – photography, writing, craft, cooking – your creativity amazing!

      Like

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