My Old Friend, Haiku

Haiku is one of those gifts that keeps giving. 

I first encountered haiku as a child, under the sensitive and wise tutelage of my primary school teacher. It totally captured my heart and has never let me go.

Haiku floats my boat for so many reasons. 

I could write a book about it but that would take too long, so let me try and condense my enthusiasm into a few lines:

What is haiku?

Haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry. It is distinctive because its poems are short, only 17 syllables long, distributed between 3 lines in a 5-7-5 syllable arrangement. One haiku is meant to be no more than the length of a single breath. 

Authentic Japanese haiku adheres to very specific guidelines. For example, each haiku must describe an image from nature and make a reference to season. It must also contain some kind of interesting contrast or an element of surprise.

For the most part I stick to the rules of haiku but as a non-Japanese, contemporary poet, sometimes I stray a little, which apparently is allowed.

Why do I love it?

For starters: Simplicity. Clarity. Focus.

Reading and writing haiku declutters the mind! Haiku is deliberately spare and considerate. It does not crowd the reader with too many words or ideas at once. Each haiku contains just one image to see and one thought to consider. In many ways haiku is like a snapshot; it frames a single moment and then slips it into a telegram.

Also: Therapy – Mental. Spiritual. Emotional.

Haiku knows that beauty and nature will console and heal. Haiku slows down time and fosters an awareness of the environment but also senses and feelings. It is an exercise in being completely present. It is an invitation to be still, contemplative and open to fresh perspectives. One could argue that reading and writing haiku is an exercise in mindfulness or meditation.

In addition: A Good Workout

American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-) advises: 

‘Think long thoughts in short sentences.’

The discipline of writing haiku is a boot camp for my development as a writer. It forces me to choose the best words and to convey my message in the most concise way. It is the height of minimalist yet poignant writing.

A famous haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), said that to write good haiku one needs to have the eyes and heart of a child.

In other words, haiku needs to be highly inaginative, instinctive and uncomplicated. These are challenging goals but they produce compelling writing.

Not to forget: Surprise!

I love fresh insights. Haiku is all about ‘aha’ moments. It celebrates delight, wonder and unexpected revelation. Sometimes these surprises come from contrast, irony or paradox.

Finally: Connection. Wholeness. Circle of Life.

Haiku draws connections between truth and beauty, experience and thought, imagery and emotion, spirituality and nature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the minute and the vast. Haiku explores the relationship between order and transcience through its focus on seasons. Haiku offers serenity and hope in the face of a complex and sometimes terrifying world.  

My latest haiku:

as blue as the bay

my heart in the morning light

a whale migrating

©2019BellePerry

Manifesto

A manifesto is a public declaration that spells out a set of ideals and intentions. Have you ever thought of writing one?

Manifestos are often produced by groups, such as political parties, religious associations and art movements to make obvious their views and plans. But individuals can write them too.

A while ago I started to think about the value of writing a personal manifesto. I wanted to sit myself down and get some things clear and straight. I needed to regroup and reset.

At the time I felt that my life was messy, gridlocked and overwhelming. I thought it might help to pin down what I value and how I want to move forward. I figured if I ever felt lost again I could read my manifesto to get back on track.

It took a few days to draft and refine what I wanted to say to myself and finally my manifesto took the shape of this poem:

Manifesto

like haiku

live in a hut swept clean

in a garden with a fence 

on a hill with a view

like a hand written letter

unfold the past with care

wrap goodness in ribbons 

burn the rest

shake the ashes off your shoes

trust yourself

to remember

to decide

to bear up

to heal

to learn

like a lighthouse

pummelled

sweep the darkness

beam through 

be true

like water

finding its course

be sure

and deep too

like dirt

holding seeds

of hope 

wait long for rain

be tender

gaze on each day 

with its newborn face

wonder at the Earth

who tends to you

look now in the eye

hear its pulse 

let it smell your fear

ruffle its mane

be leisurely

over cups of tea 

sit with silence

let mystery linger

count your breath 

and all your bones

balance all

that pulls

and pushes 

tango with possibility

dine with diversity

fly daydreams like kites 

grasp adventure

like the hand of a beloved

listen to the broken parts

they will tell you

what is needed

you will have the courage

to live forgiveness

to believe in pearls

to expect beauty 

in the wild

to give love away

to let it run 

through your fingers

like honey 

and not call it back

to be all

you were imagined

to be

©2019Belle Perry

Michael Leunig

Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet. His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans more than forty years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world. The fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world is a related and recurrent theme.

His newspaper work appears regularly in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. He describes his approach as regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian – producing work which is open to many interpretations and has been widely adapted in education, music, theatre, psychotherapy and spiritual life.

Quoted from : http://leunig.com.au/

In 1999, Michael Leunig was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia. What a great decision! I have been a fan of Michael’s work for a while and a number of his books sit well-read on my bookshelf. Every New Year I buy his calendar and I also follow his instagram https://www.instagram.com/leunigstudio/?hl=en.

I noticed last month that The Sydney Film Festival 2019 featured a documentary called The Leunig Fragments about his life and work. It was directed by Kasimir Burgess. I was so disappointed to miss it and hope to see it one day. Here is a trailer:

Two years ago I had the privilege of seeing Michael Leunig in concert with Katie Noonan at the Sydney Opera House. It was called Gratitude and Grief. Michael and Katie’s collaboration was magical. The concert combined poetry, music and illustration. Michael would read one of his poems then Katie would perform it as a song. While she sang, Michael drew an illustration for the poem and the images were projected onto massive screen so we could watch as he worked. It was a unique and thoroughly entertaining experience! Here’s a taste:

Not long after I saw the concert I wrote this poem.

Our Living Treasure


Each
tender stroke of felt tip
every 
‘toon and curly quip
a spark
a rustle
a wink
a gift

on the brink
he sends out
a cappella notes
like doves to bless
and declare
our state of undress

Poet, Prayer, Prophet, Sayer
like that Holy Jester
of camel and needle fame
our Antipodean Fool
dusts off
old bones 
celebrates
the odd
the out of tune
the precarious

The Loon
knows our bitter sweet 
capacity
teaches our fickle hearts
veracity
knows the crux 
of our ferocious woes
and the antidotes
of those
knows righteous rage
and fringe dwelling
slow-dances with shadows 
and truth telling
sows wild blooms
in deserts of tears
and beckons a smile

©2019 Belle Perry

Remembering Grandma

We farewelled my grandma six years ago. This poem captures that time of saying goodbye.

Joyce

braving the grim sky

we head out together

her grand and great grand

bundled like babushkas

atop the tram

guided by the faithful plod  

of a long lashed equine

rain spits across our cheeks

we look back on the hillock 

where yesterday

under canopy from the thunder and torrents 

decked in roses

she was lowered down

then at the house we sat in her room

just how it always was

looked through her wardrobe

at her dresses waiting neatly

for her 

now on the island we scramble up the rocks

stare out at the wild sea

and there 

bright as her decades of dresses

colours stretch across the sky

we imagine she is beaming

having gathered us like chicks

once again

©2019 Belle Perry