Red Kelpie Haiku Group – Autumn meeting & ginko #7

The long-term lack of rain down here in Victoria has left the water-level perceptibly low in the artificial lake beside the Terrace Tearooms at Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens, prompting dusky moorhens to wade around pecking for food in exposed mud beneath the stone walls, exactly where eels could be seen swimming under normal conditions.

With a range of other people involved unable to attend for a variety of reasons – including our leader, Lorin Ford – four members of the Red Kelpie Haiku Group still managed to gather yesterday (Sunday, 6 March) for our autumn meeting. Even if civic gardeners would have appreciated rain, the weather was beautiful – warm and sunny – while group discussion was positive and fruitful to match.

The Red Kelpie Group members joining me yesterday – Janet Howie, Jayashree Maniyil and Earl Livings – had been invited to bring along a draft version of a new haiku that was proving to be challenging. Productive conversation followed, with constructive feedback and helpful suggestions appreciated all around within this work-shopping process.

A second element of the gathering involved group members having also been asked to share a valued haiku – written by another poet – as a prompt towards dialogue, with no particular theme or technical feature specified in advance.

Chosen by Earl Livings, this revered poem from the United States stimulated a range of appreciative reflections:

the river
the river makes
of the moon

– Jim Kacian

Yet the work of Australian haiku poets also featured in discussion, beginning with this thought-provoking one-liner from the latest edition of ‘A Hundred Gourds’ (5:2, March 2016), as selected by Janet Howie:

inside the ocean the names of all the rivers

– Mark Miller

As a study of grief, this choice by Jayashree Maniyil – having appeared in ‘Windfall 4’ – was likewise valued within the group:

on your grave …
silk flowers made fresh
in the rain

– Michael Thorley

Having been asked by Lorin Ford to lead the group for the day, in her absence, I chose to take a close look at a famous traditional haiku in translation instead: that signature anti-war poem by Basho, generally known as ‘summer grasses …’

The very question of the best way to translate this work provided a focal point for extensive discussion within the Red Kelpie group, with conversation prompted by a variety of translations, beginning with a series of versions in haibun form, followed by other renderings of the poem as a stand-alone haiku.

Group members were struck not only by such variations in word choice – in English – from a single starting-point in Japanese, but even in poetic form (with translations not only encompassing three-line renderings, yet also a monostich, and even a four-liner).

With translators coming up with a range of solutions to the question of how best to render the prose in Basho’s haibun, along with his ‘summer grasses’ poem itself, Red Kelpie members agreed – as we set off to try to develop new work of our own – it was little wonder that crafting and drafting haiku could prove to be so challenging at times, starting from scratch, if experts could not agree about how to translate such admired work from the greatest of all haiku masters!

– Rodney Williams (on behalf of the Red Kelpie Haiku Group)