Red Kelpie Haiku Group #19

On Sunday 10th March a pall of dense smoke haze hung over Melbourne for the second day. As I walked past the Cenotaph, on my way to our rendezvous in the Botanic Gardens, the Eternal Flame rose high in the seemingly breezeless air, bringing to mind the recent bushfires in Gippsland. Not only our bushfires came to mind, though: that wavering film of heated air surrounding the Flame triggered the instantaneous return of a particular translation of a haiku by Bashō I’d been thinking about a few weeks ago:

Almost as high
As the crumbled statue,
The heated air shimmering
From the stone foundation.

         — Matsuo Bashō, from The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa, 1966).

Such is the amazing wonder of our associative memory! Half an hour later, as the group of us made our way to the Rose Pavilion, sudden loud whacking and banging sounds accompanied by engine noises turned our astonished faces upwards, towards the sky. There, between the tops of the Gardens’ peaceful old trees, was a sight more like a scene from Apocalypse Now than anything Melbournian: one single red-coloured plane behaving like a wasp gone crazy. My first urge was to dive into the bamboo thicket bordering our walkway. Then someone mentioned Moomba.

Sure enough, the RAAF website confirms the RAAF’s support of the Birdman Rally: “. . .a PC-21 aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force will conduct a series of low level flypasts . . .” There must be the makings of a haiku or three in there somewhere.

All around us in the gardens, though, new flowers bloomed, wattlebirds sipped, bellbirds tinkled, bees foraged and the most greyhounds I’ve ever seen together in the one place paraded elegantly by with their owners and walkers.

 . . . . . . . . . . . Wattlebird . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . What flower is that?

(Photos by Robyn Cairns)

After a brief round of news from all members present we postponed the single agenda item: the future continuation, cessation or modification of our customary, after-lunch ginko activity and the related c & c follow-up by email. Instead, we immediately launched into the day’s topic ‘Experimental Haiku’, led by Marisa Fazio.

‘Experimental’ may mean different things to different people at different times, but Marisa had provided nicely selected material for advance study: Jim Kacian’s essay ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, Jack Galmitz’s homage to Marlene Mountain, ‘then I must go to the Mountain: (space reserved) for Marlene Mountain’ (Roadrunner 12.2 / 2012) and pdf versions of haiku booklets the old tin roof by Marlene Mountain, Mountain Climbing by Carlos Colón (Haiku Elvis) and Wind the Clock by Bittersweet by Bill Pauly. Taken together, this material prepared us to consider the various ways that presentation on the page (the visual aspect of form) might depart experimentally from what has become the E.L. haiku norm: three lines comprised of a “fragment” (one line) and a “phrase” (two lines) in a short-long-short syllabic pattern.

Marlene Mountain’s deservedly famous ‘kittens’ haiku was discussed: is it an ‘Organic ku’ or is it a ‘Concrete ku’? And does it matter which? What about Cor Van der Heuval’s one-word ku:


(window-washer’s pail, 1963)

or John Stevenson’s ?


(Frogpond 25:2, 2002)

. . . which happens to be a favourite of mine. Another personal favourite from the many ‘experimental haiku’ Marisa had photocopied off in large print for us to look at and read aloud from was the late Martin Lucas’s:

Giggleswick and Wigglesworth
                    I am uninspired

– Martin Lucas (Global Haiku, 2000)

Compare the mood and tone of this haiku, and especially the way Martin uses the place names in droll allusion to the classic Japanese haikai use of Utamakura/ ‘poem pillow place names’  with the typical moods and tones of classic Japanese poetry and even the haiku in Basho’s travel diaries. Consider utamakura such as we find in Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North: they denote places of religious and historical significance, places where battles were lost, places of rendezvous and places of exile. In Lucas’s haiku, set in North Yorkshire in the U.K. in the 21st century, a bus leaves Belle Hill in Giggleswick and arrives, 3 bus stops and 7.9 kilometres later, at the Plough Inn, Wigglesworth. This happens twice a day, week in, week out, all year round. Compare the journeys. Compare the differences between the old Japanese and the contemporary Yorkshire cultures. Compare the verses within the text of Murasaki Shikigu’s The Tale of Genji with Philip Larkin’s poem, The Whitsun Weddings.

Marisa asked each of us read some of her chosen haiku aloud in a way the layout suggested to us it might be read most effectively, an interesting exercise indeed but one with traps for the unwary. I was asked to read this example of ‘Concrete haiku’:


(Larry Gates, Haiku Magazine, 1971)

Having seen and heard similar verses performed in Melbourne in the 1960s, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the concrete-cum-sound poems of Jas H. Duke, so I began to perform this verse aloud as I thought the layout suggested and as Duke might’ve rendered it. . . whoops! Judging by the reactions, especially Marisa’s, I came across as someone dangerously close to end of her second childhood.

So what are Experimental haiku? Perhaps, for our current purposes, they are all kinds of short poems that depart from the normative EL layout of three lines in short-long-short pattern. They can be avant-garde haiku, gendai (Modern and Contemporary) haiku, Concrete haiku, Organic haiku, ‘monoku’, and even ‘weirds’ , as Nick Virgilio categorised his:


Nick Virgilio (Global Haiku: Twenty-five Poets World-wide, 2000)

All of these variations will ultimately be considered and judged, along with traditional and normative haiku, with regard to the era they were written and published in. This will be the case whether they be written in Japan, in America, in India, in Africa, in the U.K. or in Australia. Further reading on non-normative haiku can be found in Richard Gilbert’s books, Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008) and The Disjunctive Dragonfly (2008; revised & updated version 2013).

dawn crows the scuffle of nomenclature

Cherie Hunter Day (Apology Moon, Red Moon Press 2013)

Red Kelpies - Autumn - 6
left to right: Madhuri Pillai, Robyn Cairns, Lorin Ford, Janet Howie, Takanori Hayakawa and Robbie Coburn
photo by Marisa Fazio

The Red Kelpie Haiku Group meeting for winter 2019 is scheduled to be held on Sunday 2nd June. (first Sunday in June). Rob Scott will lead the meeting on the topic ‘Kigo, part 2: the Australian Experience’. We welcome guests and new members. Enquiries from haiku writers who might like to join our group or be invited along as guests should be directed to Lorin Ford by email: haikugourds at gmail dot com, with ‘Red Kelpie Haiku Group’ in the email subject bar.

— Lorin Ford, Melbourne, March 2019

%d bloggers like this: