Haiku @ The Oaks, Canberra

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Another delightful and inspiring time together! The setting capped the magic. For the first time in months we were seated outside again in weather that was balmy in its stillness. Spring flowers coloured the surrounding garden, an especially eye-catching display of violets and grape hyacinths beneath the silver trunk of a birch. Music was provided by currawongs, magpies and miners (volume up!) as our lunch orders arrived.

We were all present this month–Glenys Ferguson, Kathy Kituai, Marietta MacGregor, Gregory Piko, Hazel Hall and Jan Dobb. Two of these were recent birthday girls, one celebrating a ‘big 0’.

During our initial greetings and catch-up, Glenys had produced a box of attractive and practical face masks she had made from a pattern based on Japanese origami. As we keenly selected some to buy, we realised of course that this is a mere example of the exquisite fabric art in which Glenys excels. (In fact, an exhibition is in the sights for later in the year.)

Then, over the action of knives and forks, a handout was passed around indicating correspondence between submitter and editor about the format of a haiku. This produced some interesting input on the subjectivity of haiku and how it is perceived by different readers/editors. Where is the emphasis? What difference does line order make? Might it change a moment to a continuum? Kathy, as an editor as well as a writer, offered useful perspectives from both sides. We are fortunate in our membership!

By now our spontaneity was well oiled up. What surprises would today’s non-agenda bring? As lunch plates emptied, Marietta drew from her bag a copy of behind the mask: haiku in the time of Covid-19, edited by Margaret Dornaus. As an example of its quality, she distributed a handout of some favourites she had printed off. This beautifully produced book is described as ‘a collection of more than 250 pandemic-themed haiku from more than 140 internationally acclaimed haiku poets’. Hence, a record of haiku during an historical time. We were thrilled to see three of Marietta’s included in its pages.

Time for Greg to reach into his bag and, like a rabbit from a hat, he produced a copy of Kingfisher, the first issue of a new journal edited by Tanya McDonald. As we’d heard positive reports of this new publication, we were keen to see it for ourselves and were not disappointed. Icing on the cake was to note haiku by Sheila Sondik, our ex officio member who has joined us from time to time when visiting Australia.

And so, the conversation rolled on. For a while the intricacies of sequence, renku and rengay were on the table with agreement that we spend more time on this. Some of us are more experienced in these things than others, and we appreciated once again that each of us has something to learn from and to offer one another. We relish this fact as a strength of our warm collaboration.

Another issue under fire was plagiarism, one of us in particular having encountered this quite personally. When is it plagiarism and when is it not? Of course, this is not a new dilemma though at times it is alarming. What does one do in such a circumstance? Does one do anything?

We finished up the afternoon with a quote Jan brought along from the introduction of Jeanette Winterton: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (Vintage 1985), which can apply of course to haiku as well as to other literature:

            . . . as we travel deeper into the strange world of the story, the feeling we get is of being understood–which is odd when you think about it, because at school learning is based on whether or not we understand what we are reading. In fact, it is the story that is understanding us.

            Books [or haiku] read us back to ourselves.

Jan Dobb