Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Basho Haiku Challenge ...

Cover by Wayne Hogan

In a number of recent posts, I've been talking about the various editions of Basho's haiku that I have been reading in preparation for a future Modest Proposal Chapbook project. It is funny how the web works, often in delightful ways. Tomoe Sumi, of Kodansha America Press, has been following the posts and comment threads and noticed I hadn't anything as yet to say about the brand new Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated with an introduction by Jane Reichhold. So, she (I believe) contacted me and offered to send along a review copy for comment on the blog. Turns out that I had already purchased this for myself for my birthday (an annual tradition I highly recommend to everyone, the buying yourself a book part that is, the birthday part you're already hip to) so I wrote back and thanked her for her generosity and told her I already had it (and, in fact, was intending to get to it in a future post). She then, once again generously, proposed that she send the copy anyway and that I give it to someone who reads the blog.

And the 2008 Basho Haiku Challenge was born.

So, here's the deal: for the next four weeks, send along up to 5 haiku to lilliput review at gmail dot com (spelled out to fend off pesky bots) and the best haiku wins the review copy of Basho: The Complete Haiku. Minimally, I will need your name and email to contact you with the results. In the subject line of your email, please put "Basho Haiku Challenge" so I can easily differentiate it from the scads of other things that come my way. The final date for submissions will be October 2nd and the winner will be announced in either the October 9th or October 16th posting. My definition of haiku is about as liberal as you can get: I follow no one particular method, school or theory and there is no seasonal requirement. Your haiku can be 1, 2, or 3 lines (over 5 would be a bit much, folks, but I will keep an open mind for experimenters). The one restriction would be that it be in the spirit of haiku (I've always liked the definition of English haiku as lasting the length of one breath, in and out and pause, but that's just me - and, oh yeah, I'm the judge, but, again, it's the spirit of the thing that counts) and that the haiku be previously unpublished in either paper or electronic form (ok, that's two requirements).

If I get only one haiku, we have a winner, so, what the hell, give it a go. I reserve the right to publish the haiku on the blog (or not), with possible publication in Lilliput Review.

And, oh, yeah, spread the word ...

To entice you a bit further here's a little something about Basho: The Complete Haiku. Like it says in the title, it's complete, which is significant in itself as all previous translations are just selections (according to the press release, this is the first complete Basho translation in English). That's 1012 haiku by the master. There are 164 pages of notes, one for each poem, which variously treat a haiku's origin, allusions, variations, and grammatical anomalies, the later being quite important and virtually untranslatable. Reichhold has provided an introduction and a short biography, with appendices on "Haiku Techniques", "A Selected Chronology", "A Glossary of Literary Terms", and a bibliography. I've just begun it and it is formidable; I'll be looking at it in more depth in a future post, probably sometime after the contest is over.

Why so long, you may ask? Well, a couple of reasons. I have a number of poetry projects coming up in the next four weeks that are going to drain time from both the blog and the magazine (Lilliput Review). In just under four weeks I'm going to be teaching a session on poetry appreciation entitled How to Read Poetry (& Why) for the Osher lifelong learning institute. A week after that session, we'll be starting a poetry discussion group at the library I work at entitled 3 Poems By .... Both of these are currently chewing up huge chunks of my time. Throw on top of that that I've been asked to speak at the local library school the week after the poetry program and I'd say it is a full calendar.

But the old adage when you've got lemons may apply here. I mentioned in a previous post some of these upcoming projects and a number of folks asked me to elaborate a little on them so I'll be using a future post (or two) to do just that. It will help to get my head straight about what I'll be trying to do and, hopefully, will be of interest to folks. Of course, the weekly posting of poems from the Lilliput Archive will go along with any postings and I'll squeeze in any relevant info that comes my way and that fits in(to my schedule, that is).

Briefly, a Basho update. I'm now reading the Reichhold translations at home, along with the Makoto Ueda full length study with translations, and the David Landis Barnhill translations at work. These have and will significantly slow down over the next few weeks because of the reasons stated above.

One news item of note: Nathaniel Otting at the Kenyon Review blog has adjusted his post on 52 German Poets, which originally called Lillie's Near Perfect List of Poetry Books, which inspired the German poet list, "tepid", to read "intrepid", and has posted some further thoughts on his initial reaction to the enterprise and ideas like this in general. My thanks to Nathaniel for his generous reconsideration.

Onto the Lilliput archive, this issue being #79, from June 1996, with another great cover by the also intrepid Wayne Hogan. Enjoy.


Alone in the dark,
I find the salmon of my mind
swimming downstream
to die.
Carolyn Long


Men's Room Wall
Feeling immense relief,
then these words confront me:
Dead fish follow the stream.
David Denny


The damp petal lingers, adheres
to fingers;

I flick it
away, some of my flesh

clinging to its flight
into rough grass,

and I turn
to embrace the spring

wind in my face,
the long road ahead.
Michael Newell


Spring Flower

She planted yellow
and the bulb
is its own


the secret
cave of the heart,

or perhaps only

the refreshed wound

that can bloom
Duncan Zenobia Saffir


Flowers once bled from my hands;
Now even the stems are gone
Jack Greene


I've arranged things all day...
- ----now the moonlight--
- ---sshines my shoes.
Carl Mayfield



Greg said...

those first two poems bring to mind that Poet Hound interview, when you said that different themes emerged by themselves with each issue.

that Haiku Challenge is a great idea -- I'm working on my poems now!

L. Espenmiller said...

Hi Don, Thanks for the Mayfield poem. Lovely...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yes, those two poems were side by side in the issue they were originally published in and exactly illustrate the point from the Poet Hound interview that you remember ... I'll be looking forward to your haiku ...

Very glad you liked it, thanks. Carl is so lucid, in just a few words, a few strokes, he seems to get it all - here's a link (you'll need to copy and paste it into the browser) to the 5 postings I've reprinted his work in and you can see its all apiece ...


Area 17 said...

Good luck on the haiku competition! ;-)

I can highly recommend Jane's book as a prize! ;-)

With Words


Anonymous said...

As usual I miss another really good haiku challenge,this time by more than a month!!!if you would like to read my tribute to Basho and his Old Pond And Frog haiku then you can find it on my poems on under my name Lorraine Margueritte Gasrel Black

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the note and sorry you missed the challenge. The good news is that it was so successful, that I will be doing it annually, probably beginning sometime in September of the coming year.

In addition, the success of the challenge will also result in the publication of the top 20 or so poems. More information may be found in this post about the forthcoming chapbook, which will be out in January.

Finally, thanks for the pointer to poemhunter, which I'll be checking out.