the wanton tree

A haiku blog. Non traditional ramblings (this guy does'nt count his syllables) of a haiku poet about town. Includes daily haiku from the author and his shady poet friends. Off the cuff haiku book reviews. Writing ideas, gripes, and non categorical asides. Off the beaten haiku path.

Location: California, United States

I often post while wearing a speedo because it keeps me focused.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Women Who Kill (and the men who love them)

The Haiku World was at one time almost solely a man's province. Thank God that's over. Though I don't know about America, according to Makoto Ueda, 70% of modern day Japan's haiku writing population are women. To say the land of the rising sun was not supportive of women's participation back in the early days would be an understatement to say the least.

A feudal warlord structure of rigidly defined roles did not provide the opportunity and training for women interested in haiku. Women were expected to write Tanka if they were poetically inclined. But as you well know, women just don't seem to understand what the words, "No Girls Allowed" mean. So they infiltrated the movement early on and their ranks swelled.

I'm going to keep my haiku out of this one and let the gals have at it here. A few quotes from Makoto Ueda's excellent book, Far Beyond The Field- haiku by Japanese women(Columbia University Press) as well as a few from some contemporary American women writers who let me hang out with them sometimes. (Though I always have to make the coffee)

Ueda's book offers 20 poets, biographies, and 20 haiku from each poet. From the seventeenth century to todays writers. In addition, there is great introductory material that impresses upon you the obstacles these women faced. Fascinating historical background.

Some of the writers therein:

a bush warbler-
my hands in the sink
rest for awhile

-Kawai Chigetsu

moonflowers in bloom
when a woman's skin
gleams through the dusk


the more callouses
the more brightly
my ring sparkles

-Takeshita Shizunojo

up on a hydro pole
an electrician turns
into a cicada

-Mitsuhashi Takajo

the rose garden-
unless you retrace your steps
there's no exit

-Tsuda Kiyoko

the soul, the breasts
and all else are held in the arms
when autumn arrives

-Uda Kiyoko

the butterfly-
its face is the same
as a caterpillars

-Tsuji Momoko

There are 400 of these graceful, angry, fragile, strong, sexy verses in this book. If you like reading haiku and enjoy an informed history of the genre's female pioneers, this is it.

A few of my known associates:

cold blustery wind
fists clenching in the moonlight
my untold anger

the cold hardwood floor
damp with the sweat of fury
worn out boxing gloves

-Carly Shea

dreams in white of white
buried up to my nostrils-
Christmas is over

beer cans on my lawn
all the life crushed out of them-
classes start today

spiderbite itches
car won't start, i'm penniless
wow, look at that sun!


silent saturday-
realtor's "This House For Sale Sign"
pushed up by the breeze

showerdrops falling
on long wet hair make a sound
something like the wind

-Sara Nagle

all love is young
all love is giddy and true

blue black sky above
all life seems asleep-
i wink back at the stars

futon lovers
awakening together-
matching backaches

-Donna LaValley

the silence of crows
gathered on telephone wires
absorbing our words

cocktail umbrella
tumbling from her rain soaked hair
paper icarus

dreamcrashingly hot
graduate of clark kent state
reads anais nin



Sometimes short is fun, unless its money or a ladder.

the pines



or one line-

nightRain gutterpulse mine

her pointing hand blots out stars

the summer sea

alien - ation

Monday, January 17, 2005

Sacred and Profane

stained glass-
the sunday morning sun
paints my hands blood red

over golgotha-
a bright red kite
a small dark shadow

buried in the soil
a property deed

a cold harsh wind
tearing prayers from my lips-
good friday

my feigned obedience
on lukewarm lips

easter sunday-
the trampled clover
begins to uncoil

These are "Christian Haiku" for lack of a term. I think you carry cultural, spiritual, elements into your verses without being "preachy." After all, there's plenty of Zen haiku right?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Haiku Bad Boys

In recent history you'd think of Guns N Roses, Courtney Love, Led Zeppelin. People you might rock out to but would'nt want to live next door or marry into your family. Flamboyant, wild ones who drank all the beer, borrowed money they would'nt payback and generally acted out.

Oddly though, so were many haiku poets of the past. Drunken, irresponsible showboats who had a lot in common with Jim Morrison. There was a sleazy glamour connected with haiku that is in marked contrast with most of todays higher profile poets. Now days, writing haiku is "obscure, quaint, and harmless" in the publics mind. Maybe that's why NFL and NBA buffoons are front page news when they crash a car, or punch a fan, and the word "haiku" does not even exist on network news or in the American print media.

But there were hard drinking, roadrunning poets of yesteryear in the haiku tradition. They could'nt hold a job, got thrown out of everyplace they went, and depended on friends for a place to sleep. (Sounds like most drummers I know.) Maybe what the American haiku movement needs is an Axel Rose. A furniture breaking haiku poet maniac who will get people asking, "What's this haiku thing all about?"

Hosai Ozaki was the last guy you'd want to marry your sister. He wrote "free verse" back when it just was'nt done. No syllable structure, no season structure. This guy was a rebel and a genius.
An insurance salesman with a law degree that just could'nt hold a straight gig. Drinking like a fish. Losing his health and his positions and his wife. After washing out in normal society, he tried to live as a religious but was thrown out of temples for getting drunk, coming in late, and insulting the priest.

At the height of his writing powers, he reached the end of the line as a sexton in a temple on Shodo Island. His only tasks were weeding and sweeping. He died there eight months later.
His verses are lonely and detached as anything you'll ever read. I have just completed a collection of his work called "Right under the big sky, I don't wear a hat" trans by Hiroaki Sato. Stone Bridge Press.

This is a haiku tour de force. All the translations are single line. It traces his early verse right up to what he wrote alone and isolated on a windswept isle.

Gazing into the storm's darkness my eyes become lit

Sunflowers hugely turn, this is Manchuria

The mountain sunset graveyard tilts toward the sea

I wake from a nap, only the shadows of tired things

This firefly does'nt glow its hardened

From the lonely body nails begin to grow

This book is now a prize possession of mine. If you get your hands on a copy, you'll say the same.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Reality check out stand

a poet-
a prophet
in his own town

Of course I had a little help with this one. The second two thirds of it were written by Jesus. But I think he'd agree. The people who've known you a long time are hard to impress. Water in to wine? Walk on water? Raise the dead? You're always the kid from down the block to them.

As a new poet, the hardest person to impress is my wife. Wives have a special God given defense mechanism that enables them to survive a marriage with their brains intact. It involves tuning out a large degree of what a husband says and discounting the rest. "Hey! I got another publishing acceptance!" "Does it pay anything?" "No, but I'm going to be in print again...AND I got published on this Japanese website!" "Oh. What does that one pay?" Grrr!

I'm still smarting from the incredulous look I got when I showed her the one dollar check from the haiku magazine that bought a verse from me. (I could have held out for a buck fifty but I'm new, kay?)

Really. We could be at the mall and have an international terrorist incident break out and I could save the day and say, "Did you see that? I wrestled that machine gun away from the one guy shot two others, used a table to shield those girl scouts from bullets and caught that falling infant in mid air!" My wife would say, "Your zippers open."

Of course her enthusiasm may be tempered by the luck of the draw that handed her a haiku poet instead of a Stephen King or someone who actually made money from what they labor over for hours. Life is funny that way. Then again, it may be that she recognizes I'm alternately wracked with insecurity or insufferably boastful and seeks a middle path to keep me grounded... how thoughtful! I'm going to buy her flowers!

A few crow'ku from the esteemed Momiji Fujiwara:

That bold Headlands crow
beaks up to the skidding grill
of a startled tourist.

Under tearing rain
crow finishes the picnic,
croaking table grace

The wind twists his wings,
his black body lifts,
fulfilling hawk dreams.

and one of my own:

autumn afternoon
crows grow distant
in a flat white sky

I drive nowhere without paper and pen in the car-

someone's bumperstickers
tell me who they hate

an obscene gesture
from a pretty girl

pen in hand
i hope for a red light
afternoon commute

adjacent lane-
a safeway clerk
picks her nose

Or sometimes, sorry to say, something to read.

while reading haiku
the light turns green-
honking horns

Today, I went grocery shopping while the aforementioned spouse went to the salon.

grocery store-
surrounding his mother
a single child

attracted repulsed
a cloudy specimen jar
of gefilte fish

I'm sure its delicious! It just looks like something on a shelf in the Smithsonian.

homebound groceries:
the smell of coffee beans
wakes up the whole car

and a tanka inspired verse from my pre shopping lunch

chinese food for one-
i read my fortune smiling
i'm a gemini

"sincerity and friendship
thrive between you both"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

It's Not All About Me

In my haiku world, its not all paper cranes and stone lanterns. I've done a few of those of course but they sound ridiculous coming from me. I'm a modern American and I write about my camaro, waiting at stop lights, guns, cell phones, and skateboarders as well as "pretty scenes from nature".

As for everything not being about me? I want to clue you in on a couple fellow poets. Before you see them on Oprah, you saw them here.

My haiku "legal counsel" suggested I start this blog. This is a haiku slinging lawyer who has a keen eye and a sharp pen. His name's David Giacalone. When you're sitting around saying, "I sure wish there was a place I could read some moving, insightful haiku with a good sense of humour." Go see the esquire. While your'e there, click on "dagosans scrapbook" (right side of his page) to check out a collection of his verse. He's got some "How to" haiku links too, and if that's what he's been reading, then they're worth a look.

Next, please meet my "non-typical" haiku poet friend Sally Barry. What is a "typical" haiku poet? I'm not sure, but even I have a stereotype in mind. A Birkenstock wearing macrobiotic diet type who wears wooden beads, has too many cats and drives a Volvo wagon with an "Atom Kraft? Nien Danka" sticker on it. Well this is'nt her.

Sally is more of your electric guitar, rock drummer, haiku poet who would crack your skull with a mic stand if you did'nt get off stage.

wind in the dry reeds
two lovers launch paper boats
carnival glass sky

we party crash autumn's wake
in our summer silks

See? Now those were "friendly" enough, but Sally's got another side as well.

the black of your hair
casting a winter eclipse
across my pale thigh

witch's familiar
listens for the sound of breath
slow narcotic drip

small boy with toy sword
kills self over and over
in hallway mirror

a salamander
ballerina jewelry box
mummified treasure

pale icicle moon
supine mortuary doll
secret frozen kiss

Only a couple of these stand a chance of being printed on the side of a package of green tea anytime soon. Which is exactly why I think she's so great. There's already plenty of well behaved poets out there. This is one of the few"bad girls" of haiku.

A few parting verses from your host:

autumn visit-
my laugh sounds tired
some hollowness

a faint smudge
fills in for the sun

my wallet-
a rectangle of air
where the money was

skyscrapers tilt-
the angle of loneliness
near the waterfront

I'll get into one of the true wild men of haiku, Hosai Ozaki, in an upcoming installment.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Getting Even With Haiku

naughty persimmon-
stripping off her leaves
flaunts tart sweet fruit

They say sex sells. In this case, probably not. Haiku may be the least marketable commodity in America today. I can't think of more than maybe two fulltime professional haiku poets. Which is good. Traditionally, poets are penniless and scorned. I've got the penniless part handled. I'm forced to rely on the "goodwill" of others for the scorn.

What does all this have to do with "getting even"? Well, like many of you, I've had some bad breaks. And I have found through this poetic form, a way to avenge myself on the entire human race. Seriously, if you've got score to settle, there are few better ways than haiku. The ancient literary martial art.

I am/was an avid guitarist. Following my obsessive compulsive muse and playing as fast and furious as posible for many hours a day resulted in tendonitis and a drastically reduced regimen. What to do with my overindulgent nature? I remembered that I had written haiku 12 years earlier and took it up again with a vengeance. Since then, I've had some publishing success and found I really enjoy writing and reading these tiny poems.

Suffer with me then, through weary world of a struggling haiku poet. I warn you, it won't all be as "hot and sexy" as the first look may have led you to believe...but then, what is?

bricked over archway-
part of me yet enters
where the pathway ends

a tuneless melody
falls on the hearth

new years eve-
snakeskin skirt girl sheds
her inhibitions

new years day-
this years headache
in last years bed

aunt jemima-
her reproachful look
the morning after

truckstop hooker-
burning rubber
grinding gears

a prostitute
near the used car lot
one at this price

on a somber note:

the prostitute-
after her funeral
sleeping alone

on a different tack,

before the gust
a burst of sparrows
strike the oak

a strip of face
through the fence

During what I felt was a potentially "life threatening" cold, I composed the following. It is a premature death poem. (My wife says I'm a sissy, but women have a greater capacity for pain so what would she know.)

my handprint fades-
the window on this world
becomes clear


these hills fall away
to the lonely valleys-
someone calls my name

I'm pretty sure I'm going to pull through after all. But if you should hear of my demise before I do, please refer back to these and consider them "prophetic."

the windshield wipers
squeak dry

the lower panes
free of frost

nightrain gutterpulse mine

her pointing hand
blots out stars

By now you have discerned, I am not a "three lines consisting of five, seven, and five syllables" guy. Though that is what was foisted upon me in gradeschool. I have since come to discover that is not the way haiku in english is generally written. In fact it is rarely published in that format these days. Most english haiku are less than 17 syllables. Often much less!

My eye opening publication was The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel. Perhaps the best selling engish haiku anthology to this day. (If you know better, let me know) If you are a haiku fan, I strongly recommend buying a copy.

the last low hill-
a dead dark oak
claws at the sky

highway 101-
plastic bag spirits
shriek on barbwire

Much has been written on "What is/is'nt haiku" and I might provide some links in the future to those who still have energy for that debate. I don't count my syllables. But if you want to, that will free me up for other pursuits. I will also be begging some of my haiku poet friends for verses so they can guest on this site.

If YOU have a verse you think would look good on here, send it along. If I post it, I'll credit you, and when the ensuing haiku fame destroys your life with drugs and meaningless sex, you can curse me for giving you a break.