Blink of an eye / ideas and people connect / in haiku by Timothy Green

Frogpond

In Japan, the brief poetry form is all about socializing. Why not here, too ?

When my grandmother’s hearing had grown too poor for the telephone, we started exchanging letters. Once a month—on the same day as the Edison bill—I’d receive a handwritten letter, pressed firmly with a retired schoolteacher’s perfect cursive, yellowed paper cut neatly from the same ancient notebook. Family gossip, news of my father, the weather back east, details of her various ailments.

She’d close every letter with a haiku. It was both a hobby of hers, and a nod to my odd profession. Her last was probably her best:

snow-covered sundial

waiting

to tell time again

I imagined her as the sundial, snowed in by age, her bed long-since moved to the living room so she wouldn’t have to negotiate the stairs, waiting patiently for whatever spring might come in whatever existence might come next.

When I had a moment, I’d tap out a hasty reply, glancing out at the palm trees on Ventura Boulevard from my office window, and close with a responding haiku.

it’s December too

in California

the crickets shout!

There was a joy to the haiku that I’ve only recently come to understand. Easy to write but impossible to master, they never grow old. You can write them in the car stuck in traffic, or plop them easily at the end of a newspaper article. Haiku are so simple they can be simultaneously silly and profound, and that contrast has kept them fresh for centuries.

Most often my grandmother’s haiku would offer a shift in mood, adding levity or perspective or clarity to the information that the letter had shared.

lost my other shoe—

now even the right

isn’t left

Almost a decade later, I still remember many of them fondly, and they always embody my grandmother’s quietly sarcastic personality.

More recently, I interviewed Richard Gilbert, a haiku scholar at Kumamoto University in Japan. He described with great enthusiasm the beloved space haiku holds within Japanese culture. With a total population of 130 million, it’s estimated that 12 million attend a regular haiku group. Witty celebrities compose haiku-like senryu live on TV.

Haiku itself descends from a party game, so it should be no surprise that they’re fun to write. At the kukai, as it was called, friends would gather around a bottle of saké, taking turns composing lines on a chosen topic. Class boundaries and social conventions dissolved as participants adopted pen names, many of them humorous. Bashō was named after the banana tree outside of his hut.

Listening to Gilbert tell it, haiku as a social act sounds like so much fun that I can’t help wishing we made it a part of our culture in the West. An outlet for playfulness and creativity and face-to-face interaction, haiku embody much of what we seem to be lacking in the age of smartphones and Facebook.

So let’s start now. Why not cap off your annual holiday letter with a summary haiku? Turn a family dinner into your own kukai, composing short poems about the season.

Before you start, it’s important to know what haiku are and what they aren’t. No other form of poetry is so misunderstood. Haiku are not three-line poems of five, then seven, then five syllables. Counting syllables doesn’t make any sense in Japanese, which is divided into units of time and not sound. You can think of traditional haiku as three lines that are short, then long, then short in duration, but even that generality isn’t an important rule in modern haiku.

The heart of a haiku is really the kireji, the cutting word, which is almost a form of punctuation that divides the poem in two. In English we might use a dash or colon—this division separates the first image from the last, creating a comparison that can be evocative or uncanny. The best example is Bashō’s famous frog:

old pond—

frog jumps in

the sound of water

That dash is the kireji, and it signifies a complete cut in time and space. The haiku presents one image, an old pond, and then another isolated image, the frog jumping into the sound of water. How the two images relate to each other is left up to the reader—and it’s that interactive, connective leap that stirs our thoughts and emotions. This is one of the many things Bashō meant when he said, haiku jiyu, or “Haiku is for freedom.”

Much more goes into classical haiku, but this is all you need to know to write decent modern haiku in English. Don’t count syllables, just count images or ideas: There should be two.

watching football

my keyboard

almost silent


To learn more about the history of haiku, you can find my interview with Richard Gilbert in issue #47 of Rattle, or read his translations of contemporary Japanese haiku poets at his website.

The BIG READ at Corona Public Library – Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 by Cati Porter

This fall, the Corona Public Library is hosting an array of events related to the Big Read, featuring the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The library will be handing out free copies of Fahrenheit 451 in anticipation of these events.

Join Inlandia Institute presenters in exploring this incredible book. Upcoming event dates:

September 10, 2014, at 7 pm join Lawrence Eby for a talk on the future of publishing.

September 23, 2014, at 7 pm join Suzanne Maguire for a book discussion.

October 1, 2014, at 7 pm join Jennifer Williams-Dean for a book discussion.

These events are free and open to the public. Stop by the library to pick up your copy of the book and we hope to see you there!

“The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.”

As a Living Language, English is Malleable and Still Changing by Matthew Nadelson

When I think back about what I really learned in college, aside from the insights I received during a handful of fascinating lectures and conversations with excellent professors, the ideas I still remember today are the conclusions I came to myself regarding the material presented, much of which were based on material presented in other courses.

Looking back, I realize that it was the culmination of these courses that allowed me to observe alternative, and often opposing, viewpoints and arrive at my own conclusions.

Of course, I wasn’t just drawing on my experience from other college courses when I came to these conclusions, but my life experiences as well. And, the clearest material was the material I could most relate to personally. Now that I have taught for eight years, I understand that a similar personal connection to the material can be beneficial to the teacher as well.

Because of this, I think the best advice I could give any teacher (of high school and above), in addition to more obvious things such as letting students’ questions and comments direct the discussion, is that we not only must show the students how the material relates to their lives, but we also must present the material in a way that relates to our own lives.

When teachers don’t do this, students lose interest. And really, why should they care about something that they can’t imagine providing any practical benefit to their lives? Grades are rudimentary motivators at best.

Another problem I see is that too often too many teachers fail to place their subject matter in the proper context. They present it almost in a vacuum.

Here is an example: About five years ago, when we were both 30, an extremely smart woman I had grown up with, asked me whether it was OK to start a sentence with “and.”

She didn’t know whether it was ever OK to start a sentence with one of the most common words in our language. I don’t know where my friend went to school, but I’m pretty sure she has lived in Orange County all her life, and somewhere along the line, a college professor had told her it was never OK to start a sentence with “and.”

Of course, what this person had neglected to tell her was that in a college-level essay, it is generally not a great idea to start a sentence with “and” because it is informal (and it could be argued that the job of a coordinating conjunction such as “and” is to coordinate between independent clauses or … blah blah blah).

But this teacher had failed to explain to my friend the importance of audience, purpose and occasion in college writing, and how all these things determine the level of formality in the writing, and also the fact that English is a living language and English punctuation is only a few hundred years old and has changed radically in that short time.

For my money, the great American poet Walt Whitman said it best:

“Language, be it remember’d, is not an abstract construction of the learn’d, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea.”

My friend’s anxiety over the use of “and” is not even the best example of this. One time an English tutor told me that he had been told by his teachers that the word “good” was never correct to use… ever – that “it should always be ‘well.’” He had no idea that “good” is the adjective and “well” is the adverb, meaning they are both good but should be used well.

Hopefully, this student wasn’t actually told this, but this is what he remembered … perhaps because he (or the instructor) couldn’t understand the practical application of such knowledge and therefore (perhaps even subconsciously) had no interest in really understanding the material.


Matthew Nadelson of Corona teaches English at Norco College and leads an Inlandia creative writing workshop every other Tuesday night at the Corona Library. Contact him at mattnadelson@gmail.com.

Inlandia’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops Set to Begin by Cati Porter

The Inlandia Institute’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops are set to begin. Led by professional writers and writing instructors, each workshop is designed to meet the needs of writers working in all genres at all levels. Currently there are six different workshop locations:

Ontario, led by Charlotte Davidson [*Closed: Full]; Riverside, led by Jo Scott-Coe; Corona, led by Matthew Nadelson; Idyllwild, co-led by Myra Dutton and Jean Waggoner; Palm Springs, led by Alaina Bixon; and San Bernardino, led by Andrea Fingerson.

Each workshop series is approximately 10 weeks long, meeting every other week unless specified. Workshops are free and open to the public but registration is required.

Please RSVP to cati.porter@inlandiainstitute.org. Registration forms will be emailed prior to and/or distributed during the first session.

And, while these workshops are free and open to the public, in order to keep them that way, we do ask that you consider an optional but suggested donation of $25 for the entire series. Information about why this is necessary is included in the registration packet.

 

Dates and times vary by location:

Ontario [*Closed: Full]

 

Led by Charlotte Davidson

6 pm – 8 pm

September 10 & 24, October 8, 22, and November 5

 

Ovitt Family Community Library

215 E C St

Ontario, CA 91764

 

Idyllwild

 

Led jointly by Myra Dutton & Jean Waggoner

2 pm – 4 pm

First Friday of every month

 

Idyllwild Public Library

54401 Village Ctr Dr

Idyllwild, CA 92549

 

Corona

 

Led by Matt Nadelson

7 pm – 8:30 pm

September 9, 23, October, 7, 21, and November 18

 

Corona Public Library

650 S Main St

Corona, CA 92882

 

Riverside

 

Led by Jo Scott-Coe

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

September 25, October 9, 23, November 6, and 20

 

Riverside Public Library

3581 Mission Inn Ave

Riverside, CA 92501

 

Palm Springs

 

Led by Alaina Bixon

2 pm – 4 pm

October 8, 22, November 5, 19, and December 3

 

Smoke Tree Racquet Club

1655 E Palm Canyon Dr

Palm Springs, CA 92264

 

Free parking, accessible from E Palm Canyon or the Citibank lot on the corner of Sunrise/Hwy 111.

 

San Bernardino

 

Led by Andrea Jill Fingerson

3:30 pm – 5:30 pm

September 23, October 7, 21, November 4, and 18

 

Feldheym Library

555 W 6th St

San Bernardino, CA 92410


Alaina Bixon leads writing workshops, including Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Palm Springs, edits books, and reads for the online journal The Whistling Fire. She is working on an article about women at MIT.

Jo Scott-Coe is the author of Teacher at Point Blank. Her essays can be found in Salon, Memoir, TNB, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, Fourth Genre, and the Los Angeles Times. Jo is currently an associate professor of English at Riverside City College and the faculty editor of MUSE.

Charlotte Davidson received a Masters in English from Syracuse University followed by an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine. Her first book, Fresh Zebra, appeared in 2012. Charlotte leads Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Ontario.

Myra Dutton is the author of Healing Ground: A Visionary Union of Earth and Spirit, which was a 2004 Narcissus Book Award finalist and a 2006 selection for “Ten Books We Love” by Inland Empire Magazine.

Andrea Fingerson has taught preschool, reading, and high school English. Currently, she teaches Child Development classes to teen parents. She received her MFA in Fiction from CSUSB. During that time she was a Fiction Editor for Ghost Town and the high school Outreach Coordinator for The Pacific Review. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is currently in the process of editing a young adult novel.

Matthew Nadelson teaches writing at Norco College and leads a creative writing workshop at the Corona Public Library (every other Tuesday from 6 pm to 8 pm) through the Inlandia Institute. He has lived and worked in Riverside County since 1997 (with the exception of a brief stint in San Diego at SDSU, where he earned his MFA in creative writing, from 2002 to 2005). His writing has been featured in more than 20 journals and anthologies, and he was recently featured on the Moon Tide Press website as their “Poet of the Month” for December 2013. His first poetry collection, American Spirit, was published in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press.

Jean Waggoner, a published fine arts reviewer, poet, essayist and story writer, has taught college English and English as a Second Language in Riverside County for the past thirteen years and co-leads the Idyllwild poetry and creative writing workshops for Inlandia Institute. Jean is an advocate for part time faculty equity and co-author of a book on the part-time professor experience, The Freeway Flier & the Life of the Mind.

* Charlotte Davidson’s workshop is now CLOSED due to maximum enrollment; please check back in winter to see if openings are available or join one of our other upcoming workshops that still have seats. San Bernardino and Corona both have openings.