The Haiku Dust-off

Come read the fabulous haikus from our readers! So on Tuesday we started talking about all the things haikus can do. When last did you write a bit of poem? Miskien is hierdie klein 5-7-5 prentjies net wat jy nodig het om weer aan die gang te kom. Thank you Pat, Caren and Jade! If you missed Topic Tuesday about Haiku, click here.

Think haikus are to small and compact to fit everything in you’re feeling? Look at this picture by Pat Louw, she captures not only the tiredness of a long day but also the entire body of the tired person. Isn’t “Tatters of the day” just every scattered day you’ve ever had?

Mid afternoon slump
Tatters of the day melt down
In pools of sunlight

She’s also the person who showed me how well haikus and photographs can go together. Here’s mine that goes with the picture up there:

Kruipende blink neut

in skatkis van stukkies bas

Pilduisendpootjie

A haiku can contain something so big you can just marvel at it. Look how Caren Zimmermann  fits the change from Winter to Spring into just a few words. That Robin is so alive!

The wind still blows cold
But sun, light and joy return
Hear Red Robin sing

Caren’s haiku contains two contrasting images. A haiku often contains a contrast like this, often this contrast is a sudden break. I love how Jade Herriman shows in this haiku how a sound can have a completely different effect on different people. Look how she built the contrast into single words: “grind” and “Aches” clash beatifully with “renewal” and evokes a variety of feelings:

The grind of ban saw
Aches through my window, the sound
Of neighbourhood renewal

Hilke Sudergat sent a haiku this morning that’s alive with possibilities. Look at how she plays with the image of the painting!

In the morning me
the sunshine makes the color
inside painting now

See what only a few words can do? Would you like to give it a try? If you feel like just writing one little line, come and add it to our Big Fat Haiku Chain, just for fun.

Topic Tuesday: A Haiku or two

Flowers shake raindrops

thrilled to feel cool mud again

happy as wet dogs

 

I was chatting to Jade Herriman the other day about writing haiku when there’s little time for writing. That got me thinking again about all the things I use my little haikus for (yes, I like adding the s). When I started writing poems as a kid, I loved trying out the structured forms like limericks and the different kinds of sonnets. The old Japanese haiku (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables) also got a turn, but it was only in 2010 that I really started writing them as a habit. I love telling the story of how I travelled to Namibia with friends at a time when my friend Pat and I were trying to do a 100 consecutive days of writing a daily haiku. At first it was about the challenge and the fun of coming up with images to fit into these little forms.

But we discovered something amazing after the trip: those daily haikus made a wonderful travel journal. With minimal effort we had created a day-by-day log of our trip: vivid, memorable and condensed. Since then, I’ve made a habit of writing haiku on trips, look at how this one captures the kind of trip another friend and I recently made to Hogsback:

Icy waterfall

glittering under bent ferns

Here we had to stop

Recognise the picture at the top of the post? It gets better. Even the most mundane work day was given some meaning by documenting it with a haiku. And they aren’t always beautiful or happy, but they often were funny and made everything better. I’m the world’s worst diary keeper and journal writer, but suddenly I could read back over my days and recall them vividly! It is like having a photo album of words, of even seemingly mundane things like the weather. Last week it was very hot:

Slowly the night bakes

till the sound of cicadas

quiver out the sun

And then it started to rain:

Sharp drumming raindrops

swaddle the heat with a roar

in a white blanket

Turns out documenting was only part of it. We started sending our haikus to friends via email, SMS, WhatsApp and Social Media and not only do you have an instant audience and travel companion; it turns out these little poems are contagious! More friends joined in, added lines when we got stuck, made up their own. It was also a wonderful way to get people who don’t normally write poetry or who thought that writing poetry wasn’t for them, to stick a foot into the water. Here are two fun ones we all slapped up together at the Afrikaans Leeskring (reading circle) in Empangeni:

Bol poedel sit en wag
Bol rol en rol en rol en
poedel is gebol
Hygend op die mat
ogies wag vir beter dae
stertjie bly vol hoop

During times when I feel I have no time or energy for writing or anything creative, a little haiku is an easy way out. But turns out that writing them is like putting a bucket under a leaking tap. Sooner or later those little drops make a bucket full of water! They’re like oil for that engine, a kind of low effort maintenance.  And after a while I noticed how the constant squeezing of images into these little poems improved and sharpened my writing in other genres too – even my academic writing!

Fietsspeke knetter

langs die gras wat wakkerword

en ruik na oop pad

Do you write haiku? Would you like to try it? You can go Google all the rules and conventions and traditions that go with this art form, it’s fascinating. But I generally stick to the 5-7-5 and biedem the rest.

Leave me your haiku in your comment on this post and I’ll feature all the ones I get by Friday in a post!

Dusty Books: Edith Wharton – In Morocco

Published in 1920, I just had to read this account by a woman who traveled Morocco directly after the First World War by car. One of the very first sentences of the journey bristles with an all too familiar excitement, even though Morocco is the the subject of so many guide books today:

To step aboard a steamer in a Spanish port, and three hours later to land in a country without a guide book, is a sensation to rouse the hunger of the repletest sight-seer (p.8)

Books like Wharton’s do their bit to rouse that hunger, but also satisfy it many ways. Even if an old travel book may speak from an era, culture or ideology as foreign to the reader as the destination is to the author. Morocco is all over my book shelf, but between those pages I can still visit her Morocco, bobbing along without a guidebook beyond what she calls “the familiar dog-eared world of travel” – isn’t that a wonderful image?

For Tangier swarms with people in European clothes, there are English, French and Spanish signs above its shops, and cab-stands in its squares; it belongs, as much as Algiers, to the familiar dog-eared world of travel – and there, beyond the last dip of “the Mountain,” lies the world of mystery, with the rosy dawn just breaking over it. The motor is at the door and we are off. (p.10)

Not only does she describe sights in places like Rabat, Volubilis (fans of Asterix, there you can still walk on a paved road where Roman chariots once thundered), Meknez and Fez; she also takes the reader into her vehicle so that the narrative bounces and grunts along with the motor in the dust. Amper soos die bonsende kamera agter die ruite van die voertuie in die dokumentêre televisiereeks Voetspore, voer haar beskrywing die leser padlangs deur die landskap:

After leaving the macadamized road which runs south from Tangier one seems to have embarked on a petrified ocean in a boat hardly equal to the adventure. Then, as one leaps and plunges over humps and ruts, down sheer banks into rivers, and up precipices into sand-pits, one gradually gains faith in one’s conveyance and in one’s spinal column; but both must be sound in every joint to resist the strain of the long miles to Arbaoua, the frontier post of the French protectorate. (p.10)

Gain faith in your spinal column! When I travel, I like to read books set in the place where I’m going. But long after a journey, a book can also take you back. Wharton’s description of her first sight of Rabat, made me sit upright, because not only does she conjure up a sight that I saw, she manages to bring back the feel of the air and the smells and the cool mist – that mist that rubs out the edge of a continent into a hazy bit of light blue sky:

To the gates of both the Atlantic breakers role in with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky. It is one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not wholly dispel it – the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly clouded by milk. One is tempted to say that Morocco is Tunisia seen by moonlight.(p.14)

I’ll leave her descriptions of the desert and the desert light for another time when I return to this book. But next time you travel, try to read something really old about the place you are going to or that you’ve been to: You may find a travel companion whose typewriter used some of the words on you touch screen to draw the same filter you used on your Instagram over the moment you re-encounter in a dusty book.

Dusty Roads #3: Stream in the Little Karoo

Even in this hottest, driest December we’ve had in a while, the beauty of this corner of the world lingers up its dusty roads. The other morning I was up early, before the sun pushed over the koppie across the river. Some bits between the rocks still gurgle in clear splashes over the red and blue-grey rocks. Die rivier loop steeds floutjies tussen die diep kuile. This time of the morning, the water is still cold and for a while the water catches the blue sky and holds it.

Take care not to slip on the slimy green stones under the surface of those patches of sky when you make your way to one of the big flat bluish rocks in the middle of the stream. After a big splash you’ll have a small Jack Russell frowning at you.

2016-01-01 09.06.58

Naaldekokers bewe bokant die hoppende waterhondjies en deur die vars oggendlug trek jy die reuk van bergwater in. Even though the brackish water from the borehole nearby will always be the taste of home for me, nothing tastes quite as wonderful as water straight from the dripping mountain. That yellowish brown is not mud, no, it gets it’s colour from the roots of the plants as it filters into tiny little waterfalls that eventually become rivers.

2015-12-30 18.34.28

It is a taste that I’ve never been able to describe, except that the sharp freshness of real mountain water sends a shot of life through you. It tastes like stone and moss and bubbles and cracking air of an early morning.

What does home taste like to you?

Topic Tuesday #2: Italian

There will be a lot of talk of languages here at the Dusty Shelf because my own dusty shelves are full of them. Someday I’ll sit down here and write the story of the two little faded Greek phrasebooks that started it all. I love little dictionaries and phrasebooks. Mostly just because I like holding them, and looking at them and flipping through them. Picking up random words here and there like shells on a beach. Shoving them into my pocket only to remember them again when I hear the cracking sound as I sit on them.

Ek het al ‘n taal of wat baasgeraak en toe vir ‘n klompie jare nie ‘n nuwe een aangedurf nie. A friend was going on a trip to Russia and when I started digging around to see if I could possibly learn a language by myself, I stumbled upon the work of an excellent bunch of polyglots like Alex Rawlings and felt like I found “my people”. And I still enjoy reading their blogs and trying out their advice and experiments. But one of the interesting things that I found, especially when I started toying around with Italian, was all the other dusty shelves closer to mine at home.

Mentioning learning Italian in random conversations, brought out people who felt something for the language too. One friend had learnt Italian before and could recommend some easy things to me to read. We’d chew and spit out halting phrases together – hers a bit rusty, mine very wobbly, and laugh. Imagine running into someone at a place like your local supermarket every week and then “bam!” you’re on a bus in Rome! This is what the Dusty Shelf Academy is all about, not just re-discovering the things that have been gathering dust on your shelves, but also sharing those things with others. Who knows, a few halting “bene’s” later you might bump into a real Italian, far away from her home and yours, and be all chuffed with yourself – like was when I met my friend Florenza.

Don’t say “I want to learn Italian”, say: “Buongiorno!” – Barbara Sher

When you like something that appears random, like learning Italian in a little village in South Africa just for the hell of it, you often get discouraged talking about it.

“What will you use it for? So are you going to Italy?”

“But how long will it take you to get fluent?”

I have a lot to say about this idea that one has to be fluent in a language to benefit from learning it. But I digress. Let me ask you instead what it is about Italian. It’s different for different people. You read our man Goethe’s or Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class or Irma Joubert’s Anderkant Pontenilo – for some it’s the sound, for some it’s the food, the country, the people the opera… What is it about Italian for you?

Without even recognising the name or knowing anything about the author – or understanding a word of it – I bought Giovanni Verga’s Tutte le Novelle  in a second-hand shop this holiday. Or at least, I tried to. The lady was so surprised and relieved to find the two Italian books in my pile that she gave them to me for free (more about the rest of that pile on one of the next Dusty Books). At the moment I’m not a very dedicated language learner, too busy shaking my full sleeve. I make that dear little Duolingo owl very miserable – yes, you whiny little squeaky toy, I have no idea what the word for breakfast is. But yesterday I sat in front of my computer gawping at an article about Verga’s work, pointing excitedly like a child at the table of contents in front of me at every story title I find that the article talks about and scratching around in my own copy to re-read the sentences he quotes.

I still knew only a tiny bit more than squat about that Sicilian writer, but suddenly I knew again what it was about Italian and about languages. Not just the fact that I enjoy pronouncing *all* the letters again after all that French or using my hands after all that German. And the flour sticking to my hands after the home-made pasta experiment wasn’t the whole story either.  Listening and repeating scraps from the computer or the CD in my car, venturing into delighted exclamations saying nothing at all to a friend who’s having just as much fun, flicking through a dictionary stopping at words that I might never need and mulling them over… All of that is what Italian and languages are to me: a chance to be me, but different…

And you know what, I’ll still go back to the part where I listen to shells breaking under my backside. Because that is the part I enjoy the most, the part that reminds me of being a kid and sitting open-mouthed in front of an English tv-programme, laughing and not understanding a word. For me, right now, Italian is stumbling around in the dark, picking up things and stuffing them into my pockets and then carrying them out into swift glimpses of light, thrilled with what is gliding through my fingers.

So, if there’s Italian on your shelf, I ask you again, what is it for you?

Topic Tuesday #1: Going after your dreams

Tuesday at The Dusty Shelf Academy is Topic day. Hoekom nie Maandag nie? Want dis makliker om jou week te begin op ‘n Dinsdag 🙂 The topic of this week is going after your dreams. One of the most profound insights I’ve ever read on this, was Barbara Sher saying that you can go after your dreams even if you “have no goals, no character and you’re often in a lousy mood.” It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of her work and it simply because her take on things is humorous, practical and original. Who else ever told you that positive thinking is overrated AND at the same time made you feel that you can actually get what you really want?

We’ll watch her recent TEDx talk in Prague to kick off the week. You can find the link here. Watch it, leave a comment below it if you enjoyed it as much as I did. Don’t feel in the mood because you’re having a lousy Tuesday? Aw, just go watch it anyway for the hilarious Ronnie story.

Next week’s topic, Italian?