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!

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?