Last night Mewby and I rented this great movie about the 1935 debate team of historically all black Wiley College in Texas. Based on true events it depicts the efforts of educator Melvin B. Tolson to inspire his students through knowledge and training to challenge the discriminatory world of the Jim Crow south they have been brought up in. The movie does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of those times; the social upheavals, the class struggles, as well as the fight for racial equality and the general all-pervasive sense of fear that black people had to endure in the segregated south where lynching was all too common. Many of the characters in the movie are based on historical characters: 14 year-old debate team member James L. Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), later went on to co-found C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equality) and Tolson himself (played by Denzel Washington) was an educator, columnist, social activist and politician. At the end of the movie we are told that he went on to become a world renowned poet. “Why have I never heard of him?” I thought to myself, and promptly stuck this volume on my amazon wishlist.
Altogether, this is a wonderful movie with outstanding performances and a palpable sense of tension and excitement throughout. The movie is also graced by the presence of two Oscar winners in Washington and Forest Whitaker. Very highly recommended!
Here are three haiku I wrote over winter vacation. My haiku mentor, Stephen Gill, seemed quite happy with when he saw them. It seems I am making progress.
This first one is an old memory stirred up when I was home:
peeling an orange –
across the hallway Daddy kneels
praying at his chair
I wrote that on my first morning back home. I woke up early through jet lag, and my mom, being a restless spirit, hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before so didn’t get up till late. This meant I had a long slow breakfast by myself in the kitchen, with my feet up on a heater, eating toast and oranges, drinking cup after cup of Yorkshire tea and reading Dharma Bums.
dark December dawn –
in my mother’s kitchen
tea and Kerouac
Chris Carver at work, had lent me Dharma Bums a couple of weeks before and I had taken it back with me to read on the journey. The bit I was reading that morning happened to be about Jack Kerouac hitchhiking all the way across America to his home town for Christmas, where he surprises his Mom in the kitchen and gives her a big hug. It’s a nice scene and it was timely reading it a couple of days before Christmas myself. Kerouac, one of the first people to popularize writing haiku in English, was by pure coincidence the topic of our first haiku class when I got back in January. Stephen, had decided to play us a recording of Mr. Kerouac reading his own poems. On the comments he made on the haiku I submitted, he asked me if I was telepathic.
The last one I wrote a few days after my return to Kyoto. I woke up one morning at a ridiculously early time, and picking up Matteo Pistono’s In the Shadow of the Buddha, soon found myself lost in it.
sleepless reading –
under the kotatsu
dreams of Tibet
On October 22nd, I joined the Hailstone Haiku Circle’s composition stroll in Nara. The weather was temperamental, but we didn’t get a full downpour until the evening – once I’d gotten back to Kyoto – so we were lucky. Though the maple leaves hadn’t changed yet, the leaves of the 南京黄櫨 (Chinese tallow tree) had turned a beautiful crimson.
Plunging from the open grassy plain into primeval forest, we came upon a stream and Stephen Gill carefully placed some stones for the ladies to cross over.
cross the beck
on freshly-placed stones
Here in the woods we also encountered a stag who had somehow managed to avoid getting his antlers removed this year. The deer in Nara are quite unafraid of humans, and so to avoid having them injuring people their antlers are removed. This fellow is obviously faster or sneakier than most.
Here we are under a massive oak, descendant of oaks that have been here for thousands of years.
At Shinyakushiji we viewed 12 ancient statues of heavenly guardians, a big fat Buddha, and in the garden flowers like these:
Shinyakushiji - a boy admires a girl admiring Budhha
The persimmon trees in Nara were hung with luminous fruit… But I couldn’t help noticing the metal fencing and forsaken machinery – that was painted the same colour!
rusty ripe persimmon - In the long grass abandoned metal fences
Finally we returned to a cafe, where we had tea and delicious apple cake – and shared our haiku.
Finally something decent on the TV.
I was delighted that my own two offerings met with the others’ approval. And even more so that one of them made it onto the Hailstone website report. You can read some haiku by the other members and Stephen’s report there.
On the 24th & 25th of September Mewby and I joined the Hailstone Haiku Circle for their annual autumn haiku hike. The idea of a haiku hike being that you jot down the haiku that come to you as you are hiking through spectacular nature. This year the hike was quite a tough one: climbing Mount Tateyama in Toyama prefecture. The mountain is 3,015 m (9,892 ft) high, so no small feat for Mewby climbing it as she is extremely afraid of heights.
On the first day ten of us were driven in three cars (all praise to David McCullough, Hisashi Miyazaki and Stephen Gill for driving us) up to Toyama. After a lengthy journey we transferred to a cable car, and then a bus that drove us through a lovely national park, forested to begin with and then up into and beyond the clouds. Along the way, the bus slowed down so that we could see the Shomyo falls – the highest falls in Japan! I took a quick fuzzy pic out of the window with my i-phone:
Beyond the treeline we were treated to spectacular views of misty mountain slopes swooping down into a beautiful sea of clouds. Everybody on the bus was oohing and aahing at it but you’ll have to take my word for that as I failed to get a decent snap-shot.
And then we were off the bus and hiking up to our hostel. In the picture above you can see the road ahead of us, and if you notice Mewby (on the right) feeling inspired is scribbling a haiku in my notebook. The notebook incidentally was a gift from Stephen Gill which he bestowed, along with oranges, before our ascent. Here are some more pictures I took along the way. The path is beautifully cobbled and as Stephen said, looks very much like an old Roman road.
All of those pictures were taken with my i-phone as we were on the move. Once we reached the hostel though I whipped out my proper camera. The views were lovely and got lovelier as the sun went down.
After we’d had a good feed and some of the men had opened up the bottles of spirits they had brought along to loosen up our tongues, the haiku sharing session commenced. I’m pretty sure that Stephen will be posting the best of them on the Hailstone site in the near future. There were a couple of really nice ones from David as I remember and Miki and Atsushi had some good ones too. As for me well, I’d scribbled something along the way, but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I kept working on it, and working on it until…
…I still wasn’t satisfied with it. Anyway, my poems won’t get better if I don’t open them up to scrutiny I thought, so I opened my mouth to deliver my gentle poem on soft clouds and mountain tops – and at that moment two rather silly women came in from outside, sat down behind me, and started shrieking noisily about the cold. And they continued shrieking quite happily for some time about whatever other topic entered their heads. And wouldn’t stop. SHRIEKING. At the top of their piercing voices. So I found myself shouting rather than reciting the following words in an oddly inaproppriate tone of intense irritation:
gently on green slopes
cloud scraps drifting
into a hollow milk mist sea
Stephen wasn’t happy with the word “hollow”, but though I’m not so happy with the poem as a whole, I can’t think of a better word to describe the insubstantial quality of a sea of clouds so I’m (stubbornly) reluctant to let that “hollow” go. Anyway, some of the Japanese poets present put their heads together to translate it and it actually sounds much better in Japanese:
Mewby also wrote a haiku, which she has given me permission to post here:
And here is Stephen’s translation:
From the carriage window
ah, the season of deepening colours
That was Mewby’s very first haiku! Further challenges however, still lay ahead!
This is the mountain we had to climb the next morning.
It didn’t look like the top was that far away. But actually it was, and it took a good hour and a bit and a hard slog to get up there. Tateyama is actually considered one of the “three holy mountains” of Japan. So we made a point of getting a blessing at the summit shrine. Directly under heaven, we sat on loose cobbles as the shrine priest prayed over us. We learned later that those cobbles (some of them immense) had been brought there by pilgrims. It was a lovely ceremony. You’ll notice from the second picture in this next set that from the top you can actually see Mount Fuji (another holy mountain).
That wasn’t the end of our journey though. The tricky part was getting back down. Poor Mewby had a very hard time of it. But she kept going and eventually she got there and I think she felt a great sense of achievement having done so.
Here we all are at the bottom.
Finally though in tribute to brave Mewby, as my own haiku skills aren’t sufficient, I shall cheat and borrow the words of Mitsuo Aida instead.
it’s ok to stumble, isn’t it?
we are humans after all