How to Weave Haiku with Fay Aoyagi

Last weekend Naviar Records ran a webinar about haiku

I arrived late due to the early morning start and felt as though I was catching up.

Fay offered interesting perspectives, bridging cultural divides as a Japanese woman who lives in America. 

I like to think that if I'd been more awake I would've asked about the challenges in translating haiku.

Shifting meaning between languages when constrained by the short form of this style of writing must present many problems and I expect she would have adopted different solutions over the course of her career. 

Some of her advice addressed how foreign writers approach haiku and my notes captured:

  • Avoid making the last line a statement.
  • Almost no one uses “I” in haiku and some Japanese translators omit it.
  • Some editors view the use of “I” as senryu.
  • Haiku editors are looking for a surprise, particularly the cutting word.

One comment overheard from the audience was that writing "I" would be a waste of four characters in Japanese in writing watashi wa, which led me to ponder how brushstrokes would be a creative constraint.

Another commentator asked if the shift away from the individual reflected that "Japanese are a 'we' culture, whereas Europeans are a 'me' culture" and it left me wondering about the character of haiku in the 21st Century.

I expect that Zen Buddhism and Shinto played significant roles in shaping Japanese culture, whereas Christianity gives Europeans a different outlook.

As a form of verse haiku has adapted much better than some European traditions, but then again, I don't look for Japanese playwrights working in iambic pentameter or poets writing sonnets in languages other than English. (Although, maybe I should. This could be an interesting development!)

Anyway, it led me to ask how the Japanese view the interest of foreigners in their art, which led webinar host Marco to quip in the chat that it was probably like how Italians viewed international pizza. (I resisted the urge to shock him with my recipes!)

I also had a comment to ask how the seasonal reference might be understood, given that different parts of the world have different experiences of seasons.

Fay had shown examples where the seasonal reference in Japanese haiku was subtle imagery like winter vegetables, as well as the better known images of the autumn moon or spring-time blossoms.

I observed that I'd recently encountered an idea that Japanese recognised micro-seasons in the form of 72 five-day periods over a year, which led Fay to recognise that was from one book and that Japanese generally viewed four seasons like the west.

She acknowledged that seasonal references might require additional context and was encouraging, saying that if a writer presents a scene that is interesting, a haiku judge will be moved to research.

I've been interested in the local Wiradjuri idea of six seasons and feel there's a definite need for a poet (or anyone) to recognise their place in the landscape. (It's ridiculous but I often see complaints from farmers in my region about water going to the environment, as if they're somehow separate.)

It was this process of describing how nature affects the poet that Fay described as a third characteristic of haiku, after the cutting-word and seasonal reference.

Her observations provided insights into the culture that informs haiku.

How hard it is to have eyes and to see only the visible?

Sometimes on days when the light is perfect and exact,

When things are real as they can possibly can be,

I ask myself slowly

Why I ever attribute

Beauty to things.

Is a flower beautiful?

Is a fruit perhaps beautiful?

No: they merely have color and form

And existence.

Beauty is the name given to something that does not exist

The name I give to things in exchange for the pleasure they give me.

It means nothing.

So why do I say of things: “They’re beautiful”?

Yes, even I, who live only to live,

Even I am not immune to the invisible lies men say

Of things.

Of things that simply exist.

How hard it is to have eyes and to see only the visible?

by Fernando Pessoa

The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro

New Directions Books, 2020

First Council For Third Year

Normally my eyes glaze-over when it comes to financial statements and I sometimes joke that I'm innumerate.

However, recently I challenged myself to find a news story in this subject:

For the third consecutive year, Narrandera Shire is the first General Purpose Council in New South Wales to submit its audited financial statements.

Given there are over 120 councils, this is an accomplishment that reflects a coordinated effort.

“It’s an achievement across the whole organisation,” said George Cowan, General Manager of Narrandera Shire Council.

“Once again the Shire demonstrates its fiscal responsibility and, even more importantly, the Council’s overall financial position is reflected in the reports as sound.”

This means Council is well-equipped to meet the reasonable needs of residents into the future.

“Thank you to everyone who assisted by submitting invoices, providing information, attending to requests, etc.

"It really is a team effort and without your help this would be difficult to achieve,” wrote Bec Best, Finance Manager, in her email to staff.

The Finance team achieved a timely and unqualified audit result, with the Auditor General confirming “no significant audit issues or observations were noted during my audit of the Council’s financial statements.”

“The process is comparable to landing a Boeing 747,” said Martin Hiscox, Council’s Deputy General Manager Corporate & Community.

“The timeline is determined months in advance followed by a process of checks and hold points to ensure you arrive at the scheduled time.”

Each council in the state has four months after the end of the financial year on 30 June to submit their Financial Statements to the NSW Auditor General, and in recent years Narrandera Shire has delivered its Statements document in about half that time.

“We have very good systems, and all the members of the staff contribute to meeting the milestones at the dates established with the Auditor,” said Mr Hiscox.

“The focus from the statements demonstrates the operating result for the year and the capacity of Council to operate into the future and meet its longer-term financial obligations.”

This includes achieving all financial benchmarks, except for the “own source revenue” target of 60%.

“We have limited control over our rates and revenue; however, Council has achieved funding through other external streams, predominantly grants, which has skewed this result.”

Much of this funding contributes to maintaining roads, which are the largest category by value, at around half of all assets held by Narrandera Shire.

The Financial Statements also show the renewal/replacement of $9 million in assets, as well as construction worth $8.7 million in new assets.

“It is something of a double-edged sword. Creation of new assets leads to new obligations for operating and maintaining them,” said Mr Hiscox.

However, Council balances the expectations of the community with financial capability and extensive planning.

The audited Financial Statements will be presented to councillors at the meeting on 21 September.

During the public forum prior to that Council meeting there will be presentations from the NSW Audit Office reviewing the Financial Statements and the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee Annual Report presented by the Committee Chairperson Mr John Batchelor.

Nowhere Man

Today I helped my son with his music assessment

He wanted to make a recording of The Beatles' 'Nowhere Man' and it took me about 15 minutes to find the MIDI track to make the backing track.

We recorded four takes and two became background vocals, while the lead was the last take.

Then I looked around to find some video to accompany the song, so I could put it online.

Friends are a blessing


Unfortunate news


How I feel


It's not okay

R U OK? is a suicide prevention charity in Australia, encouraging all of us to notice the signs of mental health struggle in friends, family, and colleagues

I've never really understood why Australians need a marketing campaign to ask people about well-being on one specific day of the year.

This year I noticed the graphic had inserted the word "really" into the message and it seemed like an acknowledgment that the idea had become tired.

I think it can be retired in 2021 because it's not okay.

One fundamental issue with asking the question is whether a person is ready to hear an answer other than the default "I'm fine."

Are you okay with having a person unburden themselves then and there with whatever issues they have been bottling up all year?

Are you okay with hearing that someone you know has been considering self-harm?

Are you okay with looking like you need some script to relate to other people?

Living in regional Australia it's clear there's a shortage of services to address mental health concerns.

R U OK? seems to highlight the gap between people in the cities who develop these marketing campaigns and those in the country who have to make a commitment to drive somewhere to find a public health facility that actually have staff.

The past is a foreign country

Don't brine a knife to a gunfight


Sunrise at Fivebough Swamp

Jo and I ventured out to start collecting audio recordings in anticipation of a project. 

The sounds of swan wings slapping the swamp as they take flight, deep croak of a bullfrog, growl of a mother as we pass her nest and the weird stereo effect of reed warblers distributed across the landscape.

They say

They say 

Youtube is obnoxious

"Youtube will make you watch an ad before you can see a video showing how to CPR," my son observed when I showed him this meme.

Given the conversations I've had with my kids about the advertising they see, I wouldn't be surprised if it were a promotion for alcohol that one was forced to watch before learning to save a life.

It seems outrageous that Youtube can push those adult products at my children.

Broadcasting services based within Australia have to observe the expectations of the community and alcohol advertising stopped long ago.

Then again. even the way the service has started streaming multiple ads at the start of videos seems obnoxious to me.

Youtube is the dominant platform and a small country like Australia probably has little influence on shaping their practices.

It's disappointing that the focus of our government seems to have been on maintaining market share for Rupert Murdoch.

Pick up the phone

Lockdown is hard

I hadn't understood how hard, although I have had conversations with people going through their seventh stay-at-home orders in Melbourne.

Being at home with my family has mostly been okay, aside from a few arguments over resources like the television and figuratively stepping on each other's metaphoric toes.

Recently I heard there's been a massive spike in cases of self-harm presenting at hospital emergency departments and wondered how to help.

At work on Monday I asked the Mayor if he'd consider making a short video.

We workshopped a script and what you see is mostly his fourth take.

Penguin flavoured chips

At least that's how they look, right? 

They're actually chicken flavoured but I can pretend they might be penguin, although I'd guess the latter would have a distinct taste from their diet and environment.

The TV ad for this brand is pretty wild too