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HAIKU DIALOGUE – Foreground Focus – Blur the Background (2)

Foreground Focus with Guest Editor Alex Fyffe

Between me and the tiger was a thick pane of glass, and despite that, my heart couldn’t help but beat a little faster. My focus was on the tiger beyond the glass, not the glass itself. Often, we find our attention drawn through one thing and toward another, ignoring the foreground entirely to examine what is on the other side. The idea of this series is to think about the things we normally look through – barriers at the zoo, windows, fences, even the glasses (or contacts!) right in front of our very eyes.

next week’s theme: Obfuscation

Bob Mosier, an artist, teacher, and my father-in-law, inspired this month’s prompts with one of his latest artworks, “Obfuscation #1” (made entirely with sewing machine and thread). Here are his reflections on the piece:

“Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room I was admiring two still-life photos by Robert Mapplethorpe. I was admiring the subtle tonalities which I could see so clearly represented in the works. It was looking back a second time that I noticed the reflection of the windows behind me, and the trees and cars parked outside on the glass of the photos. I had ignored them in my first fascination with the work, and yet there they were absolutely interfering and now rendered me unable to see the work behind the glare. It made me wonder how many fences, screen doors, and windows had I looked through but ignored in my life, and how many life situations had I done the same? I began creating artworks and placing “Obfuscations” – dashes, dots, symbols (like the X in this piece) – over the surfaces as a barrier, asking the viewer to decide what they saw.”

Today’s prompt asks you to take inspiration from the photo of “Obfuscation #1” and/or from Mosier’s commentary on the piece.

To find out more about Bob Mosier and view some of his art, visit his website here.

The deadline is midnight Central Daylight Time, Saturday June 24, 2023.

Please use the Haiku Dialogue submission form below to enter one or two original unpublished haiku inspired by the week’s theme, and then press Submit to send your entry. (The Submit button will not be available until the Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in.) With your poem, please include any special formatting requirements & your name & residence as you would like it to appear in the column. A few haiku will be selected for commentary each week. Please note that by submitting, you agree that your work may appear in the column – neither acknowledgment nor acceptance emails will be sent. All communication about the poems that are posted in the column will be added as blog comments.

Below is Alex’s commentary for Blur the Background too:

the sharp point
of a carmine red pencil
ungraded papers

Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

 

meadow flowers
all over the buffer zone
undisturbed buzzing

Natalia Kuznetsova
Russia

Everything has been prepared and is ready to go, all except, perhaps, the motivation to read another stack of student papers. Straw’s relatable poem shows how we sometimes focus on the little details in order to avoid the bigger picture that’s looming over us. Similarly, Kuznetsova’s focus on the bees’ undisturbed work on the flowers in the buffer zone suggests a desire to avoid the disturbances implied by the very existence of that buffer. Here, at least, the conflict does not reach. I also felt that “undisturbed buzzing” could suggest a double meaning – the sounds of warfare continuing in the distance unabated. Either way, the poet is focused on the meadow flowers here despite that background.

mountain ranges
within my reach
ripe persimmons

Kanjini Devi
The Far North, Aotearoa, New Zealand

 

watching you
through lace curtains
also finely made

Cindy Putnam Guentherman
Illinois, USA

In Devi’s poem, we see an excellent use of the pivot line moving us from the background to the foreground. For the poet, the mountains seem to be within reach, almost as much as the persimmon being plucked. We can also see this blending of the background and foreground in Guentherman’s haiku. Although the poet’s focus is actually on the background figure through the curtains, the person whose form she admires, her attention is drawn back to the foreground seemingly for reasons of plausible deniability – “I wasn’t staring at you; I was only admiring the details on these excellent curtains!” The implied simile also gives this poem a romantic sensuality not seen in most of the entries.

watching a turtle
in the shallow pond
I tidy my hair

Margaret Tau
New Bern, North Carolina

Of all the reflective surface poems, Tau’s takes the cake. Like some of the other poems here, hers takes us on a journey from looking through something to looking at it, in this case looking through the water at a turtle to looking at her reflection on the water. But I admire how the poet uses the last line, “I tidy my hair,” to suggest this shift in focus instead of directly mentioning her reflection. She is doing one thing and then suddenly becomes aware of her own appearance as a result – a natural, fluid transition. Because of the wording, we could even read into the poem a bit and wonder if the poet doesn’t relate in some way to the appearance of the turtle.

patching the hole
in our tent –
full moon

Dan Campbell
Virginia, USA

Campbell has brought the background to the foreground by a clever perceptual manipulation. The moon has found its way down to the tent for some quick patchwork.

Prosecco bubbles
that rise in the
plastic glass

Barbara Anna Gaiardoni
Verona, Italy

Gaiardoni’s classy Prosecco bubbles fizz out line by shorter line inside of, it turns out, a cheap plastic glass. I like the way this takes us from the interior specificity of the Prosecco bubbles to their less impressive container.

walking into
a glass door —
blind date

Lorelyn De la Cruz Arevalo
Bombon, Philippines

 

the last dance
of a butterfly
in the spider’s net

Teiichi Suzuki
Japan

Here we see the consequences of not observing the foreground closely. For Arevalo, it is a comedic classic, running headfirst into the glass door like a Buster Keaton character. But Suzuki’s butterfly suffers more than momentary humiliation. The spider’s trap relies on going unnoticed, and how effectively it works!

christmas which wallpaper group is her hose?

simonj
UK

The speaker’s desire for an intense specificity of detail hints at an analytical mind always honing in on and classifying the minutiae that surrounds him. It also reveals a unique sense of humor in this case, wondering which type of geometrical wallpaper pattern the woman’s holiday hose fits into, perhaps as a distraction from other Christmas considerations.

bedridden
the patterns the rain makes
on the windowpanes

Olivier Schopfer
Geneva, Switzerland

The speaker in this poem also focuses on small, interior details, but out of physical necessity. When we are confined, our minds tend to attach to whatever they can to distract us from pain and/or our inability to change our situation. For this speaker, the rain is a welcome distraction, creating its transitory artwork on the window for him to admire.

passing spring
mother repeats
the same question

Keiko Izawa
Japan

The seasons may be changing around her, but the speaker is brought back to the moment thanks to her mother’s insistent questioning. This poem suggests so much – What is the question that bears repeating? How is the speaker going to respond? – but leaves the mystery for us to feel out. For me, the speaker is clearly distracted and seems reluctant to answer the question, implying a necessary conflict she might rather avoid even though she knows she won’t be able to.

ekphrastic poem
blurring out everything
that’s unnameable

Jackie Chou
USA

It just so happens that the next prompt is an ekphrastic one, so this poem about ekphrasis felt serendipitous. Chou expresses the way a poetic interpretation of another art form necessarily alters it by focusing on what the poet knows and leaving out the rest. The new artwork thus brings to the surface some element of the original but leaves the rest behind.

 

Join us next week for Alex’s selection of poems on the theme of Obfuscation…

 

Guest Editor Alex Fyffe teaches high school English in the Houston area. His haiku and senryu have been published in various journals, including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Failed Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, and the Asahi Haikuist Network. Some of his favorite short form poets include Issa, whose work he discovered in the intermediate Japanese textbook he used while studying in Hikone, Japan, and Santoka, whose writing introduced him to the liberating concept of “freeform haiku.” Currently, Alex uses haiku in the classroom to ease students into poetry and build their confidence as readers and writers. Alex also posts haiku, including translations of contemporary Japanese haiku, on Twitter @AsurasHaiku.

Lori Zajkowski is the Post Manager for Haiku Dialogue. A novice haiku poet, she lives in New York City.

Managing Editor Katherine Munro lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and publishes under the name kjmunro. She is Membership Secretary for Haiku Canada, and her debut poetry collection is contractions (Red Moon Press, 2019). Find her at: kjmunro1560.wordpress.com.

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

Please note that all poems & images appearing in Haiku Dialogue may not be used elsewhere without express permission – copyright is retained by the creators. Please see our Copyright Policies.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. particularly like this

    bedridden
    the patterns the rain makes
    on the windowpanes

    Olivier Schopfer
    Geneva, Switzerland

    …an interesting prompt

  2. RE OBFUSCATION—”To find out more about Bob Mosier and view some of his art, visit his website here.”—but access via the link seems to be blocked. ;(

    Um…I feel a senryu coming on….

    1. Oh, interesting. I’m sorry to hear that the link didn’t work, but it’s promising that the fact inspired something in you.

      When I click on the link, it takes me to the appropriate site, so I’m not sure why it isn’t accessible on your end. I wonder if others are having this problem as well. In any case, the site is simply http://www.bobmosierart.com. I hope you can access it with that URL, or perhaps through a Google search.

  3. patching the hole
    in our tent –
    full moon

    Dan Campbell
    Virginia, USA

    How lucky but natural it is to be “surprised by joy.” Doing something practical and necessary may, with awareness, open the door to an encounter with beauty, which is often discounted as impractical, useless, even unnecessary.

    1. P.S.

      Issa wrote a haiku in 1813 that Dan Campbell’s fine haiku echoes. Issa’s poem is presented and translated on David G. Lanoue’s vast Issa website as follows:

      “.うつくしやしようじの穴の天の川
      utsukushi ya shôji no ana no ama[-no-]gawa”

      “looking pretty
      in a hole in the paper door…
      Milky Way”

      Here are David Lanoue’s notes on Issa’s haiku:

      “Issa’s phrase, “Heaven’s River” (ama-no-gawa) refers to the Milky Way.”

      “Shinji Ogawa comments, “There are many haiku composed on the Milky Way. Most of them are of sublimity with grand scenery. Issa’s Milky Way, on the other hand, is in a hole in the paper screen, which is a symbol of poor living. Issa simply states, ‘It’s looking pretty,’ instead of self-pitying. I believe that Issa might regard not only the Milky Way but also the torn paper screen as pretty; to Issa everything is pretty as it is.””

      +++

      Reading today’s (June 23, 2023) “Friday Reflection” by Brother Tolbert (“Toby”) McCarroll of the Starcross Community (which incorporates haiku in many of its postings) brought Issa’s haiku to mind.

      Brother Toby ends his sobering, but hopeful meditation on the current situation in the world, specifically America, with something closer to an old-timey, almost 5-7-5 translation of Issa’s haiku. Here’s how Brother Toby precedes and follows his version of Issa’s poem:

      “And this brings to mind the wisdom of my favorite haiku poet, Issa (1763-1827). He spent most of his life living with losses. After a particularly horrible year he was able to write words that all of us should take to heart, no matter what we face in the future. His poem translates something like this,”

      “How lovely it is
      To look through the broken window
      And discover the Milky Way”

      “We are going to encounter many broken windows. Let us not become fixated on them but look through them and rediscover the stars that surround us.”

      +++

      David Lanoue’s source: http://haikuguy.com/issa/
      Specifically:
      Do a search on the phrase “Milky Way.”

      Brother Toby’s source: https://starcross.org/
      Specifically:
      https://us12.campaign-archive.com/?u=a199928445529f92ac95f7d5e&id=51b8c33821

      1. Many thanks Richard for sharing these and for your comment on my haiku, have a great weekend!

      2. This is one of my favorite haiku. When I was studying Japanese in Hikone, my intermediate-level textbook ended each chapter with an untranslated quote, and one of them was this haiku by Issa–and I loved it because it was the first time I could read and understand a poem entirely in Japanese. I translated it this way:

        How beautiful!
        the Milky Way in the hole
        in the paper door

        As a result, this was the first haiku I ever memorized, and it has stayed with me all these years. Perhaps I felt this same resonance with Campbell’s poem, although I will admit it was not a conscious connection that I made until your comment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I like how in both your themes and commentary you expose the vast array in ways of seeing. It’s really made me take note as I stumble through my day.

    1. Thank you, Eavonka! I’m always fascinated by the similarities and differences between submissions based on the same prompt. There are so many overlaps and distinctive interpretations, I can’t help but try to point them out.

  5. passing spring
    mother repeats
    the same question

    Keiko Izawa
    Japan

    Keiko’s poem immediately brought to mind my dear aunt who in her Alzheimer’s fog asked the same sweet question about every ten minutes. I visualized the poet sitting with his aged mother in a nursing home, perhaps holding her hand, and patiently answering the same question each time it is asked. For me, this is a beautifully poignant poem filled with love.

    1. Thank you for sharing your connection to this poem. My grandmother on my mom’s side suffered from Alzheimer’s in the last years of her life. The last time I saw her, she looked right at me and smiled and asked the other family members around her, “Who’s that pretty little girl?” This came as a shock as I was not pretty, little, or a girl. It’s strange to think that the last time she saw me, she was actually seeing someone entirely different in her mind. Then again, she might have been remembering me as an infant. My parents tell me that I had such long eyelashes, people always mistook me for a girl. I’ll never know who she really saw in me that day many years ago now, but that incident had a lasting impact on my understanding of perception.

  6. morning musings on two fascinating haiku

    passing spring
    mother repeat
    sthe same question

    Keiko Izawa
    Japan

    In Keikos haiku, we can imagine Keiko’s mother, like Spring itself, renewing her same question! To see what new answer might be inspired? Is there an answer? Will the answer be different?.Or is it understood, rhetorical, self evident? Spring passes and comes back. Like every question.
    New leaf buds?

    ekphrastic poem
    blurring out everything
    that’s unnameable

    Jackie Chou
    USA

    In Jackie’s haiku, when we look at an artwork, our eyes are drawn to what stands out as identifiable and thus. Is meaningful. We can talk about that. Create meaning from that. What this is, varies for each person and even varies as life unfolds with experience. A problem deemed unnamable at one time in our lives, may become clear later.
    But first responding to what we can name gives us a springboard for expression and understanding. It is enough.

    Recocognizing that there is more, the unnameable, the mystery of the work, in life, in ourselves is insight, a key to the future? It can be saved to emerge in another Spring? But the unnameable itself is a name. She has named, identified, a potential. Maybe it is Spring itself?

    Thank you to these two wonderful poets and to Alex for inspiring them!

    1. Thank you, Kathabela, for the inspired insights into these poems. You read Izawa’s poem in a completely different light, and I think I prefer your reading to my own. As you point out in Chou’s poem, it is interesting how people take what they know from an artwork and interpret it from that perspective, even aware that there must be more there that they don’t see. In Izawa’s haiku, I didn’t make a connection to asking the same question year after year but to being asked the same question after a brief or long silence. Despite the fact that I have had both of these types of repetition happen in my own life, I only latched onto my initial understanding. Thank you for deepening my appreciation of this excellent haiku.

  7. Thank you Alex for all the time and effort you put into reviewing our contributions .

  8. Thank you, Alex, for including my haiku for commentary! I am beyond delighted! And congratulations to the other poets selected!

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