Alan Summers, Recipient of the Japan Times Award (2002), haibun editor (Blithe Spirit) and co-founder of Call of the Page, a UK provider of literature, education & literacy projects, often based around the Japanese genres.
For events & workshops contact us through our Call of the Page website: Call of the Page.
Online internet courses by Call of the Page
Are you interested in a Call of the Page course? We run courses on haiku;tanka; tanka stories/prose; haibun; shahai; and other genres.
Please email Karen or Alan at our joint email address: email@example.com
We will let you know more about these courses.
There are two parts to this, one is about the lives and incidents on the 'peripheral': Unearthing the anonymous; avoiding the straightforward: parallel narratives in our day and night lives, and in-between: new ways of perceiving the real (after Nouveau realisme).
It’s about the 'side' of things, and 'on the edge' day-to-day life outside of mainstream public life. It's an approach focusing on subjects almost always on the periphery of our vision.
And secondly: It's also incorporating, where possible, sound as essence; an aural landscape replacing visual markers, because we are surrounded by soundscape. Think of yourself as freshly kidnapped, a hood over your head, thrown perhaps into the trunk of a car, and you need sound markers to gauge the journey, and aid your escape, or address your location to your rescuers.
My creation of the idea of Slip-Realism was both inspired by Elizabeth Hazen’s haiku collection, and also my time as a surveillance consultant, where small details, when noticed, might mean a life-or-death situation. In Elizabeth Hazen’s situation, she had lost almost all of her sight, making it more important to notice everything else:
Elizabeth wrote: 1
“Peripheral perceptions have long absorbed my attention. And haiku of the hearing still jump out at me in my walks.”
Her 2001 collection, Back Roads With a White Cane (Saki Press), was the joint winner of the Virgil Hutton Haiku Memorial Award Chapbook Contest for 2001-2002. Read the book here (downloads as a pdf, 3.87MB).
Elizabeth lost her sight for three years. We often rely too much on our sight, first and foremost, and coming after are sound, taste, smell, and touch – yet they equally inform us.
In the introduction to her book Elizabeth says of becoming blind:
“…the distinction between my other four senses blurred, and my awareness of place and of the present moment sharpened”.
Once Elizabeth regained enough of her sight, to continue painting and writing, albeit it with mechanical aids, she says something that I find to be extremely revealing:
“On regaining my sight I found that only the simplicity of haiku could connect all the layers of perception I had experienced, without bogging down in a confusion of emotions.”
After a trauma what happens once we are safe, or we’ve been rescued? How can we debrief ourselves, and not just provide a statement for the police, if a crime has been committed? There is our destination into the trauma, and another one out of that situation, and it can be ongoing as we go through a process of recovery.
Jim Kacian, a leading American haiku poet, caught one of the meanings of what I meant by Slip-Realism as: 2
Haiku is replete with the quotidian — it is the everyday that is the stuff of our poetry. And yet, what makes it of interest is our perception of it as not ordinary, as, in fact, uncanny. Slip-realism aims to explicate this daily miracle.
And Jim Kacian quotes me:
Slip-Realism — unearthing the anonymous; avoiding the straightforward; parallel narratives in our day and night lives: new ways of perceiving the real (after Nouveau réalisme).
It’s an approach to focusing on subjects often on the periphery of our vision. It’s also incorporating, where possible, sound as essence; aural landscape; or visual marker, because we are surrounded by soundscape. Think of yourself as freshly kidnapped, hood over your head, perhaps in the trunk of a car, and you need sound markers to gauge the journey.
Slip-Realism is about the ‘side’ of things that are ‘on the edge’ and outside our perceived day-to-day mainstream public life. It’s a kind of ‘poetry of witness’ or ‘poetry as witness’ to the smallnesses of daily quirkiness. We often have odd and sometimes tiny incidents, and their edginess of unexpected and suddenly ‘re-noticed’ circumstances bump against us for a moment.
Enter the Slip-Realism Perception Challenge
If you were thrown into the trunk of a car, blindfolded, and had to endure a long mystery journey, with no resolved knowledge of the final destination, and how to work your way back home if you managed to escape, what potent core observations would you record?
What could you pull out using haiku techniques that included non-visual images, that you might want to start writing as a way to escape.
What haiku could you create knowing you have restricted movement, and can only snatch moments in the car ride? Could you leave a paper trail of sound or smell markers by haiku, instead of our usual engrained visible landmarks? Can you create a map of sound, touch, and smell?
1: Think of yourself as freshly kidnapped, hood put over your head, placed perhaps in the trunk of a car, and you only have sound markers to gauge the process and direction of the journey.
2: What smells, and other non-visual physical sensations are you aware of in the trunk of the car, or if you are tied up and blindfolded in the back seat?
3: Think back to what would be normal and familiar touch, smell, and sound markers in your daily life, and compare them to what you might hear or sense elsewhere in surroundings and circumstances unfamiliar to you – for example, think back to when you have made a visit to somewhere new; or where something new and unfamiliar caught your ear even in your frequently visited places; that registered in the recess of your memory.
4: What little mannerisms or quirks do you see with your tradesmen; your bin-men/trash collectors; postmen or parcel delivery men, and their vehicles; or someone walking by; or a driver’s behaviour in his/her own backyard; or a driver obviously not familiar to the neighbour where you live, perhaps parked up, or wandering around?
5: Make a list of everything non-visual; make a parallel list of everything purely visual. You now have two columns as a source of material for your haiku (or tanka).
6: Compare, update, and maintain your two columns of both non-visual and visual imagery so that you have a constantly regular resource for your new haiku draft poems.
To see the haiku I selected for The Haiku Foundation’s Per Diem feature on Slip-Realism, please go here.
The examples below also touch on either non-visual markers in our lives, or the periphery of our daily lives.
down side streets – gulls turning the sky in and out
Alan Summers 3
lullaby of rain another pinch of saffron in the pumpkin soup
Alan Summers 4
hard frost – the snail-hammerings of a song thrush
Alan Summers 5
juniper the tether end of larksong
Alan Summers 6
1 Snail mail correspondence with the author, October 2013. 2 From the introduction to THF Per Diem, January 2014. 3 Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W W Norton & Company, 2013, New York). 4 Editors’ Choices, The Heron’s Nest (14:4, December 2012, USA). 5 Muttering Thunder (Vol. 1, 2014). 6 Poetry & Place Anthology issue 1, eds Ashley Capes and Brooke Linford (Close-Up Books, 2016, Australia).
Editor’s note: This is the first time this article and exercise has been made public and appears here with the kind permission of the author.
Alan Summers, a Japan Times award winning writer, featured on Europe meets Japan – Alan’s Haiku Journey with Japanese Television NHK World. He is the author of the forthcoming Writing Poetry: the haiku way, and the new president of the United Haiku and Tanka Society. He is currently enjoying his first full year in the commuter town of Chippenham in England.
Alan is an editor emeritus of the Bones journal for contemporary haiku, and his last haiku collection of haiku and other short poetry, Does Fish-God Know, was published in 2012.
each house passes
along the train
Publication Credit: Frozen Butterfly issue 3 October 2015
Anthology Credit: Yanty’s Butterfly: Haiku Nook Anthology
ed. Jacob Salzer and Nook Editorial Staff (2016)
rush hour the train station cornea by cornea
Second Prize - The Australian Haiku Society Spring Haiga Kukai: Non Seasonal October 22, 2017
Judge Ron Moss says:
"Another fine one-line haiku and the wonderful use of "cornea by cornea" to focus on the mirroring qualities of all the elements at play. We can read many different links and connections into the glass lenses in the image and the humans on board the train. With the movement in the haiku we are taken along by the swirling effect of the train as it rushes past."
night train each window carries its own little rain
Alan Summers Brass Bell: a haiku journal (September 2017)
"The first line shocks us into the present moment. Sparrows are beloved birds, not only because of their miniature size, but also because of their sweet songs and ubiquitousness. Sparrows as a kigo, or seasonal reference, qualifies for each season, and this adds to their universality perceived in the haiku."
The Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition for Grades 7-12 (USA) Ages 12 years to 18 years old Deadline: In hand by March 25, 2018. Eligibility: Any student in grades 7 through 12 enrolled in school as of September 2017 may enter.
THE NICHOLAS A. VIRGILIO MEMORIAL HAIKU AND SENRYU COMPETITION FOR GRADES 7-12
Founded by the Sacred Heart Church in Camden, NJ, and sponsored by the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association in memory of Nicholas A. Virgilio, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, who died in 1989. The Haiku Society of America co-sponsors the contest, provides judges, and publishes the results in Frogpond journal and on the Haiku Society of America (HSA) Website.
Great to know that this book review is still working years later, where people are seeking the books out to buy!
The Book Depositoryis also a good place to seek out these books. Just click on the various currencies to see the price for you. If you are from another country, check out the box for multiple world currencies which is by the bright pink boxes upper right.
And just click on the various currencies to see the price for you.
THE BOOK REVIEW
Themocracy: The Themocrats and their Concept Albums
Four book reviews by Alan Summers of writers who weave theme.
I was brought up in a time when music hit an exciting time for both children and young adults starting in the 1960s, with single songs, then big bands and their concept albums from The Who; The Beatles; Pink Floyd; The Kinks; Genesis, and then again with waves of wake up music in the early 1970s and the big wake up of Punk music in the mid to late 1970s. I bring that childhood and young adult excitement to new haiku collections, and in particular the new wave of short memorable collections coming in from America.
Being British, with this amazing outpour of British music hitting out internationally, I was not aware of American concept albums alas, but in haiku terms, the British haiku collection scene feels a little sleepy in general, and so I was excited, and fought to review British writer David Jacobs’ new collection amongst the new wave of American writers such as Chad Lee Robinson; Julie Warther; and Chase Gagnon (unbelievably only just turned twenty but with that new-grit voice I look for in haiku that echos the old and original concept albums, and we’ll see an even stronger haiku collection from him in time based on his tough times in Detroit).
There have been American concept albums, for instance Dolly Parton's 1973 My Tennessee Mountain Home, one of her most critically acclaimed albums, though not a commercial success, telling of her rural Appalachian childhood, culminating in the song "Down on Music Row", which details her move to Nashville at age 18. But it has to be Woody Guthrie and Dust Bowl Ballads (1940) that could be the first concept album, consisting exclusively of semi-autobiographical songs about the hardships of American migrant labourers during the 1930s from the point of view of a native of Oklahoma experiencing the life that migrant workers faced in California; and Merle Travis' Folk Songs of the Hills (1947) exclusively of songs about working life on railroads and coal mines in Kentucky.
So, theme, is it important, and why, and should it travel into haiku collections? The word theme C13 hails from Latin thema, from Greek: deposit, from tithenai to lay down, and is related to content, motif, motive, question, subject, matter, topic. I’ll attempt to look at theme, and its synomyms. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, slightly:
All good books are alike and after you finish reading one you feel it all belongs to you: The good and the bad,the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places, and the flow of the seasons you didn’t know where out there, and in you too. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.
The four writers that’ll I look at are: Chad Lee Robinson (South Dakota, USA); David Jacobs (London, U.K.); Chase Gagnon (Detroit, Michigan USA); and Julie Warther (Dover, Ohio, USA).
Like The Who’s Quadrophenia, and much of Pete Townshend’s writing itself, its cathartic narrative engages and contains its own beauty: And such is the writing of Chase Gagnon and David Jacobs, whilst Julie Warther and Chad Lee Robinson have been partnered by the natural seasons, away from the complex narratives of the city, and in partnership with the life of rural cycles.
The Deep End of the Sky
Chad Lee Robinson 46 pages of 47 haiku
If you are from another country, check out the box for multiple world currencies which is by the bright pink boxes upper right.
“The Deep End of the Sky” is a Turtle Light Press Haiku Chapbook Contest Winner judged by Penny Harter. Chad Lee Robinson (b. 1980) is a seasoned award-winning writer who has been on the haiku scene for a very long time now, and continues to excite with his exactitude to place, both in geograpical birthplace, and on familial grounds. This is a writer of prowess, of sense of place and identity, and that’s very appealing to someone like me who often feels he has no anchor in polite society, but finds anchorage in writing like this, it’s vital to my well-being.
the Big Dipper –
rows of corn connect
farm to farm
my grandmother’s Bible–
And I hear of an older brother who died tragically over a quarter of a century ago, on June 11, 1990:
my brother’s gravestone
under the moss a darkness
that won’t come off
One of the greatest strengths and sense of identity for haiku is the acknowledgment of seasons, real, actual, allegorically, culturally, and mythologically woven. This book is a four-part series exploring the seasons around South Dakota starting with The Tractor’s Radio, the title of the Spring section and contains 11 haiku. Robinson says: “My family has deep roots in South Dakota. So, while many haiku in The Deep End of the Sky depict the farm landscape of America’s heartland, others are more personal, touching on aging and the loss of loved ones, such as this one…”
speaking of the dead
in a softer voice
Rows of Corn is the second is the title of the summer section and features 11 haiku that focus on farm-related tasks and continues to explore familial relationships.
the scent of muskmelon
from the next hill
Farm Lights is the third section and the title of the autumn section. It gifts us with eleven haiku into the world of harvests; chores preparing for winter, and hunting, when October is the season:
the decoy’ s touch-ups
in a different hue
And a time of apples and wine:
apple scent . . .
flecks of harvest dust
float in the wine
This section contains a haiku that was anthologised in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W.W. Norton, 2013) as well as winning individual awards from The Heron’s Nest magazine, and The Haiku Foundation:
migrating geese —
the things we thought we needed
darken the garage
Home Early was originally called “Shiver”, and is the fourth section, which announces winter and includes fourteen haiku. Robinson says: “It had 11 haiku in the original manuscript, but it was agreed upon that the collection would be stronger by making “Home Early” slightly longer to bring the reader out of winter, which can be long in South Dakota (I have seen snow as early as October and as late as May), and into spring, or at least hint at the coming of spring. As the section title suggests, many of the haiku found here are more introspective than in previous sections.”
the corner drawer full
of soup labels
the Christmas tree made from
racks of antlers
This is perhaps the finest solo collection I’ve read in a decade, and I have witnessed some very fine collections over those years. It’s thematic layout and tone is rock steady and consistent in its interior and interactive motifs, and I feel I have almost lived in South Dakota during its four seasons, and grown all the more for that.
a farmer sets
the curve of his cap
What Was Here
Julie Warther (Author), J S Graustein (Calligrapher) Publisher: Folded Word (2015)
Julie Warther is another internationally recognized haiku poet, and serves as Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America. She is a multi-award winning writer with her work anthologi sed including A New Resonance 9: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press 2015); Haiku 2014 (Modern Haiku Press) and The Red Moon Anthologies (2013-2015). There is an excitement in this book and it’s engendered by the seasons of Autumn and Winter, possibly two of the most iconic of seasons for haiku:
a notebook full
of blank pages
Warther captures the movement of the two seasons in and of themselves as well as the transitions of winter through, into, and around autumn:
this side of the pane
the wind nothing
but swaying treetops
whispers of winter
pass row by row
through the cornfield
As a man who remembers the boy in him, and the puzzlement, excitement, and awe of a first British winter in full snowscape: I remember opening our front door to find another door of snow and ice, three quarters up the frame in the smaller Winter of 1961-62. The big one, almost mythological in its dimension, and had me forever hooked on snow and Christmas, was of me walking thigh deep in snow, on my total own, no other children, not even adults around, on the way to Primary School, where I smashed my head on a carless road, which at least stopped me feeling cold as I plowed through fields of snow to get to the school in that bigger winter of 1962-63. Now I have a nose for snow:
But even Winter has to pass:
the sound of sunlight
dripping from icicles
The seasons are still an adventure, despite my love of urban-bound haiku, and gendai which sometimes is the equivalent of Science Fiction warning us a year ahead, five, ten years ahead of where things might go wrong; and Warther shows us this excitement vital to our being. We forget what an impact a season can bring, and not just through natural history, or ‘nature’ but the games and festivities we build around them.
Both Chad Lee Robinson and Julie Warther bring that excitement of knowing the seasons, both the outdoor ones, and our internal ones as we grow older.
The Sound of Shadows is Chase Gagnon's first poetry chapbook and this writer, paraphrasing the blurb I gave the book “…edges his work with atmospheremade larger by the storyteller’s gift. It could be said, paraphrasing Chase’s words, to be firefly ghosts in a frosted mason jar in moonlight. He is very much an up and coming writer creating excitement amongst writers and readers. His work is a breeze of shadows; a gypsy's finger-cymbals pinching the stars; but oh how slowly the fireflies disappear while he slides his lips across the harmonica."
Chase Gagnon in his own words:
“My first attempts at the form were less than impressive, usually adhering to the classic 5/7/5 structure and using a lot of “filler” words. I wouldn't even consider what I was writing at that point haiku… I was discouraged at first, because I didn't think I'd ever be able to write like that, no matter how hard I tried. These little poems literally took my breath away, and being only fifteen years old, I was opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world and I didn't quite understand that at the time.
The one poet who molded me into who I am today, and who I am becoming, is Alan Summers. He saw something in me that not a whole lot of other people did, and encouraged me to submit my poetry to haiku magazines, and always offered advice on how to improve my poems. Today, I'm 20 years old, and I have well over 100 haiku published and I have won a decent amount of awards.”
A bad early history of family homes burnt down, relocation, domestic abuse, and the ripples of violence that mark a family has honed this writer. Thankfully now, as he also fights depression, his mom is happily re-married (just recently) and the family have never been tighter, and his poetry from haiku, tanka, to haibun, and other forms cover a lifetime only just reached a score in years, with yet more to come:
no turning back
in our whispers
no one's footsteps
left to follow —
late winter rain
I slide my lips
across the harmonica
into an empty cow skull
my shadow shackled
around my ankles
the taste of dark chocolate
in her kiss
Deeply romantic, lyrical, brutally honest, always experiential even when Edgar Allan Poe drifts across, this is a young man’s journey out of hell, and halfway to somewhere better. This young man’s seasons, his themes of struggle, young love, and writing his way out of a bad life made good, made possible, by a strong and loving mom and family is one we can’t perhaps experience, but we can be honored by his stubborness to communicate with both himself and others like him, and that we too are included.
grandma’s chip bowl
David Jacobs Publisher: Hub Editions, Hub Haiku Series
Chapbook: 107 pages; 112 haiku
ISBN 978-0-9576460-4-9 Price: £6.50 The book is available to order from the author. He's a very nice to email, and even ask him to sign the book! :-) To contact David Jacobs: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Jacobs is a born and bred Londoner whose work appears from Blithe Spirit to Modern Haiku, Acorn, Frogpond, Haiku Presence, Heron's Nest, Bottle Rockets, and many others. Jacobs’ work has also been selected by Red Moon Press for its best of the year anthologies, and received the British Haiku Award in 2011, plus receiving other prizes and commendations in haiku competitions.
This collection is a Magnum Opus with one hundred and twelve haiku, in comparison to the other three collections. Thankfully the power of its themes make this a wonderful read, and not at all bloated. These strong themes encompass other seasons, those outside nature, but of it too, such as our daily commute, thoughts of death (practical and otherwise) and one of the most powerful, endearing, and blisteringly powerful themes of today, that of mental health, as well as heartbreaking glimpses of a father and son relationship. They hold the book together, they are the stitches of multiple deep cuts that life rends from us. If you buy this book, buy it for the theme of son alone, or any one of the multiple themes. The book as whole is an amazingly woven work of lanes and roads making for a map of life. And if you can bear to read about depression, it’s worth it, as someone who has endured Black Dog all my life, and not knowing until a cafe owner in Hull switched a light on in my attic (metaphorically), and by accident has helped me deal with it.
This is an important book. It is not without its faults. I would have removed a number of haiku, and some that are flat statements, and those not quite close enough to the staunchly honest ripping away that senryu is. But keep at least one copy, or better still, two copies of this collection, one by the bedside, and one for sunlight, and when the light grows dim. The themes of the commute; depression; walking; walking without dogs; parents; death; visiting graves and cemetaries; trains; and his son are stunningly interwoven, showing great craft and care, in creating a collection that means something beyond the sum of its individual haiku. We are deeply privileged to be able to navigate the inner landscape of David Jacobs’ seasons, and it’s why experiential haiku at its most honest stands high on my list. We need these personal truths that some of us relate to, and be guided and comforted by, and grow by, and hopefully initiate hope in the dimming light. I’m also addicted, not just to personal accounts, biographical haiku, but the signature of poignancy, and the growing accounts of father and son are difficult to read without flinching, but when was haiku supposed to be pretty?
moon and stars
my son begins
to hold secrets
The skill of senryu, certainly the Western adaptation, and of others from outside the West and Japan is to at least double layer the poem: There is the immediate sight gag but if you stay a moment, longer than you normally might, there are layers of poignancy and pathos, which are underlying ingredients of great humor.
piling into their van
Another type of senryu approach is something superior to simply self-depreciation, and it’s putting a microscope onto an even smaller aspect of life, that is incredibly intimate, and we might otherwise bluff through, and its one with its quirky hope, humor, sadness, and a fight against futility:
I fasten the one button
on my boxers
The empty restaurant, and we, the visitors are alone, we are the coupleless individual, faced with a sea of candlelight waiting for preferred groups:
all the tables
David Jacobs also artfully interweaves more than one theme/motif into his haiku, senryu, and melded versions equally of senryu and haiku:
the cemetery cat
returns my stare
the hole in the fridge
left by the cake box
I tread a path
round the lovers
And poems obviously of his son, of his disappearances, arrivals, departures?
a full moon startling
my early night
sharing the same
sofa as my son
my son’s email
starts with sorry
Jacobs captures the awkwardness of the invisible disease:
the counsellor grapples
with my childhood
the only one
without a dog
a better day
the sink ant
granted a reprieve
Jacobs is also a practitioner of finely nuanced one-line haiku, but I won’t give more than one example, as you must get the book, and witness this astuteness for yourself:
twenty yards from another rat rainy spring
I’ve actually left out so many of the strongest haiku in the collection, not that these are anything but strong, but there’s more, so much more to admire. It makes me want to walk the South Bank (London) with David Jacobs for at least one brilliant day, bringing along our Black Dog, and our shades of humor and poignancy, and just laughing through our inexplicable sadness, and crying when we are as happy as a couple of stupid poets can be: And for there to be a little light behind my blue eyes.
the station mouse obeys
the Keep Left sign
Sometimes we can breach distances, and this book will help:
the distance between me
and the carnival
Four quite remarkable collections. The urban trials of Gagnon and Jacobs, and the rural scape of seasons turning and turning with Warther and Robinson, and that I can turn with all of them as I turn the pages of these four collections is a humbling achievement.
First publication: Blithe Spirit Vol 25 No. 3 August 2015.