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:
We will let you know more about these courses.

Call of the Page (Alan & Karen)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“Being Human - the ordinary intensity” a look at senryu, the sibling of haiku, a contest, and a very funny checklist!

“Being Human - the ordinary intensity” a look at senryu, the sibling of haiku

I don't often accept offers to judge, but I couldn't resist this senryu contest!

For full submission details, information and examples:

When we compose haiku we might worry about ticking the right boxes for people, but with senryu we can breathe out, and untick them! 

So what am I looking for? 
Any topic, and any approach to that topic. 
I'm open to styles, and after all it's just one senryu that you send, and it's free!

何歳に, 見えるか競う, クラス会

Nansai ni
Mieru ka kisou

the class reunion
where we compete to see
who looks youngest

English translation by Alan Summers

The best list of differences between haiku and senryu ever, and it’s funny too!!!

From the book “Let’s start right now! The easiest text book of haiku and senryu”  
(これから 始める俳句‧川柳いちばんやさしい入門書
© Takeshi Mizuno, and Saki Kono (神野紗希
This above check-list is also on pages 44-45, where the list and an interview help determine whether you lean more towards haiku or towards senryu. Maybe both, why not!

Go to Page 39 for the start of the brilliantly helpful interview.
Musings over the hodgepodge: Interview with takeshi Mizuno

From another senryu expert:
"The basic theme is anxiety," Sanryu Bito says, who edits the current events senryu column for Yomiuri Shimbun.

He then mentions that senryu can tackle the fear of firing, and of parents' worries over children whose expensive educations have not helped them land jobs.  He heads the Japan Senryu Pen Club. Senryu, which was born in the 18th century, has a mass following in the popular press. Like manga, the Japanese comic books, senryu gets little critical respect but has its finger on the pulse of modern Japan.

Shall I do it now?
Shall I do it after lunch?
Is it already 5?

Back to Takeshi Mizuno and he says:
One of senryu’s principles is that «nature can be like people». 

For example, here is one of his senryu:


I like flowers 
they never ask 
for a loan 

One I posted today onto the Australian Haiku Society website kukai challenge, with this prompt of ‘seeing the world with a child’s eyes’

converted dollhouse
her astronaut’s eyes
filling with starlight 

Alan Summers

Alan, checking out all sides of himself!

I fail to be taken seriously by Karen, thankfully!

Friday, June 08, 2018

Haiku: The Keyhole Of Its Details David Briggs, with Alan Summers

photo©Alan Summers 2018

Haiku: The Keyhole Of Its Details
David Briggs, with Alan Summers

AS: “I set David Briggs a challenge to talk about haiku, and write a few from my Slip-Realism criteria.”

DB: For me, the importance of haiku in Anglophone poetry lies not so much in discussion of the form’s metrical convention, or of what haiku is, but –– rather –– in what it does. And that is to hold our eye to the keyhole of its details, such that we see through its language into, well, the sublime. It’s that haiku feeling, that ‘stop-time’ moment, that ability of a perfectly-compressed image to cause a sudden shift in our way of seeing: to make us see through the slats of the outhouse door. Everest; or, the late-morning, many-angled sunlight reaching out to touch a bowl of cherries; perhaps, Autumn walking purposely through a cemetery.

Ideally, every well-turned image in a poem should aspire to recreate in the reader that hiaku feeling, and nowhere more so than at the ends of stanzas, the ends of poems. I want the end of a poem I write to leave an echoey silence like the few seconds of loudless sound following an organ crescendo that’s been suddenly cut short in a cathedral.

Many poets sine Pound have found haiku (and tanka) to be effective materials to use as the building blocks of a poem. Matthew Caley has used tanka to great effect in poems like ‘Between Women’ and ‘Squibs’, in his third collection “Apparently” (Bloodaxe, 2010), and the poem ‘Serendipity Ode’, from his second book, could be read as renku, a haiku sequence, with the unusual addition of a rhyming (or near-rhymed) final word in each stanza. Here a are a few of my highlights from that poem:

would us believe
silence is a form of neurosis.

By cruel decree
the High Queen made a dozen servants weave
six neckties and six nooses.

Mohammed Ali
was a wicked blur of gloves––
part burning bush, part Moses.

when Rimbaud had his leg removed
it sprouted roses.

By way of personal example, the opening poem in my first collection, ‘Twenty Below Zero’, might aslo be viewed (if I’m generous to myself) as a short sequence of ‘found’ haiku hiding in a ten-line poem:

After reaching the peninsula
we received a silver bullet,
edges flecked with powder, as a gift.

Steam from Turkish coffee
syrupped through our window
in the marbled night.

Wrapped in bear pelts we huddled
on the stone floor, turning it over
in our hands, memorising duels

we had fought on our way to the sea.

Similarly, in a poem called ‘Drought’ there’s another three-line sequence where I tried to compress an image in a style similar to that required of haiku:

Dust nourishing nothing;
swarming lightly through summer,
its porch steps and orange groves.

Here the kigo (or season word), “summer”, which is typically verdant, is given a different context, so as to set up the end of the poem wherein the protagonist, dust, keeps

expanding its Empire of Nil
among wheatrows, in gutters, in pithcraters.
Rain is either hearsay, or heresy.

The more I consider my poetry, the more I realise that I’m trying to build a body of poems structured around a series of interlocking, imagist tercets and couplets, striving always for a deft use of the down-stroke that’ll evoke that haiku feeling. To give a final example, at the end of a poem about the alarming number of suicides from Clifton Suspension Bridge, near where I live, I wanted to evoke the forces that compel people to such desperate straits, be they economic, familial, psychological, psychriatric, or whatever. The poem, which speaks to the reader in the second-person voice, describes the ‘you’ it’s addressing as having been drawn to the bridge, as though by a magnet, late at night, only to intone:

understand, finally,
that no-one jumps:
everyone is pushed.

It isn’t descriptive, it’s probably closer to being a moral or aphorism, and it breaks the haiku principle of presenting a moment without commentary, but I was trying, in haiku, to invoke a moment of altered perception through the detonation of a tightly-compressed grenade of language.

You’ll have your own views on whether or not I’m getting anywhere close but, hopefully, you’ll see why I think that haiku is, in many ways, the essence of poetry. Somehow, it’s what we’re all striving for, whether we know it or not.

wind gusts on Smallwater, 
a skein of ashes, 
mother and son turning home

David Briggs

AS: “It’s a beautiful haiku in those last two lines:

a skein of ashes,
mother and son
turning home

Allegorical yet literal, a flight of geese, and a person’s funereal ashes. We don’t need to know more:  It’s very incompleteness is heartbreakingly full of hope. I tingle reading those lines, and remain undecided over your original or my suggested version though I’m veering towards the original.”

unspooling whisk and tick
of a fishing fly loosed
at riverine shadows -
thought swims off downstream

“We often leave out words and phrases that another kind of poet would and should keep, and why not? I feel, on a personal level, that haiku works to enable readers differently. Haiku, to me, revolve around something like a wheel with its spaces between its spokes, and it’s those gaps that add to the particular counter-intuitive poem, to some, as its design (form).

For example:

unspooling whisk and tick
of a fishing fly loosed
at riverine shadows -
thought swims off downstream

Riverine shadows, a wonderful phrase adding to a hauntingness that haiku can be so good at as well.”

David Briggs added to this discussion recently (Friday 15th June 2018) by saying:

"I think I’ve already said, during our earlier conversation, most of what I’ve thought about the place of haiku in my writing practice, but I do think I should emphasise the importance of your editorial eye in shaping the ‘fishing-fly’ poem that appeared on Troutswirl

As anyone can see from the last part of the interview that produced the poem, my initial version is more cluttered with detail, with clusters of sound-words like “whisk and tick”, and with the added complexity of the metaphor in the final line. It’s just busier all round. And I think that’s pretty distinctive of my writing generally. 

Your stripped back (and I think superior) version shows me the value of letting in some air and some space. Of really stripping back to the essence of the image. Maybe, when I’m struggling with a line or section of a poem, it would be a good idea to imagine that it’s going to be carved in stone. Then I think I’d consider just how necessary each word really is. Perhaps this is the best discipline that haiku can teach any writer?"

David Briggs received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2002. His first collection The Method Man (Salt Modern Poets, 2010) was shortlisted for the London Festival New Poetry Award. His second collection Rain Rider (Salt Modern Poets, 2013) is a winter selection of the Poetry Book Society.  

David Briggs is currently (2018) the Bristol Poetry Institute poet-in-residence, Faculty of Arts, University of Bristol:

Haiku: The Keyhole Of Its Details (David Briggs, with Alan Summers)

Published: Blithe Spirit 25:3 (British Haiku Society, 2015)


Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. 

This week’s poem was:

a fishing fly loosed
at riverine shadows
David Briggs
Haiku: The Keyhole of its Details, Blithe Spirit 25:3 (2015)


Thursday, June 07, 2018

When haiku get complicated - an attempt to explain along with W H Auden’s Night Train and the Royal Mail, and an owl, of course

“When poets are in their writing zone, unusual images and symbolism occurs. We can’t always explain as it’s unconscious writing, a little like automatic writing.”

Alan Summers
Charlotte Digregorio’s Writer’s Blog

Well, here’s an attempt to explain this one:

night train
a window screams
out of an owl

Alan Summers

Publication credits:
Bones - journal for contemporary haiku no. 14 (November 15th 2017)
Wales Haiku Journal - Gwdihŵ haiku sequence Spring 2018

Note: Gwdihŵ means: Owl
How you say it: Good-ee-hoo

Night trains have their own rhythm, where we are sleeping over, but on a long distance travelling train. We become owls prowling the night by rail, and owls are a potent symbol of the night. I’m also inspired by art that depict a surreal piece about a woman who is an owl. It’s purely imagistic, and part ekphrastic as well. But it also captures that ‘nightness’ of both that type of train travel, and the separation of day and night.

This one is certainly unusual, perhaps, but it's inspired by both art (paintings); and also deeply influenced by both NIGHT MAIL by W.H. Auden 

and this documentary called Night Mail:

"Night Mail is a 1936 English documentary film directed and produced by Harry Watt and Basil Wright, and produced by the General Post Office (GPO) film unit. The 24-minute film documents the nightly postal train operated by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) from London to Glasgow and the staff who operate it. Narrated by John Grierson and Stuart Legg, the film ends with a "verse commentary" written by W. H. Auden to score by composer Benjamin Britten. The locomotive featured in the film is Royal Scot Class No. 6115 Scots Guardsman."

"Night Mail premiered on 4 February 1936 at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in Cambridge, England in a launch programme for the venue. Its general release gained critical praise and became a classic of its own kind, much imitated by adverts and modern film shorts. Night Mail is widely considered a masterpiece of the British Documentary Film Movement."

And I just discovered this wonderful band of musicians called Public Service Broadcasting and their various music films including this one:


And a wonderful remake using mostly model trains, and is quietly brilliant!

Both show the excitement and industry of the people who work through the "owl hours" to make sure society gets their mail, coffees in the morning for the early shift workers, construction workers, and later, on the office and various retail workers.

I actually had to deconstruct where I got my inspiration from, but it is my poetic interpretation, as I was one of those "owl workers" from time to time. One of those "invisible workers" helping to make the world tick along as it starts to stir.

So back to the Caledonian Sleeper train at Euston Station ready to take us to Glasgow.

3 photos©Alan Summers
1st Euston Station,
2nd Karen Hoy at Euston
3rd Alan Summers at Euston

night train
a window screams
out of an owl

Line by line:

night train
The opening line, which acts as the anchor as it has a concrete image of a train at night, and more specifically, those overnight sleeper trains.

a window screams
Of course a window can't scream, although some can screech if you try to open one, perhaps at home, or embarrassingly somewhere else, where one is sticking. 

The line moves away from the normal concrete image (of a train) and we moving into different territory. Perhaps night, and night travelling are indeed 'different territory'.
sleeper train window blackout blind down©Alan Summers

out of an owl
The extraordinary continues with a window screaming out of an owl. We know this isn't possible, so we are moving into metaphorical land, and perhaps our, or certainly, my sub-consciousness. All those millions upon millions of direct and indirect, peripheral, images, sounds, and experiences from childbirth onwards, that the brain 24/7 incessantly collects and retains endlessly.

Of course owls make sounds, and one is actually called a Screech Owl, and here's another kind of owl 'screaming' into the night:

Of course there is no need to know my thought process, to know, or try to find out what the haiku is about, even, perhaps. This is just about working backwards as to why I might have written the poem. 

And even just now, typing up my notes, I realise how we collect a massive catalog of sounds and images, often mashed up, from life, from television, movies, even books, to computers, and various soundtracks of music to live events.

We have a labyrinth of visual and sound images competing against each other, all jumbled, and re-jumbled. 

Including our different stages of sleep at night, to slowing surfacing through those stages to full wakefulness in the morning. And of course who hasn't been abruptly woken up by some strange noise in the middle of the night, that we cannot make sense of, and that experience is stored away in our brain too. 

As a poet, this is all wonderful! Disturbing too, of course, but it is a storage for our poems. So when I reach out for a concrete image, from an actual experience, other images creep in. A train is full of windows, and in fact, our life is made up of windows. And the atmosphere of a sleeper train, with its own window, and the rhythm of the journey, going through the countryside, urban scapes, borders, will all have an effect on our sub-consciousness, and imagination. 

inverted train station©Alan Summers

I don't "know" why I wrote this poem, but I do know I was reaching for something outside a partnership of two concrete images this time. The poem just pulled me along, as did my unconsciousness, and sometimes two worlds collide, that of the everyday waking concrete world, and that of the pre-conscious:
Freud called it pre-conscious, or what some refer to as the subconscious. It is much larger than the conscious mind and accounts for around 50-60% of your brain capabilities. 

In my forthcoming book, I'll mention about a technique that can help anyone if they are struggling with a haiku, perhaps it's too matter-of-fact, or prosaic, or by directly stating the moments, or incidents, it's not saying more, not saying enough.

In the meantime, why not watch this lovely and romantic suspense movie, which had stage sets designed by Dali, look up Spellbound, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it ends on a train journey:

Why owls? 
Because they are such strong symbols, and they are night creatures:

Cropped by a painting I purchased by artist Dave Alderslade

The scream, of the train whistle, perhaps even inspired by the 39 Steps movie:

More about screams and steam trains:

And of course the great scene in Some Like It Hot

But not quite the end here, as we turn to a different haiku, although it involves owls, of course...

empirical owls…
the sheep gather quietly
into their own bones

Alan Summers
Wales Haiku Journal issue one (Spring 2018)

When day turns to night, it's a different empire. There is also the truth of the night, that owls know all about.

Alan as a child at St Davids, Wales©Alan Summers