Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 1: All Saint's Day

A few of my fellow writers are doing this November Novel Writing Month thing, for which they plan to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Not being a novelist, and not even being a very prolific poet at the moment, I thought that I might follow the concept in the most basic, simple form I can think of. So my plan: I'm going to try to write a haiku every day for as long as I can.

As many of us may remember from back in grade school, a haiku is a syllabic Japanese poetry form of three lines in which the lines are five, seven, and five syllables respectively. A proper haiku includes a kigo, or season word, indicating the season in which the poem is set. For serious haiku writers, there are large almanacs of kigo for inspiration. For example, references to the arrival of cranes, grave visits, and chysanthemums would all signal a (Japanese) poem set in autumn. As a natural history essayist and avid student of nature, this seasonal attentiveness of the form appeals to me--in addition to its brevity. I often resort to writing haiku as a form of writing something when I've got writer's block. I find that the constraints and minimalism of the form then may free me up or jump start me to write longer pieces.

Several years ago a dear friend gave me a copy of the Les Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, complete with replicas of some of the beautiful illuminations painted by the Limbourg brothers. This "Book of Hours" was primarily a religious calendar, and its works of art not only depict seasonally appropriate scenes of everyday life in the French countryside, but also include religious scenes and private references to the life of the Duke himself. For some reason, this combination of the spiritual, the mundane, and the beautiful has always appealed to me and I've often wondered how to respond to the Book of Hours in a poetic way. This may be it, or not.

This is not a Book of Hours but a Book of Days, because most days one haiku is probably going to be about all I can handle. So, here's today's, inspired by the bright green parsley plant still flourishing amid frost-killed marigolds in my garden on one of the last warm mornings of fall:

Parsley sprigs still green
despite several nights of frost.
Slowly winter comes.

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