Monday, 25 August 2014

Robert Gray - Haiku style

The once only time that I have posted our Australian poet Robert Gray (you remember, Salvation Army Hostel, back in June 2013), belies how much I truly love and admire this guy’s work.  I have this thing where if I love something, I try not to revisit it too often for fear of losing the fascination, becoming too familiar so there’s no intrigue, no mystique, afraid that the appeal will become diluted.  But now is the time for me to sample some Robert Gray because I’m going on holiday for a few weeks so I need to hone my observational skills for when I’m out there capturing daily journal entry scenes and events.  Having said that, I’m still not going to post my favourite Gray poem.  No, I’m going to post what I practice on.  I’m practicing on capturing pure objective experience – like taking a photo – and Robert Gray would have to be one of the best imagery/descriptive poets to learn from.  So I’m reading over a number of his Haiku style poems – Haiku is a Japanese style of poetry where in a short burst (3 lines; 17 or so syllables), two images or ideas (usually from nature) are joined together by what is known as a kireji (cutting word).  The idea is to capture and convey objective experience, with-holding from any analysis of what stands behind the images you have seen – with proper Haiku, the reader will leap to his/her own perfect interpretation.  So here is a sample from Gray, simply titled, 15 Poems.

15 poems
(Robert Gray,  1945 - )
The curtains blowing
open, a sock stretched apart,
wide meadows.
Following a van up
a winding forest road. Swallows
flit between us.
Darkness, lake-hush;
a rowboat, allowed to drift, bumps
the starlight.
As if the sun
out of boredom has doodled weeds ……
a backyard.
This moon, the last
tilted sauterne, in a glass
that’s firelit.
A definition
of art deco: in black and cream
the butterfly.
Boiling water
poured from a saucepan
into a water-bottle’s neck.
On the edge of your mind
the waves fall.
Wintry sunlight;
the dry, plastery legs of a woman
in tennis skirt.
Dark bedroom. Listening
to a rain-wet tree  -  its lovely
Homesick for Australia,
a dream of rusty Holdens
in sunlit forests by the highway.
A cathedral interior –
these long tapers of rain lighting
candles on the twilit river.
Staved-in, the old rowboat
we had as kids
has foundered this last time
in a field of grass.
Wire coat-hangers,
misshapen, in a hotel wardrobe.
Steamy afternoon sun.
Cold swimming pool,
plastic blue. A bare tree’s reflection,
Its roots x-rayed.
Two magpies stepping
on the verandah. A ploughed hillside,
smoke and cumulus.
In his working life, Robert Gray was once Writer in Residence at Meiji University, Tokyo, so it stands to reason he can write a pretty good Haiku.  But what I do like about 15 Poems, is that each one is a true-blue Aussie Haiku.  Gray has replaced cherry blossom seasons and awakening of sweet oriental love with ‘rusty Holdens’, backyards, magpies and verandahs – and I can feel it!  It speaks directly to my experience as a country Australian.

My link to Robert Gray’s, 15 Poems is a number of short bursts I’ve scribbled over time on the back of shopping dockets, beer coasters, tissues and scraps of paper in the car – but don’t take my effort as a study in the Haiku form – I guess its verbose Haiku with sometimes a touch of analysis.  I wrote From Belmont & Back – 10 Poems as an exercise in instinctive observation – on your normal day, getting to work and back home again, take a snapshot, quick observation.  Haiku – it’s a fun exercise and it sharpens your powers of observation. Now I’m ready for holiday!

2014.  I get up, I go to work, I come home, nothing happens in my life; every day I see my world.
                                  Belmont & Back – 10 Poems.
Still of the dawn,
high on a hill, way out to sea,
lightning bursts without noise,
will there ever be,
any more of those,
grand naval battles?
A pile of musky shoes,
cracked and weary leather,
randomly arranged,
on the floor of my wardrobe,
viewed through a glass panel, they
might serve as equal reminder,
“Arbeit Macht Frei”.
Parrots arrive out of control
with schoolyard chatter,
before the bell is rung.
One lands on the balcony rail,
turns, lifts a feathered tail
and quickly drops calcium lime,
like a schoolboy re-dressing
from having run to the toilet.
Commuter morning,
an old street woman,
shouldn’t need to do that,
pulls a wheelie bin over,
reaches for whatever’s inside.
A suburban hunter,
emptying and resetting her traps.
Grass grown halfway up the back,
of a floral club settee,
too soon for clean-up day.
Near here, another Fantastic furniture deal
and a flat-screen TV,
will have taken over a house.
Barrel bodied man in Mayfield
gone to early retirement,
comes out on his verandah.
One plastic ribbon from the fly curtain,
catches and trails over his shoulder,
like the lash of a whip tickling flesh
in a moment before it is cracked,
Jack Russell from the cement,
outside the Sunnyside Inn,
keeps a one-eyed watch,
on his master’s mobility scooter,
moves up to the lambs-wool seat,
now the days are changing to winter.
Distracted, a DIY builder
progressing a villa-board shed
once started
along the house boundary, instead
pauses to examine and squeeze
at an old scab
on the end of his elbow.
Popped bonnet,
of an early model Ford,
or Commodore,
commands public concern,
but its only for males
to stand and ponder stare,
as might a heart surgical team,
down at the engine bay.
Never before a sky that colour blue,
nor sandy clouds
spread across an inverted beach,
that the traffic descending to Belmont,
instead of the usual bullying,
slows to a reverent crawl.
                                                           J. O. White

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