Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry as Fiction

Lately, I’ve been feeling like Josef Grand in Camus’ The Plague who spends an interminable amount of time rewriting the same sentence about the beautiful horsewoman riding through the Bois du Boulogne on a May morning, or was it riding on a May morning through the Bois du Boulogne.

I have been trying for days to catch a particular feeling in a haiku. Below are two versions I have come up with.

The cry of sea gulls
and I am a child again
in holiday mood.

Sixty years later –
the cry of sea gulls recalls
summer holidays.

The problem is that neither of these captures exactly what I am looking for. When I was a child my grandfather owned a bach (New Zealand equivalent of primitive cottage) with rain water, no hot water system and an outside dunny that had to be emptied. If, when I hear the sound of sea gulls I close my eyes, I am on my way to that summer bach. The train from Christchurch has just arrived at Lyttelton, I am on the wharf smelling salt and diesel, about to step on to the launch which is going to chug the 15 – 20 minutes across the harbour. Every time I hear sea gulls crying I have that memory but I can find no way, in a three line poem, to indicate that one moment can be repeated again and again.

One of my friends finds it difficult to compress an idea or feeling into a three line haiku because she needs a “Once upon a time…”. My poem about the sea gulls also requires a “Once upon a time…”.

And this next one is no better.

sitting desolate
in an autumnal garden –
then a grey warbler

The only way I can indicate the wonderful lifting of mood I experience when I hear a grey warbler is to suggest that I was desolate first. But I can feel as happy as Larry and then be immensely elated by the sound of a grey warbler. Again, when I hear one, I am running down the track to the beach past the high grass with the smell of dry hay and broom seeds popping, round the corner and under the cool of the pine trees, over the stile, and down the root-sculpted path. So once more the poem tells only half of the story and not even the right half.

Thus it can be seen that all poetry is fiction.


  1. Hello Diana
    I have been away and then had a virus but now back 'on air'. Haiku's are interesting. I read a long poem once which was a string of haiku and quite successful. Your second last paragraph, though, before 'Thus it can be seen that all poetry is fiction', was your real poem for me. I can feel the track and path, see the grass, hear the popping seeds ....
    Jacquie (Pryor - Google always says I'm anonymous and I'm not!)

  2. the infinite now
    give thanks for natures music
    our joyous journey

    575 whose counting ☺
    continuing to be inspired by yours truly

  3. Your haiku evokes beautiful summer thoughts and is successful in giving me dreamy thoughts and distractions from the tasks of my Friday morning. Thank you for the text on Alice's birthday. We were in Wellington at the time visiting Sophie who was home briefly from Sydney. And of course today is Olivia's birthday, 25!
    Lots of love

  4. So wonderful to discover you. We share a love of haiku and an unfortunate diagnosis. I look forward to following your blog.