Monday, 4 January 2016

Haiku and the Fragmented Heart



I was always a girl in love with words.

I began a love affair with poetry in a second hand bookshop in the city near our small prairie town when I was around twelve.

After passing stacks of comic books, piles and piles of regency romance and popular mystery novels, I found several dusty shelves at the very back of the shop heavy with once well-loved and well read collections of poetry.  Thin volumes and thick, often in rich burgundy binding.  Visually beautiful.  I felt like a girl in a novel when I would reach up almost cautiously, hoping my fingers would land on just the right volume and lift it reverently off the shelf, gently wipe the dust from its cover.  Magic.

I had long had an affinity for old, forgotten things.  A legacy from my Icelandic grandfather who owned three antique\ junk shops in the Chatham area before he up and sold it all and moved to Haiti, where he remained for the rest of his life, building houses, writing letters, working with those who had nothing material to call their own.  He became known down on that ravaged island as their beloved "grand-père".  He wrote that the children would hold hands and dance after him wherever he walked or near wherever he worked singing about the kindness of their white grand-père.

My own memories of him begin with hot sunlight, dust billowing up behind his old rusty car as we drove down the dirt lanes of the prairies in search of dusty treasures for sale in someone's barn.  Some colorful beads, some unusual glassware, something strange and unexpected.  I was a very little girl but I remember clearly the thrill of possibility.

That thrill never quite left me.  The possibility of finding treasure in old bookshops is one that still makes my heart beat faster.

I spent a lot of my time reading poetry.  I began with what was easiest and most available to me, the flowery poems of the Romantic period.  I spent a long time reading them but the words never quite spoke to the deepest and purest part of my soul.  They never quite reached me.  I was simply reading the wrong sort of poetry for the person I am.

Many years later, I am discovering the poets that do.  I recognize them as though they were my dearest friends.  Soulmates of sorts. Their thoughts resonate deeply in my heart.  They make me set down my book, shut my eyes and repeat their words again and again until I feel my soul lift and heal.  The words aren't pretty or flowery but they are deeply, authentically beautiful.

We need this sort of thoughtful, painful beauty in our lives.  There is too much rushing, too much fragmentation of the soul, too much distraction and devoting our time to things that don't matter.  There is little time for art, for lingering, for simply being.

I also feel that along with poetry,  the art of the haiku, especially those of Japanese poet Basho, bring us back to the core of ourselves.  Their simplicity is staggering and profound.  Alluring.  The focus on nature puts our hearts where they are comfortable residing.  Through haiku we are able to focus on one thing at a time.  We are able to feel deeply.  This is peaceful and healing.

Basho's words in the following verse are hauntingly beautiful.

Deep autumn,
How does my neighbor live I wonder?

This verse was the first of Basho's I stumbled upon while reading the book "Under the Tuscan Sun" and like it touched the author of that book, it also touched me deeply.  As a girl in love with words, as a woman who feels we are often live disconnected from all life and from others although the desire for connection is at the heart of all we undertake, it spoke to me.

I began with this haiku and I sought out books of Basho's other work and it was like quenching a thirst.  I felt the world begin to whisper in my ears again.  In the same way it when I was a child.  In the same way it did before smart phones and technology conspired to keep our eyes glued to the screens in front of us and safely off the souls around us.  Keep us from the risk of feeling deeply.  Of loving even when it hurts and challenges us.  The hard work of living.

Haiku show us that the magic is still there.  In a leaping frog.  In a quiet village.  In a still pond.  In every bird that breaks our heart with its song.

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(I connect these words to my memories of my grandfather because he lived a life of deep commitment and connection to those he served through his work.  He saw how his neighbor (in his case, the people of Haiti) lived and set about meeting them where they were.  Loving them through the work he did, through the humor and simple acceptance he showed them, through his life of giving up in order than others could have.  It might seem odd for me to draw a connection between a wandering Buddhist monk\ poet with a deep love of nature and my workaholic, chain smoking Catholic Icelandic grandfather but it really isn't.  They share this.  Profound love, be it of nature or of others.  A disdain for material items.  A desire to do better than the minimum society tells us we should do.  They were both perhaps, unconventional.

Two men of deep thought and profound intelligence.  One a man of words and one a man of action.)



11 comments:

  1. Lovely! The picture you painted. I don't have a head for poetry but I do like simple verses. Nice to hear about your grandfather.

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    1. Thank you Rachna! I also like simple verse. The simpler the better.:) Thanks for your comment!

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  2. Poetry was always a passion of mine <3

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    1. I am so glad to hear that! I'd love to know who you enjoy reading if you feel like sharing.:)

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  3. I love this post. Your writing becomes more and more beautiful and profound as time goes by. If I had read that Haiku in passing, it probably wouldn't have meant too much to me. But after reading your words and then reading the poets ... it did move me. You have a gift, Colleen. You have undoubtedly inherited some of your Grandfather's traits of profound love and a desire to do more than merely exist.

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    1. Monica thank you so much. Your comment means a lot to me.

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  4. Speechless...beautifully put. Filled with love.

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    1. Thank you Judy! Have a wonderful New Year!

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  5. Oh I love this - especially that "I was simply reading the wrong sort of poetry for the person I am."

    I come from a family of poets and painters and artists of all sorts, and I've always felt badly that I've never connected much to any poetry I've read... But maybe it's just that I've been reading the wrong sort!

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    1. :) I think the same is true for so many things, don't you? We search out the art that speaks to us because it won't all touch us, the poetry or literature, the music, etc.
      Thank you for your comment!

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  6. Any chance you could delve and write a book about your grandfather??? I just finished reading Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls about her grandmother's life. If you haven't read it, I wonder if you might not like it.... Incidentally, I picked up an earlier book by her about her mother. Three chapters in, I'm not sure I can finish it. It is just too painful (Glass Castles is the name of it.)

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