Autumn 2016 sees a new course format introduced at the Poetry School: the Studio. These three-week, online courses are designed to get you writing as much as you can in a short period of time. We talk to Lynne Rees about how the course will work and why she wanted to teach a Haiku Rebellion Studio.
Hi Lynne, thanks for joining us for a quick chat! We’re really delighted to welcome you as a new tutor to CAMPUS. When I visited Japan a few years ago, arriving at a party I was encouraged to tell the room a bit about myself to avoid repeating the same conversation to several people during the evening. I extend that terrifying custom to you. You have the room…
I was born and grew up in Port Talbot, South Wales and started writing quite late in life, when I was 30. Since 2004 I’ve published a novel, 2 collections of poetry, a collaborative volume of flash prose, a psycho-geography of my hometown – Real Port Talbot – and, just recently, The Hungry Writer, from my blog of the same name. I’m not sure if that makes me appear eclectic or as if I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up! I was introduced to contemporary English-language haiku during a writers’ exchange in Ireland in 2005 and have continued to research and write both haiku and related forms and publish occasional critical essays on good practice.
Aha, so you’ll be teaching a poetry studio on Haiku. Rebellion, eh? Will Basho’s bones be trembling?
I doubt it: Basho was the original rebel and innovator. The haiku, as a form, didn’t exist until he took the hokku, the opening verse of traditional collaborative literary games, and created a stand-alone poem. Although it wasn’t until the 19th century that name haiku was given to them, by another notable haiku master, Shiki.
There’s a rebellious haiku in your course description ‘all the times / I have been wrong / fresh paint’. Where is that from?
That’s one of my own haiku that closes a haibun, a form that juxtaposes prose and (generally) haiku poetry, from my collection, forgiving the rain (Snapshot Press, 2012). You can read it below. It’s a form I often use for memoir, using the prose element to explore the narrative and the haiku for epiphany or insight.
I’m inordinately proud of that haiku: a young Welsh writer and burlesque performer had it tattooed on her arm because the words meant that much to her. I don’t think a writer can have a greater compliment!
18” by 16”, felt tip pen on coloured paper by Ffion, age 4
There is a red house with orange windows and a pink door. There is a black cat whose feet have slipped off the bottom of the page. There is a tree sprouting flowers, petals pushing against the paper’s edge, a lavender sky with a sun and a crescent moon. And floating above the roof of the house, two stick people, holding hands, unwilling to come down to earth and decide whether the sun is about to set, or if the moon will make way for dawn, or whether the cat is trying to escape or climb into the picture and run towards a door that could be closed, or might be on the point of opening.
all the times
I have been wrong
Thank you for sharing that with us! You’ve also co-edited an anthology of Welsh Haiku called Another Country in 2011. What is it about the haiku form do you think makes it so enduring?
I think there’s a democratic aspect to haiku that persists in Japan and in the West that’s very appealing: groups of ordinary people meet to write and share their haiku and, inevitably, their lives. They’re also short enough to hold in our heads, so, as a form, they’re perfect for drafting while walking, or running. And there’s also a quietness to them, like moments frozen in time, that I find very attractive in our often noisy and boisterous world. Haiku have always been associated with the natural world too and for many haiku poets they remain a way to connect to nature, something, I think, most people appreciate.
You’re a keen blogger over on the Hungry Writer, and – as you mentioned – you’ve even had some of those posts collected into a book. What attracts you to this other form of writing?
I started ‘The Hungry Writer’ blog in 2010 when I was living in the South of France, a thousand miles away from family and close friends and that geographical distance propelled me towards life writing on the themes of family/friends and food, and with a personal ‘rule’ to avoid what I called ‘literary fireworks’. My first poetry collection Learning How to Fall (Parthian, 2005) is still something I’m proud of but I was over-fond of an extended metaphor (!) and I wanted to break away from what could easily become a habit and write in a more relaxed style but, hopefully, still hold the reader’s attention. I think I managed to do that: the majority of the haibun in forgiving the rain originated from the first year of the blog. And, as you mentioned, last year Kent indie publisher, Cultured Llama, published the ‘best of’ the first five years: The Hungry Writer, 52 life personal essays/poems with 14 associated recipes and 365 writing prompts. I squeezed some haiku in there too: the inside of the front and back covers are what are known as haiga – the combination of image and haiku. Here’s one of them.
Could you tell us more about the new Poetry Studio format you’ll be teaching?
It’s going to be a 3 week-long haiku-fest! I’ll provide all the reading material at the beginning of the course and set a specific assignment each week, craft-based and inspirational. The course will focus on generating new writing rather than formal critical feedback, but I will comment on haiku anyone posts on the forum and encourage all course participants to do the same, under some guidelines for constructive support. There are no live chats in this course so people don’t need to be in a certain place at a certain time and can fit the assignments and writing into their own schedules. A bit like a drop-in party where everyone contributes to the buffet. (As The Hungry Writer, I’m never far away from a food metaphor!)
And finally, can you tell us what are you working on at the moment?
I have an ongoing long term project about my Welsh great and greater grandmothers that I imagine will be a collage of history, memoir and poetry, but I’m only at the research point right now. And I’ve just decided to make August a 30 day project: writing every day for 30 days in response to the landscape around my home in Kent. I’ve done something similar before and the daily practice inevitably generates some good work. Here’s a link to a previous 30-dayer, and its unedited writing.
Lynne Rees is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and lover of food and running. Born in Port Talbot, South Wales, she has lived in the Channel Islands, Florida, Barcelona and Antibes, in the south of France, but home is currently a working apple farm at the foot of the North Downs in Kent, UK. She has published books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction and co-edited the anthology Another Country, Haiku Poetry from Wales (Gomer Press, 2011). She runs the Hungry Writer blog.