Favourite Haiku by Ellen Grace Olinger

the river melts
into the woods

– Aubrie Cox

This haiku by Aubrie Cox is from her recent book, tea’s aftertaste (2011, Bronze Man Books). It expresses so well the wonder of every day and season. What a miracle this spring – I can hardly believe it, after the hard winter we had.

In her author’s introduction, Aubrie writes: “Enter the moment and uncover it for yourself, using your own memories and experiences.”

frozen branches
measure the emptiness –
winter sunset

– Lee Gurga

I bought The Measure of Emptiness (1991, Press Here; Foster City, California) by Lee Gurga in 1995. His haiku expresses the stark beauty of the winter I also know in Wisconsin. There is an emotional quality to his poem that spoke to me at the time, and continues to this day. That was a year of great personal challenge, and the combination of “emptiness” and beauty is one I well remember. Good to reread today. With gratitude.

against the horizon
grain elevators
number the towns

– Randy Brooks

When I moved to a small Wisconsin town, after working in Chicago for several years, the images Randy so well pictures in his haiku brought me peace. As much as my teaching career meant to me, I had to find a new way to live to be well. A much slower pace. I stopped driving on the freeways and learned the country roads. Having worked with practice teachers in Illinois gave me the confidence that I could learn, since I didn’t think I had good map skills. But with a compass, the highway north and south, and Lake Michigan to the east, plus a phone in the car, I could learn. I’m sure there were maps in the car too!

Randy’s haiku about the grain elevators also honours the work of the farmers, and the pictures the farms offer to anyone driving by. And haiku helped me find a new way when I had no other choice. It is good to go back and remember. Thank you.

From Barbwire Holds its Ground (1981, High/Coo Press) by Randy Brooks – click the link to read the book.

waking from a dream
of Sweden
the sound of geese

– Sandra Simpson

This week I enjoyed rereading Sandra’s book breath (2011, Piwakawaka Press, Tauranga, New Zealand). My father’s parents were from Sweden. They came to the Midwest to work on the railroad. I am named for my grandmothers, Elin and Grace. Although I have not been to Sweden, I follow a few blogs from there. I can see how Wisconsin felt like a home-away-from-home to Nanna and Poppa Ernie.

Nanna knew she would not see her mother again, when they came to America. I can only imagine their courage. In her old age, though, my father took her back to Sweden for a visit.

As I’m writing this, today is also Father’s Day. My dad was a history teacher and he died in 1983, when I was 29. He and my mother went to Sweden too. Mom’s family was from Germany, southwestern Wisconsin, and Milwaukee. I’ve learned that love endures and continues to grow.

And so today I thought again of Sandra’s beautiful poem. How much in common we all have as poems are shared.

wild pond –
the heron begins
his evening flight

– Evelyn Lang

This project has inspired some good rereading of books I’ve not looked at for a time. Yet I remember the books and can find them again easily; even though we had to rebuild our home from the inside, and my books are in different places. Life rearranged in all kinds of ways. Could hardly keep up with the change for a time. Haiku and other forms of poetry provide rest and perspective.

Evelyn Lang’s haiku describes a world for me. In Illinois, we lived in an area that was just beginning to be developed. There was a pond nearby and around and around I walked, puzzling about different problems. Then I learned to be more quiet, and also stand or sit and watch. I saw the herons for the first time. Now years later, whenever I see them, I feel blessed.

Evelyn Lang begins her book with a quote from the Psalms:

That I may publish
with the voice of thanksgiving,
and tell of all thy wondrous

The haiku is from Wild Pond, Collected Haiku 1991-1999 by Evelyn Lang with Japanese brush paintings by Robin White.

field of Queen Anne’s Lace –
a black butterfly settles
on a stone

– Charles B. Dickson

I thought it time to reread Montage: The Book (edited by Allan Burns, The Haiku Foundation, 2010) and also remember this wonderful haiku from years gone by. Charles B. Dickson paints a peaceful picture. There are contrasts as well: the colours of the Queen Anne’s lace and butterfly. Summer does not last; and here the days will be shorter when the weather is warmer in July and August.

Yet each month, each season, its own beauty.

The wildflowers have adapted well. Although beautiful, they survive years of drought, return after hard winters, and grow by corn fields and along highways. I don’t know which are native plants and which were planted to help people from other places feel more at home. Wonderful to see a more natural beauty along the roads.

As I proofread this commentary, I read the poem aloud. I hear the music and would not change anything.

pain fading the days back to wilderness

– Jim Kacian

“pain fading the days back to wilderness” is a poem that describes what I experienced with a chronic illness and grief, recovery and major changes, over many years.

If I have learned one thing, it is that everyone has a story.

There was pain; and over time the emotional pain took longer to heal than the physical pain. At the same time, I believe the experience made me a better caregiver for my mother. My beginnings with haiku go back to these years. Poetry was an essential part of my spiritual healing and helped me slow down and rest.

How did the pain fade the days back to wilderness, in my story? (Only telling my stories in my posts and blogs.)

When a person’s energy level changes, many things can change. I gradually narrowed my life more and more, to be able to do my best regarding my major priorities. More rest was required around the times I seemed to do very well, in other people’s views. And I let things go that I used to do, to save energy. There were several deaths in my family, from three generations.


Fading the days – gradual changes adding up to major life changes

So now wilderness.

This is the wonderful result from hard years. How beautiful is the garden with our Wisconsin wildflowers and perennials from previous owners. It takes care of itself. I don’t have to weed or water the plants, only keep a path to the back door open. This means more energy and time for the language arts. I also learned the country roads because the pace and views were good for me. When I drove north from my mother’s home in the Milwaukee area, one of my views was a field of sunflowers.

Finally I wonder if I would have found my “wilderness” without the mystery of my story. A quiet life keeps me well, and I am able to devote many hours to the language arts, which are the common theme throughout my years so far. And the kind people in my life respect and understand. Everything takes more time now.

Jim Kacian’s poem describes a complex time in my life. I found it in Haiku in English: the first hundred years, edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, Allan Burns (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013).

Editor’s note: Ellen’s selection originally appeared as a series of posts to Soundings 1, a discussion board on The Haiku Foundation website. Some of the commentary has been altered slightly to fit this theme. Read the original postings, and those of others, here.

Ellen’s selections appear here with her permission and that of The Haiku Foundation.

Ellen Grace Olinger has always lived in the Midwest of the United States. She writes a blog, Poems From Oostburg, Wisconsin  and is a volunteer for The Haiku Foundation’s Education Wall project.