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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday: On the Haiku Road with Jack Kerouac

May 21, 2015

Tags: Poetry Friday, haiku, HSA, poets, conferences, workshops

Top: Robyn and award-winning poet and conference speaker Stanford M. Forrester, editor of bottle rockets and past president of the HSA;
Center: Current HSA President David G. Lanoue, poet and teacher Tom Painting, and poets Ray and Terri French (current Southeast Regional Coordinator for the HSA).
Bottom: Kerouac memorobilia displayed at The Kerouac Project house in Orlando.

Confession: I've only read a few excerpts of Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD and other novels. Unfiltered stream-of-conscious accounts of unbridled lives of the Beats (with no white space!) isn't quite my cup of tea. However, I was intrigued when my son gave me a copy of JACK KEROUAC - BOOK OF HAIKUS, edited and with an introduction by Regina Weinreich (Penguin, 2003) a year or two ago. And one of the houses Kerouac lived in (in 1957) is smack-dab in the middle of my old stomping grounds in the College Park area of Orlando, just a couple of miles from my folks' current home.

So when I learned the second quarterly meeting of the Haiku Society of America (HSA) would be coming to the Southeast, and to Orlando and the Kerouac house specifically, I signed up right away.

What a terrific weekend of learning, writing, and camaraderie!

The day began and ended with presentations by former HSA president, award-winning poet, and bottle rockets press editor Stanford M. Forrester of Connecticut. He did a wonderful job explaining how important Kerouac's role was in the development of haiku here in the states, noting that Kerouac drew mainly on Zen rather than Tibetan Buddhism, and that he "exchanged dogma for a more 'free-wheeling' life."

One of Kerouac's haiku that we looked at was this:


In my medicine cabinet
      the winter fly
Has died of old age



I'd remembered it from Weinreich's book and it was one of my favorites. I liked it even more after Stanford pointed out that to open the medicine cabinet, the speaker would likely encounter an mirror. Of course! Makes the poem even richer.

The middle of our day included a trip from Rollins College (where the lectures and meeting were held) to the cottage in College Park where Kerouac and his mother lived in 1957 - in the back part of the house, not the whole cottage. It has been preserved with generous support of some savvy volunteers, who administer residencies for selected writers four times a year (one per season). The folks from The Kerouac Project who gave us a tour (the current writer-in-residence was out of town and so we could see the house) joined us in many conversations and couldn't have been more welcoming. Several of us bought Bob Kealing's book, KEROUAC IN FLORIDA: : Where The Road Ends, which chronicles Kerouac's life in several houses there until his death in St. Petersburg in 1969 at the age of 47.

After a picnic lunch in the yard, we made the short trek by foot to Lake Adair, where I spent many an afternoon as a teenager. This was our "ginko walk" - poets walking together to soak up inspiration from the surroundings and compose haiku, perhaps with sketchbooks or cameras in tow. Cypress knees, red-winged blackbirds, and a circling osprey gave us plenty to work with on a sunny day.

Kerouac and fellow writers often composed haiku during their road trips. How fitting that HSA President David G. Lanoue and three more folks making up the New Orleans contingent did the same during their long, long drive. The result was a lively renku read during Saturday evening's poetry reading at a local watering hole, where 20-somethings huddled over laptops with beer or coffee, strung lights and colorful paper cut-outs made for festive, hipster-friendly décor, and our haiku folks took up most of the room with its small stage. Actually, the linked verses (36) were not read so much as performed, set to some top-notch harmonica improvisations by one of the renku poets.

A bonus for me was getting to make it a weekend trip with my husband (and the dogs!) to visit my folks. Jeff came with me to the reading Saturday night and got to hear me read a few poems as well. It was a friendly, laid-back audience. We enjoyed 15 or so sharings of haiku, haibun, tanka, and even Japanese music combined with poems.

This was only my second time to an HSA meeting, and it was a treat catching up with folks I'd met in Atlanta a year and a half ago as well as making new acquaintances. To think haiku poets gather around the world like this sharing their passion and knowledge is a wonderful thing, much like we gather in our virtual meeting places here on Poetry Friday.

Marching to his own energetic beat is our Poetry Friday Rounder-upper today, Matt - go check out all the great offerings at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Comments

  1. May 22, 2015 9:46 AM EDT
    What fun! It is nice to write after or during a trip big or small. Can't wait to read that book of haiku.
    - Catherine Johnson
  2. May 22, 2015 11:10 AM EDT
    Wow -- thanks for this wonderful recap. Had no idea about Kerouac's connection with haiku. Like you, I've only read parts of On the Road and his other works -- stream of consciousness doesn't necessarily make for easy reading. Enjoyed the photos too :).
    - jama
  3. May 22, 2015 2:48 PM EDT
    This sounds quite a wonderful conference, Robyn, & again, you've taught me to look more closely (sometimes at mirrors).
    - Linda Baie
  4. May 22, 2015 4:25 PM EDT
    Sounds like that was a LOT of fun, with great people and great poetry going on. Like a poetical jam session!
    - Donna Smith
  5. May 22, 2015 5:04 PM EDT
    Sounds like a wonderful time soaking up sun and haiku, Robyn. Thanks for sharing that Kerouac haiku and the aha moment with the mirror. Such rich layering!
    - Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
  6. May 22, 2015 5:25 PM EDT
    Hi, Catherine. We did have lots of fun mixed in with learning a thing or two... :0)

    Jama, again - you and I have the same tastes/sensibilities... a compliment to me! Thanks for popping over.

    Linda - ha! I hadn't even thought of that until Stanford mentioned it, but it's so effective. And you do already look at things closely...

    Hi, Donna - It was called a "Haiku Be-Bop" in honor of the theme this year, too! Very fun.

    Thanks for coming by, Michelle - soaking up sun and haiku together is always a win-win! :0)
    - Robyn Black
  7. May 22, 2015 7:53 PM EDT
    adar lake...
    the damsel fly
    on the cress

    :)) Hope someday to do a ginko in Savannah.
    - Dennis (chibi) Holmes
  8. May 22, 2015 8:23 PM EDT
    You should come up this way and visit the Kerouac sites in Lowell, MA. His grave is a big draw, too! If you want a virtual tour, let me know and I'll take my camera to Lowell and get some shots! Ooo, that sounds like a blog post for future.
    - Diane Mayr
  9. May 23, 2015 6:21 AM EDT
    And maybe soon you'll share some of your creations from the gingko walk? (pretty please?!?!)
    - Mary Lee Hahn
  10. May 24, 2015 8:28 AM EDT
    Oh, you lucky duck! I think it's been too long since I had such an experience. And I am fascinated by the thought of Jack Kerouac in Florida and even more by Jack Kerouac and haiku. Kerouaiku?

    Can't wait to see what comes of these inspiring days, Robyn!
    - Heidi Mordhorst
  11. May 24, 2015 3:21 PM EDT
    Hi, Dennis! A ginko walk in Savannah sounds great. Enjoyed being with you all last weekend!

    Diane - thanks! Stanford knows a lot about the Lowell sites. I'd love any excuse to come visit that direction.

    Greetings, Mary Lee. Confession; I was chatting while walking and only wrote one haiku. Not brilliant, but I can post at some point!

    Heidi - you would have loved the whole day. Thanks for popping in! Hopefully you'll have some inspiration- filled days when those busy Mighty Minnows swim off for summer....
    - Robyn Black

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