Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Haiku (Part 2)

One of the features of Japanese Haiku is its relationship to Zen Buddhism with the Haiku being used to highten mystical awareness.

".................... Often there are two pictures, and the reader is expected to respond with heightened awareness of the mystical relationship between non-related subjects.
This mystical awareness is one of the seekings of Zen Buddhism, and was introduced into Haiku by the first, best loved, greatest master of the form, Basho (1644-1694. A second master was Buson (1715-1783) a poet less interested in mystical relationships than in exquisite vignettes. A third was Issa (1763-1827), pathetic, wryly humurous, utterly individual. A fourth was Shiki (1866-1902) - a modern Buson who gives us perfectly-phrased glimpses of everyday scenes and situations.

Almost every Haiku holds a key-word. The reader must take this key-word not as a statement, but as the author's cue to him, so that he can call up in himself his own associations and nostalgias, and read the little poem against that background................... because the poem is tiny does not mean that it is simple. A good Haiku is apt to be not only subtle but complex, with inner meanings (often because polysyllabic words are made up of syllables which have meanings of their own; often because phrases used have literary and historical associations."

These Haiku are some examples of the great masters of Haiku poetry:


Monday, July 20, 2009


A haiku is a seventeen-syllable poetic that has been written in Japan for three hundred years. It’s an elegant and minimalistic form of expression. But it is easier to describe the structure of the haiku than it is to describe how it should be read. Let me explain:

From my reading I gather (and if we think about it, it seems obvious) that there are three ways in which works of art can be approached (there may well be more, I am no expert). So, art can either be "Used" or "Received" to quote C.S.Lewis or in the case of the Haiku approached in the same way as a Rorschach test.

To "Use" art is to treat it as an assistance for our own personal activities - a puerile example would be someone who took only a cursory glance at a painting and purchased it because the colours went with the curtains in the dining room. Or, someone who uses art to satisfy lust rather than enter into the full meaning of sexual love. To "Use" art in this way is to not open oneself to the message of the artist. The 'user' is unable to accept the art as an end in itself.

To "Receive" art is to be open to the message of the artist. It means putting aside preconceived notions, desires, interests and associations and to enter into the perspective of the artist. "He is thus able to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with his own".
There is an implication of losing oneself in the work of art, or in the activity of reading, viewing etc.

The "Rorschach test" was created by Hermann Rorschach, and is based on the idea that the test taker's spontaneous or unrehearsed responses reveal deep secrets or significant information about the taker's personality or innermost thoughts. These days many psychologists consider the test unreliable and that there are more modern personality tests - but the term "Rorschach" is loosely used to mean the individual response from the unconscious or conscious mind in response to some sort of stimulus.

Sometimes an artist specifically states how a work can be viewed e.g. The author John Fowles stated in relation to his book 'The Magus' - "If The Magus has any real significance it is no more than that of the Rorschach test in psychology. Its meaning is whatever reaction it provokes in the reader, and so far as I am concerned there is no 'right' reaction."

I am thankful for the Rorschach explanation in relation to the Haiku, because as a lover of poetry I have often found the traditional Japanese Haiku difficult. But seen in the light of an active partnership between the poet and the reader it has helped me to make more sense of, and enjoy more this form of poetry -- " For the haiku does not make a complete poem in our usual sense; it is a lightly sketched picture the reader is expected to fill in from his own memories."

These examples of haiku have special meanings and associations for me. But if you apply the 'Rorschach Test' approach they may have a different meaning for you.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


From The New Zealand Herald Saturday July 18th 2009 - " It's the running of the balls, Dunedin pays homage to the mighty Jaffa once a year" - Roll: Jaffas hurtle down Dunedin's Baldwin Street" - Picture / Otago Daily Times.

Let me define my terms:

JAFFA- Is a port in western Israel on the Mediterranean; incorporated into Tel Aviv in 1950 and has no relevance to this posting.

JAFA - Is an acronym for 'Just Another Fucking Aucklander '- a common saying here which goes to show that even in a liberal democracy such as New Zealand - Pride, Prejudice, Provincialism and bigotry can rear its ugly head.

JAFFA (TRADITIONAL) - A small red spherical lolly (sweet) with a chocolate centre.

JAFFA (CONTEMPORY) - A version of the Jaffa based on the retail food sector philosophy that more and bigger is better in all things - I mean where WOULD the retail slimming industry be without it) - This Jaffa is nearly ten times as big as the traditional Jaffa - its about the size of what was commonly known in my younger days of haunting the lolly shops as a "gob stopper". It is this gob stopping Jaffa that is used in the 'Running of the balls' in Baldwin Street (see story below).

BALDWIN STREET - This street is in the city of Dunedin and it is the steepest street in the world. By steep, I don't mean its STEEP, I mean its really, really, really, really fucking STEEP - you wouldn't believe how steep it is. Years ago I walked up it (as do a continuous stream of rubber necking tourists) and I couldn't figure out how you could drive out of one of the driveways and turn your car into Baldwin street without your car tipping over, its that steep. Its the sort of street that you stand at the bottom of with your mouth wide open and a voice in your head saying, " What in heavens name were they EVER fucking thinking of when they built this little hum dinger"

In the UNITED KINGDOM (Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire) they have the rolling of the cheese - It consists of a high hill from which a round cheese is bowled. Large hordes of completely mad bastards run, roll, fall, and generally throw themselves down the hill in pursuit of this cheese. This madness is shown as a news item every year in NZ with the usual footnote concerning the number of people carted off to hospital with various injuries.

In SPAIN (Pamplona) they have the annual running of the bulls. This is a chaotic affair where a large number of bulls, with sharp horns big enough to scare the tits off a cow, are herded through narrow streets while large numbers of completely fucking mad people (mainly testosterone fuelled males with something to prove) run in front of them. This complete madness is shown as a news item every year in NZ with the usual footnote concerning the number of people carted off to hospital with various injuries.

In NEW ZEALAND (Dunedin) they have the running of the Jaffas - its a laid back affair with people at the bottom of Baldwin street waiting for a tsunami of Jaffas to descend. Noone is carted off to hospital with various injuries - which goes to prove that Kiwis in general (Dunedinites in particular) are either incredibly and admirably sober and careful and sensible about the running/rolling of our particular form of balls/bulls/cheese, or we are as dull as ditch water and haven't realised yet that to injure and possibly kill people is all part of having fun - it all depends on ones point of view :-)

"They rolled. They bounce. They shattered. Thirty thousand (30,000) Jaffas swept yesterday down the world's steepest road - Balwin St in Dunden. While most made it to their final resting place at the bottom of the hill, others were left by the wayside, having bounced and broken, or simply given up halfway down. The Cadbury Jaffa Race brought 1500 people to Baldwin St to pay homage to the annual racing of the balls. The event itself went off without a hitch as the crowd enjoyed the sunshine, music including Smash-proof, a fashion parade, free chocolate and facepainting. A large traffic jam formed as everyone tries to leave at the same time. Dunedin City Council events coordinater Marilyn Anderson described it as "the one and only traffic jam a year in Dunedin". Police and traffic management did their best to keep the traffic flowing. Free buses from the Octagon were well attended. "Its always good to see people take the buses, Mrs Anderson said. Asked if more free buses would be made available next year, she said it would be taken 'under advice' after a debriefing next week. Before the event, concern had been raised about an organised palm-oil protest following the advertising war over Cadbury's products.However, the dozen protesters put their message across peacefully. The group gathered at the bottom of the Baldwin Street with placards, photos of orang-utans, which they say are threatened by palm-oil production, and distributed information flyers which many of the crowd accepted willingly. Race tickets were purchased from as far away as Auckland with numbers 21078, 28266, 27329, 01624 and 09228 coming down in that order. Each number produced three winners who received grocery vouchers for first place, petrol vouchers for second, a gift card for third, a cellphone for fourth and a chocolate hamper for fifth". ---- OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Hmmm, 'The running of the balls' - Now that's one to put on ones 'Bucket List' isn't it? - But having been born in Auckland - That makes me a JAFFA loving JAFA - So what would I know?


Monday, July 13, 2009

Life Imitating Art

“Early in the first act of Roger Hall's new play - as an irritable foursome of mismatched travellers are dragging their suitcases through Venice in search of the eternally elusive pensione - Stuart Devenie turns to the audience and announces: "Well you know what's going to happen don't you?"
And while there can be few in the audience who were unable to predict the trajectory of this story of redemption under a Tuscan sun, the journey uncovers plenty of discreet pleasures and amusing diversions.
Roger Hall has efficiently assembled all the requisite ingredients for his inimitable brand of social satire and his latest offering provides a comforting antidote to Auckland's dismal winter weather. With witty dialogue, sardonic asides, sharply drawn characters and moments of poignancy, Hall delivers a perceptive report on the current state of the national psyche - with our anxieties and obsessions laid bare in the unfulfilled yearnings of a quartet of senior citizens representing the opposite ends of the middle-class social spectrum.
George Henare is the abrasive plumbing supplies merchant who finds the perfect tone for a deranged, expletive laden catharsis on the horror of our national humiliation at that World Cup quarter-final.
Stuart Devenie is well cast as a self-deprecating librarian and his perfectly timed deadpan commentary establishes an intimate link with the audience as he reflects on the splendours of Italy, his rising libido and the melancholy interior world of a fractured marriage. Annie Whittle brings plenty of chutzpah to her portrayal of a bold and brassy divorcee while Darien Takle finds hidden depths in an earnest and frustrated librarian.
The production is nicely rounded off with Toni Potter and Peter Daube's stylish platter of Italian stereotypes who fit neatly into Tracy Grant Lord's spectacular set design.”

Last Saturday I went to the Bruce Mason Theatre and saw this play. It is having a very successful season and the theatre was packed.

Unlike many of Roger Halls successful television plays (Gliding On, Middle Age Spread) which are continuous belly laughing affairs from beginning to end ‘Four Flat Whites in Italy’ weaves strategically placed pathos and poignancy within the story line. The poignancy acts as a counterpoint to the humour and is often the crossroads in the story line where a serious point is made and/or the momentum of a new direction is generated.

This mixing of the serious and the humourous is a well known technique or form of drama and is used in many very successful TV shows. Two that come to mind are the long running American series ‘Mash’ depicting the humour and tragedy of a medical corps during the Korean War and the long running UK series ‘Coronation Street’ which is at its best when it mixes humour and pathos in this way.

After the play in Auckland we visited one of my brothers in law who gave me a bottle of nice red wine to take to dinner at our next stop north where we were to met two of my sisters and their husbands.

I don’t know why Green Thai Curry with coconut cream has the words Green or Curry in it because this curry dish was very mild, was white in colour and had a huge amount of snapper fish in it that another of my brothers in law had caught earlier in the day... The meal tasted like the manna from foodie heaven and who says you can’t drink rough red wine with fish because you can and I did.

As with most of these Smith Clan family get togethers there is a huge amount of humour, laughter, jokes, ‘leg pulling’, ‘tit pulling’ and general bullshit. The atmosphere is always one of goodwill and ‘let’s have a good time’. None of this is unusual and these sorts of good humoured get togethers are pretty normal fare up and down the country.

I can’t remember now how the topic was ever broached but like most imperatives that arise from the subconscious mind my brother in law began talking about the difficulties and problems that have ensued since the time he has had his cancerous prostate taken out a decade ago while in his early forties.

One of the side effects of removal of the prostate is problems with getting and maintaining an erection. Well lubricated with red wine we sat and listened to a tale which is not uncommon. To gain an erection the penis is injected with some sort of vein dilating chemical and then to the alternating sound of a brass band and a full orchestra love making begins. No problem, as they say, except on this particular occasion after cupid had replaced the arrows back into his quiver, waited around a bit, and drank four flat whites, the erection was still standing at attention with an expectant look on its face.

At this point, as things stood (so to speak) there was no problem, but 48 hours later and still no change and it was no longer very funny. It had become very painful and down right dangerous.

The next part of the story involved a trip to hospital, the pain, the embarrassment, the initial explanation, a doctor who said with a smile on his face that, “it shouldn’t be too hard to fix”, another injection and the subsequent relief.

Despite the fact that the story was told with great humour and that we laughed all the way through there was a very serious side to it all. It had been dangerous and I think he had been quite frightened by the whole incident. I thought that my brother in law was very courageous to share something as intimate and embarrassing for him as that with us – I was impressed and glad that someone who could be self revealing in such a wonderfully humourous way was married to one of my sisters.

It was humour and poignancy – what we had just seen in the play was Art imitating Life – what we had been told by my brother in law held a mirror up to the play - It was Life imitating Art.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Farewell - Retirement (Part 2)

It was a very laid back Kiwi affair. Casual and easy with just the right amount of formality and humour. The emotion was one of celebration and thanksgiving and farewell - This was my final school assembly at Parua Bay School. The school where I have been Deputy Principal and classroom teacher for 13 of my 35 year teaching career.
The assembly was a mixture of welcoming songs, speeches, copious presentations of cards and gifts, a tribute of music from my Junior Orchestra that I had nurtured for years and hugs and good old public displays of affection in the traditional Kiwi way. A lot of trouble had gone into the whole assembly and I was deeply moved - a door closed on a chapter of my life, just as others are opening and as life continues its forward momentum, syncopation, rhythm and promise. Syncopation is a good word, because often the music that calls us comes after the expected beat.
In my farewell speech I talked about the paradox that is summed up by the old saying, " The more things change the more they stay the same." - I explained this paradox like this:
Over 35 years of teaching there have been innumerable changes to the landscape of Education both worldwide and in New Zealand. These changes have included the curriculum (2010 brings more massive change), its delivery ( in terms of changing educational theory) and the organisation of schools (In New Zealand "Tomorrows Schools" (1989) has bought radical organisational change) - included in this are new changes in assessment, reporting, compliance, regulation, auditing, certification, resourcing, administration etc etc - the schools of this century are vastly different to those of the mid 20th century.
Despite all this, if we look at the major factors that are pivotal in a child's development and education there are three elements that are timeless.
The first element is the family into which the child is born. A positive loving, caring environment that aids the child's physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual development is as important as it has always been. Parents that know that the giving of themselves and their time is far more important than any flash toy they might offer.
The second is a corollary of the first. A child who wants to learn, whose needs are being met at home in such a way that they have an eagerness to learn and are not distracted by the emotion of unfulfilled needs. Children that come from wholesome life enhancing homes bring their own unique personalities to school and help create a learning environment where it is easy to honour each child's individuality - where we can all grow together - where teaching and learning is vigorous, not without its challenges but is not destructive to either the child or the learning community.
The third element that is crucial and timeless is the need for good, hard working talented teachers. Teachers who are good at what they do, know what the word pedagogy means but are down to earth enough to use the word 'craft' instead and know full well that education relies not just on pedagogical theory but also on common sense, commitment and hard work.
Good teachers are aware of what Jung calls the difference between the 'Country mind' and the 'City mind' - The City mind believes that you can create change and fix problems by writing legislation or by numerous law changes, that these things in themselves are the source of change and development. - The Country mind knows that after the legislation comes hard work, commitment and TIME. Everything has its season, 'Rome wasn't built in a day'.
There is a current Kiwi 'Mainland Cheese' advertisement on TV at the moment that sums up this third element well - there are two old codgers who after a lot of banter and checking of the maturing cheese we hear one speak the punchline, "Good Things Take Time"
...... yes they do.... they do indeed ..... its like that when you build things, whether it be a boat, a house, a loving relationship, a family, a teaching career, a child's education - there isn't really any other way - or none that I have been able to discern in my 58 years of life or my 35 years of classroom teaching.
How much time??? - well a lifetime... because when these three timeless enduring elemental realities are bought together they produce the goal of all good schools, which is to create individuals who will become lifelong learners.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This Is Where We Live


I am one of those that live
in the middle of the sea and close to the twilight
a little beyond those stones.

When I came
and saw what was happening
I decided on the spot.

The day had spread itself
and everything was light
and the sea was beating
like a salty lion,

All that deserted space was singing
and I, lost and awed,
looking toward the silence,
opened my mouth and said:
"Mother of the foam,
expansive solitude,
here I will begin my own rejoicing,
my particular poetry."

From then on I was never
let down by a single wave.
I always found the flavour of the sky
in the water, in the earth,
and the wood and the sea burned together
through the lonely winters.

I am grateful to the earth
for having waited
for me
when sky and sea came together
like two lips touching;
for that's no small thing, no? -
to have lived
through one solitude to arrive at another,
to feel oneself many things and recover wholeness.

I love all the things there are,
and of all fires
love is the only inexhaustible one;
and that's why I go from life to life,
from guitar to guitar,
and I have no fear
of light or of shade
and almost being earth myself,
I spoon away at infinity.

So no one can ever fail
to find my doorless numberless house -
there between dark stones,
facing the flash
of the violent salt,
there we live, my woman and I,
there we take root,
Grant us help then.
Help us to be more of the earth each day!
Help us to be
more the sacred foam,
more the swish of the wave!