At the suggestion of a couple of the fine ladies in my Creative Accountability Group (CAG) I started following events and happenings at the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization based in Chicago. I haven’t been to the actual foundation building yet, but apparently there’s a 30,000-volume poetry library there, as well as a public garden, exhibition gallery, and event spaces.
Each week, I would casually gloss over the foundation’s weekly emails, thinking, “Well that sounds like it might be interesting” or “I should really step out of my weekday routine and check one of these speakers or workshops out.” But I never did.
That is, until last Sunday.
One particular event caught my eye because of three key words: Haiku, Outdoor Garden, and Free.
Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil
The Poetry Foundation hosted a discussion on haibun, an ancient Japanese form of poetry, followed by an informal poetry workshop in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden last Sunday morning. I’d never heard of the word “haibun” before, but apparently it’s a form of poetry that fuses prose with haiku. And traditionally, it describes travel and landscape scenes through vivid imagery. Sounded perfect for me!
A nice young library assistant, Maggie Queeney, began leading the workshop in the Millennium Park Choral Room, which by the way, is pretty hard to find if you’ve never looked for it before. A group of about 10-12 wannabe poets gathered around a conference table with their eyes glued to 4-page handouts.
A Japanese poet named Matsuo Basho originally developed the haibun form in his 1690 poem, The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling. The prose portion is supposed to describe a landscape that the poet moves through and end with a haiku that has vivid imagery and a 5/7/5 syllable pattern.
After reading and analyzing a few sample haibuns, we all trekked to the Lurie Garden with notebooks in hand. Maggie stopped us at six different points within the garden to scribble down objective observations and free write. Then we all regrouped in the classroom to put it all together.
Here’s how mine turned out:
METAL WILDFLOWER MAZE: A HAIBUN
One foot in the shade, one foot in the sun. I listen for the comforting sound of creaky wooden boards beneath the feet of uninspired tourists carrying cameras they don’t know how to use. A perfect amount of breeze pushes back a wisp of hair so I don’t have to.
Surrounded by walls of leaves, trapping me inside and holding me close. The tallest of plants stand taller than me, shielding my eyes from what lies on the other side. Can I venture in further and get lost from it all? An aircraft hovers above and a train whistle blows to answer my question: “No.”
Rare autumn sunlight
Creeps inside a walled fortress
Prevents progress from entering
Life is wilting in all directions, yet clinging on with an ounce of hope. Brown twigs and shriveled leaves have been living in the shadow of towering giants, but what sort of life is that? None of the residents have names because no one would speak them anyway.
Fuzzy tan curlicues make me giggle at my own senseless self-reflection and melancholy rant. Will these tendrils fall off like the thinning hairs on my own head?
Bricks have been forced into the ground, shoving grass and dirt far below. Native residents attempt to emerge and remind us of how they once ruled this man-made land. Tiny purple flowers are the only ones thriving in the foreground with mustard greens lurking behind. A salad no one dares to eat because, well salad is not from nature!
Gasping for sunlight – through
Towering metal beams
A round spiky ball on top of a wavering stem too tired to hold its weight. Perhaps the spikes will make you bleed. Perhaps you could blow them gently into the breeze. Hands begin to feel numb as I scribble down thoughts that everyone else has already thought of.
An incessant beeping for no reason is stuck between my ears. Construction is a euphemism for destruction and my sense of smell is evolutionarily phased out. Foreign phases uttered between the sickly wails of sirens. Always urgent, always an emergency, always in a rush.
Leaves spiral around before touching the ground and peer through metal beams towards the ominous, never-ending sky with one last blink.
A walled maze of leaves
Traps me willingly inside
Shields me from the world
Photo credit: Drew Saunders
If this post sparked your interest, check out the Poetry Foundation’s upcoming events and think about mustering up the courage to show up for something like I finally did. The Lurie Garden also has a few more random workshops for adults this year.
Maybe it’s no masterpiece, but I feel like I really got something out of this particular poetry workshop: a little time in nature, a little mindfulness reminder, and a little motivation to keep on writing creatively – even if it’s just for my own sanity.