My “Paper Roses” Haiku and the Story of the Very Special Artwork That Inspired It

I love it when a project of unassuming origins takes on a life of its own.

My “paper roses” haiku, which the Italian haiku poet Elisa Allo recently featured and translated into Italian on her blog, Ama no gawa, recently found itself in the middle of such a project.  Little did I know that my haiku contains a pun that is impossible to translate into Italian.  Elisa presented the haiku with a beautiful graphic and an explanatory note about the translation:

Hambrick Paper roses haiku - 1

 

Hambrick Paper roses haiku - 2

My “paper roses” haiku might not have come about in the first place had it not been for the phenomenal artwork a group of Columbus-area elementary school students and a recent event of the Ohio Poetry Association.

In April, the Ohio Poetry Association published a statewide anthology of ekphrastic poems (poems inspired by other works of art), A Rustling and Waking Within.  The anthology was a project many years in the making and was guided into the world with selfless love and generosity by editor Sharon Fish Mooney.

A Rustling and Waking Within cover

The anthology launch party last month at Columbus’ Wexner Center for the Arts (“the Wex”) featured poets, including myself, from all around Ohio reading aloud poems in the anthology.

In the run-up to the event, I volunteered to acquire flowers to adorn the small reception tables where poets would gather to nosh and sip before and after the readings.  Unable to secure a donation of real flowers, I turned to Plan B: paper flowers.

I asked one of my co-workers if her husband, an elementary school art teacher, might think it a good project for some of his art students to make a few dozen paper flowers for the anthology launch party.  It just so happened that one of his classes of third graders loves to do origami – so much so that their teacher often has to collect any artwork they create on paper right after they finish it, lest they fold it into something else!

Moreover, my colleague’s husband knew just the right pattern for paper flowers, one which he himself made many times and sold at modest cost.  Over the next few weeks, Jon Juravich, the art teacher at Liberty Tree Elementary School in Powell, Ohio, led his students in making three dozen paper flowers, which they then donated to the Ohio Poetry Association for use at the anthology launch party.  As you can see from the photo Jon took, the students’ work is simply gorgeous.

Jon Juravich student paper flowers
Paper flowers made by the third grade art students of Jon Juravich at Liberty Tree Elementary School, Powell, Ohio.  Photo by Jon Juravich

But the final presentation was stunning.  Jon hot glued the paper “blooms” onto tree twigs he had painted black.  I placed one  or two stems into each of several tall bud vases and placed a vase on each of the small tables at the Wex.  Quite simply, the students’ flowers were a hit.

At the anthology launch, I asked OPA president Chuck Salmons and other organizers of the event to sign a thank-you card for Jon and his students.  For my part, I wrote an original haiku – my “paper roses” haiku, which Elisa Allo later featured and translated into Italian – inspired by the students’ phenomenal paper flowers.  Jon shared the thank-yous, kudos, and haiku to his students.

Fast-forward to April 30, when the Ohio poet Beverly Zeimer’s chapbook the Wildness of Flowers was published by the Cleveland-area publisher NightBallet Press.

Beverly Ziemer chapbook cover
Photo by Dianne Borsenik, with Photo Lab PRO

On the cover of Beverly’s chapbook, in the center of a swirl of gardenia blossoms, is a picture of one of the vases of the Powell students’ paper roses sitting on one of the tables at the OPA anthology launch party.

So, finding flowers (or rather failing to find flowers) for a major poetry event inspired a creative project for some talented third-graders, which both turned into a haiku inspired by the paper flowers they made and which is now translated into a foreign language on a blog an ocean away, and became cover art for a poet’s chapbook published right here in Ohio.

Somewhere in this story is a lesson about synchronicity.  But here’s the most powerful lesson: positive energy begets positive energy, and the creative spirit, when embraced, nurtured, and loved, cannot be stopped.

I thank Elisa Allo for welcoming my “paper roses” so beautifully into the world, and I thank Jon Juravich and the third grade art students at Liberty Tree Elementary School for their talent, generosity, and inspiration.

“Stiletto heel” Haiku Published in The Mainichi (The Daily News – Japan)

The Mainichi imageWhat a pleasant surprise!

I  just discovered quite at random that one of my haiku was published recently in the major Japanese newspaper The Mainichi (The Daily News).

Here is my poem:

Hambrick stiletto heel haiku The Mainichi 18 April 2017

My thanks to editor Isamu Hashimoto for selecting my work. I am greatly honored.

 

My Poetry Guardian Angel

El Ángel Exterminador / The Exterminating Angel

Photo: Andrés Suárez García (Creative Commons/Flickr)

I’d like to share with you the story about the very first time I read one of my poems in public. It’s a story that in ways big and small changed my life, and I think it has the power to change other lives, too – maybe even yours.

The Notebook

I started writing poetry in early 2011, not really by choice, but out of necessity.  At that time, I had been doing a lot of professional media writing and had been thinking about an idea for a novel I had come up with, and which I still hope someday to write. But when I write longer-form fiction, I like to have a stretch of two or three hours available to devote to it, a luxury that my full-time job and my rich and varied personal life did not and still does not allow.

So I did the next best thing. I started carrying around a little pocket-sized notebook, and whenever I had an idea for a plot twist or character trait or a scene in the novel-to-be, I jotted it down in the notebook.

In early 2011, I went through a bout of insomnia, in which I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning with, of all things, lines of text running through my mind – colorful turns of phrase, not necessarily complete sentences. But I remember thinking that these orphan lines, if you will, were actually fairly intriguing. Each time I awoke with one in my mind, I willed myself not to forget it by the time I actually got out of bed to start the day. But that effort only kept me from going to sleep. And inevitably I would still forget the line of text that had come to me out of nowhere.

Novel Ideas

I assumed that the lines of text that were finding their ways into my brain were somehow related to the novel I was then trying to conceive. So after a few of these insomnia incidents, I decided to put my little notebook on my bedside table. If more of these overnight insights woke me up, I could grab the notebook and jot them down, thereby getting them out of my mind so I could get back to sleep without fear of losing the ideas entirely.

That same night, I had a chance to put the procedure in action. The text-spirits woke me around 2 a.m., and I grabbed my notebook and started writing down what my intuition had coughed up. But instead of coming out in lines across the full width of the page, as in prose, the words came out in a long and skinny strip of short lines vertically down the page. When I stopped writing, I held the notebook arm’s length away. Hmm. Looks like a poem, I thought. Then I read what I had written, and I remember thinking, I don’t know if it’s a good poem, but, from a writer’s perspective, broadly construed, I don’t think it’s a bad piece of writing.

For the next few weeks I kept writing long, skinny things in my notebook. Then I owned up to myself that I was trying to write poems. Then I checked out a couple of good books on writing poetry and tried my hand at the writing exercises in them. After about a moth, I had a dozen or so long, skinny things – uh, poems – in my notebook.

“Don’t Compare Yourself”

In hindsight, what I did next was foolhardy or brave or both, which might be why my poetry guardian chose to enter at this particular moment. On a whim, I decided to read one of the new poems in my little notebook in the open mic at the The Poetry Forum, a long-standing and highly respected poetry reading series in Columbus that, at the time, met every Monday evening at a bar near the Ohio State University campus.

I showed up for the Monday-evening gathering. All the seats at tables were taken, and there was only one seat left seat at the bar, so I took it. The gentleman seated on my left was wearing a red satin baseball jacket and a dark blue baseball cap. He said hello.

“Are you a poet?” he asked.

“No, not really, but I brought a poem that I might read at the open mic, just to see what happens,” I said.

“Oh, you’d better sign up. The open mic fills up fast.” He gestured across the room. “There’s a sign-up sheet over there.”

I thanked him, crossed the room, signed up, and returned to my seat at the bar.

With each of the featured reader’s fantabulous poems, I felt more and more like throwing up or running away.

“Pretty good, huh?” my bar friend said to me during the intermission between the featured poet’s sets.

“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely. You know, um, maybe I’ll save that open mic thing for another time.”

What my new friend said next changed my life completely.

“Don’t judge. Don’t compare yourself with anyone. Just read what you have to read.”

How could I argue? “Um, okay,” I said.

“Write more poems like that”

The featured poet read his second set, then the first few poets on the open mic list read their poems, then the MC called my name. I walked onto the stage. Stage lights blackened out everyone in the audience, including the featured poet, who was sitting at the first table away from the stage. I spoke into the void.

“This is my first time reading at the Poetry Forum, and the poem I’m going to read is the first poem I’ve ever written. It’s called ‘Sacrifice.’”

I read the poem. “Jeez,” I heard the featured poet say. People clapped. Through my nerves, I managed to find enough strength and stability in my legs to step down from the stage and return to my place at the bar. “Nice job,” my bar friend said.

After the open mic ended, I thanked the MC, a long-time college English professor. “Write more poems like that,” he told me.

So I did. And I still do, except that the poems I’m writing now are better than that first poem, because I’ve been writing poems longer now than I had been when I first started, which I realize is a goofy thing to write, but I needed to write it in order to make a point:

What if my poetry guardian angel had not been at The Poetry Forum that night and sitting next to the only seat available for me to sit in? What if the person on my left at the bar had been someone who didn’t know to tell me to sign up early for the open mic? And here’s the biggie: What if that person had not told me to stop comparing myself negatively with other people, had not told me just to share what I have to offer, had not encouraged me to make my voice heard?

Would I still be writing poetry today, if my poetry guardian angel had not been with me when I needed him most? Maybe, maybe not. But that he did appear when I needed him, and that he did encourage me when I wanted to run away, definitely did give me the intestinal fortitude to step outside my comfort zone and into the realm of possibility.

After thanking the MC, I went back to my seat at the bar to put on my coat to leave. My poetry guardian angel had already left. And even though I have returned to readings at The Poetry Forum and was actually invited to give a featured reading there a few years ago, I’ve never seen my guardian angel again. But when I’m feeling deflated about my writing, or anything else for that matter, I remember what this wise stranger in the red baseball jacket told me: Don’t judge. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

Just be you. And write.

International Women’s Haiku Festival: It’s a Wrap

Thank You

Photo: Free for Commercial Use/www.gratisography.com/Creative Commons/Flickr

31 days. 27 poets. 48 poems.

The first International Women’s Haiku Festival on Inner Voices was a big success.  You sent me an overwhelming number of submissions from every corner of the English-speaking world.  With deep sensitivity, humor, and skill, your poems covered a broad swathe of women’s experience – the horrors of breast cancer, the nuanced relationships of mothers and daughters, marriage, divorce, domestic violence, singlehood and solitude, the glass ceiling, children, childbirth and motherhood, dementia, body image, age discrimination, cougars, and even the politics of lingerie.

Some of your poems tugged at the proverbial heart strings.  Some of them made me giggle.  All of them made me think and, I hope, will continue to make others think about the richness that women bring to the world, and about the ways in which the world does – and, in many instances, still does not – appreciate it.

In addition to your submissions, your support for the festival also came in the form of the comments you wrote on the festival’s featured posts, and in the many lovely comments you sent me privately.  I appreciate them all.

Thank you for entrusting me to curate your work in this festival.  I was an honor.

The poets of the 2017 International Women’s Haiku Festival:

Agnes Eva Savich (USA)
Anna Cates (USA)
Roberta Beary (USA/Ireland)
John Hawkhead (UK)
Terri L. French (USA)
Willie R. Bongcaron (Philippines)
Shloka Shankar (India)
Michael Dylan Welch (USA)
Martha Magenta (UK)
Stella Pierides (Germany/UK)
Lee Nash (France)
Eufemia Griffo (Italy)
Marietta McGregor (Australia)
Joshua Gage (USA)
Christina Sng (Singapore)
Julie Thorndyke (Australia)
Mary Stevens (USA)
Debbie Strange (Canada)
Amy Losak (USA)
Debbi Antebi (UK)
Michelle Schaefer (USA)
David Oates (USA)
Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)
Louise Hopewell  (Australia)
Tim Gardiner (UK)
Angela Leuck (Canada)
Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff (USA)

‘Zucchini’ Haiku Named a ‘Judge’s Favorite’ in the 2017 Golden Haiku Contest, Washington, D.C.

Hambrick_zucchini_haikuI was delighted to learn that one of my haiku has been named a “Judge’s Favorite” among the six winners of this year’s Golden Haiku Contest, Washington, D.C.

This year’s contest garnered more than 1,000 entries, among them poems from the authors of the other six winning haiku – Terri L. French, Marek Kozubek, Trish Bright, Mark E. Brager, Sandip Chauhan, and Michele L. Harvey.

Aside from the numbers game, the judges of this year’s contest are some real haiku heavies, so I am quite honored that they found merit in my little poem.  My sincere thanks to the contest judges, Abigail Friedman, author of The Haiku Apprentice; John Stevenson, managing editor of the haiku journal The Heron’s Nest and author of several haiku collection; and NHK World’s Kit Pancoast Nagamura.

The other two haiku in my submission were also named runners-up in the contest.  Here they are:

my_haiku_runners_up
My haiku will be displayed on placards as in the image at top with the other contest winners and runners-up around Washington, D.C.’s Golden Triangle neighborhood, near the White House.

Public art exists to inspire others and bring meaning to people’s everyday lives.  I hope my “zucchini” haiku will bring lots of people joy.

Claudia Radmore’s Commentary on My ‘Flickering Thoughts’

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Photo: Johanleijon/Creative Commons/Flickr

When you send art out into the world, it’s always fascinating to see how folks respond to it.

I had a lovely experience along these lines recently when the Canadian poet Claudia Radmore wrote to tell me that she had blogged about some poems, including one of mine, published in the most recent issue of Haiku Canada Review. In her post, “Enter the Frog, or Haiku from the Haiku Canada Review,” Radmore holds up three poems from the February 2017 issue of Haiku Canada Review as good examples of very short haiku.

Sandwiched between Radmore’s commentary on haiku by Charlotte Digregorio and Edward Cody Huddleston is her commentary on my haiku, and my haiku itself:

evening fire
thoughts flicker
in his words

(© Jennifer Hambrick)

In her commentary, Radmore notes:

This poem is a quiet one and brings to mind the times when people are together trying to share thoughts, when those people might wonder about what a person’s words might mean. It’s a poem of uncertainty. Flickering thoughts could indicate doubt, or hesitation. They could be very important in any kind of relationship and are sometimes hard to pin down. These flickering thoughts, and the image of the person’s face in the flickering light…even that image is strong enough to be frightening, or calming, or loving, or simply an exchange of philosophical ideas. This little poem is packed if you take time with it.

What I find fascinating is the range of emotional possibilities Radmore sees in my poem.  I wrote this haiku on a wintry Saturday evening, after a fun and lively conversation.  To me, the flickering thoughts warmed my spirit and stoked the flames of my imagination.  The conversation wrapped me in feelings of contentment, like an “evening fire” on a cold night, and left me with a certain emotional warmth and with a vista of new and promising possibilities.

In the moment that inspired the poem, I felt no uncertainty, doubt or hesitation, though I love that Radmore pulled those other levels of experience out of the text, and specifically out of my image of “flickering thoughts.”  Even though I wrote my haiku on the inspiration of one particular emotional experience, I also hoped that the poem would resonate universally from reader to reader.  But I hadn’t anticipated that it would resonate more universally across the boundaries among types of emotional experiences.

And this is one of the things that’s so great about art: When my thoughts and your thoughts find each other in a work of art, they can flicker away to new and unexpected ends.  And that makes life rich and endlessly fascinating.

Nicholas Klacsanzky’s Commentary on My ‘Deployment’ Haiku

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Photo: Bobistraveling/Creative Commons/Flickr

I am extremely honored and delighted that poet, editor, and blogger Nicholas Klacsanzky has selected my ‘deployment’ haiku (which was first published in Modern Haiku, 47.3, and which I blogged about in December) for his thoughtful commentary on his Haiku Commentary blog today. You can read his post and my original poem here.

The son of the pioneering American haikuist George Klacsanzky, Nicholas Klacsanzky follows in his father’s footsteps with his own esteemed poetry in the Japanese short forms and through Haiku Commentary, where he uncovers the inner workings of present-day examples of what he calls “perhaps the smallest style of poetry.”

Of my ‘deployment’ haiku Klacsansky writes, “This haiku has a lot of energy to it. It has an immediacy and freshness that most haiku do not have.” His insights into the “energy” of the em dash, the “immediacy” of not naming the type of tree that so quickly drops its leaves in the poem, and the “melancholy” and “stark” effects of the vowels are fascinating to me as the poet.

But I am most struck by what Klacsanzky has to say about the last line of the poem: “The pacing of the haiku is powerful, especially with how the last line comes. Not only is the punctuation used for a significant emotional end, but also the last line (without tricks) is palpable and alarming.”

Of course, I planned none of these effects, per se.  But I’m glad the poem has them, and that Klacsanzky’s extremely thoughtful commentary has laid them bare. And I’m glad the poem is, in its own way, “alarming.” The finality of the end of a single human life, much less of the legions who perish at war, should stop us cold.  The tree in my poem will likely grow new leaves come spring.  The souls lost in battle are gone forever.

If a poet writes a poem and no one reads it, does the poem have meaning?  This question is one for the philosophers.  As a poet, though, I find I reassuring that a reader with Nicholas Klacsanzky’s deep insights into poetry is so committed to sharing them respectfully and unpretentiously for everyone to experience.  Klacsanzky’s Haiku Commentary helps make the world of English-language haiku one of wonder and discovery for all.

‘Deployment’ Haiku in Autumn 2016 Issue of Modern Haiku and Online

modern_haiku_47-3_heading
Modern Haiku journal, issue 47.3

In one sense, poems are very much like children: When you put them out into the world, you have no idea where they’ll go, what they’ll do, or whom they’ll meet.

I was surprised when, recently, I was notified by a fellow Ohio poet of the online goings-on of one of my haiku.

I knew some time ago that Paul Miller, editor of the beautiful print journal Modern Haiku, had accepted one of my haiku for publication in the journal’s autumn 2016 issue (47.3). And when that issue rolled off the presses and found its way to me, I was thrilled to read a phenomenal issue jam packed with inspiration.

But what I did not know until fellow Ohio haikuist Elliot Nicely pointed it out is that my haiku has also been published online in the Web Sampler of the Autumn 2016 (47.3) issue of Modern Haiku.

I consider this a great honor. Modern Haiku is arguably the Rolls Royce of English-language haiku journals. It is competitive to get into, it is rich in high-caliber creative content – haiku, senryu, haibun, haiga, essays, and so forth, it regularly publishes the most prominent haiku poets writing in English today, and it is beautifully produced. To have one’s work published in Modern Haiku is in itself a signal event.

But the poems published on Modern Haiku’s Web Sampler comprise a sort of “editor’s choice” for each issue of the journal, a representative sample of the quality and type of poems the journal publishes and encourages writers to submit.

And something I find especially fun about the Web Sampler for Modern Haiku issue 47.3: Of the 10 poets whose haiku/senryu were selected, fully three (myself included) live and work in Ohio.

Congratulations to editor Paul Miller and to all of the poets who make each issue of Modern Haiku a joy to read and an honor to be part of.

Two Haiku Published ‘auf deutsch’ in the German Journal ‘Chrysanthemum’

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Photo: Tamorlan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Translations are like lovers: the faithful ones aren’t beautiful, and the beautiful ones aren’t faithful.

This expression, which I picked up in graduate school from one of the musicologists on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, pretty accurately sums up the general state of translation. When it comes to translations, we don’t live in glass houses; we live in the Tower of Babel, hearing each others’ languages, but  not understanding them – even when, in a literal sense, we speak the same language.  We are always, it seems, playing a game of Telephone, mired in human imperfection as we are, and so prone as we are to hearing what we want to hear. Misunderstanding is all but inevitable.

Given the generally sluttish state of translations, I consider myself extremely fortunate that the first translations of some of my poems into a language other than English were exceptionally brilliantly executed. Big thanks to editor Beate Conrad for publishing two of my haiku in English and in German translation in the most recent issue of the German journal Chrysanthemum.

Here are my haiku as published in Chrysanthemum 20 (October 2016), in the original English and in Beate Conrad’s German translations:

full moon glow                                                        Vollmondschein
blankets eggs                                                           deckt Eier zu
in the abandoned bird’s nest                                in dem verlassnen Nest

dropping from the cone                                         aus dem Hörnchen tropft
the ice cream melts                                                 das Eis, zerschmilzt
into a frown                                                              in ein Stirnrunzeln

I love that German allows “full moon glow” to appear as “Vollmondschein,” speeding up into a single word the ephemeral haiku moment the poem conveys. In the second haiku, I love that German syntax allows the ice cream – “das Eis” – to drop from the verb “drops” at the end of the first line to the beginning of the second line. In English, such a construction would come across as stilted:

out of the cone drops
the ice cream …

But as good as Conrad’s translations are, her editing is at least as compelling. I have long thought that there should be an editor’s Hippocratic Oath, paraphrased something like this: I will use treatment (read: I will edit) to help the sick (read: to help the writing) according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing.

Why is it that so many editors perpetrate bloody murder on writing and get off scot-free?  Why are good editors so few and far between?

I despair.

But Beate Conrad suggested a brilliant edit to my ice cream haiku. My original text read:

dropping from the cone
the ice cream melts
her face into a frown

Isn’t it so much more vivid that not the face, but the ice cream itself melts into a frown, as in Conrad’s edited version?

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

This one edit – so subtle and yet so great – says so much about the essence of poetry, about showing not telling, about using fewer words to say more.

Thank you, Beate Conrad, for making my words better – in English and in German. And thank you for your beautiful journal.

Big Thanks to Boston’s Muddy River Poetry Review

tim-dorr-atlanta-airport
Photo: Tim Dorr/Creative Commons/Flickr

I am extremely grateful to editor Zvi Sesling for publishing two of my poems in the Fall 2016 issue of Boston’s Muddy River Poetry Review.

Both of my poems in this issue explore themes and situations from domestic life.  The inspiration for “Our Father of the Airport” actually did unfold at Gate A18 of the Atlanta Airport, while I waited for a connecting flight on a visit with my in-laws.  I really did look up from my pleasure reading to see a young father smiling down at the tiny boy on his lap, looking for all the world like the Virgin Mary in all those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child.  I let my imagination play with this idea of a “male Madonna and Child,” and the result is “Our Father of the Airport.”

In “Privacy, Suburban Style” I wrestle with the surreal and unnatural hush that social decorum and respect for the boundaries of others dictate must surround a tragic event.  The poem holds everything at a distance, and I still lament that many preset-day communities in American society, at least, often have no universally accepted rituals and even no language and for simply offering help and love to those who suffer in deeply personal situations.

Be sure to check out all the other great poems in this issue.