Recycled loss composts this garden. Loss of everything dear you’ve treasured since childhood: your tin shovel the sandbox swallowed. The mewing kitten your mother rescued from the white line. The dog a car found. The feel of your grandmother’s hair and that silver bracelet she gave you that your little sister pulled from your wrist when you saved her from drowning in a big wave. The kite that flew away to Neverland. And that’s just the beginning. first look through the wrong end of the telescope Look at the strata in that wall of rock? What got lost there? Floods and earthquakes, and the dinosaur whose footprints wander still, trapped for rockternity. So what is growing in that composting soil, watered by the futile tears you’ve shed over the years as treasured things and even loved ones have gone under? Your wrinkled hands are still here, still able to grasp and let go. Sift that soil, let it dribble through the spaces between your fingers, raise it to the wind of your breath after the party a flock of helium balloons in the backyard trees Your father’s gold pocket watch has been sprouting hands all over the place. Grab a few and learn the art of transformation. All your losses have recycled into dirt, and from that dirt a springing forth will rise, persistent like persistent bulbs that push up to reveal themselves again and again in all their transient beauty.
What is the significance of this work to you?
Both these haibun were written as part of a series of pandemic-time poems, a practice of writing almost daily that I began last spring, hoping to offer moments of calm amidst all the chaos on social media these days. "Today's Menu" reflects my focus on being in the moment. I also capture my occasional discouraged mood early in the quarantine time, and then try to cheer myself up. At the end, I remind myself of my mother's sage observation: we are as good as can be expected, considering the circumstances.
"About Loss" reflects my fascination with time. Loss is inevitable for us all, whether loss of the past, loss of loved ones, loss of things held dear. In this piece, I try to come to terms with that fact and affirm that it's all one, everything recycles. Also, toward the end I am more surreal than usual, grabbing a few of the multiple hands of my father's pocket watch. I like when that spontaneously happens. And as I just reread the piece, I wanted to change the repetition of the word 'persistent' before bulbs in the last sentence, to "perennial." Sometimes a piece is never quite finished with us.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
I love writing haibun. Haibun is a kind of journey---a journey that can be geographical, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or a combination of any of those-—and the genre combines blocs of prose or prose-poem with haiku. The integrated haiku should not directly continue the narrative but amplify the mood or meaning, much like the ripples resulting from throwing a pebble in a pebble into a pond. The challenge is to find the best haiku to do that. A haibun can be a short as a paragraph with one haiku, or a narrative with several. Where to insert the haiku is the poet's choice.
What was your process for creating these pieces?
When I start to write I'm not sure whether the piece will be a free-verse poem or a haibun. But as I get into it, it soon becomes clear to me if the texture of the piece wants to be a haibun—perhaps because it is more narrative than lyric. And although not in these pieces, I have sometimes taken a free-verse poem that just isn't making it for me and tried recasting it as haibun, often finding that it can work better for that piece.
Penny Harter’s work has appeared in Persimmon Tree, Rattle, Tiferet, and many other journals, and her poem "In the Dark" was featured on Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry column. Her more recent collections include A Prayer the Body Makes (2020); The Resonance Around Us (2013); One Bowl ( 2012); and Recycling Starlight (2010). A featured reader at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival, she has won three fellowships from from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as awards from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America, the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for her work in American Nature Writing, 2002, and two fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). For more info, please visit: pennyharterpoet.com