Category Archives: haikuisation

Oulipost #17: Haikuisation

We’re Oso. We

just do it,” says one.
Just before the dark drizzling
the long line of trucks

Highway from mudslide
dump trucks. Dozens moved slowly
bed with bulldozers

to the Oso Fire
“They’re coming in,” her front yard.
walked back to the old

rescue workers peeled
the stomp of boots and voices
farmhouse. In minutes

fluorescent bunker
gear, leaving chunks of blue mud
the wraparound porch

jobs “go out to pile”
swath of refuse-laden gray
mud moved the boxes

items kept coffee
visiting workers remain
Among the workers

searchers gleaned the mounds
slide scene human remains
personal possessions

clues — a comic book
toolbox, a toy how life used
an Easter Egg Hunt

many events small
community losing neighbors
site warmed themselves

burn barrel distant
foothills, rolls blue-black gathered
slid against wet grass

Smoke scattered valley
next access road at the slide
porch traffic crawled past

white farmhouse, half-staff
Heavy equipment a flat
bed parked at the side

day doing dishes
lights blinked her husband, Oso
a roof in the road

some flooding, something
traffic cones for what they found:
a lunar landscape

gray where the trees, homes
Highway 530 had been
The community

all-Oso Fire scene
out-of-town left core full
time sandwiching time

“You don’t think about
fire-station kitchen, one point
feeding 200

heavy equipment
diesel to operate time
it takes away Oso

it’s part of being
historic white Oso bell
picking raspberries

she gossiped about
meanders through the valley
pushed out when arrived

piles of mud the locals
loggers familiar argued
The contentiousness

across the wet grass
the slide recovered toolbox —
the entire thing

flattened. born in tent
Oso Chapel grew the fire
These days have contact

the old Oso know
so”  she said around
the table bright-blue

the slide finding “cars
a quilt perfectly intact”
a cabinet shop

motivated site
anxiety of not knowing
all the customers

the man usual
paused as a helicopter
bodies from the scene.

There is no normal
I don’t really want to go
a will in the mud

it led to finding
body, its author other
days have been photos.

Each one is preserved.
Montana is indignant
keeps the coffee pot

work is personal —
private pieces of neighbors
“It’s just weird,” he said

I want to escape
the last few days he’s been on
the fire station

the floor at the fire
“Easter (Sunday) will be hard.”
This year, the stranger

envelope of fire
groceries and firewood
What would sacrifice?


Poem was constructed from:

Bartley, Nancy. “Local Volunteers Provide Help Like No Other at the Mudslide.Seattle Times 17 April 2014 Print Replica.

Note on composition and process:

This poem is an experiment in applying elements of the traditional Japanese haiku to the text of a newspaper article, notably the 3 phrases of 17 syllables (5-7-5). I admit this an imperfect translation of the traditional form, as the Japanese “on,” or “morae,” differ in duration from English syllabics — dipthongs, certain vowels, double consonants, and n’s at the end of syllables are extended in on’s. But I digress. The Oulipo were never known for being strict traditionalists. Constraints are arbitrary, after all. Mere limits we place on the unlimited to give it shape, for a short duration. Basically, the point here is to condense and cut hard between lines, pushing the prose into a more surreal register.  If you’re interested, head over to the Found Poetry Review blog, read today’s full prompt, and see how the other 80-ish participants are interpreting the exercise.

Don’t be fooled by the output; this was a relatively quick exercise — about 30 min. Composing this blog post is actually taking me longer than the poem above. Basically, all I did was copy and paste the text of the main front page article from today’s Seattle Times into a Word doc and began cutting away at the dross. I started at the beginning counting out 5 and 7 syllables at a time. After the first little stanza it got pretty easy to spot phrasings that worked. Since I tend not to think of images literally as pictures, but as complexes of material (ala Ezra Pound), I have no problem with a phrase functioning like an image. The main thing is juxtaposition. Once I finished cutting, I went back through the poem and eliminated about 10 or so stanzas that were stalling. I was actually pleased with the outcome. I did try to see how the same constraint worked with a less image-heavy piece, like an editorial, but I realized quickly that it would take all day. I am curious how well the exercise might work for something like the comics, but time is of the essence, so it’ll have to wait till next month.