Kathleen Bernard
on

Margaret Chula & Alexis Rotella

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001


Kathleen Bernard

 

Bernard's Essay on
Chula's Haiku

 

A Comparison: Margaret Chula & Alexis Rotella

Margaret Chula and Alexis Rotella are both highly respected haiku writers in the haiku community. Their respective haiku poems are excellent in the sense that they are both very good writers at capturing a moment using the senses. This is the main reason I was drawn into Chula’s and Rotella’s poems. I loved how they did their best to make the readers use all five of the senses while reading the haiku poems.

While they are both very adept at writing for provoking the senses, each author also has her own characteristics in her writings. I noticed that Rotella was fonder of punctuation than Chula was. Almost all of Rotella’s haiku end with a period. Rotella is also more prone to use commas and other forms of punctuation. Chula uses punctuation rather sparingly in her haiku poems, especially when compared to Rotella, Chula’s spare use of punctuation is even more pronounced. I think Chula tends to focus more on nature in her poems, while many of Rotella’s poems deal with heterosexual love and feelings.

However, I still found many pairs of haiku poems that I thought were good to pair together:

Chin on the broom   floating petals.

(Rotella 176 Haiku Anthology)

 

sweeping, sweeping, sweep—
the old woman’s broom
no match for the wind

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

Shiva
All those hands
All those pigeons

(Rotella 76 Haiku Handbook)

cold wind stirs my hair
and the fern fronds
the bald Buddha

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

Against his coat
I brush my lips---
The silence of snowflakes.

(Rotella 172 Haiku Anthology)

paying respects
wiping my nose on the rough wool
of my black coat

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

lying in the wet grass,
him still beating
inside me.

(Rotella 171 Haiku Anthology)

closing his fan
the cool fragrance
of a kimono sleeve

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

My last day at work---
Already someone has taken
The stapler from my desk.

(Rotella 177 Haiku Anthology)

saying goodbye
snow melting
from the roof tiles

(Chula 23 Haiku Anthology)

My favorite pair was the first pair. I thought this pair showed the authors’ differences and similarities perfectly. Here they are dealing with the same idea, yet they show their differences by the style that they used to express their moments. Both haiku create a picture of someone trying to sweep some area, perhaps the front porch, and the person realizing how pointless it is to try and go against the wind. Yet, in each haiku, the subject of the haiku takes a different tactic in dealing with the wind. In Rotella’s haiku, the sweeper seems to have given up and has let nature do its thing. The sweeper simply says, "enough," and rests his or her chin on the tip of the broom and watches the wind at its best: spreading the petals of the nearby flowers all around the area. The sweeper realized no matter how much he or she tried to sweep the petals and other things that were flying around that the wind was going to have the ultimate say. Therefore, the sweeper decided to just relax and enjoy the show that the wind put on with the floating petals. In Chula’s haiku, the sweeper does just the opposite. The sweeper is a stubborn, old woman who keeps up the motions: sweeping, sweeping, sweep. Even though her sweeping motions are not strong enough to fight the wind and she probably is starting to realize that, she keeps working at it, more determined than ever not to let the wind have its way. I also loved this pair because while Chula put this idea into typical three-line haiku verse, Rotella got the same idea across in a single line haiku poem. I thought it was really interesting to see the exact same idea in such different forms and styles.

My second comparison pair was:

Shiva
All those hands
All those pigeons

(Rotella 76 Haiku Handbook)

cold wind stirs my hair
and the fern fronds
the bald Buddha

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

The thing that these two haiku have in common is that they both talk about gods, Shiva and Buddha. I thought it was really interesting that both these haiku poems dealt with physical aspects of the gods, rather than spiritual or emotional. Most people usually think of gods in spiritual ways, not physical forms. I think this was the main reason I liked these haiku. The repetition in Rotella’s haiku helps to create the image of the statue of Shiva. The repetition also helped create the idea of how many hands and pigeons there were. It seems that the writer only became aware of the statue of Shiva because of all the hands and all the pigeons. I felt this way true in Chula’s poem. It seems that the writer only became away of the Buddha statue because it was bald. The writer noticed the baldness of the statue when she became aware of her own hair and the ‘hair’ (the fronds) of the fern plant. I loved how Chula called attention to the senses in this haiku because she described the wind as being "cold." So then we realize that the writer became aware of the wind in her hair because the wind was cold. I thought this haiku did a good job at capturing the moment of someone realizing all of a sudden her hair and the fern fronds were moving because of the cold wind. Then, right after this realization, this person was all of a sudden aware of the baldness of the statue of Buddha.

My third pair was:

Against his coat
I brush my lips---
The silence of snowflakes.

(Rotella 172 Haiku Anthology)

paying respects
wiping my nose on the rough wool
of my black coat

(Chula Grinding My Ink)

I really enjoyed this pair by these two authors. This haiku by Rotella tells of an intimate moment between two lovers. The woman brushes her lips against her lover’s coat, while doing this intimate act, she then notices the silence of the snowflakes that surround her lover and her. It took an intimate moment for her to realize the beauty and silence of nature around her. Rotella seems to be saying that these quiet moments between lovers help us appreciate the wonders of nature. In Chula’s haiku, Chula seems to be suggesting that there are some moments that cause such shock that we do not even become aware of what is going around us. In this haiku, the writer is at a funeral of someone special. Because it was someone significant to the writer, she is crying and having problems dealing with the funeral. The writer then wipes her runny nose on her coat, and she is so upset by the funeral that she doesn’t even realize that it hurts her nose to wipe it on the rough wool of the coat. I loved how Chula was making a statement about some moments being so impactive that we don’t realize the physical things around us. Then on the flip side, Rotella was saying that some moments are so profound that it is only in those moments that we become truly aware of those physical things around us.

My fourth pair was:

lying in the wet grass,
him still beating
inside me.

(Rotella 171 Haiku Anthology)

closing his fan
the cool fragrance
of a kimono sleeve

(Chula Grinding My Ink

This haiku by Chula was one of the few that I could locate that I thought discussed some aspect of heterosexual love. I pictured a woman looking through her lover’s stuff that he left at her place perhaps. She opens and closes his fan, then she picks up his kimono and smells his smell on the sleeve. I thought this haiku did a good job at calling the senses up. The reader can feel the snap of the fan closing, and then they can picture a woman smelling her man’s fragrance. All of these deal with physical senses: the sound, the smell. Then in Rotella’s haiku, we get a feel for the emotional senses in her poem. The writer says she can still feel him beating inside her. I took this in an emotional sense. As in her time spent with him previous to the haiku was so wonderful that he shook her entire being and she is still so amazed at how wonderful he is, she can feel how he affects her entire being. However, I did like how Rotella also made sure to incorporate some physical sense in her haiku because she helps set a place by telling the reader "lying on wet grass." This haiku is like the previous haiku; something had such a profound impact on the writer that she doesn’t even notice what is going on around her. It is almost like the reader is still so thrilled with her lover that she doesn’t seem to notice she is lying on wet grass.

My final favorite pair from these two authors was:

My last day at work---
Already someone has taken
The stapler from my desk.

(Rotella 177 Haiku Anthology)

saying goodbye
snow melting
from the roof tiles

(Chula 23 Haiku Anthology)

I thought these two haiku were an interesting contrast on different good-byes. In Rotella’s haiku, it seems like the goodbye is rushed and meaningless. It seems her co-workers are not too concerned with the fact that she is leaving, they are already looking for the positives in the situation, such as obtaining her stapler. Rotella is capturing the moment by making the claim that the goodbye should be more important than obtaining some dinky piece of office equipment, such as a stapler. I really enjoyed how Rotella captured the moment of a seemingly everyday goodbye. However, Chula seems to capture the emotional goodbye in her haiku. With Chula’s haiku, I pictured two people standing out in front of the house, trying to say their good-byes. But, it is very difficult for them to say it. Instead of bringing themselves to say it, they are focusing on the things going on around them, such as the snow melting off the roof. I loved how Chula captured the sense of some things are so hard to do that it is in those moments that we turn to nature and notice nature.

Overall, I loved these two haiku writers, but for different reasons. I loved Rotella because she tended to speak of love more in her haiku. She has many poems that seem to reflect more of a modern lifestyle. However, while Chula also captures everyday life, she seems to connect it more with nature and nature’s aspects. Not too many of Rotella’s haiku poems have a connection to nature.

I thought that both writers did an excellent job of invoking the senses of the readers. When writers can do that, their poems are more appealing to the readers. Readers get more involved in haiku that they feel their senses being stimulated by. Also, when invoking the senses of the readers, it lets the readers bring their own experiences and ideas to the haiku, thus making the haiku even more appealing and interesting. For example, when Rotella says "wet grass," I can remember one of my own memories of slipping on wet grass and feeling the water on my hands and fingers. The same thing happens when Chula says, "cold wind stirs my hair." I can remember a time when I was outside and I felt the cold wind whipping my hair around my face, leaving my neck exposed to the falling snow. I love writers that let the readers bring their own memories and ideas into the haiku, especially when it involves the senses. I think these two writers do an excellent job of that, and that was why it was so pleasurable to compare these two authors.

—Kathleen Bernard


 

©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors