Amelia’s Magazine | Haiku Salut: Japanese Poems Steal Brains

Haiku Salut book_cover_1
Ian Watson is the manager of cult Derbyshire band Haiku Salut and they also happen to be signed to his label How Does It Feel To Be Loved? Ian has a very close relationship to the band and was the person who prompted them to make their new book Japanese Poems Steal Brains. Here he tells the tale…

‘The first time I took Haiku Salut out for lunch, they pretty much ignored me for the whole of the meal. They were a week and a half into a tour with folk legends Lau and, unbeknownst to me, knee deep in a quest to write 100 haikus in 24 hours. My memory of that day is of these “three mute girls”, as they sometimes call themselves, with their heads down, scribbling frantically in notebooks or jabbing at the screens of their phones.
That evening, after a typically joyous and emotional show in a church in Sandwich, we drove back to a friend’s fisherman’s cottage in Broadstairs, where – fortified by red wine and the relief of having completed their task – they insisted on giving a recital of their creations, over the course of a surreal and increasingly hilarious hour. For a band famed for never speaking onstage, they were entertaining in a way that their fans never get to see.
After that night, suggesting we turn a selection of the many hundreds of haikus they’d written over the last year into a book seemed obvious. Featuring wonderful illustrations by Katrine Brosnan, Japanese Poems Steal Brains tells the story of this quite unique band, as they trundle around the country in their red postal van, playing their gorgeous instrumental music in churches and interesting spaces, scribbling haikus as they go. Like them, it’s funny, poignant and contains the occasional piece of good advice. Just the thing to take on your next unusual lunch date.’

When did you start writing haikus? Was it just for fun or did it serve another purpose for you?
We were fans of haikus before we formed the band. When I first discovered and started reading them I found them very humbling, a reminder that there is so much happening everywhere all the time. I tried to slow down and take notice of things, tiny things. I started to write one every day to record snippets of potentially forgotten moments and I found it a lot of fun, I enjoyed reading them to Gemma, some of them were funny – like an anti-joke in poetry form. I don’t write one every day now as I don’t have the time but when I think back to the six months or so when I did I can remember things with such clarity! Not just the content of the haiku itself, but I can remember what I was doing before, after, who I was with, what music I was enjoying around that time. Unintentionally the haikus were documenting that period of my life. I can’t remember when Haiku Salut as a band started writing haikus…it sort of crept in I suppose and then somewhere along the line we decided we’d all write one for every day we were touring. When you’re on tour there’s a lot of none-time, we’re always waiting for something, to arrive, to soundcheck, to eat, to play, there’s a lot of time to fill and writing haikus is a way to keep each other entertained. We’ve branched out to univocular poems now too (poems that only use one vowel).

You famously don’t talk on stage. Why not? Is writing haikus a way for you to communicate something that you can’t with your music?
I can’t remember a time that we ever spoke on stage, it was never a conscious decision not to do so but it always seemed out of place. Like it would ruin something. Communication to the outside world wasn’t our initial intention when we started writing music together and the haikus that we’ve written weren’t written with an audience in mind either (except for each other).

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How did you go from writing haikus backstage to publishing a book? How was it put together?
We were talking with our manager about them and he asked if we had ever considered releasing them in a collection. At first the idea seemed absurd and silly, but eventually it felt romantic and exciting, and we’re very excited that we’re going to be published poets. Our first port of call was our friend and illustrator Katrine Brosnan to see if she would be interested in working on the book with us. Her style is so naive and unique and so full of character that the idea of coupling her work together with haikus seemed like the perfect match. We had a lot of fun collecting together all the old haikus we’ve written and remembering incidents that would have otherwise been lost.

The book tells the story of what happened to you in 2013 and some of 2014, but actually starts in Sweden in 2011. What were you doing there, and what made the trip so memorable?
When we went to Sweden it was the first time we had played abroad which in itself made the trip memorable. We flew with Ryan Air and had to buy a seat for the accordion (Geraldo). The plane was hot and busy and two or three irritated people asked me to move Geraldo so they could be seated. Their irritation turned into bafflement with the response “He’s bought a ticket, that’s his seat“.

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A lot of the book covers your experiences playing live, either doing your own tours or playing with Lau. What would someone learn about life on the road by reading the haikus?
Things go wrong. You will get lost.

One of the most striking haikus is about almost being sick through a trumpet. What can you tell us about the night before and the morning after that inspired that?
That’s my favourite haiku of the whole book! It’s one of Gemma’s. We were on tour with Lau at the time and we’d all spent the previous night drinking till the early hours in the kitchen of a Youth Hostel Association in Salisbury. Me and Louise had gotten off lightly and went into Salisbury the next morning to buy special olives whilst Gemma sicked muchly at the hostel. A few hours later we were soundchecking in Bexhill (Gemma in slippers) and…well…have you ever tried playing trumpet suffering from the worst hangover of your life?

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At one point in the book, you almost seem overwhelmed by the need to write haikus. Did they take over your life?
Our friend Tim Clare is a poet and every year he writes one hundred poems in a day. We were on tour at the same time he was doing this and as we’d been writing haikus for the fortnight previous decided to match his goal with a hundred haikus. That day we spent a windy day in Canterbury, played a show with Lau in a beautiful old church in Sandwich and stayed in a fisherman’s cottage in a bleak seaside town called Broadstairs so there was lots to document. The title of the book is taken from the middle line of one of Louise’s haikus from that day “Japanese Poems Steal Brains“.

The book contains illustrations by Katrine Brosnan who also designed the sleeve for your debut album. Did you give her any pointers on what you’d like the illustrations to be? What’s your favourite illustration in the book?
No, we trust Katrine Brosnan completely. She had a free reign to do whatever she wanted and it’s turned out beyond anything we had imagined. My personal favourite is the lady with the inside out umbrella. I wrote the haiku that it relates to and I remember sitting in a Mexican cafe in Canterbury and looking out of the window as a gust of wind threw a lady’s umbrella inside out and she looked about her to see if anyone had noticed. I like that she will have no idea that two people have documented this occasion in poetic and illustrative form.

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Will you doing any readings from the book?
We’re doing a launch party on November 1st at Scarthin Books in the Peak District which is a stone’s throw from where we practice. Scarthin Books is the best book shop in the world (the 6th best according to The Guardian), it’s so spindly and there were rooms I didn’t know existed until a few months back. There’s also a vegan/vegetarian cafe that you can only get into by pulling out the correct book case. It’s going to be a fantastic evening with red wine and some surprises.

What are your hopes/ambitions for the book?
As the book has an ISBN number it that means that we have to send a copy to the British Library, that was a hope/ambition that we didn’t know we had! Our other ambition was to get it stocked in the best book shop in the world. Anything else is a bonus!

The book is published on November 3rd, but some advance copies will be onsale at the band’s forthcoming Lamp Show tour. The dates for that are:

Weds Oct 8, Nottingham Contemporary
Fri Oct 10, Victoria Baths, Manchester
Sat Oct 11, St John On Bethnal Green, London
Sun Oct 12, Four Bars, Cardiff

Ian continues, ‘The Lamp Show is quite something. It features twenty vintage lamps which are programmed to flash, fade and flicker in time to the music. There’s a video of it in action here if you’d like to take a look.

One of the things I love about Haiku is that they find so many ways to be creative – they don’t just write fantastic music, but they think of startling ways to present it live, and now have written a book too. It’s quite nice wandering around their creative world…’

Categories ,Broadstairs, ,Haiku, ,Haiku Salut, ,How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, ,Ian Watson, ,Japanese Poems Steal Brains, ,Katrine Brosnan, ,Lau, ,Sandwich, ,Scarthin Books, ,Tim Clare

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