Ulysses, according to poet Rachael Hegarty, “is one long haiku.”
Seven hundred and thirty pages does put James Joyce’s novel at a slightly higher syllable count than a traditional haiku, the spare Japanese poetic form of 5 syllable line, 7 syllable line, 5 syllable line, but haikus let us taste what the writer tastes, hear what she hears, smell what he smells, see what they see and, as Hegarty pointed out, this is exactly what Ulysses does for 21st century Dubliners looking back on their city in 1904. Though not a read for the faint-hearted, the book is rich in the essence of life in Dublin a hundred years ago. Set on 16 June 1904, it is the story of Leopold Bloom’s ramble through Dublin, giving that date the name Bloomsday, and academics something to endlessly discuss.
Hegarty was launching the Ulysses Haiku Project — an exhibition curated by artist Nickie Hayden — at the James Joyce Centre earlier this week. With the artistic layers of an onion, the project explores the relationship of current Dubliners from all backgrounds to the novel, expressed mostly in haiku format.
The exhibit gives this art-response-to-art another layer, with printmaker Robert Russell etching haikus and photographs onto copper plates. Sheaves of haikus have been fastened onto copper drums which you can spin and find a haiku to suit your day. Visitors are also invited to write their own haikus which will be added to the display.
Also in the James Joyce centre and launched this week, is A Vision of Joyce by Ballyfermot College of Further Education, visual art produced by 2nd year animation students who engaged with the text and physical locations from the book to create both background art for a proposed animated film on Joyce and illustrations for a new edition of the novel.
Here’s my haiku from the launch, inspired not so much by Ulysses itself, but by the city that runs through it:
I cross the river
and back each day, with the wind
carrying me home.
June is the month to celebrate one of Ireland’s most famous tomes, and Bloomsday has gone from one day of marking the places and people that populate Joyce’s novel, to a five day event of walking tours, readings, general frolicking, and food, including of course breakfast, with pork kidneys — possibly with the “tang of faintly scented urine”.
To see all that the festival offers, visit the Bloomsday Festival website. The Ulysses Haiku Project and Ballyfermot College’s A Vision of Joyce run until December 2019.