Do you haiku, part deaux

Chris JonesIt seems like so long ago now, back before the time change, even, that I wrote a little article here on bluegrass haiku. Some loved it, others hated it, but almost everyone had some kind of reaction to the hyper-condensed haiku version of The Rebel Soldier:

not feeling so good
is this preacher listening?
Yankee prisons suck

If you prefer the Irish version of this song, simply change the word “Yankee” to “British.” See how easy this is? Incidentally, there was a discussion about the origins of The Rebel Soldier on my Bluegrass Junction Truegrass show recently, and it turns out to be a serious can of worms (not literally), and we’ll take that up next week, or possibly in 2017 sometime.

Since the whole bluegrass haiku subject came up, though, I’ve had requests (from no one) to follow this up with more haiku versions of classic bluegrass standards like that one.

Haiku bluegrass songs have numerous advantages. Among other things, these versions make it possible to record one CD of about 120 songs and still stay within your recording budget. I would stick with songs in the public domain, though, or the cost for mechanical licenses will be staggering.

We all love the classic Bill Monroe racehorse song Molly and Tenbrooks. If you were mostly just waiting for the banjo break to come around and weren’t absorbing much of the story beyond “Run Molly run . . . something something . . . coffin ready made, oh Lord . . .” let me briefly explain that it’s the story of two race-horses, Molly and—stick with me here—Tenbrooks. They get together in a big race in which the owner of Tenbrooks chides the jockey “Kiper” (spell it however you want) for his poor riding technique and for not letting Tenbrooks run (perhaps the race was fixed?). Kiper wises up, Tenbrooks overtakes Molly who gets so winded she dies and gets buried in the “coffin ready made” mentioned above. Apparently Molly wasn’t considered worthy of a made-to-order coffin, so it was ready-made for her. Plus, it’s just so difficult to get a decent made-to-order horse coffin these days, even in Louisville, so maybe it was then too.

Boiling this one down into the traditional haiku form of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables each won’t be easy, but here’s a try:

Kiper’s no jockey
Tenbrooks should be winning this
whoops! Molly is dead

Or, if you prefer bringing in a line from the original song, here’s an alternate version:

oh run Molly run
but watch your heart condition
it’s only a race

Perhaps you feel this is lacking some of the simple poetic beauty of the traditional haiku. Maybe you’d prefer this:

two sets of hoofbeats
proud steeds in Kentucky sun
where’s that horse coffin?

I think we all know the plot of Banks of the Ohio. It’s the classic boy-meets-girl, girl-spurns-boy, boy-lures-girl-to-river, boy-throws-girl-in-river, sheriff’s-men-knock-on-door murder ballad. A haiku might go something like this:

I drowned her, it’s true
oh great! Here comes the sheriff!
call Johnny Cochran

Little Maggie has lots of possibilities, because Maggie herself had so much going on in her life, and she’s a very likeable character: she has eyes that shine like diamonds, and she packs a .44 and a banjo with her at the same time. What’s not to like? The Little Maggie haiku:

with dram glass in hand
she’ll dance and play the banjo
sweet multi-tasker

I have a theory that most people have no idea what the plot of Barbara Allen actually is because they tend to tune out along about the word “dwellin’” which I think is either in the second or the ninth verse.  In a nutshell (and I had to look it up, I’ll admit), it’s a Romeo and Juliet sort of tale in which Sweet William, who maybe should have been called Overdramatic William, is literally dying for the love of Barbara Allen. She’s not too moved by the situation until he actually dies, then she feels bad and dies of remorse herself. The story takes between 12 and 126 verses to tell, depending on which version you like. If this were condensed into haiku form, I think a lot more people would be able to answer a basic question about Barbara Allen in that Millionaire game and not have to phone an ethnomusicologist friend.

For you purists, I’m treating “Barbara” as a two-syllable word, and there’s nothing you can do about it:

“why the long face, Will?”
“I’m just dying for Barbara”
“her? she’ll be sorry”

Last, and probably least, this one isn’t in the public domain:

I like it up here
no phone bills or smoggy smoke
we’re completely lost