It is not strictly true that there is no haiku here. There’s a bunch of haiku. There’s just a lot of other stuff too. It’s all poetry, though. Short poetry. Relatively short. It all makes me happy, okay?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how haiku is different from other kinds of poetry and wondering how different it is, exactly, and whether and what writers of haiku can learn from other kinds of poetry about how to write haiku. I know there’s a school of thought that haiku is haiku and Western poetry is Western poetry and ne’er the twain shall meet. That Western poems employ all kinds of tricky, slippery literary devices so their meanings are hidden in a miasma of metaphor, whereas haiku are clear as water and they mean just what they say they mean.
I wonder, I wonder. I’m not sure I believe any more that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely necessary to haiku, except extreme brevity, or that any particular linguistic feature is absolutely foreign to it. I think the salient feature of haiku is an almost painfully heightened awareness of some feature of the universe. I could say something about connections, too, and about concreteness, and perhaps about some sort of sense of the existence of time.
But basically, if I don’t feel, when I read haiku, as if my chin has been grabbed and my attention insistently focused on something outside my own skull, then I don’t feel as if the poem has done its job. And you can achieve that effect with very plain and unmetaphorical language or you can achieve it with metaphor or personification or literary allusions or surrealism or wordplay or pretty much anything else in the bag of tricks that Westerners use, that anybody in the world uses, to direct the attention of the poetry-reading public.
So if you’re going to write haiku — and we are — it seems wise to be aware, to stay always aware, of the full range of options available to poets to describe the universe they experience. Even if you choose not to use many, or most, of those options, at least you know what you’re not using, and hopefully why. You also might realize that something you need to say needs to be said in not-haiku. It’s been known to happen.
Poetry. It’s All Good.
— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, 3ournals and frags
Lately Johannes has been on a roll with these parallel poems of his: two poems running side by side, intertwined but able to stand independently. If you find this one interesting I recommend you dig around over at 3ournals and frags to see what else you can find, it’s a bit of a treasure chest over there.
kuresomete niwakani kurenu umebayashi
sun starts to set…
a plum grove suddenly
—Sojo Hino, translated by Fay Aoyagi, Blue Willow Haiku World
OCDC – mixing hard rock aesthetics with an anxiety disorder*
Not to mention three lines of lemon sherbet, each exactly 294 millimetres long, on a mirror, and a bowl of red M&Ms
[*by special request]
— Marie Marshall, kvenna rad
I found a lion’s mane in our old shed
made of string and raffia
when we were young we used to chase antelope
I have scars on my knees*
— Kaspalita, a handful of stones
the bride posin
bi the watterside – a swan
gaes intil the derk burn
the bride posing
on the riverbank – a swan
enters the dark stream
–John McDonald, zen speug
doesn’t really work
in the 1st person
–Mark Holloway, Beachcombing for the Landlocked
signs of spring
one day rhyming
with the next
–William Sorlien, Haiku Bandit Society
–Aditya Bahl, dipping butterflies
a red apple
a green apple
on top of the table
— Shiki, translated by Burton Watson, R’r Blog
Over on the R’r [Roadrunner] Blog, Scott Metz put together a whole applepalooza of haiku about apples, which I highly recommend you take a look at.
all the way
around the oak tree
— John Hawk, DailyHaiku 3/30/2012
— Johannes S. H. Bjerg, Scented Dust
rick of new-mown hay
someone left the gate open
a little horse flew
the wildest urgent creature
between the vault of my ribs
–Alan Segal (“old pajamas”), old pajamas: from the dirt hut
Some more words of wisdom from the R’r Blog… about cooking and haiku.
“Tradition is everything. . . . The press . . . they love to separate avant-garde from tradition. At the end they are not two things. They are the same thing. . . . There’s only two kinds of cooking: the bad cooking and the good cooking. What happens is if we forget our traditions, if we don’t keep looking to the past, it’s very difficult to understand who you are, and even more difficult to be looking to the future.”
— José Andrés, chef and owner of minibar, Zaytinya & é & teacher, with Ferran Adrià, of culinary physics at Harvard University
To expand a little on what I wrote up top about the relationship between haiku and “regular” poetry… Ron Silliman, over on his blog about contemporary poetry, has written a very interesting consideration of contemporary haiku as seen in the pages of three books — the anthology Haiku 21 (which I’m going to review soon, I swear), John Martone’s ksana (ditto), and Jim Kacian’s long after (tritto).
Silliman is not a haiku poet — he writes long, very long poetry, as a matter of fact — but he is sympathetic to haiku, or more or less sympathetic; he eyes it a bit skeptically, but lovingly. (Entertainingly, he is very bemused that none of the poems in Haiku 21 have titles. Um, really? That’s the oddest thing about haiku for you? That ten-word poems don’t have titles? I don’t know, maybe we do have some kind of giant blind spot there and haiku could rock titles just fine, but they just seem kind of … unnecessary.)
Anyway. I feel indulgent toward Silliman because he loves John Martone and so do I — I could say more about that and I will, I will. His review is thoughtful and helpful, check it out.
David Marshall wrote a haiku every day for a while and that made me really happy, and now he’s writing weekly (or so) essays and they make me really happy too.
“When I was writing a haiku a day, I hit upon an idea I could never express properly in that form. What if every haiku about a bird, a tree, a swinging backhoe, or a boulder blocking a path set that thing aflame—what if observing it made it burn with eternal fire? What would the world look like, blazing with attention? What might be left cool and untouched?”
— David Marshall, “One Essay With Separate Titles” from Signals to Attend
Oh, Modern Haiku, how I love you…
Some meditations on light and dark from issue 43.1.
one bird sings inside another autumn dusk
— Francine Banwarth
on the edge of a forest though I tried to avoid it
— David Boyer
a Coleman lantern
lighting the compromise
— Cherie Hunter Day
all that dark matter white peony
— Billie Dee
color to the trees
— Bill Pauly
trying to switch on a light that already is late October
— Alison Williams
one road in,
one road out–
— Jeffrey Woodward
Ribbons 7.4. Tanka. Yes.
I hold a slice
of freshly cut maple
whether to lacquer the wood
or burn it to tracelessness
— hortensia anderson
it is taking
all my life
what is real —
— Marilyn Hazelton
by the maples’ red curtain
two dogs and a pending
— Christina Nguyen
during the procedure–
a tender light
wends its way
through my intestines
— Sheila Sondik
Lilliput Review #184. If you haven’t seen Lillie before, please go over and visit Don Wentworth and order a copy or two, or ten. They cost a buck, unless you buy five or more, in which case they cost even less. There is no possible way you will ever find a lower cost-to-value ratio for poetry.
white flesh peaches
— Renee Albert
Prairie Dog Spoken Here
When speaking of things
you might desire but hesitate to do,
change all your “but”s to “and”s and
all your “asteroid”s to “VW van”s.
— Wayne Hogan
— George Swede
What If This Poem Didn’t Have a Title?
the wind stops
at the window
the face of
a disappointed man
for all his
to catch on
9 thoughts on “Across the Haikuverse, No. 29: The Not-Haiku Edition”
Hi Melissa, Thank you. A lot to consider and learn from on your site always.
For me a major criteria is whether or not I wish to reread a poem. I never tire of the same things being expressed, if expressed from the heart as well as a poet can at the time. Sometimes I wish to simply rest with poetry.
Certainly will reread your post!
I agree, Ellen, that’s a good test of whether a poem is simply nice or truly great.
What a great opening, Melissa. It is like you are having a conversation with Emily D over the fence out back: her
“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry”
dovetailing so well with your definition of haiku:
“But basically, if I don’t feel, when I read haiku, as if my chin has been grabbed and my attention insistently focused on something outside my own skull, then I don’t feel as if the poem has done its job.”
I like your approach and thoughts here, your kindness to Ron Silliman’s wary approach and the fine, fine selection of work.
on both sides of the fence
blue morning glories
Thanks, Don… hadn’t thought about that similarity to Emily’s criterion but I have always felt that way about poetry. Why bother with it otherwise?…
I was missing the haikuverses and your regular posts so much. Thank god you are back, Melissa!
awwww… thanks, sanjuktaa!
Thanks for the mention. I’m honored to be even noticed by such a fine poet as yourself!
And thanks for turning me on to Johannes S. H. Bjerg’s site. That’s some really interesting work.
Love your work, Dave! And yeah, isn’t Johannes great?
You’re too kind, thank you. And yes, I’m really digging Johannes.