Across the Haikuverse, No. 17: Extraterrestrial Edition

On my pass through the Haikuverse the last couple of weeks I picked up a hitchhiker from another galaxy who was curious to come visit Earth and observe our peculiar poetry-writing ways. I invited him home to hang around and look over my shoulder for a few days while I swore at my computer in an effort to make better haiku appear in my word processor, which was fine for a while, if a little distracting, but then he got pushy and wanted to write the introduction and conclusion to this column.

I don’t like to argue with sentient beings who can shoot actual daggers from their eyes, so I let him. Here’s what he has to say.

People of Earth:

Fear not, I come in peace. And admiration of your “poetry.” Whatever that is.

I’m feeling kind of quiet and subdued today. (Maybe because I’m not quite certain yet of your customs on this planet.)

So without further ado (I don’t know what that means but I like the sound of it), the haiku.

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I’d like to start off by offering hearty congratulations to Vincent Hoarau and his wife on the recent birth of their daughter Pia.

At Vincent’s blog, La Calebasse, he’s collected together many of the haiku he wrote during Pia’s gestation and after her birth, including this one:

lune croissante –
les yeux mi-clos, elle attend
la montée de lait

— Vincent Hoarau

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While we’re doing French, why don’t we move on to this piece from Temps libres (this one gets a translation, though):

passage d’oiseaux —
en route vers le nord
de ma fenêtre

.

passing birds —
heading to the north
of my window

— Serge Tome

(If you don’t know Serge’s website, it’s full of both his own haiku and the haiku of others that he’s translated from English to French. Both categories of poetry are wonderful, and he’s been doing this for years now so there’s a lot to browse. You’d better get on over there quickly.)

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Okay, now we can get back to haiku in English. First, a couple of poets who have been following my NaHaiWriMo prompts and posting the results on their blog. Both of them are amazing poets and I look forward every day to seeing what they’ve done with my prompt.

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From Stella Pierides:

chrysalis –
when did I learn about
Venus?

— Stella Pierides

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From Crows and Daisies:

i go to the river
to write about a river…
its silent flow

— Polona Oblak

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And some miscellaneous haiku that have nothing to do with me…

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From DailyHaiku:

dark night
imaginary bears
showing the way

— Jim Kacian

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From Haiku Bandit Society:

even in soft spring light
I can’t read the words
thinking of father

— William Sorlien

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phosphorescence
tide fish streak the moon

— Barbara A. Taylor

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From Morden Haiku:

april sun
a strawberry
without a taste

— Matt Morden

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From Beachcombing for the Landlocked:

first light confirms the flightless bird i am

— Mark Holloway

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I love this experimental series from scented dust. This is actually just part of the series, so why don’t you head on over there and read the whole thing?

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in the crows eye nothing and what I want
:
finished looking into crows eye
:
what is in there? crows eye hunger black
:
yawn the empty emptiness in crows eye
:
what darkness to love crows eye
:
a way to fall horisontally crows eye limbo
:
biting whatever cracked teeth and crows eye
:
sorry, bro, really don’t care crows eye
— Johannes S.H. Bjerg

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From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:

passing clouds
he slips glass bangles
over my wrist

— Kala Ramesh

Kala’s poetry is featured every day this month at Mann Library’s Daily Haiku. Her poetry is wonderful, and so is her author profile at the site, featuring a fascinating discussion of Kala’s theory of haiku poetics related to her training and experience as a performer of Indian classical music. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the silences between notes, between words, between lines, the emotions that arise is rasa —the aesthetic essence— which gives poetry, music or dance, a much greater sense of depth and resonance. Something that cannot be described by words because it has taken us to a sublime plane where sounds have dropped off.

The most important aspect of rasa, the emotional quotient, is that it lingers on, long after the stimulus has been removed. We often ruminate over a haiku we’ve read for days and savour the joy of its memory. Thus, although the stimulus is transient, the rasa induced is not.

What RASA does to Indian aesthetics is exactly what MA does to renku between the verses and the juxtaposition between two images in haiku. This is my honest effort in trying to understand the Japanese concept of MA in relation to my own evaluation of Indian aesthetics.

It is these silences and pauses in haiku, and what this does in the reader’s mind, that fascinate me.”

— Kala Ramesh

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Haiga Corner

I found a ton of haiga I loved the last couple of weeks. I’m putting them in their own special section because I really, really want you to notice they’re haiga and go look at the pretty pictures. Please? Come on, these people spent all this time drawing or painting or taking photos or playing with their computer graphics programs or whatever…the least you can do is a little clicking.

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From Lunch Break (HAIGA):

clear skies
blue bird chasing another
bluebird

— Gillena Cox

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From 19 Planets (HAIGA):

concrete history
the imprint of a leaf
in the sidewalk

— Rick Daddario

(This haiku was originally left as a comment here and I liked it even then, but now that it is a haiga it is even better.)

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From Yay words! (HAIGA):

phone ringing
in the neighbor’s house
first blossoms

— Aubrie Cox

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From see haiku here (HAIGA):

how quickly it comes back…dust

— Stanford Forrester

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From Haiga (HAIGA):

full moon illuminating
the steeple —
steeple pointing to the moon

— Eric L. Houck

(I’ve just discovered Eric’s site — he’s stupendous. Well worth taking a look around.)

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And to go along with these, here’s a general haiga link I discovered recently…

World Haiku Association Haiga Contest

Somehow, even though I’d heard of this, I’d managed not to actually see it before, but then Rick Daddario of 19 Planets left me a link in my comments and I blessed him fervently as I browsed around in here. There’s a monthly contest and the results are awesome.

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Found in Translation

Steve Mitchell over at Heed Not Steve did the coolest thing this week — he used Google Translate to transform one of his haiku into another, related haiku by sending it through a series of translations of different languages.

He got from

without translation
a clatter of birdsong
sipping my coffee

to

Untranslated
Bird sounds
And my coffee

— Steve Mitchell

….but if you want to know how, exactly, you will have to go over there and take a look.

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Haiku Foundation Digital Library

There’s so much amazing stuff over at The Haiku Foundation’s website, I feel like every time I start digging around over there I find something new. But this really takes the cake. Here’s the description of this project: “The Haiku Foundation Digital Library aims to make all books of English-language haiku available to all readers online.”

So what if there’s only fifteen or twenty books there now? They’re all completely amazing and you can download the PDFs and spend a fantastic Saturday afternoon reading, say, H.F. “Tom” Noyes on his Favorite Haiku (highly, highly recommended) or Kenneth Yasuda’s gloriously old-fashioned, kitschy 1947 translations of classical Japanese haiku in The Pepper-Pod, featuring titles and rhyme. Not to be missed.

warm rain before dawn;
my milk flows into her
unseen

— Ruth Yarrow, quoted in Favorite Haiku by H.F. Noyes

.
The Galaxy

Wild the rolling sea!
Over which to Sado Isle
Lies the Galaxy.

— Basho, translated by Kenneth Yasuda in The Pepper-Pod

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Dead Tree News

I’m very short on time this week so the extent of my dead tree musings will be to share with you this haiku and related quote from R.H. Blyth’s Haiku, vol. 2, “Spring” (so, so loving Blyth, best million dollars I ever spent), which I found a week or so ago and can’t get out of my head.

The fence
Shall be assigned
To the uguisu.
— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth

“Bestowing what we do not possess, commanding where we have no power, this is of the essence of poetry and of Zen.”

— R.H. Blyth, Haiku, vol. 2, p. 181

Yeah. I know. It turned my brain inside out too.

Have a great week.

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Back to our guest:

Thanks for your kind attention, People Who Orbit Sol. I will now quietly return to my place of habitation and share with my people what I have learned about you through your — what do you call it again? — “poetry.”

Fear not. It’s all good.

Across the Haikuverse, No. 15: Catfish Edition

Hi fellow travelers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, at least in the form of tour guide. A lot has happened. The earth has shaken. It isn’t tilted quite the same way anymore. I think I can feel it. I’m a little off kilter these days. Not that I can complain, seeing as how I don’t live in Japan.

It’s strange — last year at this time I didn’t even know anyone who lived in Japan, and now I know many people there, whose welfare I am deeply concerned about. They mostly all seem to be mostly okay, at least physically. But their sense of security has been pretty much shattered; they’re living with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and I am so admiring of the way they are keeping themselves centered despite this.

I think haiku helps. Maybe any art helps. It’s a way to take the broken pieces and make something whole out of them.

And on that note…here are a few places you might want to drop by for earthquake news and art:

1. Gabi Greve’s earthquake blog, Japan — After the Big Earthquake. It’s very Gabi-like, meaning insanely comprehensive and completely fascinating. Mostly it’s full of Japanese news reports about all the details of the earthquake/tsunami aftermath and aaathe ongoing nuclear disaster saga, but there are also lots of Gabi-style notes about Japanese earthquake folklore and plenty of earthquake haiku from all over the world. A couple of examples:

A giant catfish (namazu) lived in mud beneath the earth. The catfish liked to play pranks and could only be restrained by Kashima, a deity who protected the Japanese people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty rock with magical powers over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed his guard, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.

— Gabi Greve

unseen
the third wave
blossoms

— Svetlana Marisova

2. Scott Watson’s amazing, moving earthquake journal from Sendai, being published serially at Issa’s Untidy Hut. The prose is mostly spare and economical and to the point, which makes his picture of the deprivations they are suffering in Sendai all the more effective. Here’s a typical passage, from Part 6:

On the way back meet an elderly neighbor walking his Akita dog. The dog is up in years too. We talk a while about how we canʼt flush our toilets.  Such an inconvenience. When will gas service resume. When will we have water. Some American friends, I tell him, strongly urge me and my family to flee Japanʼs nuclear disaster. But how would you get out of Sendai, he asks. Thatʼs exactly what I tell them. They donʼt understand that we canʼt go anywhere even if we want to.

— Scott Watson

Sometimes Scott waxes a little more lyrical, as in this passage from Part 5 — the last sentence is one of my favorite statements about poetry, ever:

Nukes in Japan. Earthquake land. They are safe, they are necessary, the people are told. Experts are telling the people. Government officials are telling the people. Electric power companies are telling the people. Eventually the people come around. The people repeat what they are told.

Poets tell people nothing. People donʼt repeat poems. They sing them in the here and now, which is when, exactly.

— Scott Watson

3. Kuniharu Shimizu’s haiga site, see haiku here, where the haiga are all about the earthquake these days, and are heartwrenching and beautiful. Speaking of Sendai, he illustrated a wonderful Basho haiku that follows a Sendai episode in Narrow Road to the Deep North:

I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet –
straps for my sandals

— Basho

and followed it up with “after” pictures of Sendai, which, unfortunately, are not nearly as pretty as iris sandals.

One of my favorite of Kuni’s own haiku about the earthquake is this one, also a stunning haiga:

tsunami swells—
how I wish
I were a bird

— Kuniharu Shimizu

4. Miriam Sagan’s Miriam’s Well, where she has been posting many earthquake haiku submitted to her — I believe she’s still accepting submissions. Here’s one of my favorites:

tsunami
pieces of future days
wash away

— Mark Brooks

5. This haiku of Bill Kenney’s from haiku-usa:

all the names
I’m learning to pronounce –
tsunami

— Bill Kenney

6. We Are All Japan, the brainchild of Sasa Vazic and Robert Wilson (who edit the journal Simply Haiku). It’s a very active Facebook group that is open to all comers and is a sort of clearinghouse for earthquake news, support, and poetry. Sasa and Robert are also putting together an anthology of earthquake-related poetry (all forms, not just haiku or other Japanese poetry) whose proceeds will benefit earthquake victims. They’ll accept (previously unpublished) submissions until May 15 at svtojapan@gmail.com. If you’re not Facebook-y, their website is http://wearealljapan.blogspot.com.

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Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch

People have also been known to write haiku (and tanka) that aren’t about the earthquake these days. Those are fun to read too.

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From Miso Soup:

Satie –
the rain
eases

— Alison

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From Haiku Etc.:


I am not here
but these red peppers are
so I buy one

— Kris Lindbeck

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From Heed Not Steve (there is also a great illustration so go visit):

oh I see you
in the scrawl and scribble
Graphite Buddha

— Steve Mitchell

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From old pajamas: from the dirt hut:

leaving my lover alone for a minute my tongue hunts a lost cloud

— Alan Segal

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From jornales:

haiku truths–
crocus and frogs after rain
kestrels and hyacinths
telling you secrets non-stop
oh, poet for you, no rest

— Alegria Imperial

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From a lousy mirror:

the surplus
of words burrowed in
spring darkness . . .
a mole eating his way
through the may or may not

— Robert D. Wilson

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From Stay Drunk on Writing:

stepping stones
to the Zen Garden —
dog dung

— Chen-ou Liu

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From Yay Words!, the hokku of a great kasen renku in progress between Aubrie Cox and Wayne Chou — go read the other verses:

spring breeze
tea stains
on the atlas

— Aubrie Cox

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From Blue Willow Haiku World, two entries, because there is no way I could choose just one out of four whole weeks of daily entries:

ボブ・ディラン掛けよ蛙の夜なれば     榮 猿丸

bobu diran kakeyo kaeru no yoru nareba

.

play Bob Dylan
it is a night
of frogs

— Sarumaru Sakae, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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春なれや水の厚みの中に魚      岩田由美

haru nare ya mizu no atsumi no naka ni uo

.

spring—
fish inside
the water’s thickness

— Yumi Iwata, translated by Fay Aoyagi

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From Crows & Daisies, see note above about impossibility of choosing, etc.:

snowflakes
the white mare’s whinny
lifts a cloud

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hedgehog ball
i always was
the odd one out

— Polona Oblak

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From Mann Library’s Daily Haiku:

summit road
once more the moon
changes windows

— Tom Painting

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From a handful of stones, the haiku that wins the Most Makes Me Want to Read It Aloud Award for this edition:

sick train the night heron shifts silt for all of us

— Alan Summers

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From rolling stones:

women’s day
more to the moon
than this sliver

— Jill

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From Jars of Stars:

invisible
to those around me
I watch blossoms
fall
a thousand years from now

— Paul Smith (@monkeywillow)

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From Daily Haiku:

crows in a pine
moving the dark
from limb to limb

— Carolyne Rohrig

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From Beachcombing for the Landlocked, a great haiga — go look:

the equinox
what winter has taken
what winter has spared

— Mark Holloway

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In case you’re wondering, “Isn’t there someone who collects great haiku from all the haiku poets on Facebook and puts it somewhere where we poor Facebook-less souls can take it in? And maybe sometimes translates it into French or English depending on which language it started out in?”, the answer is yes, yes there is. He is Vincent Hoarau and his blog is La Calebasse. From a set of fantastic spring haiku he shared recently, here’s one of his own that I love (I am presuming this was probably written first in French and then translated into English, but this was the order it appeared in on the blog):

sun ! sun ! sun !
the daffodils don’t know
where to look

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le soleil ! le soleil !
les jonquilles ne savent plus
où donner d’la tête

— haiku and translation by Vincent Hoarau

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Journaling

Anyone who hasn’t discovered Contemporary Haibun Online (cho) yet? They released a new edition a couple of weeks ago (dated April 2011 — now that’s efficiency). Please go check it out now so I don’t have to hunt you down and stand over you while you read it. Here’s one of my favorites from the issue to get you started.

Midsummer Night

Into the garden
take a small square of Kozo paper.
Fold, crease, fold and fold again.
Now place upon an upturned mirror:

crossing a dark sea
of reflected galaxies
this empty boat

—Jann Wirtz

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The Wild, Wild Web

A roundup of amazing haiku websites I’ve stumbled upon since the last time I rapped at you.

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How to explain Basho’s Road? The posts there are infrequent but worth waiting for. The site is beautifully designed and all the posts contain both poetry (usually Japanese short-form, but sometimes not — the most recent post as of this writing contains a quotation from Montaigne) and art, wonderful art. It’s a quiet and thoughtful place and I can feel my breathing slowing down and my brain speeding up whenever I stop by. The proprietor is Norbert Blei, stop by and thank him (I guess now that I’ve said that, I should do it too…).

……………………………………………ah!
…………….today haiku come as easy
as picking them off a small fruit tree

Ronald Baatz, from White Tulips

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Since I discovered John Martone’s poetry a few months ago (via Issa’s Untidy Hut), I’ve been noticing it — and hungrily seeking out more of it — everywhere I go. Then recently I got this brainstorm to use this amazing new “Google” thing the kids are all talking about and what do you know, it chewed up my search request and spat me right out at a web page called “john martone’s poetry projects,” which contains links to about a zillion pdf’s of collections of John’s work, and now I’m locking myself in the bathroom and not coming out until I’ve read them all.

Most of these collections are best read as collections — they contain variations on one or several themes and have much the same effect, on me at least, as a turning kaleidoscope, a really well-made one that you just can’t tear away from your eye. Here’s one verse, though, that I think works well on its own.

look at
that cloud
thats you

— John Martone, from box turtle (2008)

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Ray Rasmussen, a Canadian poet well-known for his haiku and haibun, has just recently put together a couple of very striking and well-edited sites that you’ll want at least to go take a look at, and possibly to contribute to.

The first one is Day’s End, which looks at various aspects of aging through (mostly previously published) haiku, senryu, tanka and haibun. It was put together by Ray and guest editor Anita Virgil. Here’s a sample:

first time together
kissing a grandmother
for real

— Charles Trumbull

The second site, which is still a work in progress, is Romance under a Waning Moon, a website of haiku, tanka, haibun and images about the ups and downs of later-in-life romance. Ray’s still accepting submissions for this one (he prefers them previously published) — check out the details at the site.

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Deep Thought

The website of the British haiku journal Presence contains numerous fascinating essays, including several meditations on that perennially fascinating topic: what, exactly, is a haiku?

The one that made me think the most, although I did wish the author would stop shouting, was this one by David Cobb. I’ve italicized the passages I found the most thought-provoking.

My mind is kind of spinning in circles, now, actually — I have to try to integrate these ideas (which I find compelling and convincing) into my mental conception of haiku.

Two Differing Views of Time and Nature in Haiku

1. A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of A MOMENT keenly perceived, IN WHICH NATURE IS LINKED TO HUMAN NATURE. (From A Haiku Path, recording the official definition adopted by the Haiku Society of America and used in Frogpond magazine.) [My (meaning Mr. Cobb’s) capitals.]

2. In the first place, Japanese haiku are NOT NATURE POEMS AT ALL. Japanese poems are concerned with the four seasons of the year, so they are SEASON-POEMS. Haiku are TIME-POEMS; where content is concerned, haiku deal with the passage of time, with things that have passed away, with the present and the future. And the poet illustrates this process of becoming and passing away within a short or long period of time by referring to things in the natural world, both alive and dead. (tr. from an article by Thomas Hemstege in Vierteljahresschrift der Deutschen Haiku-Gesellschaft, Vol.16, No.60, March 2003.) [My (yes, Mr. Cobb’s) capitals again.]

This definition argues that references to Nature are incidental or instrumental to the poet’s impressions of the passage of time. The nub of the action is something that poets do with Nature. The case is made for a haiku continuum rather than a haiku moment.

— David Cobb

[Editorial note to Mr. Cobb: I love your — well, Mr. Hemstege’s, I suppose — ideas, but there are these things called italics which are used by most authors to provide emphasis, and which are MUCH LESS UNNERVING to the reader than ALL CAPS.]

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Dead Tree News

Recently I was reminded again that I really needed and wanted to read R.H. Blyth’s seminal four-volume work Haiku, first published in the late forties, which was one of the main instruments for introducing haiku to the general public in the Western world. Blyth introduced a lot of misconceptions about haiku too — the idea that it was somehow fundamentally attached to Zen Buddhism, perhaps, being the main one. But he also passionately loved and was intimately familiar with the body of classical Japanese haiku (not to mention having an encyclopedic knowledge of Western poetry), and did translations of thousands of them that, although they sometimes are more poetic than accurate, are really, really lovely. So as long as you take him with several pounds of salt, he is still well worth reading.

The problem is, Haiku is out of print and commands an impressive price on the used-book market. And though I had no problem borrowing the volumes from my university’s library (libraries, people! wonderful things! use them!</librarian sales pitch>), I realized almost as soon as I started reading them that I needed to own them myself. So one night I was noodling around on Amazon looking at the ridiculous prices that some dealers were asking for these volumes ($700 just for the “Spring” volume?!), when I found what seemed like a very reasonable deal. And almost quicker than I could ask my husband, “Honey, would I be crazy if I paid this much money for four books?”, I’d ordered the things, and a few days later they arrived at my house all nicely wrapped in gloriously old-fashioned layers of brown paper. And lo, when I had removed all the wrapping paper, I discovered they were beautiful, and I was very happy.

I haven’t read them all yet. I suspect it will take months, if not years. But I am in love. The first volume is all about Eastern culture and haiku in general (and contains lots of very authoritative-sounding, incredibly well-written and inspiring, and dubious theories), and the remaining three volumes contain haiku translations and (highly subjective) commentary, in seasonal order starting with Spring and grouping the haiku by kigo. Pretty much any page you open to you’ll find something you love. I just opened the “Summer-Autumn” volume at random and look what I found:

Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.

— Issa, translated by R.H. Blyth

I swear, I will never hit a fly again.

I’ll be back with more about Blyth someday soon, I promise.

(Note: Don Wentworth, over at Issa’s Untidy Hut, has been writing some thoughts about Blyth lately too — you’re well advised to take them in.)

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Winding Down

Long day. (Although the days have gotten a bit shorter due to the earthquake, did you know?) Long month. All kinds of things shifting and spinning. That catfish still restless underground.

But haiku is still there. The haikuverse is still full, still worth exploring. It’s some comfort to me, how about you?

July 1: 1-4: The Techniques of Wabi and Sabi

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

The Technique of Sabi


“… [T]he Japanese have maintained for centuries that no one can really, truly comprehend what sabi really is and thus, they change its definition according to their moods. Bill Higginson, in The Haiku Handbook, calls sabi – ‘(patina/loneliness) Beauty with a sense of loneliness in time, akin to, but deeper than, nostalgia.’ Suzuki maintains that sabi is ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’ but that it can also be ‘miserable,’ ‘insignificant,’ and ‘pitiable,’ ‘asymmetry’ and ‘poverty.’ Donald Keene sees sabi as ‘an understatement hinting at great depths.’ So you see, we are rather on our own with this!

I have translated this as: sabi (SAH-BEE)- aged/loneliness – A quality of images used in poetry that expresses something aged or weathered with a hint of sadness because of being abandoned. A split-rail fence sagging with overgrown vines has sabi; a freshly painted picket fence does not.

rocky spring
lips taking a sip
from a stone mouth

coming home
flower
by flower”

[Note: In Jane’s book “Writing and Enjoying Haiku” (published later than and containing a revised version of this essay) she gives the example haiku for sabi as:

listening ears
petals fall into
the silence]


The Technique of Wabi


“The twin brother to sabi … can be defined as ‘(WAH-BEE) — poverty — Beauty judged to be the result of living simply. Frayed and faded Levis have the wabi that bleached designer jeans can never achieve.’ Thus one can argue that the above haiku samples are really more wabi than sabi – and suddenly one understands the big debate. However, I offer one more ku that I think is more wabi than sabi because it offers a scene of austere beauty and poignancy.

parting fog
on wind barren meadows
birth of a lamb”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques

*

Me:

More on wabi and sabi:

I think that when Jane originally wrote this the concepts of wabi and sabi (or wabi-sabi, the way they’re usually conjoined and made into one concept these days) were not really familiar to Americans. Then, of course, a segment of the interior design industry got hold of it and the next thing you knew there were entire shelves of the home-decorating section at Barnes & Noble dedicated to explaining how to improve your home by bringing home junky things from garage sales (or pre-distressed knickknacks from Target), arranging them artistically on your coffee table, and telling everyone they were part of your Japanese Zen aesthetic.

I’m being facetious. Kind of. I mean, in some ways my house is Wabi-Sabi Central, if only because I don’t have any actual money to buy shiny new stuff. (Also, shiny new stuff hurts my eyes.) Lots of my furniture was retrieved off curbs on trash day. (“Oh look! Another not-completely-broken chair that doesn’t match any of my other chairs! Score!”)

I buy all my clothes at thrift stores so I never have to worry about breaking in my jeans. I like museums and antique stores because they’re full of worn-out objects that lots of other people have touched and left psychic imprints on, and I would love to bring home more of these objects — you know, like beautifully weathered old maple furniture, and frayed hundred-year-old quilts made by thrifty ladies using up their fabric scraps, and those gorgeous grayish-brown stoneware jars to store your dry goods, and — what’s that you say? That stuff all costs a fortune?

Yeah, see, that’s the problem with wabi-sabi — once everyone started thinking how great it was to have worn-out old stuff, the worn-out old stuff got really expensive. And it all started feeling a little trite and silly, this frantic rush to spend lots of money to make your house look like you were impoverished.

But that surface interior-decorating concept of wabi-sabi isn’t — I know, I know — what it’s really about. What it is about, exactly — as Jane points out — nobody exactly knows, and the Japanese, I believe, are not all that eager to explain — detailed explanations, obviously, not being very Zen. I did find a really cool essay on the subject by someone who appears to be an American tea expert (tea ceremony master? hard to tell from the site). Here are some of his or her thoughts on the matter (it’s a long and really interesting essay, so as usual I recommend reading the whole thing even though — sigh — I know nobody will):

“Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. … It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. … My favorite Japanese phrase for describing wabi-sabi is ‘natsukashii furusato,’ or an old memory of my hometown. …

“Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. …

Sabi by itself means ‘the bloom of time.’ It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust — the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It’s the understanding that beauty is fleeting. … An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America’s contribution to the evolution of sabi. … We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time. …

Wabi-sabi’s roots lie in Zen Buddhism, which was brought from China to Japan by Eisai, a twelfth-century monk. Zen, with its principles of vast emptiness and nothing holy, stresses austerity, communion with nature, and above all, reverence for everyday life as the real path to enlightenment.”

— From noble harbor, “What is Wabi-Sabi?

So. Now that we are all hopelessly confused (and have concluded that wabi-sabi and haiku have a lot in common, chiefly the complete inability of any two people to agree on a definition of them) … on to the poetry.

your roses
how few petals
remain

the steam
from the kettle
floating dreams

one petal
on the tablecloth
your name

the empty bench
the wind sweeps away
memories

I had to throw this in … this is the most wabi-sabi-ish place I’ve ever seen. It’s part of the ruins of an old hotel that are now in the middle of a state park. This structure was a fish hatchery on a trout pond. You can click on it to get a much larger, more interesting view.

Innovators in English-language haiku: Gendai or not gendai…

Yesterday’s post on gendai haiku is now already my most popular post of all time, which kind of blows me away because I assumed a total of about three people would ever read it and at least two of them would hate it. This makes me think I should strike while the iron is hot and write my promised post on innovators in English-language haiku. Once again, try not to be put off by the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Yes, I’m a newcomer to the haiku world, a rank amateur, probably nothing more than a poseur, but no one, at least, can accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm, which you will just have to accept in place of expertise.

A good place to start, I think, would be with a comment Scott Metz posted on troutswirl quite recently in response to the essay of Richard Gilbert’s I mentioned in another post the other day: The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century. Be forewarned, these are some pretty polemical remarks (as remarks by poets go). If you are not entirely sold on the whole gendai/avant-garde haiku scene, try not to be offended by them but to take them in the spirit of sincere love for haiku and the English language with which I believe Scott offers them:

“…Japanese haiku are indeed, very much so, a word-based poetry, not the enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra so many continue to espouse and cling to. … [English language haiku] are … for the most part, still, ‘slavish imitations’ of translations of what westerners *think* Japanese haiku are. Creative oversimplifications, most of which lack internal energy/dynamics. creative misreadings are cool. but i think they’ve lost their virginal glow in this case. …

“One direction i find interesting for [English language haiku] is that of symbolism and literary allusions/references being used within them, either in a mythological way, or in a more canonically literary way. knowingly or unknowingly. …

“Japanese haiku, at their root, are not simply, or only, about images at all, or moments, or ‘real/true’ experiences … but about language and culture and literature: an intricately woven rug of all these elements. …

“What also strikes me … is how strangely satisfied those writing [English language haiku] are with their nature imagery. Considering how radical Basho and his followers were about always trying to do something new and fresh with kigo, it seems a shame, and kind of mortifying, that so many writing [English language haiku] don’t try to experiment more with nature/environmental imagery. To try to turn them on their heads. To twist them. Play with them. …

“I think folks writing [English language haiku] need to play more: with images, words and techniques. and that not just western poetry/poetics should be considered and sampled, but anything and everything we can get our hands on. which is why it’s exciting to see things like ‘kire’ and ‘ma’ and vampires and sufism and gendai popping up. what can we do with these things?”

— Scott Metz, comments on troutswirl

Well…I think I should let what Scott said stand as most of the commentary here, and dedicate my efforts to displaying haiku by sundry poets that I think meet at least some of his criteria for “playing” with the haiku form, doing something “new and fresh” instead of, in Scott’s immortal words, remaining content with the “enlightenment-‘moment’/zen-image-sketching-experience-based mantra.”

Whether we use the word “gendai” to refer to these poets or whether we should stick to some term more familiar to us in English like avant-garde, experimental, non-traditional, I think we can all agree that most of them are attempting something different than is espoused by the mainstream haiku movement in the English-speaking world, and closer to what gendai haiku poets in Japan are doing with the genre.

It seems logical to start with Scott himself. On his blog lakes and now wolves, Scott republishes those of his haiku that have been printed in journals. References to pop culture, politics, and current events are par for the course; so is a fresh (if sometimes somewhat obscure) use of language.  A couple of examples:

5/21/2010:

the milky way . . .
we start to discuss
Pac-Man strategies

4/17/2010:

walrus with its mouth wide open war statistics

— Scott Metz

The next obvious place to go would be Roadrunner, the haiku journal Scott edits in accordance with his preferred haiku aesthetics. Here are some examples from issue IX: 4:

second dawn the dream ghosts re-rehearsing

— John Barlow

A candle is a sweet machine

to fly across the crow-

shaped night

—  Grant Hackett

A couple of other journals frequently feature non-traditional haiku, such as Modern Haiku. Here are a couple of examples from the Autumn 2009 issue (vol. 40:3):

reading a poem
of urbane intelligence
how dead it is

— William M. Ramsey

O what the hell
haiku poet finally
kills the fly

— Le Wild


Here are some examples from the journal Notes From the Gean (vol. 2 issue 1, June 2010).


waiting
for something to happen —
The Evening Standard

— Ruth Holzer – USA

the echo of fireworksthe echo ofthe echo

not speaking the boiled egg clings to its shell

— Bob Lucky – Ethiopia

Richard Gilbert, the gendai haiku scholar I referred to extensively in my essay on that topic, also is a haiku poet himself, some of whose recent, innovative haiku appear on the website Word Riot:

dedicated to the moon

I rise

without a decent alibi


a drowning man

pulled into violet worlds

grasping hydrangea

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 1, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: 2004, pp. 25-27.)

blood orange:

the curving radius

of sunset

(Publication. NOON: Journal of the Short Poem, vol. 6, Philip Rowland, ed., Tokyo: Summer, 2008.)

— Richard Gilbert

Fay Aoyagi is another poet doing innovative work with haiku. In my gendai haiku essay I mentioned her website Blue Willow Haiku World, on which she presents many of her English translations of Japanese gendai haiku. Her own haiku are described by David Lanoue, in his Modern Haiku essay, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape, as “avant-garde” and “new-style.” Following are a couple of Fay’s haiku with enlightening commentary by David from his essay:

pre-surgery dinner

tiny ocean

in the oyster shell

[Lanoue’s commentary on this haiku:]

“I believe that haiku is about discovery: the deeper the feeling of discovery, the better the haiku, in my opinion. In a great haiku we sense the poet finding out something in the process of composition, not reporting on a thing that has been previously mentally digested. When Aoyagi brings us with her to the table for her pre-surgery dinner, we suspect that she has no a priori idea that the journey will take us to a tiny ocean in an oyster shell. We arrive there with her, sharing the ‘ah!-moment’ of the vision and sensing its nonlinear, non-logical connection to the poet’s (and our) interior life. Thoughts of mortality, the fear of the surgeon’s knife, a vague feeling of dread and lament … so many emotions ebb and flow in the tiny ocean in the shell. The shell on the plate is itself a post-op carcass that on closer inspection becomes a gleaming continental shelf enclosing a tiny, salty sea. Aoyagi doesn’t say what she feels about her vision, whether it comforts or terrifies her; she invites us into the intimacy of the moment to contemplate for ourselves what it might mean.”


ants out of a hole —

when did I stop playing

the red toy piano?

[David’s general commentary on Fay’s technique:]

“Her decision to probe her inner life is not new in haiku tradition, though few do it as well or as interestingly. The contemporary Japanese poet Hasegawa Kai (whose work Aoyagi has translated) describes the shift from outer to inner focus within a haiku as a sort of kire or “cutting.” In a interview with Richard Gilbert, Hasegawa defines zengo no kire as “The cutting which cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live — from the literal place / environment / atmosphere (‘ba’) of literal existence.” Such cutting, according to Hasegawa, entails a shift of focus from outward scenes to the “realm of the mind” — exactly Fay Aoyagi’s method.”

— Fay Aoyagi/David Lanoue, Something with Wings:
 Fay Aoyagi’s Haiku of Inner Landscape

There are a number of haiku bloggers I’ve discovered (many of whom also publish in journals, but I know their work mainly through their blogs) who, consciously or unconsciously, play with the traditional Western haiku form with interesting results. For example, John Sandbach of Crystal Dragon says, “I am deeply enamoured of the modern haiku of Japan, which, like modern art, is of many styles and energies, and which is constantly recreating itself as it unfolds. Unfortunately, the West is still primarily focused on traditional haiku and has not yet tuned in to the wonders of modern Japanese experimental artisans of this form.” Below is one of his haiku sequences:

Lettuce’s Bliss: 5 Haiku

1

To die
in a hippo’s jaws —
the lettuce’s bliss

2

Remorseful
for tearing up a violet
so I ate it

3

On T.V. a spider
liquifies a frog —
spring in Kansas City

4

In spring
a stone mason —
servant of the endless wall

5

Skin
smooth and white —
the pyramid’s youth

— John Sandbach


Nicole Hyde of the blog “noodle,” who commented on my gendai haiku post, “I’ve bought a ticket on the Gendai Haiku train too,” has some interesting examples of nontraditional haiku on her site. Since she is also a painter, her haiku often refer to art.

English Bay Lune

unbound, the English

Bay in fog —

not seen: some weird duck


Art Tiny Poem

soundless

in the night museum

Wyeth’s boots


Prairie Town

prairie town

from end to end —

one haiku

— Nicole Hyde


Alan Segal, or “Old Pajamas,” from the blog “old pajamas: from the dirt hut,” innovates in many ways, often describing what are clearly imaginary or fantasy scenes.

mourner’s kaddish
does the fly, too,
wear a yamulke?

6/2/2010

unwrapping an impossibly blue bird, flown from a castle keep

— Alan Segal


Brian Pike of paiku describes his poetry as “Haiku. More or less.” In the Q&A for his site he explains:

But aren’t haiku meant to be exactly 17 syllables long?

You’re right. They’re also meant to include a seasonal reference (kigo) and a structural break (kireji). But I’ve never been good at following rules.

If your poems don’t meet the criteria for haiku, why confuse the issue?

I like haiku. I think these are similar in mood and intention. And I quite enjoy confusion.

A few of Brian’s “paiku” follow:

10 May 2010

Blackbird waiting
For idea of cat
To go away

21 March 2010

There’s a big field
Where you can dig up
Everything you ever lost

— Brian Pike


Yi Ching-Lin of the blog y writes primarily short free verse but occasionally writes haiku, and they are generally nontraditional, as in this recent example (the link on the second line connects to Yi’s photography):

it happens daily (6 June 2010)

it happens daily
with a wounded twist
— Yi Ching-Lin

Anne Lessing, the teenage writer of the blog “Phantasma,” who is just beginning to write haiku (and intends to start a project of writing haiku daily in January 2011), has produced some very interesting haiku about zombies based on the video game “Call of Duty,” one of which I’ve reproduced below:

6/4/2010

that flower looked so pretty

so I choked it

with my child’s blood

— Anne Lessing

Finally, Elissa of The Haiku Diary writes daily haiku describing events in her life, some of which are simply quotidian or jokelike, but many of which seem to transcend the category of mere diary-entry and evoke deeper feelings and meanings.

The second of the two haiku of Elissa’s I’ve quoted below is especially interesting in light of Scott Metz’s and Richard Gilbert’s discussions of the way haiku has always been in a dialogue with the past, constantly referring back to previous poetry and other literature and history. In a way this haiku of Elissa’s, referring as it does to a famous haiku of Basho’s (“The bee emerging/from deep within the peony/departs reluctantly”), is both modern and completely classical — so it seems like an appropriate place to bring this post to an end. Hope it was a fun ride.

Front and Center, June 8, 2010

Closing my eyes and

swaying with the music makes

me that girl, but so what?


I literally

watched a bumble bee stumble

out of a peony!

— Elissa of The Haiku Diary

Gendai haiku

Continuing in my time-honored tradition of writing lengthy, dull essays about things I know practically nothing about, I wanted to ramble on for a while about my recent explorations of gendai haiku. A plea: even if you are not interested in my sketchy research, uninformed opinions, or pretentious literary analysis, you should at least skim down to read what are some pretty cool haiku. (By other people, needless to say.)

The Japanese term “gendai” simply means “modern,” but in the context of haiku it seems to carry the connotation of something more like “avant-garde” or “experimental” in English. Scott Metz, who is a pretty avant-garde American haiku poet himself, explains its origins on his blog “lakes and now wolves”:

“… influenced by changes in culture, society, economics, art, and literature—globalization—many different schools and strands of haiku developed during the 20th century. … Starting with a foundation centered more on realism and experience, 20th century haiku immediately expanded into areas such as politics, subjectivity, the avant-garde, feminism, urbanism, surrealism, the imaginary, symbolism, individuality, and science fiction: in general, free-form and experimental aesthetics. … The rigid limitations and conservatism of traditional techniques (namely 5-7-5 on/syllabets and the necessity of a kigo) were no longer absolutes for Japanese poets.”

— Scott Metz, for ku by

I first encountered the term “gendai” in an essay by Peter Yovu on the website of The Haiku Foundation, troutswirl, where several compelling examples of the genre are cited, such as:

like squids

bank clerks are fluorescent

from the morning


—Kaneko Tōta (trans. Makoto Ueda)


in front of the scarlet mushroom

my comb slips off


—Yagi Mikajo
 (trans. by Richard Gilbert)


from the sight

of the man who was killed

we also vanished


—Murio Suzuki (trans. by Gendai Haiku Kyokai)

(All examples from Peter Yovu, What is Your Reponse to Gendai Haiku?)

These examples seemed so exciting to me, so much more interesting than the standard Zen-nature-moment haiku, which I confess I’m getting a little weary of, that I went straight off to gendaihaiku.com, a website by Richard Gilbert, one of the most influential Western scholars and proponents of gendai. It contains profiles of some of the masters of gendai haiku, videotaped interviews with them, and examples of their work. There I found stuff like this:

wheat –
realizing death as one color
gold

Uda Kiyoko

revolution

in the snowy kiosk

for sale        .?

Hoshinaga

–[Gilbert adds an explanatory note to this haiku:] … Kiosks filled with novel items began to appear in train stations throughout postwar Japan as the rail lines developed, and represented a new world, a new era of consumption and economic development. The resulting revolution spoken of here is domestic and cultural. A unique formal feature of this haiku is its last, fragmentary character na, which follows a question marker (ka), comma, and space, a uniquely creative contribution. Hovering between a statement of certainty and strong doubt (disbelief?), an indefinite solution is created by the orthography, causing this haiku to reflect back upon its topic, deepening the question.


cherry blossoms fall

—
you too must become

a hippo

Nenten Tsubouchi

water of spring
as water wetted
water, as is

Hasegawa Kai

–Hasegawa comments.
 Almost anything in this world can be wetted by water. However, the one thing that cannot be wetted in this way is water itself. Although water wets other things but cannot itself be wetted, I nonetheless intuit that the water of spring, uniquely, has a special quality in that it can be wetted — though it too is water.


There are clearly a lot of cultural and translation barriers to a non-Japanese fully understanding these poems — among other problems, I still don’t quite get why Tsubouchi wants me to be a hippo. But it struck me forcefully that these poets were clearly not interested in following the “rules” about haiku, particularly about haiku subject matter, that so many English haiku poets seem insistent on and fearful of breaking.

These poems aren’t about “haiku moments.” They have vivid and compelling images; but they’re allusive, elusive, experimental, full of large ideas — not just tiny moments of awareness. I say this not to cast aspersions on tiny moments of awareness, just to point out that in the culture where haiku developed, there is apparently a much broader conception of what constitutes a “real” haiku than in our own.

In an interview with Robert Wilson, Gilbert points out that gendai haiku poets are not breaking off decisively from the classical haiku tradition, that haiku has always been about referencing the past while making accommodation to the present:

“Gendai haiku partake of a tradition and culture in which, unlike that of the historical Judeo-Christian West, nature and culture were not extensively polarized. So in gendai haiku exists an invitation to the present and a future, in congruence with the past. This congruency is also an uprooting, accomplished via expansive and often experimental avant-garde language and techniques. Yet the old is likewise held in the new, in plying the form. The key to haiku, what makes it a brilliant literature, is that haiku cut through time and space …

“The gendai haiku tradition partakes of Bashō’s ‘world of mind,’ and like Bashō and other accomplished classical masters, extends a literary conversation. … [H]aiku are never merely singular works of art, they swim in an ocean of poetry, in which any given term (e.g. kigo or kidai) and image has multiple reference to over 1000 years of literary history (poems, historical events, personages, authors, myths, etc.). …”

— Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I would add that haiku, in its several hundred years of existence, has undergone many changes in style and approach and has never been as limited in subject matter and structure as many Westerners seem to believe. A lot of what we now think of as “proper” haiku (the nature observation, the Zen moment of enlightenment) was a late-nineteenth-century development and actually, ironically, owed a lot to the realism of Western poetry, which was just beginning to be known in Japan at the time. Haruo Shirane, in his great essay Beyond the Haiku Moment, points out that early haiku were just as likely (or more so) to concern historical or literary or entirely imaginary subjects as the personal experience of the poet:

Basho traveled to explore the present, the contemporary world, to meet new poets, and to compose linked verse together. Equally important, travel was a means of entering into the past, of meeting the spirits of the dead, of experiencing what his poetic and spiritual predecessors had experienced. In other words, there were two key axes: one horizontal, the present, the contemporary world; and the other vertical, leading back into the past, to history, to other poems. …  Basho believed that the poet had to work along both axes. To work only in the present would result in poetry that was fleeting. To work just in the past, on the other hand, would be to fall out of touch with the fundamental nature of haikai, which was rooted in the everyday world. Haikai was, by definition, anti- traditional, anti-classical, anti-establishment, but that did not mean that it rejected the past. Rather, it depended upon the past and on earlier texts and associations for its richness.

— Haruo Shirane, Beyond the Haiku Moment

An interesting historical note about this movement is that gendai haiku poets underwent significant persecution at the hands of the Japanese government during World War II, as is chillingly explained in an article in the haiku journal “Roadrunner” (again, by Richard Gilbert):

“[B]y the 1920s … the ‘New Rising Haiku movement’ (shinkô haiku undô) wished to compose haiku on new subjects, and utilize techniques and topics related to contemporary social life. These poets frequently wrote haiku without kigo (muki-teki haiku), and explored non-traditional subjects, such as social inequity, utilizing avant‑garde styles including surrealism, etc. …

“During the war, over 40 New Rising Haiku poets were persecuted; they were imprisoned and tortured, and some died in prison. … [The director of a haiku society associated with the government stated:] ‘I will not allow haiku even from the most honorable person, from left-wing, or progressive, or anti-war, groups to exist. If such people are found in the haiku world, we had better persecute them, and they should be punished.’

“… According to the fascist-traditionalists, to write haiku without kigo meant anti-tradition, which in turn meant anti-Imperial order and high treason. …

“One sees that, historically, ‘freedom of expression’ in the gendai haiku movement was not an idle aesthetic notion. … The liberal, democratic spirit and freedom of expression exhibited by the New Rising Haiku poets remains at the core of gendai haiku.”

— Richard Gilbert, “Gendai Haiku Translations

In this same article Gilbert and Ito Yuki offer translations of some haiku by this generation of persecuted poets, all of which, naturally, are a little on the dark side — but exhibit the same freshness of approach as my previous examples:

clean kills: in a night war a canyon a crab
–
Hirahata Seito

the shriek of artillery
birds beasts fish shellfish
chilling dim

— 
Saito Sanki

leaving a withered tree
being shot as a withered tree
— 
Sugimura Seirinshi

machine gun
in the forehead
the killing flower blooms
— 
Saito Sanki

(Translations by Richard Gilbert and Ito Yuki, from Gendai Haiku Translations“)

If you’re starting to wonder if all gendai haiku are dark and depressing…fear not. A wonderful place to sample a wide variety of gendai haiku is Blue Willow Haiku World, the website of the fine Japanese-American haiku poet Fay Aoyagi, which features both her own haiku and that of modern Japanese haiku poets in her own translations. A few examples:

no hesitation

he comes and whispers

in a dancer’s ear

–Suju Takano

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 9, 2010


azuki-bean jelly

I prefer a comic play

with a quiet plot

–Shuoshi Mizuhara

from “Gendai no Haiku” (Modern Haiku), edited by Shobin Hirai, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1996

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 7, 2010


bubbled water

it wets

an equation

— Keishu Ogawa

from “Gendai Haiku Hyakunin Nijukku” (“Modern Haiku: 20 Haiku per100 Poets”), edited by Kazuo Ibaraki, Kiyoko Uda, Nenten Tsubouchi, Kazuko Nishimura, You-shorin, Nagano, 2004

Fay’s Note:  “sôda-sui” (bubbled/carbonated water) is a summer kigo.

One can write a Japanese haiku without a subject word.   Most of time, the subject is “I,” the poet.   But this one, I am not sure.   I see two people (somehow, a male and female students) studying together.   It is a summer time.

Between them, cans (or glasses) of bubbled water…   But the translation can be

bubbled water

I wet

an equation

— posted by Fay Aoyagi on Blue Willow Haiku World June 6, 2010

So far I’ve been discussing this genre as a strictly Japanese phenomenon. But the inevitable question is: Are there “gendai haiku” in English?

Richard Gilbert responds:

“I’m not even sure [the term ‘gendai’] should be used for any haiku natively-written in English. For instance, I would not say so-and-so a haiku is ‘gendai’ as a matter of style, unless I meant it was similar in style to that of a known gendai poet of Japan … As of yet, we do not have a ‘gendai-like’ movement in English-language haiku poetry, though there are some poets writing innovative works. … It’s my thought that we can learn and appreciate, though innovate with autonomy.”

— Richard Gilbert, “A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert

I’m planning to write a post soon about some English-language haiku poets who are innovating in what seem to me gendai-like ways — including Metz and Gilbert themselves. In the meantime, I’d welcome comments on these poems and this poetic phenomenon: How do you feel about haiku in this style? Do you think there is a similar movement in English? Should I just stick to haiku and leave the dry academic treatises to the experts? Let your opinion be known.

May 27: 2-5: The Technique of Association

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)

Jane:

“This can be thought of as ‘how different things relate or come together.’ The Zen of this technique is called ‘oneness’ or showing how everything is part of everything else…. When the boundaries disappear between the things that separates them, it is truly a holy moment of insight and it is no wonder that haiku writers are educated to latch on to these miracles and to preserve them in ku.


“ancestors

the wild plum

blooms again”

Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques

Me:

the progress of
the caterpillar
sun climbing up the sky

women on the grass
compare haircuts
growl of lawnmower

fresh greens in the salad
young woman
in new clothes

children with
water balloons
blossoms at their fullest

*

I realized as I was writing these that I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference was between this technique and the technique of comparison. The idea seems to be that when you’re comparing two things, you’re showing that they’re similar, but when you’re associating them, you’re showing that they’re really the same thing? Or something?

Maybe someone with a better grasp of Zen can explain it to me…

May 12: 2: When it isn’t working

outside hatchlings cry
in the kitchen, hot tea,
bread and butter

This was another one of those days where I tried repeatedly to write a haiku beginning with a particular line, and mostly failed spectacularly. I don’t even like this one very much.*

I never can figure out what to do when this was happening. Should I give up and move on to another beginning line? Accept that the haiku mojo is just not there today? Stop trying to write so many haiku in the first place, and just wait to experience a Zen moment or something?

Sometimes it seems like the thought I’m trying to express is really too large to fit into a haiku in the first place. That I need to either shrink the thought, or find a new thought, or write a different kind of poem. (But I’m not so hot at the writing regular poems thing. I’ve written about one and a half in my life that I actually might consider showing to another human being.)

The spirit of haiku can be elusive. And when you’re trying to churn out at least one halfway decent one a day, you can get all cranky and anxious when it doesn’t seem to be happening. This is also probably not conducive to attaining haiku enlightenment. Must. Curb. Perfectionist. Tendencies. …

What can help is reading large numbers of the haiku of the great masters — they were mostly all extremely prolific, and frankly, most of their haiku is not particularly memorable. For every brilliant flash of insight from Issa:

o snail

climb Mt. Fuji —

but slowly, slowly!

(Issa, translated by D.T. Suzuki)

there are several more Issa efforts that seem uninspired at best. It’s possible (probable) that they’re a lot better in Japanese, but I have heard Japanese-speaking scholars of haiku say the same thing.

And of course, I am not Issa, nor was meant to be. (Apologies to T.S. Eliot, the thought of whom has suddenly made me realize that “April is the cruelest month” might work as an opening line for a haiku.) I’m the humblest of apprentices, and it’s almost arrogant of me to presume that I’ll be able to write a decent haiku more than once in a blue moon. (Blue moon! Also good haiku material. Okay, starting to feel better now.)

People who write haiku — what’s your working method? Do you frequently rewrite your haiku, or do they mostly come to you whole in a flash of insight, or do you think rewrites are destructive to the haiku spirit? (Or can you just not be bothered?) Do you sit down and say, “I think I’ll write a haiku now,” or is that just the form your thoughts take? Do you have to write a lot of them before you get one you’re relatively satisfied with? Share, please, I’m feeling a little isolated at the moment…

(Later note: I had no sooner published this when I saw an edit that would make it better. So I changed it and published it again. And then immediately saw another edit, which I promptly made. Now I’m feeling slightly more cheerful about the whole thing. But only slightly.)

*And a few days later: Okay, how about:

hatchlings cry
fresh bread
cooling

I like that better. Still not great. But way too many words in the first one.

Writer’s block

I’ve been telling people a lot lately that I have writer’s block. Then I come here and look at how much I’ve been posting, and laugh at myself. I don’t have writer’s block. I just don’t want to write my damn term paper.

It’s strange to be living part of my life in this haiku-world of stylized poetics and Zen moments, and the rest of it in the considerably more demanding and less dreamlike state required to cope with graduate school, teenage children, a husband with job stress, iffy finances, a house that would probably not withstand a stringent inspection from the local health department, the pace of 21st-century social networking, and a midlife crisis. As you might imagine, at the moment I’m prioritizing haiku over all these other things in my life. Wouldn’t you?

I think that probably to be the kind of haiku poet I would really like to be (not to mention the kind of human being that I can imagine tolerating, if I weren’t her), I will need to better integrate these two parts of my life, starting soon. Preferably before my term paper is due. After all, examined from a Zen standpoint, isn’t a term paper really just a 20-page haiku?

Okay, maybe not. But you see what I’m saying here. Haiku is life, life is haiku. They flow into and out of each other, they aren’t separate rock pools with their own ecosystems. Time to find the current and travel the whole length of the river…

but after I hand in my term paper, I may grab a low-hanging branch and linger around here a bit more again. And report back on what I saw in my travels.

1986

I wish you’d come see
the cat. She no longer sleeps
on the guest room bed.

This was published in my high school literary magazine, after they rejected (with actual incredulous laughter) the haiku I really liked, which I can no longer find. It featured an upturned teapot, but I can’t remember anything else about it. Just for the record, my English teacher liked it too. I feel I must say this defensively even twenty-four years after the fact. Note to self: raise this issue in next therapy session.

I remember being extremely preoccupied with counting 5-7-5 syllables when I wrote haiku in high school (and for some time beyond). Partly this was because schoolteachers tend to place a lot of emphasis on this “requirement” of haiku (I have a post about this coming up), partly it was because I had then (and still must combat now) a tendency to take rules and limits very, very seriously. I still like writing (informal) sonnets, villanelles, all sorts of poetic forms with set structures: genuine free verse seems worryingly infinite in possibility to me. If I do write free verse, I tend to place some kind of loose metrical constraints on it, just so my choice of words is narrower.

That’s pretty much where I am right now with poetry in general and haiku in particular — not tight, not loose. There are haiku “requirements” I find pleasing and like to work with: the “one-breath” idea; the idea of a “kigo” or seasonal word (but my interpretation of this is looser than the Japanese idea); the idea of a “kireji” or cutting word (but for me this means more like a word that is a hinge that holds the parts of the haiku together, or a strong, vivid word that focuses the haiku’s image); the Zen idea of a fleeting image, a glimpse, something that can be grasped all at once and doesn’t need to be analyzed. Not all my haiku have to have all these elements, but I find it helpful to keep these things in mind when I’m writing haiku, and to the extent that I’m successful in incorporating them into my haiku, the more successful I tend to feel the haiku is.

Of course, modern English haiku don’t have strict syllabic requirements, but sometimes I still like to count 5-7-5, or at least 17, just for fun, or as a challenge to myself. Though I read recently that 12 syllables is more like the ideal for an English haiku (what this is based on I have no idea), so I might play around with that for a while and see how it works.

And then again I might experiment with truly minimalist haiku: two or three words. The interesting thing about my attempting such brevity is that (as you can see from this commentary) my natural tendency is to write long. I think of haiku as a way to force myself to identify the heart of my message, to discard the extraneous verbiage that clutters my arguments and muddies my images.